Strange Man

Mark 1:1-8

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Happy New Year.  Tonight, as a church, we begin a 14-week study of the Gospel of Mark, which will lead us up to and conclude Easter Weekend.  I say, as a church, because our goal has been to have some synergy across our teaching.  So our children’s and youth ministry will also be working through Mark, as well as some of our bible discussion groups.

We want to be a church, that is passionate about God’s word.  That’s one of our pillars of focus as church; deep study of the Bible.  We want to be a church, that each person goes to God’s word for themselves, not just a 30-minute sermon on Saturday night.

Mark is the shortest of the gospels, but there are still 16 chapters, and we’re trying to fit it in over 14 weeks, and so I won’t have the opportunity to hit every story, parable, and miracle in the book.  I won’t have the opportunity here, to answer every question that comes up, as you read this gospel.

And so we want to encourage you, each week, read a chapter … or two.    Spend some time, meditating on what you’ve read.  Spend some time, praying and talking with God about what you’ve read.

I realize in room like this, we’ve people who have been reading the Bible all of their lives, and we’ve got people who haven’t cracked the book, ever … and many of us in between.    

So I make no apologies, for starting at the very beginning.

The Bible is ultimately a story about Jesus.  Every book of the Bible, points to Him.  Every chapter, every verse whispers his name.

I recently purchased this book called Visual Theology, because I’m a simple person, and pictures help me understand more complex ideas.

The author had this chart in the book, that mimics a periodic table in Chemistry, but lays outthe books of the Bible.

periodic-table

If you look at the chart, you see the books of the Old Testament which all point us to a coming Christ.

The Pentateuch (Gen, Exodus, etc) which were mostly written by Moses, and gives us the foundation of creation, and the fall, and God’s law.

Next the History books for the Nation of Israel that shows how poorly we are at keeping God’s law.

Next we see Wisdom literature and poetry that helps guide us, and encourage us through our storms and doubts.

Then we have the prophets both major and minor who are predicting and promising the coming of Jesus.

Then we get to the Gospels of the New Testament, where the Jesus who is promised in the OT, is made known.

And then Acts, which is a formation of, and early history of the Church.  And then Paul’s and others letters to the church.  And finally Revelations.

For the next 14-weeks, we’re studying the Gospel of Mark.

The are 4-gospels in the Bible;  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and each gospel tells us:

  • who Jesus is
  • how he has come
  • why he has come

Each gospel, in their own way, tell us of the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus … and the promise of his return.

Each of the gospels though, have the same PURPOSE,     which isn’t mainly to provide us with a biography of Jesus, or a historical account of his life… but to announce to the reader the Good News.

That’s what the word Gospel translated from the Greek means … GOOD NEWS.

And so when we read the gospels, that’s what we need to hear.  News.  Not a religious program to accept, or a philosophy to adopt.  But news of a PERSON who changed everything.

Over the coming 4-years, as a church, we’re going to kick-off each year studying one of these four gospels.

4-year-plan

On the screen, and you can find this on our website and Facebook, a 4-year plan that’ll I’ll be teaching through, that will include not only the gospels each year, but also time in Acts each year, some time in the poetry and wisdom, history and prophets of the OT, and finally at least 1-letter to the church each fall.

I hope this illustrates, then just how passionate we are, about being a church, that isn’t simply here to give some feel good, motivational speech each, but a church who, as Peter told us in our last study … as a church, who like infants crave pure spiritual nourishment.

And so we begin, our 4-year-journey in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verse 1 …

This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

Nobody should be in any doubt about the theme of this book.  The good news about Jesus.

And who is Jesus?  Mark can’t wait to tell us.  He gives away the ending before he ever starts.  He’s the messiah, the son of God.

Well who in the world is Mark?  Why is he a credible source for this “news”?

We know from scripture that Mark was:

  • Cousin of Barnabas (Colossians).
  • A travelling companion of Paul, who received his instruction from Peter. (Acts/Timothy)
  • If you remember, as we finished up our study of 1 Peter last month, Peter sends greetings from his son to Mark, meaning my protégé, my padawone.

Thus most historians agree that the Gospel of Mark was greatly influenced and is most likely Peter’s perspective on Jesus’ life.  That’s partly why I picked to do 1 Peter and Mark back-to-back, because we’ve already learned a lot about Peter, and how Christ impacted Him.

Most historians would also agree that Mark was the first written of the gospels, much of the material is included in Luke and Matthew.  All but 31 verses of Mark within their gospels.

So if we miss one of your favorite miracles or teachings pf Jesus, don’t worry, we’ll get them in the next year or two.

The Gospel of Mark reads very much like a 30-minute prime time TV show.

It’s fast moving and action packed.  It’s very actionreaction.

We zoom in, as Jesus performs an action, then we zoom out to see the reaction.

There are 3 people groups we’re zooming out to see how they react to the actions of Jesus.

  • Sometimes it’s the religious leaders, how are they going to react to Jesus.
  • Sometimes it’s the disciples, how are they going to respond to Jesus teachings?
  • Sometimes it’s the crowds of people who are following Jesus.

Often for Mark it seems the RESPONSE is just as important as Jesus’ action that provokes it.

Not to give too much of a spoiler alert, but almost 1/2 of Mark is devoted to the events that lead up to the death of Jesus.

And we see in these events that the religious leaders have responded by having Jesus arrested and eventually killed.  That his disciples respond by abandoning Jesus in his darkest hour.  And the crowds mock and shout insults.

Only when Jesus dies alone on the cross does the most unexpected person put it all together and recognize Jesus as the Son of God.  But we’re getting ahead …

Do you see how important this Gospel is to us as a church?  How will we respond to the Good News?

Will we respond, as Jesus say asks near the end of this Gospel …

Mark 16:15  “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

 Or will we remain neutral?

If we zoomed in on our own lives, and saw the daily miracle of grace and mercy, and then zoomed away to see our response, what would we see?  Do our lives reflect the miracle of new life we’ve been given?

We can’t remain neutral Refuge; we have to respond … and that’s going to be one of our common themes for 2017 … so get ready.

But we begin this week, with the story of a strange man in a strange place, making an announcement

It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

    “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

      and he will prepare your way.

    3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,

    ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming!

      Clear the road for him!’” 

When you have some good news to share, we tend to find creative and exciting ways to share that news.

Humorous baby announcements (slides)

We’d be surprised if someone had a baby, and they didn’t tell anyone this good news.

When my wife and I were adopting, we didn’t tell all that many people, and as you can imagine, when we posted “welcome home Emery” (we got puzzled responses).

Karen got a lot of “wow, you look so good for just having a baby”.  To which she simply replied, well thank you.

When we think in terms of God coming down to earth (God incarnate, coming down as Jesus Christ) … stepping on to the stage of human history, it would be very surprising if he showed up unannounced.

Remember from our Christmas Eve Candlelight service, when we read from the Gospel of Luke and we learned about the angelic announcement to the shepherds.

Luke 2:13–14 (ESV)

 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”

But unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn’t begin with the birth of Jesus, in fact he doesn’t include it at all.  He begins 30-years later.

But he too tells that Jesus has not come into the world unannounced.    That there is a special messenger who is coming before him to announce the beginning of his earthly ministry.

And who is this special messenger?

4 This 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. 5 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.

Hundreds of years that have passed since the prophecy of Isaiah.  There has been 300 years of silence since any prophecy about a coming Messiah, and this arrival of John the Baptist.  Between these two events, generations had lived and died.

Hey, there was supposed to be a messenger, a voice calling out in the wilderness, but I haven’t heard anyone? 

 Where is this one who is supposed to take away the sins of the world.   I’ve not seen him.

And into this silence, comes the word of God through this strange misfit in the wilderness.  It’s a dark time.  The political structure is unfavorable.

Yet I’d imagine those events in Bethlehem had stirred the hearts of some.  Some of those who knew God’s Word, who were reading their Bibles, you would think, must have began talking to one another about these events in Bethlehem about angels and wise men rolling through town.

I’m not sure if the Shepherds got 5-minutes of fame out of their claims, but I have to believe they were hearing a lot of questions …

Now what was it you saw that night?  How many angels were there?  What did they say again?

 Because that baby, he’s not done much.  I heard he’s a carpenter or something now, over in Nazareth of all places, building houses. 

 And what about that other strange birth we’d heard about?  The one were the husband was struck dumb (speechless, not stupid).  What was his name again?  Zacharias?  His wife was Elizabeth.  Whatever happened to that kid? 

 And then maybe says … well you know, he’s grown up now.  Last I heard he’s out living in the desert. 

Then all of a sudden, John emerges on to the scene.

And he isn’t some guy, with some bright ideas about how to create a religion.  He’s not come up with a self-help program or product to market.

He’s a messenger … a voice announcing the arrival of another.

I encourage you this week, to go to all 4 gospels and read the comparisons on what each have to say about John the Baptist and these events.  Remember that the gospels are a bit like reading USA Today, Newsweek, NY Times and Rolling Stone … all covering the same story, but from their own vantage point/perspective and for different audiences.

But what you’ll discover, in all the gospels, is that the arrival of this messenger, was the arrival of a very strange man.

And we know he’s strange, because it’s not normal in scripture for people to be identified by their clothes and their diets.  So it most be important.

6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist.  For food he ate locusts and wild honey.

It’s sort of a prophetic look.  It’s kind of like the modern hipster worship pastor look.

20 years from now if someone starts dressing like this (flannel/man bun/skinny jeans) you’re going to say:  Who do you think you are?  Some sort of 2016 Hipster Worship Pastor? 

Hey John, why you dressing up like a prophet from 600-years ago?  Do you think you are a prophet?  Maybe. 

Because in one sense he was.  He’s like the last of the OT prophets bridging the gap between the one who was prophesized about in the OT, by announcing his arrival.

John the Baptist, he’s not high society.  This isn’t some fancy camel sport coat he’s wearing.  I think JB would be much more comfortable in Alva than Naples.  He’s granola, before that word was invented.  The dude is living off of grasshoppers and honey I guess he’s stealing out of bee hives?

Not only is he a strange man, but he’s in a strange place.  The wilderness.  The Greek word here is eremos, which describes an uncultivated or unpopulated area.  Often this referred to the desert.

We’re finished binge watching Breaking Bad last night … nothing good ever happens in the desert.

If you’re going to try to start a movement, or make some big announcement … it would seem like you should start where the crowds are right?  The big cities? The temple area?

What a strange place to proclaim his Good News!  Who’s going to go to the desert to hear what some hippie preacher has to say? 

Shouldn’t he get a nice church building?  In the suburbs?  Where growth is happening?  Not some flex warehouse space next to a yoga studio and people put in the parking lot during the service pounding tires with sledge hammers.

And yet, if numbers are anything, John is the most successful preacher of his generation.

ALL of Judea, including ALL the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John …

Everyone was going.  Word was spreading.

Hey, did you hear about this weird dude out in the wilderness?  Yeah, he eats locust. 

 He wears this outfit, you got to see it.  He thinks he’s some sort of prophet.

You want to go?  I’ve been.  You should have seen it the last time.  These religious people showed up.  He really gave it to them.  He called them a Brood of Vipers. 

 Really?  He said that?  Why? 

 I don’t know, maybe he’s not all that into religion? 

 Well how was he with other people? 

 Oh, he was nice with them.  Why don’t you come with me next time? 

And if they went, they’d discover, not only where people showing up, but they were actually paying attention to what he was saying.  And one after another where going down into the Jordan river to be baptized.  They were responding to this message from a strange man, in a strange place.

What John was doing, was not only announcing a coming Messiah, but calling for the people to return to God and welcome that Messiah.

He’s calling them to turn their back on their selfishness and sin.  And to bear testimony to their willingness to do so by being baptized.

This wasn’t just some freak show in the desert.  John was effective at getting his message to those who needed to hear it …

As we zoom back out, we will see that people responded.

The religious were offended, while others in the crowds were encouraged.

John was effective because of his message, and the way in which he conveyed that message.

7 John announced: “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.  8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

Do you hear the humility in that statement?  John knows his place.  He knows his role in the story.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, it’d be strange to see the best-man trying to outshine the groom.  Trying to make the wedding all about them and turning it into the best-man show, letting everyone know how good you are with your jokes and stories.

No one is interested in the best man, they came to say the bride, and maybe a little bit of the groom.

John’s saying: I’m not the groom, I’m the best man.  I have a job to do, I’m hear to make an announcement, but the one who comes after me, he’s the one who is important.  He’s the one who will change the world.  I can only take you so far.  But he will provide the very cleansing that this baptism represents.

John is humble.  Remember we said being humble isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.   John talks very little about himself. That’s hard for a preacher.  Many people thought JB was the messiah.  It would have been easy for him to get a big head, etc.

But John just deflects to Jesus.

Yeah, I’m a light shining in the darkness, but a very dim light, but I’m here to announce the one who will be the light of the world.

And yet, even in humility, his message carried tremendous authority.  His authority lies in him being commissioned to do what he does.   He’s a man sent from God.  That’s his authority.  That’s our authority.

The authority of our message today as a church isn’t found in our personalities, or charisma, or facility, or music, or amazing programs … the authority in our message is that it comes from the Word of God.  That’s our authority.

So John’s message was effective because he was humble, and authoritative, but he was also very clear.

I was here the other night with Karen while she was seeing some folks for counseling, and it came time for Emery (our 5-year-old) and I to leave and head home, and Emery (stubborn) didn’t want to leave, because her sisters were staying, and things began to elevate and get heated between us, if you have kids you know what I’m talking about, to a point where I finally just pointed my finger at the door and said “CAR”.

I didn’t need to say anything else.  Wrapped up in that one-word, Emery knew what I meant, I was done, the battle was over, now get into the car, pipe down, or there are going to be some serious consequences.

That’s what John was doing.  People would say, OK what do we do now?

Water.  Everyone, in the water. 

The message was clear.  I have a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  You know you have sins that need forgiven.  Water.

And then people would make a choice and respond.  But the message itself was very clear.

Clear about repentance.  Clean about the need of forgiveness.  Clear about the announcement of the coming lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world.

Lastly, John’s message was marked by urgency.  He didn’t have a nonchalant, cool, easy going way with preaching his message.  There was urgency and passion to his words.

I’ve got a great team of people at my insurance agency, but one of the first things we teach any new sales person is creating a sense of urgency.  If we think we have the best product, or our team can provide the best service, and the customer says: well should I move over my insurance to your agency? 

And we say: Well I don’t know?  There’s no rush.  It’s not really that important. 

But if we say:  Are you sure your coverages are right?  Are you being protected.  What would happen if your house went up in a fire today and you had the wrong replacement cost?  Let me tell you about Christa who has been with our agency for 5-years and how she just raves about our fast and friendly service.  So will you be paying today by credit card or check? 

Urgency.

As we close, listen, we’re not selling the gospel.  It’s free.  It’s a gift.

Yet we often attempt to share our message with an absence of urgency, an absence of humility, an absence of authority, and an absence of clarity … and wonder, why are message seems to be landing on deaf ears.

Not JB. I don’t want you leave the desert you’ve found yourself in until you hear my message.  Until you get down in this water with me.

I hope you’ve heard the Good News tonight.  It isn’t some program for you to accept, or a philosophy to adopt.  But a person for you to love, and to trust, and to know.  And his name is _____.

He’s the one that John was announcing.

He’s the person all of scripture points to.

He’s the person whose footsteps we will be following over the coming 13-weeks leading to Easter weekend as we walk together through the Gospel of Mark.

Written by Brian Culbertson

Sinner turned Saint because of Jesus.

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