This section of Mark’s Gospel is described as the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
We are presently in the season of Epiphany, which is about the manifestation of who Jesus really is.
Mark describes it as the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Epiphany concerns the realisation of who Jesus actually and really is, and why He came into the world.
Last Sunday – the Epiphany – we considered Matthew’s account in Chapter 2 and verses 1-12 of his Gospel, where we learned about the visit of the Magi – the wise men who came from the East and who came to worship the new born Christ – born to be king – in Bethlehem. They brought gifts of Gold, symbolising Jesus’ royalty; Frankincense symbolising His priesthood and Myrrh symbolising Jesus death and resurrection and His eternal reign as Christ the King.
Now, Mark’s Gospel says nothing about the Birth narratives concerning Jesus, but starts from the time of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. This was quite an astonishing event actually as we shall see. That momentous event begins with what Mark calls the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Matthew revealed Jesus as Christ the King, and Mark reveals Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God. These are accurate and illuminating descriptions of who Jesus really is. They are about His Epiphany.
We need to look at the Prophesies of Malachi 3:1 and of Isaiah 40:3 to catch the Old Testament links to the events now described in the New Testament. This was the word of the Lord as given to the prophets:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you;
Who will prepare your way –
A voice calling in the wilderness,
Prepare the way of the Lord
Make straight paths for him.”
John the Baptist
So it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness. He was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This was a liberating message in an unforgiving world, but it was not to be taken for granted, nor to be taken lightly. He was some character by the way and would not have won any fashion contests. His clothing was made of Camel’s hair, and he wore a leather belt around His waist. This by the way is the same attire as worn by the revered Prophet Elijah. Elijah was the last of the prophets, although members of the Jewish faith believed and still believe that he would return. Indeed it was the practice in the synagogues to leave the central chair vacant in case Elijah should suddenly return.
I sometimes think that in our Churches the centre Chair behind the communion table should not be occupied by the Minister, but left vacant as a sign of our confidence that Christ our Lord will return when we least expect Him. Actually many people thought that John the Baptist was Elijah come back to life. After all he had appeared in the wilderness; his clothes were bedraggled and he ate locusts and wild honey. By the way the locusts could have been just that, or they could have been a type of bean or carob. The honey may be that made from the honey will bees make; or it could be the sweet sap that comes from the bark of certain trees. In any event the point is that it is the food of the poorest people.
When John summoned people to repentance they knew deep down that it was a decision they had to make. Remember that striking poem of James Lowell which many of us sang as a hymn as often as not to the tune Ebenezer?
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.
John the Baptist was evidently a very effective preacher because people came from all over the Judean countryside, and from Jerusalem, to hear him.
John was offering a Baptism of confession unto the forgiveness of sins!
Until now baptism was only for Gentiles who wished to convert to Judaism.
They would be required to be circumcised (the mark of the covenant people); sacrifice would be required to atone for their sins and this would need to be a blood sacrifice; and they would need to be cleansed of the pollution of their past life. This cleansing would not be by sprinkling but by total immersion!
The astonishing thing now was that John the Baptist was calling the people of the Jewish religion to submit to this new Baptism, in the name of Christ. It requires every recipient to confess their wrongdoing to: 1) themselves (very telling); 2) the person(s) whom they have offended (hard) and 3) to God. Let’s face it, this is a really hard thing to do, but it is the way by which we may receive God’s forgiveness.
Now this is the most astonishing thing! JESUS came and presented himself to John for Baptism.
The Baptist was flabbergasted! His message had been “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as He was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him life a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. Jesus is revealed as the Son of God!
3 What are we Christians like?
John the Baptist lived his message in word and life. He did not live in luxury but in great simplicity in the wilderness of the world. His clothes were fit for work and his food was simple. He gave all the glory to Jesus. Will we confess our sins to ourselves, to one another and to God? Will we rejoice in the undeserved but liberating forgiveness that we receive from God through Jesus Christ our Lord; and will we share this truth with others? Will we forgive that we may be forgiven?
Let us openly, sincerely and courageously proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. JESUS IS LORD! AMEN
ABBA FATHER WE ARE YOURS!
Rev. Bob Anderson Minister
Reading – Mark 1:4-11
Mark 1:4-11New International Version4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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[a] water, but he will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit.”The Baptism and Testing of Jesus9 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.”