Study in Mark’s Gospel. Presentation 01. The Place Of Preparation Chap 1v1-8. Presentation 01. Introduction. Have you ever walked past a construction site that has been surrounded by timber shuttering? It can be a frustrating experience. You can hear the noise of bulldozers but
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Have you ever walked past a construction site that has been
surrounded by timber shuttering? It can be a frustrating
experience. You can hear the noise of bulldozers but
cannot see what is being built! Why does it take
so long for the building to be erected?The
workmen are engaged in 'site preparation'.
The ground has to be cleared, and marked
out, the drainage and the foundations
need to be laid before anything visible
rises above the timber shuttering.
Site preparation may not hold a high
profile but it is of crucial importance.
John the Baptist was involved in site preparation. His mission was to clear away the rubble from men's hearts and prepare a people to receive their Builder King. John’s ministry prepared the building site for the enduring structures that Jesus would build. Mark, the gospel writer underlines its importance by drawing our attention to it.
What can we learn from John’s ministry?
John was not an establishment figure. He did not dress in a Saville Row suit or operate a lavish expense account. By his simple dress and diet he conducted a one-man protest movement against a pattern of self-indulgence that prevailed in the religious establishment.
He challenged the frivolity and carelessness of those who had built their lives on the dangerous sands of this transient world and its possessions. The religion of the day could be divided roughly into two groups.
First, there were the Pharisees, who were, by and large, orthodox. But it was a dead orthodoxy with many human embellishments. They believed many of the right things, they had a lot of sound theology but their doctrinal beliefs were prevented from invading their private worlds and disturbing their self-centred lifestyles.
This group was later criticised by Jesus for not practising what they preached. In other words they were viewed by him as hypocrites.
The second religious group in the established church of Jesus' day were the Saducees. They were the religious sceptics. They did not
believe in angels, in the spiritual realm, in
life after death or in miracles. Anything that smacked of the miraculous was discounted.
They were also very political and aspired to
high office. The High Priests in Israel at this
time were invariably Saducees.
God’s choice of John as the one who would prepare the way for the coming of Christ
was a scathing indictment upon the religious establishment.
John, grew up in an obscure Judean hill town without the benefit of a formal education. But he possessed something more important. He knew he was ‘a man called of God’. God will often use the most obscure and disadvantaged, by the world's reckoning, to advance his purposes. Think of D. L. Moody who exercised a powerful ministry on both sides of the Atlantic in the C19th. He had little education, no university degree, no flowery language.
Despite the ridicule of the religious establishment he was kept going by an unshakeable conviction that God had called and equipped him to minister his Word. This should caution us against disqualifying ourselves or others, where there is evidence of God’s call and equipment for ministry.
A second thing to note is the unlikely location of John's ministry. John ministered miles away from the centres of population cf. v4.
Why preach in a barren wilderness next to the Dead Sea? I want to suggest that there is a certain amount of symbolism attached to this location. This site was where Sodom and Gomorrah had once stood! You could not go and listen to John without being reminded of the awful reality of God's judgement! God's holiness of character and hatred of sin was communicated in the very landscape.
Now the people were prepared to travel a great distance to hear John because their hearts had been spiritually awakened. The great priority of their lives was to get right with God. Spiritual restlessness motivates people!
In John Bunyan's “Pilgrim's Progress”, as Pilgrim became increasingly aware of the burden of sin on his back, he ran out of the City of Destruction shouting, 'Life, life, eternal life'.
How can we see more people coming to faith? Pray that God would spiritually awaken them and open their eyes to see their great need of him. God alone can bring that deepening conviction to bear.
John's ministry also magnified Christ. He spoke of his superiority in two ways. First, he is superior in his person. John saw himself as a mere signpost pointing to Jesus. He did not want attention for himself but pointed to Christ. He was content to be ‘a voice’ crying in the wilderness. You can't see a voice you can only hear it! When Jesus eventually began his public ministry, some of John's disciples complained to John who replied, ‘A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven...He must increase, I must decrease’. Such self-effacing humility is important in Christian work. When a Christian begins to see themselves as the important focus of the work their fruitfulness will cease.
Secondly, John also saw Jesus’ ministry as infinitely greater than his own; “I baptise you with water he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.” v8John's was a ministry of preparation. Jesus’ ministry was one of consummation. John's baptism symbolised what Jesus ministry accomplished. John’s ministry ‘spoke’ of new beginnings but Jesus through the cross provided the means of the new beginning. This is made clear in Jn. 1.29 where John points to Jesus and says, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
John is saying, 'I cannot meet the
deepest spiritual need of your heart
but I can introduce you to one who can.
And he will do so through the sacrifice
of his life for you’.
To point to Jesus in this way is the task of every Christian.
This leads us to consider the substance John's ministry. Look at v4... and then v7-8.... When John preached men didn’t scratch their heads and ask, ‘What was that all about?' John was clear about his message, and the result it was intended to produce. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The word ‘repentance’ is a translation of ‘metanoia’ which means, 'a radical change of mind and heart leading to a complete turnabout in life'. It was addressed to men and women who by nature walked with their back to God and who put their own desires and interests first. Repentance involves a willingness to do an about turn so that we live our lives facing him, walking towards the light, listening to and obeying God.
Remorse is not the same as repentance. Remorse is feeling sorry for ourselves because we've been found out. It shows no willingness to let go of the wrongdoing that has been uncovered. Some years ago I spoke to someone whose sinful behaviour had drawn the attention of the national press. His reputation was damaged. He was obliged to resign his high profile job. He was in floods of tears but, when the dust settled, his sinful behaviour continued as before. He had felt sorry only for himself in contrast to the genuine penitent who recognises that he has offended God.
Think of the words of the penitent prodigal son? “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you”.
John did not preach repentance as an end in itself. Some preachers have attempted to do so and it has left their hearers lashed and bruised by the terrors of God's law. The exposure of human sin and the proclamation of God’s justice must never be separated from his sheer grace and mercy. John's ministry not only revealed the depths of men’s sin, it highlighted the breadth of God's grace. God’s glory is seen in his forgiveness of the penitent.
Forgiveness means 'remission' or 'sending away'. Scripture provides rich images to fill out this meaning. In Ps. 103 we read, 'As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us'. In Isa.1v18 we read,‘Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow’.
This is the essence of gospel preaching: bad and good news are held side by side. The bad news of man's condition and the good news of God's provision. The first sermon Peter preached after Pentecost left his hearers, ‘cut to the heart’ [Acts 2.37]. They were convicted by the awful reality of their sin. Realising they had offended God they cried out 'brothers what shall we do?' To which Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’
That is precisely what I want to do now - point men and women to Christ and his provision. No matter what kind of week you have had, no matter how emotionally bruised you are, no matter how deeply God's Word has cut your heart, no matter how loud the voice of condemnation may ring in your head or how heavy the burden you are carrying, please listen.
I want to point you to the Great Burden Bearer, to the author of forgiveness, the one who dispenses the grace of new beginnings to men and women.
My dear friends, this Jesus has the ability to transform the lives of all who come to him in repentance and faith. Will you come?