Summary: John the Baptist helps us get ready for Advent. He points us to baptism, repentance, and the Mighty One, Jesus Christ. This sermon looks at the text and then shifts into an application with two illustrations.
To borrow the words of Meredith Wilson: “It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go.” Thanksgiving is done and the leftovers are consumed. Black Friday is over. Cyber Monday and Cyber week are finished. This week, we had our first real taste of winter and Minnesota weather with the snow, ice, and frigid temperatures. As you go about your life, you see that it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Christmas decorations are going up. The trees are being assembled. The lights are being hung. Children make their wish lists and send their letters to Santa. Cookies are being cooked, and the stores are becoming crowded with shoppers trying to find that perfect gift for all of those on his or her list. How are your Christmas preparations going? Is your tree up? Is the house decorated? Is it clean? Does anyone have all their Christmas shopping done? Is anyone completely ready for Christmas? I thought so. Christmas can be such a busy time of year with all the preparations that we have to do. It can sometimes feel like a relief when the holiday is over, and all the busyness and preparations done! The busyness of Christmas is something that we can all relate to.
God can as well. He knows what it is like to prepare for Christmas and for Christ’s coming. He had to prepare the world for His Son’s arrival. In our Old Testament text, we see some of those preparations. In Isaiah’s day, some 700 years before Christ, God was already planning their return from Babylon through the Babylonian king Cyrus. He was already orchestrating the events to get him into power, and to set into motion the events that would get His people back home. Later on, God would work through Alexander the Great who spread the Greek culture and language through his conquests. God had the Romans come to power, and they were the ones who practiced crucifixion and put people like Herod and Pontus Pilate in power. God worked through Caesar Augustus’ census that got Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem while Quirinius was governor of Syria. God was preparing for His Son’s arrival.
This was not all that He did, and Mark makes that clear. He writes: As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘“Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight,’” John appeared…. God sent John the Baptist to prepare His people and to prepare the way for His Son. John the Baptist was that promised messenger of old and the new Elijah that was to come before the Messiah. He even dressed like him too with the camel’s hair and leather belt. John was to prepare the way for Jesus. He was to remove the obstacles and things that would hinder and affect His coming. So, how did he do that? Let’s look at the text.
As Lutherans, we should love this. He did it by baptizing and preaching! Mark writes: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” People came from everywhere to be baptized by John and to hear him. Those who came from Jerusalem walked about 20 miles downhill and would then have to walk 20 miles up hill on their way back! Talk about commitment! The people would come to John, confess their sins, and be baptized, which showed they were forgiven.
John wanted the people to be ready for the coming ministry of their Creator and Savior. He wanted them to remove and confess the obstacles and crookedness of their sin, for repentance recognizes one’s crooked paths and turns to a new, straight direction. The prophet wanted their hearts and lives prepared for the Coming One Who would save them. He wanted them to see their need for grace and forgiveness and point them to the One Who gives it. His baptism helped with that.
But John didn’t just baptize, He preached too, and Mark gives us a glimpse of the content. John preached, saying, “After me comes He Who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John pointed ahead to the Greater One, the Savior, Jesus Christ. In fact, John says that He is so great, that John is not even worthy do the task of a servant for Him, like untying His sandals. That is like saying he is not worthy to carry the cleats of an upcoming player. It shocks you. It gets your attention. It focuses you on the One Who comes that will be greater, better, and more grand. John the Baptist pointed them to Jesus. God prepared His people for the coming of Jesus through John the Baptist’s baptizing and preaching.