Bible Passage: Mark 1:1-8 Pastor: Pastor Berg Sermon Date: December 3, 2017
Sometime, silence is the best way to get someone’s attention. It had been more than 400 years since God had spoken to his people through his prophets. Perhaps, now, the people were ready to listen to God’s messengers again. Word was spreading that there was a man out in the desert, on the east side of the Jordan, who might be just that. He wore the prophets’ garb—the garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt—like Elijah and others had worn. He ate the food of a Nazarite, avoiding wine and meat. He spoke with the authority of God himself, just like the prophets of old.
This man, named John, was so different that the teachers of Israel. But it wasn’t just a freak show that drew large crowds out to the desert. It was the power of his message. John’s message transformed hearts because he cut with God’s law and then healed with the gospel. Unlike the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who appealed to themselves as examples of works and right living, John appealed to the one greater than himself. This message was what the people needed to hear. This was the message that would prepare the way for Jesus.
Friends, as we make our preparations for Christmas, we also need to listen to the messengers. Let’s listen to what John has to say to us this morning. Let’s pray again: Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. Stir up our hearts as we listen to the messengers!
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is how it is written in the prophet Isaiah: Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the way for you. A voice of one calling out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.” How appropriate it is for us to look at this story! Preparation is exactly what’s being discussed! Think about what happens when a famous person, like the president, comes to Madison. All sorts of preparations are made. Decorations are hung. The streets are cleared of any obstacles. Security is heightened so there are no problems when the president comes to visit. The same was true in Bible times. When a king would be coming through an area, a messenger would be sent ahead to make sure that the people were ready. If the roads needed to be repaired, the messenger would see to it that the road was fixed so the king could travel.
God uses that familiar picture to describe what he was doing to prepare the way for his Son. he would send a messenger ahead, not to fix the roads, but to prepare the hearts of the people to receive their coming King!
“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John appeared by God’s design. John appeared as the fulfillment of God’s promises. John appeared for one purpose, to prepare the hearts of the people. And how did John do that? By preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. “John was clothed in camel’s hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He preached, “One more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals! I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Just let those words soak in for a moment. John was sent from God. He was a prophet. He dressed like a prophet. He ate like a prophet. He spoke like a prophet. In the fulfillment of prophecy, John spent his time in the desert, in the wilderness. And his message was repentance and forgiveness. He pointed ahead to a greater prophet yet to come, one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Those are the facts that Mark lays out before us. Isn’t there a nagging question just waiting to be asked? Who in the world is going to go out into the desert to listen to a crazy preacher talk about their sins?
Isn’t that what we have here? It’s been over 400 years since anyone looked or acted or talked like John. It’s almost like a circus side-show. Let’s go out into the desert and see the freak show! I mean, who really wants to go and listen to someone tell them they are a sinner? Who wants to spend time contemplating how they’ve failed to do what God has asked them to do ? Who wants to think about all of the times in just the last week that they messed up, they failed? It’s one thing if the guy came and talked to you, but imagine going out into the desert to do this! No one in their right mind is going to do this, right? John is going to be talking to himself a lot of the time, right? Right?
“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.” The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him! Mark is using hyperbole here. He’s speaking like we sometimes do. When there’s an important event in Madison, we might say, “The whole city turned out.” We get the point though, don’t we? Thousands of people went out into the desert to hear John preach. Thousands of people willingly travelled, by foot, into the desert, to hear John preach about their sins. How did this happen? How did thousands go and confess their sins and their faith in God and were baptized?
I think you know, don’t you?
It wasn’t because they all of a sudden got an urge to take a daytrip into the desert. It wasn’t because they needed exercise and just happened to come across John. These thousands of people went out into the wilderness to listen to John because of the power of God’s Word. That’s the only explanation. They went out because the words John was speaking were God’s Words. And they’re powerful. And they have the power to change hearts. They have the power to move people to change their lives. They have the power to create faith in the one greater than John, whose way John was preparing.
Friends, you and I are a lot like those thousands who made their way into the desert. No, most of you don’t travel by foot. No, you don’t make your way into the desert. No, I’m not dressed like John. But think about it. Think what people must think about what you do every Sunday. Who in their right mind is going to get up on Sunday morning, the one day off, the one day for relaxing and sleeping in and getting stuff done around the house, and go and drive to a church to listen to a guy dressed in a funny looking robe with a colorful scarf talk to them about their sins? I mean, who really wants to go and listen to someone tell them they are a sinner? Who wants to spend time contemplating how they’ve failed to do what God has asked them to do? Who wants to think about all of the times in just the last week that they’ve messed up, they failed? It’s one thing if the guy came and talked to you, but imagine seeking this out! No one in their right mind is going to do this, right?
And yet, here you are. Why? Felt the need for an early Sunday morning drive? Just happened to be out and thought you’d see what was going on in that building over there? No, you’re here because God’s Word is powerful. You’re here because the Holy Spirit has created faith in your hearts through the power of that Word. You’re here because you realize that you need to prepare your hearts and you know the best way to do that is to listen to God’s messengers. You’re here because your sins bother you. You’re sorry for them. You’re ashamed of the thoughts you’ve had, the things you’ve looked at. You’re ashamed of how you’ve treated others. You’re ashamed of how so many things have pushed God out of first place in your life. But you’re here because you know that God loves you. You know that Jesus came to earth as that little baby, he became just like you so he could live for you. You know that Jesus never once had sinful thoughts, never once treated others poorly, never once let anything become more important than God. You know that Jesus offered up his perfect life as the sacrifice for your sins.
And that means that the message you come to hear is not just a conversation about your sins, but is primarily a conversation about how those sins are forgiven. You know that when you repent of your sins, you’re not just sorry for them, but you trust that Jesus has forgiven them. And that’s why you come here. That’s why you faithfully sit and listen to a man in a funny robe with a colorful scarf talk to you about your sins. Because, that’s not the only thing he talks about. No, each and every week, in our hymns, in our lessons, in the sermon we point to the one who is far greater, the one whose sandals were are not worthy to untie, the one who works through his Word to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Friends, take the time during this busy season of preparations to listen. Get yourself in the true Christmas spirit by listening to God’s messengers. Prepare your hearts for Jesus by hearing the sacred story of God’s love for you. Look into your lives and recognize your sins, be sorrowful over them. But don’t let the guilt of those sins lead you to despair, because God sent his Son Jesus to win forgiveness for those sins. Trust in that forgiveness. And then, in the joy that only God’s forgiveness can bring, let God’s love shine forth. Tell people why you are so joyful, even in the midst of sorrow. Tell people why you make time every week to listen to God’s messengers. Invite someone to join you. Pray that God would lead our whole neighborhood, the communities where we live to go out and hear God’s messengers. Just think what a difference that Christmas preparation could make! May God grant it for Jesus’ sake! Amen