Summary: If we want to follow Christ, we must recognize our sin, recognize the Son and repent.
Some time ago (1996), the staff at the Bridger Wilderness Area in the Teton National Forest in Wyoming received the following responses on comment cards from hikers on their trails. These are actual responses!
Trails need to be wider so people can walk while holding hands.
Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests.
Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.
A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed?
Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
A MacDonald's would be nice at the trailhead.
The places where trails do not exist are not well marked.
Too many rocks in the mountains. (Mike Neifert, Light and Life, February 1997, p. 27; www.PreachingToday.com)
Can you believe it? I think those people forgot where they were. Well, sometimes on life’s journey, people have similar complaints. They forget that life is not a paved highway to heaven where we can tool along at 65 mph in air conditioned vehicles. Rather, it’s more like a wilderness, mountain trail. Sure, there are beautiful vistas along the way, but often the trail gets steep and hard.
So what are we to do in this journey called life, especially as we start a new year? Complain about the hard times? Or is there a better way to enjoy the trip?
In the first century, Christians under Emperor Nero’s regime had a very difficult time. Nero came to power as the Roman Emperor in A.D. 54. He killed his mother in A.D. 59, his wife in A.D. 62, and himself in A.D. 68. This gives you an idea of the kind of man he was. He was insane, and Christians suffered terribly under his rule.
When the city of Rome burned in A.D. 64, Nero caught the blame. So, in order to remove suspicion from himself, he passed the blame onto Christians and began to arrest them. Some he dressed in wild animal skins and let the dogs tear them apart. Others he crucified, and still others he made into torches. He coated some of the Christians with tar, impaled them on posts, and set them on fire to light up his gardens.
Life wasn’t supposed to be this way for the followers of Christ, or so some of them thought. At least young Mark did. He grew up in a wealthy home in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Mary (Acts 12:12), and it was her home that became an important meeting place for the early Christians. It was one of the few homes big enough to hold a lot of people.
Paul and Barnabas, two of the first Christian missionaries, met Mark in Jerusalem and took him with them on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25). But Mark, who was raised in the lap of luxury, couldn’t handle the hardships of ministry. When they got to Perga, he deserted Paul and Barnabas and went home to momma (Acts 13:13).
Since Perga was a low swampy area, some Bible scholars suggest that Paul contracted Malaria there. Later, he writes about coming with a “bodily illness” (Galatians 4:13) to the people he visited after he was in Perga. Well, that “illness” gives people extreme nausea and diarrhea, and leaves them very weak.
I think Mark took one look at Paul, looked ahead at the prospect of going into some treacherous mountain passes, thought about the hardships of service and said, “Forget it!” He deserted Paul and Barnabas at a time when they needed him most.
He didn’t think following Christ was supposed to be that hard. But later, after his own struggle with the cost of serving Christ, he wrote a book about the life of Christ and Christ’s original followers. He wrote a book to encourage the Christians under Nero and later followers of Christ in their time of suffering.
That book is found in our New Testaments, the 2nd book in the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark. And if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Mark 1, Mark 1, where in the introduction to this little Gospel, we catch a glimpse about what it means to truly follow Christ.
Mark 1:1-8 The beginning of the gospel” (or the good news) about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)