Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mark: "Do You Come to Me?"

The Gospel. No matter what else we are studying, we always need to come back to this: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And for Christians, the main thing is that we are sinners and that Jesus has suffered on the cross to bring us absolution. The central message is that God, in His Son, gives us something that is the opposite of what we deserve: we get grace instead of disgrace; mercy instead of wrath; redemption instead of rejection; peace instead of punishment; relationship instead of retribution. Basically, we are saying that through Jesus God treats us better than we deserve.

Preacher In the Wilderness
In Mark 1:1-9 (our text for this week), Mark highlights the work of John the Baptist. I kind of picture a long haired, crazy-eyed dude with a good pair of lungs. According to Luke, he was the cousin of Jesus the Messiah. Samples of his preaching can be found here and here. Jesus calls John "the most important person who was ever born," and while John was not the Old Testament prophet Elijah, Jesus affirmed that he was a type of "Elijah, who is to come." All indications are that he was a wild, ascetic Nazirite preacher who did no miracles but captured multitudes (all of Judea and Jerusalem) with his fervent preaching. Mark uses quotes from Isaiah and Malachi to show John the Baptist as a reformer of sorts, preparing God's people for the coming of the Lord.

The Prophet and the Prophets
Go back and read Mark's introduction to John's ministry. What do the prophets that Mark quotes expect of John? They predict that he will (1) preach (2) in the wilderness (3) and prepare the people (4) for the coming of the Lord. First, John does preach, proclaiming a baptism of repentance in Mark 1:4. Second, John "appears in the wilderness" in the same verse. Third, John prepares the people through insisting upon true repentance, confession, and acknowledgment of guilt. Fourth and finally, the OT prophets expect John to precede the coming of God Himself, and John announces the coming of "one whose sandals I am unworthy to stoop down and untie, who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit"--Jesus the Messiah (Mark 1:7-9). Pay attention to this: how are the people prepared by John for the coming of God? They are prepared by acknowledging their guilt before God, confessing it, and repenting of their actions. As John prepared the people to meet God, so must we too be prepared.

Not Worthy But Blessed
Here's the big one that I wanted to point out: John, who Jesus has said is the greatest man who ever lived (see above), told the people that he wasn't even worthy to untie Jesus' sandals. And yet John gets to baptize Jesus, which means that the man who isn't worthy to untie Christ's shoes is the one who gets to put Jesus through baptism. This is grace. This is a picture of God giving someone far more than what they deserve. John's ministry seemed focused on humbling himself and others before God, recognizing the guilt and shame that they bore before God. In this state God was able to reach out to them and extend grace, for "he gives grace to the humble." For John, grace looked like being able to baptize Jesus. To be honoured far more than he was actually worth. For the people, and for us, the honour is to have Christ receive us even as He takes the punishment for our sins against Him.

Take away these three things, if you can: (1) John the Baptist was supposed to prepare the way before God, and that means Jesus was God in the flesh. (2) We need to humble ourselves before God before we can be forgiven: we are saved by faith, and the articles of that faith include the realization that God is just and that we need His pardon for our transgressions. (3) If we come to Him in faith, humbled before Him, God is faithful and just to forgive us.

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