Summary: how John prepared the people for Christ and how we also do
December 8, 2002 Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the gospel 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.”
Advent comes from the words “ad venire” - to come. We use this season to prepare for the coming of Christ - his birth. Whenever you prepare for someone to come, it takes work - sometimes more - or less - depending on WHO is coming. When we prepared for the birth of our daughter, we didn’t need to do too much - shuffle the other kids around, get a stroller, buy a few clothes and some diapers, and we were good to go. But preparing for the birth of Jesus is different. The life and mission and message of John shows us how, as we consider how we can -
Prepare for the Powerful One
I. Through the baptism of repentance
Jesus had one destination from his birth in Bethlehem - and that was to go to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. When entered Jerusalem on that fatal yet glorious week, the people threw palm branches and coats in front of him. John didn’t use any cloaks or palm branches to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Luke says, 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. Instead of going into Jerusalem, John went out into the desert. And Mark tells us today that John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. So let’s see - Jesus was going to Jerusalem, and John went to the desert. Jesus has coming to visit the people, and John went and lived away from people. That’s strange.
It probably seems more than strange to God to see the way that we prepare for Jesus to come. Madonna once sang that we are “living in a material world.” I am not a material girl, but I would agree with her statement about the world - especially in the way we prepare for Christmas. We put up Christmas trees, mistletoe, stockings and lights around our houses. We make cookies and candy and buy presents for each other. Some talk about a guy name Chris Cringle and Santa Claus. This has nothing to do with the birth of Christ, yet we do some of these things every year.
There were reasons why God told John to go out to the desert and for him to wear camel’s hair and eat locusts. The camel’s hair would be itchy - and the food was very rudimentary - it exuded a message of discomfort. This was symbolic of John’s message which was one of repentance - he wanted people to be uncomfortable with who they were and what they’d done. That word in the Greek is metanoia - which means - “change of mind.” Paul explains that this change of mind - this repentance is a - godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. It produces an eagerness to clear yourselves, indignation and alarm over sin, and longing, concern, and readiness to see justice done. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
What was interesting for me in this text was the second part of what John did. Mark says that he was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The specific purpose of his preaching of repentance was not just to lay the hammer down on people and then wait for Jesus to come and preach about his love. John preached a baptism of repentance FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. So John says that - 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. They didn’t come out to the desert to get yelled at or to just say they were sorry. They came to be washed with this special baptism for the forgiveness of sins. They left John feeling fresh, renewed, and forgiven. That’s why they came.