Summary: John shows us the model of preparing the way for the coming Savior, but preaching the good news in the wilderness--good news of love, forgiveness, new life and a relationship with God.
Mark 1:1-8 “A Model to Follow”
The greeting, “Merry Christmas” rings a little hollow this year. Try as we might to joyfully prepare for Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we fall short of our goal. Anxiety, fear, depression, and grief describe the mood of the season more accurately than does joy and merriment.
The news that we are constantly bombarded with is not good. The scenes from Mumbai, India remind us that the war on terror is far from over. The experts finally decided that the United States is in a recession and has been since last December. Most of us knew that in January. Retirement and college funds have gone down worse that Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and many of us are worried about reduced hours and salary, lower commissions, or job loss. Merry Christmas, indeed!
The gospel text today says that it contains the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Does this good news that was preached by John and Jesus so many centuries ago have any power to counteract all of the bad news that we are hearing, today? How does this good news impact our lives? Does it numb us to the reality of life so we feel no pain and have no worries, or does is give us strength and courage to face boldly whatever we encounter?
JOHN AND THE WILDERNESS
The story begins by revealing that according to God’s plan a messenger was to be sent in order to prepare the way for the Messiah. John the Baptist appears as the messenger and carries out his prophetic ministry in the wilderness. It is interesting that Mark takes note of where John the Baptist ministered.
• John the Baptist probably lived in a community in the wilderness, so he was close to home. Even so, if he wanted to prepare the way of the Lord one would think that he would go to where he would have the greatest impact—cities, marketplaces and palaces.
• The wilderness was seen as a seen as a place of struggles and trials. We talk about having a wilderness experience when we struggle with our faith and our relationship with God seems strained.
• The wilderness is also the place to fight Satan and the forces of evil. After Jesus was baptized he was driven into the wilderness where he fought with Satan.
Whether we are struggling with our faith, facing trials and tribulations, or fighting the forces of evil, God’s good news comes to us
When John preached the good news, it must have struck a chord in the lives of the people. Mark writes that people from the entire Judean countryside and ALL the people of Jerusalem came out to hear what John had to say and to be baptized by him. Though this is obviously a bit of hyperbole we can assume that a lot of people came to hear John.
FORGIVENESS AND REPENTENCE
If we think we have problems, the Jews at the time of Jesus had greater problems. Their land was occupied by a foreign army. Most of them were living literally hand to mouth. Poverty and hunger were everywhere, and besides that their religion place heavy burdens upon them.
The message of John that they should be baptized for the forgiveness of sin was good news to them.
• Baptism was a sign of a change of life, or new life. Converts to Judaism were baptized to show that they were starting a new life in the Jewish faith. Their baptisms by John declared that they wanted to change and to experience a new life.
• The people knew that they had sinned against God and were estranged from him. They didn’t get any relief from the sacrificial system of the Jewish faith, and the expectations and requirements that were placed on them. They longed for forgiveness and the freedom from guilt and shame that it provides.
• The people longed for a relationship with God—to walk with him. John’s good news told them that this could happen. God wanted to have a relationship with his people. God wanted to help them to repent and grant them forgiveness.
In our wilderness the good news comes that God became incarnate and walked among us. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and set free. We are also given a renewed relationship with God—one where we can address him as father and God can call us his children. No matter what challenges we face this good news gives us the ability to overcome them.
THE GIFT OF THE SPIRIT
The good news of God’s love and forgiveness, and a possibility of a new relationship with God, is not all that John proclaimed to the people. At the end of the gospel text, John tells the people that Jesus will come and baptize them with the Holy Spirit.