171203 Mark 1:1-8

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 December 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Mark 1:1-8
Theme: Listen To The Baptist's Cry

Let's face it. John the Baptist would have a hard time making a go of it in the Christian world today. His style and strategy could make up a list of "don'ts" for someone who wants to start a church. Instead of compiling statistical data and studying demographics trends to find the perfect location, instead of selecting a site based on its potential for growth, John chose to do his work in the wilderness.

John's outward appearance wasn't exactly polished either. How many people would open the door for someone dressed in camel's hair? What kind of person would be willing to sit down and talk with someone whose diet consisted of nothing but locusts and wild honey?

And even if he could overcome those two obstacles, John would still have a difficult time building a church today because of his message. Standing on the banks of the Jordan River, John called people to repentance. He wasn't afraid to talk about sin. He even compared some of his critics to poisonous snakes, not exactly the preferred method to win friends and influence people.

John would probably never be held up as a model for modern ministry, but he was extremely effective. He didn't have to go to the people because the people came to him. He didn't change the tone of his message because it wasn't his message to change. And even though much of his preaching consisted of fire and brimstone, people listened.

We know why John the Baptist was so successful. It wasn't because of where he worked. It wasn't because of what he looked like. And it wasn't because of the way he spoke. John the Baptist spoke with authority because his authority came from God.

That is why we are here today. Like the people who came from far and wide to hear John the Baptist, we have come to hear God's Word. And in that Word the Lord tells us to...

LISTEN TO THE BAPTIST'S CRY

I. John came to fulfill the words of the prophets
II. John came to carry out the work of a prophet

It had to start somewhere. Since John lived out in the wilderness, there had to be at least one person who crossed his path, one person who listened to him, one person who told others about the man preaching in the desert. Who was the Jew who discovered John the Baptist?

Even though John lived the life of a hermit, his identity was not a total secret. Actually, his coming had been anticipated for hundreds of years. Before John spoke a single word, before John baptized a single soul, the Old Testament prophets spoke about his arrival:

"I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"—"a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'" (2,3). Malachi called John the Baptist God's chosen messenger. Isaiah called John the Baptist God's voice in the desert. Both Isaiah and Malachi agreed that John's role was to prepare the way for the Lord.

And Mark reports rather matter-of-factly: "And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (4). No matter how routine it might sound to us, this was more than a good news item. John's arrival on the scene was nothing less than a miracle.

And I am not talking about his birth either, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple, when Gabriel announced that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a child even though they were well beyond childbearing years, when Zechariah lost the ability to speak because he doubted the angel's promise, when Zechariah's voice was restored after their son was born and the first words out of his mouth were: "His name is John" (Luke 1:63).

The events surrounding John's birth were miraculous, but they were preceded by another miracle, a miracle that came from the pens of the prophets. Isaiah didn't have the benefit of the angel's testimony. Malachi didn't know who Zechariah was. These men lived hundreds of years before John the Baptist was born, and still they were able to predict where he would live and what he would do.

If that doesn't get you at least a little excited, if that doesn't make your jaw drop in amazement, maybe it's because we get "prophesied out" this time of year. During Advent, we prepare for Jesus' coming. And our preparation includes taking a closer look at Old Testament prophecies.

But because there are so many prophetic passages and because those passages are repeated so often, there can be a tendency to get a little "ho hum" about them. We have heard them before. We know what they say. We know how they were fulfilled. Let's move on.

In order to appreciate these Old Testament prophecies, try to put them in a modern context. Odds makers take in billions of dollars because people can't consistently predict the outcomes of sporting events. Millions and millions of dollars are spent on the most sophisticated satellites and tracking equipment, and still the weather man isn't always able to predict tomorrow's forecast.

How easy is it to see into the future? For us, it is impossible. For God, it is routine. God the Holy Spirit led the prophets to write about the coming of John the Baptist. And when the time was right, the Lord caused those prophecies to be fulfilled.

Even if John had never spoken a word, his arrival would be enough for us. Even if John had been as mute as his father was, we would still have more than enough reason to take God at his Word. But God has given us so much more. John the Baptist was born into the world to fulfill the words of the prophets. But the Lord also called him to carry out the work of a prophet.

When the word, "prophet," is used today, it's usually in the context of the ability to predict the future. If someone correctly makes a prediction not foreseen by others, that person's words will inevitably be labeled "prophetic."

God gave some people the unique ability to see into the future, but that alone did not make them prophets. In a wider sense, a prophet is any person who speaks on behalf of God. John the Baptist fits that description. God didn't ask him to look into the distant future. His call was to announce the arrival of the One who was already here.

When people came out to the Judean wilderness, they saw a man wearing a camel's hair coat and leather belt. Actually, that kind of dress wasn't totally out of place. Elijah was recognized as a prophet because he wore the same type of clothing (2 Kings 1:8). Maybe it was something like the prophet's uniform.

If John's appearance wasn't enough to convince everyone that he was a prophet sent from God, his message removed any doubts. John preached "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (4). Isaiah described John's work this way. "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain" (Isaiah 40:4). A road is safe for travel only if it is straight and level. But that doesn't happen by all by itself. It takes work. It takes work to cut through layers of solid rock. It takes work to fill in all the cracks and holes.

In order to prepare the way for the Lord, John had to show people the error of their own ways. Before they could receive their Savior, they had to see their need for a Savior. Before they could rejoice in the forgiveness of sins, that sin had to be exposed.

When you really think about it, John's success was a miracle. People traveled great distances to see him, and for what? So that he could tell them how bad they were. So that he could tell them about the punishment they deserved. And instead of lynching him, they listened. They confessed their sins and were baptized.

God's work is no less miraculous among us. God's Word is powerful enough to level the highest mountains of pride. God's Word is great enough to fill the deepest valleys of despair. Every time the law crushes the sinner, every time the gospel picks up the pieces, every single time the Holy Spirit creates faith, it is a miracle.

John had the appearance of a prophet from God. John had the message of a prophet from God. And finally, John demonstrated the humility of a prophet from God. He said: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (7,8).

It is important for us to remember that John the Baptist was a human being like us. Unlike his perfect cousin, John was sinful. He could have easily let his success go to his head: "God didn't give me much to work with, but I made the most of it. And I think that God should be pretty happy with the results."

John's attitude reflects the exact opposite. He saw himself as God's servant, unworthy to perform the most menial task for his master. He was God's herald, sent ahead to announce the arrival of the approaching king. He was God's messenger, called to proclaim this simple message: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

Since we are in the football season, allow me to use a football illustration. If John the Baptist had played football, I think he would have been an offensive lineman. Linemen are tough, not flashy. Linemen don't get the glory. Linemen don't get the endorsement deals. When an offensive lineman is doing his job, you don't hear much about him at all.

John the Baptist was tough, but not flashy. John didn't draw attention to himself. John knew that if he did his job well, the people wouldn't be coming to him anymore. And he was okay with that. He said it himself: "He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30). John was content to shine the spotlight on Jesus. And for that we are grateful.

John is called the Baptist because of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of people he baptized in the Jordan River. But baptizing was only one part of John's work. If we wanted to give him a title that stretches to fit the entire scope of his ministry, "John the Prophet" would be better. Using God's inspired Word, he pointed out sin and pointed sinners to the Savior. And through those same prophetic words, he prepares our hearts to receive our Savior.

On Jordan's bank the Baptist still cries. And today Mark gives us two good reasons to listen to him. He came to fulfill the words of the prophets. And he came to carry out the work of a prophet. Amen.

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