Summary: The Gospel is earthed in a call to repentance
Our Gospel reading this morning is from Mark’s Gospel. And Mark’s Gospel starts with these words:
The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Or as the NIV puts it
The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The beginning of the Gospel according to Mark is earthed in the Old Testament, where the coming of John the Baptist - the messenger or herald coming ahead of Jesus the Messiah - is predicted.
The good News is earthed in a call to repentance
The first part of the quote attributed to Isaiah is in fact a quote from Malachi 3:1 which reads:
“See I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me”
And second part from Isaiah 40:3:
A voice of one calling: “In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”
The idea of a messenger going ahead is bit foreign to our 21st Century ears, but to Mark’s original audience it would not have been
Donald English the Bible Commentator in his commentary on Mark’s Gospel says this:
“In the Greek city-state the herald (a) preceded the king, drawing attention to his coming and (b) called the citizens to the assembly which determined the city’s life.”
Indeed when an important king was coming it was not unusual to send a herald ahead to tell the local population to fix the roads to receive the king in proper style.
John and his message are foretold in the Old Testament
And Mark starts his Gospel where Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament left off.
For with coming of John the Baptist, God breaks a three hundred year silence with his people, the Jews.
John the Baptist was Jesus’ forerunner or herald
John the Baptist was a rather unusual person.
John the Baptist’s ministry
Story: Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if the Bishop appointed John the Baptist as Rector of the Upper Wreake.
Imagine yourself asking John the Baptist round for dinner.
What would you have expected?
1. His clothes.
He wouldn’t have turned up in an Armani suit and a Pierre Chardin shirt.
What you would have got was a rugged man with a slightly dishevelled look.
And if we were honest, he’d probably look more like a gypsy than what you’d expect of the new Rector.
2. His diet
And if you asked him if he had any dietary
requirement and he would tell you that he’s
And he would then probably add:
“Well actually I only eat is locusts and honey.”
If any of you have been watching “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here”, you will have seen some of the contestants eating locusts - they are not exactly “haute cuisine!”
3. His conversation
John the Baptist had few social graces.
I wonder what his topic of conversation would be with you over the dinner table.
When the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to look at his work, did he welcome them as honourable persons of the religious establishment?
Did he smile and exchange pleasantries over
Did he try to engage them in conversation about their work and their own perspective on religious matters?
Did he meet with them at the St Philip’s Centre in Leicester to foster “interfaith dialogue?”
Not a bit of it!
Rather he called them a bunch of poisonous snakes that were soon to be consumed by the flames of hell?
Not the way to make friends was it?
4. His first sermon at Christmas
Could you imagine his first Christmas sermon – here in Frisby - with a full church.
I wonder what his first sermon might have been?
Would he have told us simply to go on “being kind and loving to one another?”
Or would he have preached a message of
repentance - with fire and enthusiasm.
5. He wasn’t a conformer
I think I can say, without any fear of contradiction - John the Baptist was not a conformer.
Obviously someone had forgotten to give him a copy of Dale Carnegie’s book “How to make friends and influence people” the previous Christmas.
The world, in which we live - demands conformity.
It demands that we live and think and act just like everybody else.
Those who have the courage to resist may face great opposition and ostracism in their life.
We live in a consumer society.
I wonder if some of us really only come to church because we want to “get something out of it” rather than “serve and worship God.”
Henry David Thoreau the great American poet once said:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music that he hears, however measured and far away”.