PREPARE THE WAY
Princeton Christian Church
Mark 1:1-11 15 January 2023
I read a story earlier this week about a high-school graduate applying to college. As she filled out her application, she came across a question that made her heart sink. “Do you see yourself as a leader or a follower?” the form asked. Even though she wanted to write “leader,” honesty got the better of her and she wrote “follower.” She sent the application in, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received an acceptance letter from the college, with a note saying, "It appears that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower!"
The truth is—everyone is following something or someone. Some people follow in the footsteps of their families. Some follow a philosophy of life, like the Golden Rule. While others follow their own intuition, as someone has said, making selections from the salad bar of philosophy, religion, friends, and family. They do whatever they feel is right in their gut. Let’s think today about who we follow or what ideals we follow.
As Christians, we are by definition, “followers of Christ.”
Unfortunately, many church-goers today are more like fans than actual followers. Some will wear a cross around the neck; but will they bear the cross?
We can come to church, know all the songs, open our Bible, and even take notes, we walk out to our car with a Jesus fish on the bumper, and say grace before lunch. We can and should do all that. But even all of that doesn’t necessarily make you a follower of Christ.
In Jewish culture, whenever a young aspiring disciple set off to follow his chosen Rabbi (teacher), the family offered a traditional blessing; they would say, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.” In other words, “May you follow in the footsteps of your Rabbi so closely that you are covered in the sand kicked up by his sandals.” This is exactly what Jesus calls us to do—to follow in his steps, to teach what he taught, to do what he did.
Now, obviously, Jesus isn’t standing in front of us. We can’t physically follow him the way his early disciples did. That’s why Peter explains it this way: 1 Peter 2:21: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” That’s why God gave us the Gospels, so we could read them, study them, and discover how Jesus lived and how He loved.
In order for us to follow Jesus more nearly, it’s absolutely necessary that see him more clearly. We must enlarge our vision of who Jesus is and how He lived. And how He expects us to live.
Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. It’s also the first, written as early as 45 AD. It was written by John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas. Mark traveled with his uncle Barnabas and the Apostle Peter on early missionary journeys. Mark listened as Peter preached about Jesus from town to town and wrote everything down so that it becomes it the ideal learning starting point for anyone who desires to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Mark presents a three-fold introduction to Jesus beginning with the anticipated first coming of Jesus.
THE ANTICIPATION OF JESUS
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming of Christ—the birth of the Messiah. Isaiah wrote about it. Micah spoke of it. Even Abraham looked forward to this day, as did Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. They all saw it coming; they just didn’t know exactly when, or how, it would happen.
It was as if the prophets provided a calendar with no numbers. All of these prophesies-built anticipation and expectation for the coming Messiah. No prophet wrote in more detail than the prophet Isaiah.
Mark begins by pointing out the fulfillment of one of Isaiah’s prophesies:
It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!”
That messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
Seven centuries before Mark wrote, the prophet Isaiah predicted that a forerunner shouting in the wilderness would prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. Then, at a time in Jewish history when anticipation for the Messiah’s arrival reached a fever pitch, God sent John, a simple man dressed in camel’s hair to prepare people for the coming of Jesus.
In those days, an announcer or herald always preceded important Roman officials. When the herald arrived in town, the people knew that someone of prominence would soon arrive. That’s what John did for Jesus. His call was to “prepare the way” for the coming Messiah. It meant urging people to give up their selfish way of living, renounce their sins, seek God’s forgiveness, and establish a new relationship with God through faith and obedience.
John prepared people by calling them to confess their sins, repent, and be baptized. The Jews often baptized non-Jews who converted to Judaism, but John took this existing custom and gave it new meaning. Baptism became a visible sign of repentance and renewal. Dying from their sins, being buried, and being raised to new life guided by the Holy Spirit.
People who don’t know Jesus need to be prepared to meet Him. Like John, we can “prepare the way” by explaining their need for forgiveness, demonstrating Christ’s teachings in our own lives, and telling them how Jesus can give their lives meaning. We can “clear the road for him” by helping those without Christ to remove barriers and correcting misunderstood ideas that might prevent someone from accepting Jesus.
Someone you know may be open and ready for a relationship with Jesus. Like John, we can help prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. But more importantly, if you haven’t already, you can prepare your own heart to receive Jesus.
Mark moves on in his writing from the anticipation of the coming of Jesus to the announcement of Jesus.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF JESUS
After John the Baptist came on the scene people recognized him as a dynamic man of God. So many people began to wonder if John himself was the promised Messiah. So, to set the record straight, John made an announcement:
“Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” (Mark 1:7-8 NLT)
When John finally announces the coming of Jesus, he focuses on two dimensions of the Messiah—His worth and His work. John sums up Jesus’ worth in one word: He is greater! “He is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to lace up his sandals.”
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali often boldly declared, "I am the greatest!" On one occasion Ali was flying to a fight and refused to buckle his seatbelt; the flight attendant insisted but Ali said, "Superman don't need no seatbelt." The attendant replied, "Superman don't need no plane either, so buckle up!" Muhammad Ali may have been a great boxer but compared to Jesus Ali isn’t even worthy to lace up his gloves.
A song, which was introduced a few years ago describes the power and presence of Jesus Christ, and the words say this: “Our God is greater, our God is stronger; God You are higher than any other; Our God is Healer, awesome in power; our God, our God.” And all of that is true. Jesus is greater than any other.
The greatest event in human history was the coming of Jesus into this world. The greatest words ever spoken were His words. The greatest deeds ever done were accomplished by His hands. The greatest gift ever offered was His blood at Calvary. Jesus stands alone in all of history—the single greatest person who ever lived.
In addition to the worth of Jesus, John also announced the work of Jesus. He said that Jesus would baptize people not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Jesus would immerse believers in the Holy Spirit, sending the Spirit to live within each one of us. John’s baptism—immersion—brings us into contact with the blood of Jesus Christ. And Jesus pours out His Spirit into us. Through His Spirit, Jesus offers us both forgiveness of sin and the power to live for Him.
Those events happen each time a lost person accepts Jesus as Lord. Jesus still offers his Spirit to those who put their faith in Him.
Years later, the Apostle Peter announced, in Acts2:38-39 - “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God” (Acts 2:38-39).
Jesus’ worth is far greater than words can express, and His work is still changing lives by the power of His Spirit. Finally, following the anticipation and announcement of Jesus, Mark highlights the anointing of Jesus.
So, Mark, in his writings has shown us the anticipation of Jesus’ coming, and the announcement of His coming.
Now, we read of the ANOINTING OF JESUS.
After months of ministry along the Jordan River, John finally came face to face with the Messiah he anticipated and announced. Mark writes:
“One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Mark 1:9-11)
Stepping down into the rust-colored river that was the lifeblood of his people, Jesus waded through the muddy stream as it churned around his waist, the cool mud squishing up between his toes with each step.
What an awesome sight this must have been to witness! Jesus’s baptism is one of the most significant moments in history. Any attempt to unravel its mystery and majesty ought to be seen for what it is—a human perception of a heavenly event. But we can’t help but ask some questions. Jesus was the Son of God. Surely, He had no sins which needed to be washed away in the muddy Jordan River.
John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but Jesus had no sins. He was sinless, spotless, perfect. But as Jesus descended into the water, he came down to our level. Through his baptism, Jesus identified himself with you and me.
And that is why He was baptized – to identify with us, and so we could identify with Him.
Baptism was for the immoral, the impure, the liars, adulterers, and thieves, and yet Jesus willingly plunged into the water. He came to the river because we are sinners. He was washed because we were not clean. He did what was right because we, so often, do what is wrong. He became like us so that we could become like him.
By allowing John to baptize Him, Jesus showed support for John’s ministry and message, identified with humanness and sin, and gave us an example to follow. But as mysterious and intriguing as Jesus’s baptism was, what happened next was simply Spectacular.
The heavens parted, and a great light shines brightly on the earth. The crowd came to see and hear the weird-looking and strange-acting preacher from the desert. But what they see next has never been seen. What they hear has never been heard. The Holy Spirit, the breath of God, who hovered above the waters at the beginning of creation, drifts down from heaven in the form of a dove, falling upon Jesus. And just then the voice of God—the same voice, who at the creation of the earth, spoke into the endless darkness, “let there be light.” It was like a proud Dad saying This is my son, and I am so blessed because He, My Son brings me immense joy “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
All three persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit—came together at this moment, in this place. This is the anointing of Jesus. The Father encourages Him. The Spirit empowers Him.
This anointing marked the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry—His mission was, and is, to save the world. From this day forward nothing would be the same. Just imagine standing at the river’s edge and witnessing these powerful moments.
Nothing else matters. Forget efforts to make your way through life, business, school, and material stuff. Nothing is worthy of being news. Nothing is newsworthy. All that mattered, matters no more, for Christ has come.
This is the Jesus we are called to follow. And seeing Him in this light of His coming with no other purpose than to be able to say of us – “This is my son in whom I am well pleased. This is my daughter in who I am well pleased.
Who wouldn’t want to follow Him!? What about you?
Have you been excited at the anticipation of Jesus? Have you “prepared the way” and “cleared the road” for Jesus to come into your life? Have you believed the announcement of Jesus? Do you recognize His greatness? Have you embraced His Spirit? Have you joined Jesus in the waters of baptism? Our journey to follow Jesus begins here at the river’s edge.
If you haven’t already, maybe it is time to confess Jesus as Lord of your life; go to the water, and let the water consume you. Take the plunge.
If you’re ready to commit your life to following Jesus—this morning, then come forward and share that decision while we stand and sing.