Mark - Such Preparation - Hope 103.2

Mark – Such Preparation

By Simon ManchesterSunday 16 Nov 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes


St Thomas’ Anglican Church
North Sydney

Such Preparation – Mark 1:1-8

Our loving Father,we thank you for the huge privilege of these moments and we pray together that what we read you would teach us – that you would open our eyes to see wonderful things in your Word and then help us to act on the Word for our joy and for your honour.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.

Well this is a great day to be here at St Thomas because we are turning to Page 1 Chapter 1 and Verse 1 of Mark’s Gospel in a new series which I have called “Jesus Rediscovered”.

Normally I try and pick an original title but I couldn’t think of a better one than those two words “Jesus Rediscovered” and so I borrowed it from someone else.  My hope is that we will follow Mark’s Gospel in short sections – again and again and again – until we get to the end of the Gospel.  And I am hoping to do Mark’s Gospel in short bites rather than long chunks.  So this is an adventure to do together which will take us maybe the next year or two. It will be interspersed with other sermon series and we are going to keep coming back to Mark until we have gone from Mark 1:1 right through to 16:9.  

And I hope that for many of you will (and I mean this genuinely) rediscover appreciation for Christ so that you will say to yourself ‘I am so thankful that I am a believer and I attach myself more seriously to Jesus as a result of what I have been hearing’.  And I hope especially for some that it will not be to rediscover Jesus but it will be to discover him.  I hope that some who come to these Services (and we are so glad that you do) who are not yet joined to Christ will come to discover him and believe and belong and behave for Him.

I want to ask you to pray for this Series.  You may come on Sundays quite disappointed with sermons,quite frustrated.  You may find as I do that there are Sundays that leave you completely cold and I want to urge us to get back to what used to happen which is the people who listened would have prayed before they listened.

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So whether you are driving in the car – and one person prays out loud for the serve,the fellowship and the preaching – or whether you come and sit in the pew and then pray,please pray before you listen and let’s ask that God would be so good to us that he would cause his Word to fall with fresh meaning on us so that we would be delighted and devoted to him.

Now a very quick background to Mark’s Gospel – I don’t want to bore you with this but obviously Mark is one of 4 of what we call Gospels or we might better call 4 Reports or what Calvin very cleverly called “Public Records”.  But Matthew,Mark,Luke and John would never have thought of themselves as giving us another Gospel.  They would have thought that there is only one Gospel.

And Mark in his Gospel gives us virtually nothing of Christmas and very little of Easter so he would be no help to the people who come Christmas and Easter times.  He gives us the person of Christ – who he is – and the work of Christ – what he did on the cross.  That’s his primary emphasis.  Who is he?  And what did he do?

John Mark who wrote this report,this public record was a 1st Century missionary with Paul and Barnabas and tradition tells us that he was a friend of the Apostle Peter.  Tradition goes on to tell us that Peter basically reported to Mark who wrote much of what Peter himself saw and experienced.  And so Mark in a way becomes the Secretary or the Typist for the Apostle Peter.

And what I would like to do this morning is to look at these first 8 verses and I want to attempt to be a kind of a guide.  I don’t know if you have ever been in the Art Gallery and you have listened to some guide talking about a painting or you have even listed properly to a guide talking about a painting and the guide basically says – look at this feature,look at this detail,look at this and you begin to see the picture freshly or perhaps for the first time exactly as it’s really meant to be seen.

Now the problem with being a guide to the Scriptures is that nobody can be an adequate guide to the Scriptures.  So if you were to ask me to explain my computer that sits on my desk I would tell you that this is how you send an e-mail – but that’s all I know.

Someone else would be able to come along and say ‘here are a thousand things you don’t know about your computer’ and there will always be things that we never really get when we look at a passage with the preacher.

But what I would like to do as best I can is to show you some of the features or the details of this passage which I hope and I mean this genuinely would cause you to be amazed at Christ.  If that were possible,I would be delighted.  That has been my prayer.

So I am going to look at these first 8 verses of Mark chapter 1 under two headings –

What does the text say?
What does the text mean?

So first of all look again at Mark 1:1 where read the beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God.  When Mark wants to introduce Jesus,he wants you to know that there was a big lead up to his arrival.  He wants you to know that behind Jesus’ arrival stands God himself.

So look at the very first word – in fact it’s only one word in the original language – it’s just “beginning” or “the beginning” or “in the beginning”.  What does that remind you of?  Well it will remind you of I guess the beginning of the whole Bible – the beginning of Genesis.  And this is not an accident that Mark starts off like this because he knows how the Old Testament begins.  He knows how Genesis begins.

Listen to how one Commentator puts this – I find this one of the most extraordinary things that I have read in preparation for today.  He says:-

“The coming of Jesus is no less momentous than the Creation of the World because a new creation is at hand.  As Mark gets ready to write his Gospel,he is basically saying ‘this is the beginning’.  It’s the beginning of the renewal or the re-making of the creation because Jesus is coming.  It’s a momentous occasion.  

And I hope you will keep this in mind as you think of Jesus because the same God who works the creation is now working salvation.  So this word “beginning” is a loaded word.  It’s not as though Mark is saying “OK let’s make a start – Here’s an introduction”. No he is saying the coming of Christ is on par with the creation.  In fact we might even say “the coming of Christ is superior to the creation because he is going to take what is fallen and renew it with the coming of Christ”.

The word “Gospel” which we are familiar with it because we often think about Mark’s Gospel and Matthew’s Gospel – but there is only one real Gospel – the word Gospel in Mark’s day meant “announcement” – trumpet announcements or message.  And in the Roman world,it was normally the announcement of victory or a royal birth.  And because the Caesars (Julius Caesar,Augustus Caesar,and Tiberius Caesar) regarded themselves unbelievably as Sons of God and would announce to the people that life and death were in their hands – with incredible ego they thought they could tell a gospel,i.e. public announcement of how great they are and how powerful they are.

You see that therefore in chapter 1 and verse 1,Mark is giving a direct challenge to Rome and to human institutions because he doesn’t say
“The beginning of a story” he says
“No the beginning of Gospel”.  And he doesn’t say
“The beginning of a gospel – I have a fresh announcement for you” he says
“Beginning of the Gospel” – “the announcement,the message”.

And therefore he might have said but he doesn’t that the news of Caesar or a victory and any claims that they have to save you or give you life and death – they are false – this is the Gospel – it comes through Christ.  It’s not about Caesar in his palace; it’s about Jesus,the Messiah the real Son of God.

You probably know that the word “Jesus” or the name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew “Joshua” meaning “God saves” and it’s very fitting that Jesus would  be the true Joshua because the Old Testament Joshua took God’s people into the Promised Land which Moses,the Law keeper,could not do.  And now Jesus who is the new Joshua is going to take God’s people into the Kingdom.  He is going to take them to the Kingdom the moment they believe and he is going to take them into God’s presence eventually.

The word “Christ” means “Messiah”.  It’s not so much a name,it’s not a tag,it’s not a name tag – it’s a role,it’s Jesus who will do the Messiah work,it’s Jesus who will do the Christ saving work of rescuing his people and he is also the Son of God because he fulfils all the Old Testament predictions so that when God said in the Old Testament “I said to my Son – sit on the throne – I said to my Son – you will rule forever” this is the Son of God – this is Jesus.

Now friends,all that is in verse 1 and there is a lot more in verse 1 but you can see that Mark wants us to meet Jesus but before we are going to meet him (because he doesn’t appear in our 8 verses) we are going to meet the person who introduces him and that person is John the Baptist.

So therefore verse 2 – 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 desert
Prepare the way for the Lord,”

And so John came.  John the Baptist is messenger and voice and although Mark says this is written in Isaiah and he puts a couple of quotes there,those quotes actually come from different places in the Old Testament.  But Mark groups them under the name of Isaiah because Isaiah was probably the most major and the earliest of the prophets that he is quoting.

Normally he doesn’t quote the Old Testament very much.  Can you think why?  Well because he is writing mostly for non Jews.  He is not writing for the Jews who know their Bibles.  He is writing for the Gentiles who don’t know their Bibles but occasionally he does quote and here is a quote which is predicting the coming of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist is basically the last in the relay of Old Testament prophets.  And he is so special in a way because he gets to literally point with his finger to Jesus.  The other prophets of course could point to Jesus with their predictions but John can point to Jesus with his finger and say “there’s the Lamb of God”.

And because he gets to do this very specific and literal work,Jesus announces that John the Baptist is the greatest.  Not because John is greater morally or theologically than the other prophets but because he has this incredible privilege or pointing to Jesus.

So you’ll see that there is something very significant about John – in fact he’s even got a prediction or two or three in the Old Testament about him but he is also very insignificant.  He knows that apart from his job of announcing Jesus,he is not really very significant at all,he can’t save anybody.

In verse 3 we are told that he is going to tell people ‘get ready for the Lord’.  Now if you were to go back and read Isaiah 40 where this phrase comes from ‘prepare the way for the Lord’ first of all it would do you a power of good.  If you don’t know what to do with yourself today and you get home and you think I’d really like to read something that will warm my heart and stretch my mind,read Isaiah 40 – it’s absolutely wonderful.

But if you were to read Isaiah 40 which is about the Lord,you’ll discover that the Lord that Isaiah is talking about gathers the lambs in his arms,holds the earth in his hands,sits enthroned above the earth,has no equal or comparison,is the God of the Universe and John says “get ready for his coming” and then Jesus walks in.  I don’t know how people,especially in the cults which deny that Jesus is God can escape the obvious.  Here is John the Baptist basically saying ‘you need to get ready for the Lord,the Lord of creation,the Lord of the Universe and then comes in Jesus and Jesus begins to do everything you would expect God to do.

He controls the place –
He heals –
He raises –
He blesses –
He forgives –

I don’t want to trivialise this – this morning – but I wonder if you remember seeing the movie Mr Bean where Mr Bean is given the job of looking after a very valuable portrait – do you remember this movie?   He accidentally sneezes on the portrait,gets his handkerchief out,starts to wipe all over the painting,destroys the painting and then decides that he will re-paint the portrait which looks ridiculous!  And it seems to me that it is a classic example of what people do mentally when it comes to the picture of Jesus.  They just re-paint him so that he is as they would like him to be.  But when you go back to the Masterpiece which is here in Mark’s Gospel,it’s spellbinding and wonderful.  

Why do you think John gets people to go to the desert?  Well that’s where God took his people as he prepared them for the Promised Land.  And the desert was a place where God would teach his people and teach them to trust him and to obey him and that’s what John is doing.  He is taking them away from their homes,away from their work,away from their business,all the things that distract,all the things that get in the way – he’s basically saying ‘come out to the desert,think about what really matters,you and God,think about things that have got to do with eternity,do business with God’.  That’s what John the Baptist is doing.

And the people do flock out to him.  Partly I think because he has broken the drought of hundreds of years of silence.  Nobody has spoken like this for hundreds of years.

But the other reason that they go out is because they really want to be a part of what God’s plans are.  And they recognise that John is a real prophet – partly because he speaks with huge authority,a God-given authority that nobody can invent with a microphone.  It’s a God-given authority which God stamps with his power.  And the other thing about John the Baptist and I never can quite work this out – is that he is wearing camel’s hair,eating locust and wild honey which seems such a weird thing to keep reading in our Bibles.  Why is this significant?  And the simple answer is that the camel hair clothes,according to the Old Testament,prophet of Zechariah,that’s the mark of being a prophet – camel hair clothes.  

And the whole picture – clothes and food – is somebody who is not really belonging to this world.  Someone who is very,very different.  Someone whose look and sound and interest is not anchored in this world because John is interested in the Kingdom which of course Jesus is going to bring in.

Why does John baptise people?  The Jews used to sometimes baptise non Jews who wanted to come part of Judaism but John seems to be doing something quite novel.  It’s as if he is saying to the Jews

‘you who think you belong,you need a new start too.  
You need to be clean,
you need to be holy,
you need to be right with God
you need to be washed
you need to be re-born
even you who think you belong,you need to be re-made.

And the Jordon River is very significant because that’s the river that the Israelites crossed when they went into the Promised Land.  And the Jordon River is where Elijah and Elisha did most of their ministry and John the Baptist is very much in the echo of Elijah and Elisha.

So can you see all the threads that are here in these verses – they are all pointing to something highly significant,grounded in the Bible and all pointing to Jesus.  Now if you think on the basis that John the Baptist thinks highly of himself – just look at chapter 1 verse 7.

He says “After me will come one more powerful than I,the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie”.  You probably know that the Jewish slave was not expected to stoop so low as to carry shoes or wash feet.  John says to touch the shoes of Jesus would be too high for me.  Forget about stooping low – I couldn’t reach up to touch his shoes.  Normally,says John,I would refuse to touch sandals – in his case,I don’t deserve to touch Jesus’ sandals.

And John is not at this point trying to be super-humble.  He is trying to explain what he understands of the statue of Jesus.  When it comes to being powerful – look at what he says in verse 8.  He says “I” (this is how powerful I am) “I can wet you,I can splash water on you,I can get a bucket and tip it over you,I can get a hose and wet you” – that’s how powerful I am but He,says John,will do it inside you.

He will wash you.
He will put new life in you
He will give you the Holy Spirit.

So John knows his limitations.  He can only do outward things – it’s Jesus who will do the inward things – the washing and the renewal.

Now that friends,is a little picture of those 8 verses,a little bit of what the text actually says.  I want to finish this morning by thinking about what this actually means.  What are we meant to do with these 8 verses?  Because they only give us preparation.  Jesus doesn’t appear until the next verse – next Sunday we suddenly come face to face with Jesus.  But I think you would have to agree that the preparation in these 8 verses is pretty spectacular.  The more you think about it – the weightier it is.

And even the messenger as I say – he has Old Testament credentials.  So this remarkable pointing of the Bible is really,it has to be faced and weighed up.

Many years ago when I was a brand new believer,I read the book by Josh McDowell called “More than a Carpenter”.  Many of you would have read it.  It has been re-published many times every year and it has probably been re-published a few times already this year and it has been updated and it has been selling something like 15million copies since it was released.

I remember reading it on a beach – getting to the end of the little book and saying to myself ‘you’d have to be an idiot not to be a Christian’.  That was my phrase.  The evidence was so great and wonderful.  And one of the little details that he said and this has always interested me is that Josh McDowell says –

‘that when you get all the Old Testament predictions of Jesus,there is about 330 which are major or minor predictions of Jesus of the Messiah and he says using just sheer scientific ability – if you were to pick 48 of those.  You know predictions like

He has to be from the family of Abraham –
Tribe of Judah –
Line of David –
Born in Bethlehem –
Betrayed by a close friend –
Pierced in hands and feet –

If you,says Josh McDowell,would just take 48 of those and you were to try and find somebody who fulfilled those 48,you are looking at 1 in 10 to 157th.  To find somebody who can fulfil all those prophesies is 1 in 10 and then add 150 0’s at the end!  

He says to fulfil 8 of the prophesies,you would need to find somebody who will be 1 in 10 to 17th.  And then he says if you want to know what that looks like – get 10 to 17th silver dollars and spread them over Texas and they will be 2feet high all over Texas.  Then he says – get someone to mark one coin somewhere across Texas then blindfold a man and get him to walk across Texas and as he goes to pick one coin.  Now I know this illustration doesn’t really stack up because the guy could freakishly pick the coin straight off but the probability of picking the coin that is marked is 1 in 10 to 17th.  And to find a person who could fulfil 8 of the 330 prophesies is 1 in 10 to 17th.

You really do don’t you,say to yourself at some point – this is potent – this is powerful.  Now if the preparation of Jesus is so extraordinary,the response that we give him needs to be serious.  It needs to be real.  We are not playing a little game here.  We are not playing a religious,surface,superficial shallow game.  We are talking about somebody who comes into the world,changes the whole of history,changes the world,changes people.  Therefore our response has got to be a really serious response.  

We don’t have to invent Jesus.  He has come.
We certainly don’t want to change Jesus – that would just be idolatry.
What we do need is we need to face him and eventually we need to embrace him.

Now how are we going to face Jesus when the gulf between him and us is infinite.  He is God – we are not.  He is holy – we are shot through with sin and evil – how are we possibly going to embrace him?

John’s message is REPENT.  The first thing you need to do says John,in the 1st Century and the same thing in the 21st Century is you need to REPENT.  What this means is that you have to put away your resistance.  We all by nature have hostility,resistance to Jesus and we have to put that away.  We have to make a break with anything or any evil or any person who keeps us from Jesus.

I think it is an absolute tragedy when I think of lifestyles which are applauded in our culture which prevent that person from coming to Jesus because if you miss out on Jesus – if something keeps you from Jesus,it’s an eternal tragedy and it’s an eternal danger.

And repentance when I think about repentance in my own brain – this is what it looks like – I am either kneeling by my bed or I am sitting in my little room and I am saying to Christ ‘whatever has to go – goes and whatever has to be done – will be done’.  That’s what repentance looks like.

If there is anything that you say has to go – it’s going
If anything has to be done – I will do it.

If the gulf if infinite – it’s obvious that even that repentance is not going to bridge the gulf.  We cannot bridge the gulf with our repentance – that just is preparation.  But the bridging of the gulf is going to be done by Jesus and he comes in great power and he comes in great mercy and he bridges the gulf.

I was very struck by that famous comment of the astronaut who said:

“It’s a minor issue that I have walked on the moon –
It’s a major issue that the Son of God has walked on the earth:”

And it is – it’s a major issue.  And of course Jesus not only came to the world – that is extraordinary – but he also came as we know – to die – to make peach – to make healing – to make solution dealing with our guilt and providing with an infinite answer and a perfect bridge.

And that was the primary mission of Jesus – that’s what he tells us in chapter 10 –

“I’ve not come to be served but I have come to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.”  
I have not come to make the Middle East into a peaceful place –
I have not come to make you comfortable –
I have come to make you uncomfortable so that you will see and feel your sins,
they will be exposed –
you will bring them to Christ –
he will forgive them –
he will wash you –
he will make you new –
he will embrace you –
you will embrace him.

And we do want a deep ministry in ourselves and our friends and our family.  We don’t want that superficial touch of religion which is a killer,which is an inoculation against eternal life.

Old Bishop Ryle says “John was popular”.  Do you notice that?  John was very popular but how many were converted?  And Ryle says this “remember when you are in a crowded church – the thought should cross your minds – how many of these will reach heaven at last?”

Friends it is not going to be that we will get to heaven by getting a baptism.  We won’t get to heaven by living a decent life.  It won’t be by trusting ourselves to one of the Ministers – God forbid that you would ever do that – that you would attach yourself to some human in the hope that that would be good enough.  It’s going to be those who see that Jesus is the solution and go to him for the solution,embrace him and find that he washes and gives brand new life – the Holy Spirit.

Around the churches in Sydney as you know there are the outreach posters.  The outreach posters are posters outside churches dotted around Sydney and the great genius behind the outreach posters plan is that people will drive around and they will not only see the same message again and again as they drive but they will also begin to realise that so many of the churches are working together.  

And the latest outreach poster says
And that’s really what Mark 1:1-8 is really saying.  Someone is coming and now has come who is so amazing – you just trust him.

Let’s pray –
Our gracious God we thank you for the great riches that are in your Word – the treasures.  We ask that you would have mercy on us when we skim across these things and don’t care much.  We pray that you would continue to open blind eyes and deaf ears and cause us to see wonderful things in your word and then as we see them,we pray you would give us a heart that is surrendered to you and filled with your Spirit and joyful in your service,devoted to Jesus and grateful for salvation.
We ask this in Jesus’ Name – Amen.