Monday, March 6, 2023

The Uniqueness of Mark's Gospel: John the Baptist in the Wilderness

Last night I was listening to some beautiful music. And I was just thinking, this music is a gift from God. It really is. Who is this creator who made everything? How are we to understand who he is? Of course, we know we understand from his word, but I was thinking, and I wondered: What can we understand about God from the world and from the various things in the world? Because all these things that are good, and are inspired by God.

The creation of music, on a guitar, on a piano is a gift from God. And a beautiful tree is a gift from God. It is something God made that belongs there. Grass on the ground, even structures, buildings, these are gifts from God and he inspired people to do these things. They're all reflections of who he is, in fact, God is a creative god, He's a God of beauty. He is a God who sets up systems as well, like law and government and policies and procedures. And those are good things, right? The fact that we have laws and police officers and, speed limits, and those are all things that tell us about who God is.

Do you know what else tells us about who God is? It's the blank slate. God is One who empowers us to create, you think of a woman playing her guitar, and the guitar is a blank slate. And God puts the guitar in their hands and says, "Make something beautiful." For Him. And it's the same thing with someone who carves wood. Or some someone who likes to paint or someone who does landscaping or gardening. God gives him a patch of dirt and says he says, "Make something beautiful out of it." That is who our God is. He empowers us to make beautiful things. And that's what we are as well. He wants us to be people who make beautiful things and bring peace. God will often give us just a blank canvas and says, do something with this. Be creative. That's who God is.

That's His love. That's his empowerment to us. And that's what makes us unique from angels and from other spiritual beings, from angels, and living creatures, is that we have that spark of creativity. We have that image of God, we're made in the image of God, where we want to create, we want to think beyond the bounds. We know that nothing in this world quite satisfies us. Because we're always reaching for something just a little beyond. Like when we look at a beautiful sunset or the stars at night. It's not enough for us to look at it, we want to become part of it, we want to jump into that canvas, that beautiful canvas and walk the streets. And I believe part of that is going to be the next life paradise, the new Jerusalem, Heaven will be a lot of that where we are jumping into the canvas, and walking the streets of the Starry Night by Van Gogh. And I know that sounds way out there, but it's gonna be beyond what we can imagine something very beautiful, something very special.

But it is fundamentally a perfect reality, where that longing that this world never quite meets this hunger that people try to fill with drugs and alcohol and pills and sex and various things will finally be filled by the presence of God. And that's really what we long for, I think is to search the Depths of God, that's what we really long for, is to search the depths of our Creator. And I think we get a little taste of that when we look up in the sky at night or at the sunset. But in that we are just scratching the surface of searching the Depths of our Creator. And if you want to know how deep the depths of our Creator are, then look at the scale of the universe compared to the planet Earth. That is how deep the depths of God are.

When you see photos taken by the Hubble telescope, of the beauty of the universe, that's just the beginning of our journey into searching the depths of God. I think in the next life the New Jerusalem is going to be like Moses at the top of the hill looking over the promised land. Like a new adventure just starting. As if we were to get in a spaceship and launch into the universe, that's how much is ahead of us when we enter the new city, of the new heavens and new earth.

But we can start that today, to search the depths of God. Immediately right now, we can begin to do that. That doesn't have to wait until the next life we can begin to search the depths of God today. I think that that's what we'll see in the Gospel of Mark. It's the gospel of not later, but right now! 

We see that blank canvas put before Jesus, in the lives of so many people that he makes beautiful. That's our job in this life then, is there's a lot of canvases in front of us, other people, where we can be a spark to say, "make something beautiful with your life because Jesus loves you."

You have that canvas before you in your own life. You can smear filth all over it if you want, a lot of people do. But you can paint a beautiful sunset or a sunrise or something beautiful on there if you want to. And Jesus carried that message in the Gospel of Mark. He takes something that's ugly, and he clears away the filth. He says, here's a clean slate, now make something beautiful. 

The gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four canonical gospels listed in the Bible. It’s quick, it’s concise, it’s intended to be a good overview of what actually happened, apart from excessive detail like Matthew or Luke; also excluding poetic elements and theology like John’s gospel. The Gospel of Mark was written by an early church leader named John Mark. The gospel of Mark focuses in on Jesus’ prayers and prayer times.

There’s a great little introduction to the gospel of Mark written in the NLT Prayer Bible, it says this, “John Mark, an early missionary with Paul and Barnabas and later Peter wrote this vivid account of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Mark is unique among the other gospel writers in that he focuses less on Jesus’ teaching and more on his actions. Jesus heals, drives out demons, calms storms, and raises the dead. Mark’s description of Jesus’ life and ministry often features greater detail than that of the other Gospels, giving his Gospel a dramatic intensity that quickly draws its readers into the realities of Jesus’ life on earth.” -Jean E. Syswerda, The Prayer Bible, p. 1271.

Today we’re going to be focusing in on Mark chapter one verses 1-20, and we’ll be reflecting on three key events in this first portion of Mark. We’ll be looking at the ministry of John the Baptist as he prepared for the coming of Jesus, then the baptism of Jesus, and Jesus’ calling his first disciples.

I’m not going to go a lot further into the context, the historical events, the personality of John Mark, and his mentions in the book of Acts. Instead I want to jump into these historical events, and hopefully we can see ourselves as part of these moments, and allow them to speak to us. Let’s soak up the power of the word of God, and find spiritual nourishment from the scriptures.

The gospel of Mark starts like this: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." -Mark 1:1-4

The beginning of the good news. What a wonderful truth! The beginning of our good news. The beginning of our only hope for salvation. The beginning of everything that makes us who we are. The beginning of our only hope, in an empty broken world full of problems, and overcast days, and dirty laundry, and rusty metal and broken dreams, and lost hope. In a world of oppression, of rich vs. poor, of corrupt vs. true, of cons and con artists, we find the beginning of the good news, the one hope of humanity, the Messiah, the Son of God.

And it would begin like this, a messenger would prepare a road for Jesus to walk on, a straight path, a gathering of people who are ready to hear what messiah will say to them, with hearts ready to receive forgiveness.

Repentance, for the future forgiveness of sins. A changed attitude about life. We start to see something beyond our own little lives. We see a big picture. We see the meaning of life. Why we are here. We see that God made the universe. We see that we are guilty of sins against the God who made the universe. We see we stand condemned without Jesus. We see that the good news is our only hope. That is the straight passage in our minds. That straight passage in our minds, of seeing God is real, and see our own sin, and where that sin will lead us, to destruction, and then a hunger and desperate thirst for forgiveness. John the Baptist called the people to realize they had sinned and commit to a new way.

You could say that even today, that is our job, to prepare people for their encounter with Jesus Christ. Our job as Christians who have received Jesus as our savior and received forgiveness is to invite people to see three key things:

One, God is real. We are accountable to Him.

Two, we are condemned because we’ve sinned against the Creator.

Three, we all need forgiveness of sins.

Most people don’t know those things. So sometimes it seems like we have to preach the problem before we can preach the solution. You tell someone they need a savior, well, they don’t understand what that means. But if you tell someone you’ve sinned against a holy righteous God, you explain God’s standard, the ten commandments, which they’ve broken, well now they’re beginning to see the problem, then the solution can be shown, the savior Jesus the messiah.

John the Baptist is this outsider, preaching this message in the wilderness, and people are coming to him, I mean by the thousands and tens of thousands people are coming to him. This is no small group he’s gathering. People from everywhere across the nation of Israel are coming.

It says in verse 5-8, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

One day, Jesus himself comes to see John the Baptist. And here we see a pivotal event in the life of Jesus, his baptism.

It says this, verse 9-11, “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

This moment really heralds the beginning of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. Jesus had to wait thirty years, growing up, maturing, living a pure life, waiting for the moment when he would at last go on that day to meet with John the Baptist. And what happens?

It’s a clear and miraculous sign, remembered throughout all of human history, that Jesus was indeed from another realm, another reality, another place, that though Jesus was a man, he was infinite, he was the son of God.

We see the Holy Spirit burst forth, as if a hole was torn in the sky itself, and rushes in and surrounds Jesus as he comes up out of the water. And the voice of God the Father says, “You are my Son.”

There we see the Trinity, God the Son on Earth, God the Holy Spirit hovering over God the Son, and God the Father speaking life over God the Son.

This draws our attention all the way back to Genesis, when God the Father speaks, he says “let there be light” and then it happens. His voice is power, he declares and it comes into existence. The same is true for you. That’s the only reason you exist, God commanded it and then you suddenly existed. In Mark 1, we see God speaking over Jesus, and Jesus is begotten of the Father, eternally.

Similarly in Genesis it says the “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters” and in the gospel we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters over Jesus as well. And the Son of God, Jesus, is there among the world he holds together with His infinite power. Amazing!

Jesus is completely affirmed by this event. For John, for the crowds, and for us today, Jesus is Messiah. He begins his ministry.

Similar events will happen in your life. Think of when you became a soldier or adherent, you made a public declaration of your faith. I’m new. I’m owned by God. And in those moments God confirmed it the congregation, to heaven, and to you, this is my child, I’ve adopted her, she is mine.

So Jesus begins his ministry. What’s the first thing that happens in His ministry? Before he can do anything, it says he was driven out by the Spirit into the wilderness.

It says, verse 12-13, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

We are tested by God time and again as Christians, to make sure we’re holding true to God, and not trusting in self. Similarly Jesus is tested here, Satan tempts him. And Jesus has total victory in the temptations. He resists them all. We are also tempted by the enemy. And we must stand firm in those temptations. Then, angels come and heal us, after the tempting.

After spending forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan himself, the chief demon, Jesus is victorious. Be assured of this: Before any big shift or change in your life you’ll be tested. And you need to stand firm in those times when you’re tested.

Later, John the Baptist is arrested by the Roman authorities, and Jesus began preaching after this. The event of John being arrested really then shifted the attention from John’s ministry to Jesus as the central figure. The way had been prepared, and now Jesus would walk on that path.

It says in verse 14-15, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Repent and believe. Those are the two key factors of salvation. If we remove either we get a false gospel.

If we remove believe, then it’s just repent, it’s a pharisee saying just make yourself good enough for God. And that’s false teaching. That’s self-righteousness, and it’s a dead end. God doesn’t accept self-righteousness. It’s nothing to him. We can’t be good apart from God.

If we remove repentance, which is common today unfortunately, we also get a false gospel of “just believe” or what theologians call “easy-believism” just believe, now you have Jesus, don’t worry about changing your life, don’t worry about not sinning, it’s easy believism. You go from being a pharisee to being a false teacher, saying, take Jesus, along with the rest of your life, take Jesus, along with your sins, and put it all together as one.

But then we must put it all together, repent of your sins and believe in what? Believe the good news, that Jesus Christ has paid your sin debt, confess your sins to Him, repent of your sins before Him, believe in Him, believe in His perfect sacrifice, and receive forgiveness of your sins. Believe the Good News.

We can’t repent or believe without Jesus Christ Himself at work in us. That’s why we must cry out to Jesus Christ, in that we repent and believe. Praise the Lord.

So Jesus is now preaching his message, repent and believe, but he is also going to be gathering a group together to share that message with him. He is going to gather an inner circle that he’s going to train and equip.

So we see Jesus calling his first followers.

It says in Mark 1:16-18, “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.”

Immediately, immediately, immediately! This we see again and again and again in Mark’s gospel. It happened right then, right away. Boom, quick. There are many things in the Christian life we have to wait for. We wait years and years. But just as often, suddenly, something completely changes. Suddenly, immediately, we get healed. Immediately, we repent. Immediately we find encouragement from God.

We do serve a God who asks us to wait. But we also serve a RIGHT NOW kind of God. I’m quite sure about that. I think of the scripture that says while he was still praying the angel appeared to Him. He hadn’t even finished the prayer, and it was answered. There have been times in my life where I start praying and before I even finish the prayer God answers it. Don’t under-estimate God’s ability to answer right now. But also don’t be surprised if he asks you to wait either. It’s all about the situation and what God is saying in that particular situation. It’s often different.

God is not one where we can predict what he is going to do next. I’ve learned that the hard way. God’s timing is perfect. Sometimes he says wait for years and trust and pray and sometimes he says right now, boom, done.

And to conclude for today, Jesus then calls James and John: From verses 19-20, "When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”

Without delay, he called them. Without delay, right at the moment, again, we see Jesus moving quickly, when the time is right, things can happen very quickly. He finds four of his twelve disciples in those few moments of walking along the waters edge. James and John left so fast, Jesus called them so fast, and just like that, they left the boat, in the middle of what they were doing, they left dad and the other workers in the boat, and off they went with Jesus.

I think in our lives as Christians we have to be just as quick to obey Jesus when we asks us to do something. If he wants us to pray with someone, just go do it. If he wants us to witness to someone, just go do it. If he tells us to go leave a bible tract on the shelf at the store, or in the gym room, just up and do it quickly. If he asks us to a call a friend or prompts us to pray for someone, even an enemy, stop what you’re doing and call ,or pray, right away. Without delay. Immediately. Pretty clear, right?

Alright, to review, three key factors in this portion of scripture, one, John the Baptist preparing the people for Jesus. Two, God’s three-fold presence at the baptism of Jesus. Three, Jesus immediate calling of the first four followers.

So, to apply these biblical concepts, we should live this way…

• We as Christians should do what we can to prepare people to encounter Jesus

• God will call us to publicly declare our faith before people and before Him

• Engage with God as Father, Messiah Jesus the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit comforter

• Recognize when we’re being tested by God and take steps to make sure we stand the test

• Repent and believe, it’s not enough to just believe, we have to obey too!

• God has us wait at times, but is also a right now God, who answers us quickly

• When the Spirit moves you to do something, do it quickly

I think throughout this whole series through the Gospel of Mark we’re going to get a simple message from Jesus: Repent and believe.

It’s so easy to get off track in life. It’s so easy to lose touch with who Jesus really is. It’s so easy to start to drift off from the truths of the Bible. And pretty soon we’re secretly sinning. Pretty soon we putting our faith in other things, money, cars, property, and so on. We get off track easily as humans. We start to focus on other things. We start to watch too much TV, and spend too much time playing videogames and watching movies and scrolling on social media.

And again and again we have to be reminded of the simple, but infinitely powerful message of the Bible, of Jesus Christ’s life, and we repent and believe that simple, powerful gospel message, of salvation through Jesus, forgiveness of sins, repentance, faith, hope, and perfect love filling us. Praise the Lord. We repent today Lord, and believe again in you alone Jesus for our salvation. Praise the Lord for His wonderful gift!