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Focus on Christ 1 1-13 031807

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“How to Get and Keep a Focus on Christ”

Mark 1:1-13                                                                         Pastor Bruce Dick – BEFC

Pt. 2 in Gospel of Mark                                                                      March 18, 2007

            I have a small amount of experience with taking pictures with a zoom lens on a camera, but not a lot.  What I have found as I attempt to take pictures with a zoom lens is that you have to first begin most broadly and distantly and then zoom in on the object in the center of the frame.  But what I have also found is that if you BEGIN with the lens zoomed in all the way, it is almost impossible to find the target you wish to capture.  I remember last fall when Landon and I were at the Nebraska football game in Lincoln, NE; there was a helicopter flying near the stadium and he said to me, “Dad, can you take a picture of that helicopter?”  “Sure,” I replied.  So I zoomed in with my little zoom but I couldn’t find that thing through the camera for the life of me.  I could open both eyes and with my normal eyesight see the helicopter, but I couldn’t find it with the camera.  I backed off on the zoom a wider angle and finally found the helicopter and then, once that was done, I could zoom in and take the picture Landon wanted.

            I find that life is almost the same way.  Things are going past us at a dizzying speed – kids and school and their sports and music functions; our own work places and jobs with their complexities; keeping our marriage relationships communicating and at least relatively healthy, keeping gas in the car and trying to make it clean once in a while…on and on the list goes.  And like a camera trying to laser in on one thing, the only way we succeed, is to back off a bit, get the big picture and then begin to laser in more closely on the thing or things we want to focus in for that day or short period of time. 

            If you have that concept in your mind, you will grasp what we will be talking about this morning.  Our focus this morning is not on the kids or the job or the dog or the dirty vehicle, but on Jesus Christ.  Like everything else in this life, it is so very easy to lose that focus.  Jesus can (and often) becomes one of the many things that are part of our lives.  He’s an important part, but he kind of gets lost in the busyness of life, would you agree?  We don’t intend to forget about him – praying, reading, being part of church- but somehow it just happens.  What we want to encourage you this morning is to back up, get the big picture with the wide angle lens and then, once Jesus is in the picture, begin to zoom in on him.  As we begin to zoom in on him, we will find that all the other things in our wide angle vision begin to find their proper place, no longer all clamoring for front and center, but falling in line in the place that they belong. 

            That zooming in on Christ is how Mark begins his gospel account of Jesus Christ.  If you were here last week, you heard me talk about the two “failures” behind the writing of this gospel account – Peter and Mark.  Peter, the famous apostle who had a habit of revving his mouth while his brain was in neutral, was the apostle with the foot-shaped mouthMark, the young man who had the enormous privilege of knowing Jesus to some degree, traveled with both Peter and Paul, was the one who abandoned Paul and Barnabas, his cousin, shortly into their first missionary journey.  These two men collaborated to write the gospel with Mark’s name on it.  It is the shortest gospel and the one most filled with action rather than teaching, reflecting the influence of Peter.  As I said last week, it is a “man’s” gospel because of that.  It begins and ends very abruptly.  The word “immediately” occurs 36 times in this gospel; there’s a sense of urgency; time is short and we can’t mess around.  But here’s an important thing to remember – it is VERY focused.  It is focused totally on Jesus Christ, the son of God and son of man who came to serve rather than to be served. 

I also want to remind you of why this gospel account was written; there was enormous persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, particularly in Rome.  And as the disciples are dying, one by one, these persecuted Christians need someone to write down Jesus’ story so they can have hope in the midst of their persecution.  They need to know over and over that Jesus suffered like them and in fact, died, as many of them did.  But Jesus didn’t die with fear; he died confident that he was totally honoring his father and providing the hope that would last the rest of time.  This gospel had enormous importance and impact in the early church.

So that is why it needed to be focused, and not just  focused on lots of good things, but on the person and work of Jesus Christ.  And the first portion of this gospel that we begin with this morning, chapter 1, verses 1-13, is a prime evidence of that.  What Mark does with the first 13 VERSES of his gospel account is what takes Matthew 75 verses and Luke 183verses.  John has his own unique way of beginning.  But you might say that Mark’s beginning is the “cliff notes” version of Jesus’ story.  There is no background on Jesus’ birth, no mention of the shepherds, family, genealogy, no birth of John the Baptist or anything of his story of being born.  Mark and Peter have an obsession with simplicity and focus on one and only one thing – Jesus Christ.  And my suggestion will be that we need today, desperately, to get and keep that focus. 

            Let me give you a mental “map” of where we are going today.  I basically want to tell the story as Mark does, explaining some things that are important for us to know that will enhance the picture that he is taking of Jesus and the setting for his story.  And when that story is done, then I’ll come back to some ways that we can practically get and keep our focus on Christ in a Christ-less world.  So let’s take a look at the first part of Mark’s Gospel.  Take your Bibles and turn to the gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verses 1-13. Mark 1:1-13.  It is found on page 836.  Mark 1:1-13.  Let’s stand as we read God’s word.  READ.     Here’s an overview of what’s happening in these first few verses.  In verses 1-8 we are focused on the ministry of John the Baptist.  Mark knows that he is the necessary setup to the arrival of Jesus, but he doesn’t tell us a whole lot because he doesn’t want John’s story to override Jesus’.  Second, we’ll see the baptism of Jesus.  What in the world was Jesus baptized for?  He didn’t need sins forgiven did he?  Then finally, in this last section of the story, we’ll see an abbreviated version of Jesus’ temptation.  Again, he uses 1 verse – ONE verse! -  to tell this amazing story.  But again, Mark and Peter are obsessed that we keep the main thing the main thing. 

            So let’s begin with at the beginning – verse one.  The interesting thing about verse one is that this really is the title of the gospel we attribute to Mark.  “The Gospel According to Mark” was added much later.  But verse one is really the title:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  This is His story.  This is only a beginning of Jesus Christ’s story; there is so much more to say, but in light of time and urgency, we’re just giving you the essential part of this story.  It is a “gospel,” which to the Romans meant “joyful news about the emperor.”  Whenever there was a new emperor, the “gospel” went out that good news was coming!  There would be someone sent through the land proclaiming the rise to the throne of a new emperor.   Mark is simply saying, “I have a beginning of some incredible, great news to share with you, not of a Roman emperor but of a universe-ruler by the name of Jesus Christ.”  And his good news is what will give hope to the hopeless and persecuted.  But look at the titles given to this gospel-bearer:  1) Jesus – “Jehovah saves,” a message of hope, 2) Christ – “the anointed one,” God of Israel, the Messiah, the long- awaited savior, 3) Son – which emphasizes his nature or character, 4) of God – absolute deity.  Four Greek words that summed up not only who he was but why he came.  This wasn’t just “Bruce Dick, eldest son of Gerald;” that does identify who I am, but tells you nothing about my character or why I came.  But “Jesus Christ, son of God,” is a sermon in a title!   

            With the title clearly presented, Mark quotes from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.  Actually, part of this is from Malachi, but it was typical to just note the more prominent one.  Verses 2-3 are these prophesies. 

            I think that Mark uses these prophesies b/c the Romans would understand the ideas behind what he is talking about.  We already know that the word “gospel” would have made sense to them, announcing the great news of a coming emperor.  There are other words in these prophesies.   Messenger:  someone would go in advance of the emperor’s visit to let them know he was coming.  Crying:  this is not just making an announcement; this has emotion and passion behind it; this messenger is shouting, speaking very passionately about the coming of this emperor-king-messiah.  Prepare the way:  they also understood this along with “make his paths straight.”  Let’s say that the president is coming to Devils Lake in the presidential limousine.  The preparations would be to be sure that every pothole and crack in the road between here and Washington, DC were filled.  If there were freeze bumps in the road; they would be fixed so that the president’s ride would be as smooth as possible.  The Romans would totally understand this language from Malachi and Isaiah.

            What they didn’t know or understand that all of this was preparation for the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  His messenger was none other than John the Baptist.  He would be the one to, in a sense, prepare the “road” for Messiah’s coming.  He would be the one crying out with emotion and passion, not from the capital city but from the wilderness.  It is as if Mark is saying, “Now Romans, the story I am about to tell you is an amazing story similar to what you see in your emperors and the announcement of his arrival, but the message and the messenger to tell the news will be unique in all of human history.”

            Into that backdrop comes none other than John the Baptist in verses 4-8.  Again, in typical Mark fashion, he just says, “John appeared;” no fluff; no background, no life story, he just appeared on the stage of history.  He did two things:  1) he was baptizing in the wilderness.  2) He was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 

            First, this concept of baptism is a totally radical notion.  What he did, putting people fully under water, immersing them in the river, was just not done.  Jewish people did ceremonial washings, but that was more like washcloth type of stuff.  People who converted to Judaism were baptized, but not fully in the water like this.  You see, we have become so familiar with baptism today that we forget how absolutely radical this was.  And this baptism was a public declaration that you were repenting, seeking forgiveness for your own sins.  To “repent” is not something to be taken lightly; it means “a change of mind and heart that leads to a complete turnabout of your life.”  The very actions of their lives changed when they had this baptism.  They stepped out from a religious system and into a new life.  They didn’t have the Messiah or Jesus yet but they were declaring that they knew they were sinners and were, from that day forward, going to change. 

            Also, notice where he was – the wilderness.  He did not take his message to Jerusalem or any big city.  Rather, he went to where it was rocky, desolate and uninhabitable and said, “listen to me; if you really want to find what your heart has been searching for; you won’t find it in your material world; separate yourself from everything you think is valuable and here you will find forgiveness for your sins.” 

            Now if you didn’t read any further, you could honestly say, “Well, nice try, but you’re never going to get an audience out there.  You have to go where the people are.  You have to do demographic research; you have to look like them and talk like them; you have to have the right “fishing hooks” to get people.”  John did not one of those things right.  He did absolutely everything wrong that you could do wrong from a marketing perspective.  So how bad was it?  Did 3 come?  10 come?  100 come?  Look at verse 5:  “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him.”  Everyone was going.  The idea the verb “going out” was that there was a steady stream of people constantly making their way out into this rugged wilderness.  Why?  This makes no sense at all.  This blows every marketing strategy every conceived! 

            I believe there are two answers.  First, the people were hungry for truth and freedom.  They had been not only living under the burden of Rome but the burden of their sins and the burden of 400 years of silence from God.  That’s a heavy burden.  But the second reason is that God had said that before Messiah comes, Elijah will come and prepare the way.  Elijah was an earlier prophet to Israel who had long ago died.  But someone like him would return and when he did, they would know that Messiah is on the way.  So not only did they need and crave freedom and forgiveness, they were excited that Messiah might be coming soon!  And one commentator estimated that 300,000 people came streaming into the wilderness from all over Judea and Jerusalem!  300,000!  Imagine ABC Nightly News reporting this:  “Good evening from our Jerusalem bureau tonight where we have the strangest thing to report.  Jews are streaming into the most desolate land in the nation these days, 100’s of them at a time, 1000’s of them, with estimates that more than 100,000 have already been there and back.  These people are leaving with excitement and fear and returning with joy and a sense of freedom.”  It was an amazing thing.

            And equally amazing was who they found when they got there.  John was dressed like no one you would know.  His clothes were made of camel hair, meaning this was industrial-strength material that would last for a long time, even in the wilderness.  He ate wild honey that was found many places in the wilderness, in cracks in the many cliff faces, made by bees.  In fact, it wasn’t just something sweet; it was considered “food.”  But he also ate locusts or large grasshoppers.   Now I don’t care what you say; you can dip them in chocolate and they still don’t sound very good.  But actually, this was the dress and diet of a very poor person, living on what he could.  Others in that time and even today can eat and survive in a minimalist state that way.

            But here’s the key and why they flocked to him.  He looked like their former prophet Elijah, hundred s of years earlier.  In 2 Kings 1:8 the author writes:  He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist…It is Elijah the Tishbite.” (2 Kgs. 1:8)  Now add the prophet Malachi to this and you’ll see why the people are coming:  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts o f children to their fathers…” (Mal. 4:5-6)   See how that would have impacted them? 

            But to stay focused, Mark points out his humility in verses 7-8.  John says that Messiah is indeed coming; I may preach to 1000’s and many are repenting, but he is so much greater than I that I am not fit to untie his sandals.  Slaves took off the sandals of houseguests; and John is saying I am not even fit to be a slave of his.  My baptism is with water, but when he comes, his will be with the Holy Spirit.  Mine is external and ceremonial; his is supernatural and internal. 

            You see, John was the embodiment of his message.  His dress and location described the condition of his people.  They once were led through the wilderness into their promised land by Moses.  But now they were spiritually living again in the wilderness, a dry and desert land spiritually.  John was the picture of his people spiritually, inviting them to come and admit that this was indeed what they were like.  I just wonder something; if I were to dress up in such a way that represented the spiritual condition of our nation today, what would I look like?  I gave this some thought.  Outwardly, I think an “empty suit” would be the picture.  American Christianity is largely an empty suit; it looks good on the outside, but inside there is little if nothing.  I think the inward picture is similar to John’s only I’ll use the picture of the badlands of North Dakota – wide open with little or nothing out there; we’re isolated and alone in a world going 100 mph around us.

            It is into that world that Jesus comes.  In verse 4, Mark writes that John appeared.  In verse 9, Jesus came; not much different than John appearing.  He came from Nazareth in Galilee, far up north in the nation, a nowhere place to the Jews of that day.  And in 3 short verses, Mark gives (again) the cliff notes version of what happened.  Messiah showed up and was baptized by John.  Jesus too enters the wilderness, come from heaven itself to identify with his people. 

            Mark simply notes that Jesus was baptized, a simple fact in a simple point in time.  The other 100’s of 1000’s who came were there to confess sins but not Jesus.  He came to take his place with his people, Israel.  There is a sense that the people were born of the earth, passed through the waters of forgiveness and spent eternity in heaven.  Jesus’ story was totally the opposite; he came from heaven to earth, born of a woman, to be one of them, and then to be baptized, to say, “I identify with you.  I am the one who will bear the sins you are confessing and repenting from.”  I identify w/ you.

            And one of the most amazing scenes unfolds in verse 10:  IMMEDIATELY as he comes up out of the water the heavens open.  Now understand this; there is a word for open like a barn door on a hinge and there is a word for open that is to tear apart like you would the wrapping paper on a Christmas present.  This “open” is tearing heaven open; you can close something that has been opened; it is nearly impossible to fix something that has been torn to be like new.  This is God the father tearing open the doors of heaven; someone said this is “all heaven breaking loose!”  Heaven has now come to earth in the form of God’s only son and all heaven is breaking loose and the inception of God’s plan.  The Holy Spirit descends the way a dove would, slowly, softly, floating back and forth and comes into him.  This is a statement of where Jesus will get his power and authority to do what he is about to do.  He will not rely on his own god-ness; he will rely on the Holy Spirit.  Why?  To give us hope.  The same Holy Spirit that indwelt him is the one that indwells and encourages and helps every believer to do today what Jesus was able to do then.  And if that were not enough, the Father speaks lovingly to his son:  “You are my beloved son.  Oh how I love you.  I am so very very pleased with you my son. You are my delight.  I have always been pleased with you and will always be pleased with you; this day is but one moment in my eternal pleasure with you.”  It’s a moment you just want to bask in for an hour or a day or a week.  A spiritual experience like this could last me at least a year! 

            But again, here’s Mark; let’s not dilly-dally around!  IMMEDIATELY the Spirit DROVE him, compelled him, put a sense of urgency in him, to enter the wilderness alone.  Messiah was not going to set up his kingdom today.  It was time for 40 days in the wilderness.  Again what other gospel writers use many verses for, Mark uses ONE.  He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted by Satan.  The idea of the words, “being tempted” is that he was continually tempted.  Matthew writes of the 3; likely these are 3 big ones at the end of the 40 days when he was at his weakest.  But for 40 days Satan throws at him every temptation that you could imagine –things of his eyes, things of his mind.  The writer of Hebrews in chapter 4, verse 15 is talking about Jesus when he says, “Who in every respect has been tempted as we are, YET WITHOUT SIN.” (Heb. 4:15)  He was tempted during those 40 days (and you could say through his life) in every possible type of sin that we face – every one – and never once sinned. 

            And John concludes his account of Jesus saying simply that he was with the wild animals; there were no people out here, but boars, jackals, wolves, foxes, leopards and hyenas – and those are just the ones we know live in that wilderness.  But he had something else – angels – who were there ministering to him with the idea that as Satan’s temptations were constant, so was their service.  They were messengers sent by His father to take care of his needs; not to remove the temptation but to be his strength and encouragement externally as the Holy Spirit was internally. 

            When I got to this point in typing my notes for this sermon, I was exhausted.  I felt like I had been through a car wash w/o a car!  What Mark does in 13 verses is exhausting.  But again, the point is for us not to explore all the nuances and particulars of this story; this is a story about Christ.  This is the start of an action-packed ministry.  But this is also an important place to begin the story of that good news. 

            In the last few minutes, let me give you just a few action points for you that have impacted me as I studied this past week.

            First, I need to fight temptation like Jesus did.  Jesus succeeded by relying upon the two things that we have at our disposal today – the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.  The same Holy Spirit that guided him through 40 days of temptations, warning him of oncoming and incoming attacks, is the same one that does the same thing in you today.  Guys, when we see a beautiful, scantily clad woman coming toward us, the voice that says, “Alert at 12 o’clock; divert eyes; eject visual memory,” is the Holy Spirit who knows that the gateway to our minds and hearts is through our eyes.  Ladies, when that nice, gentle guy listens to you like no one has ever listened to you, especially not your husband, the voice inside that says, “Guard your heart; guard your heart; he’ll take whatever you offer,” is the Holy Spirit who knows that the gateway to your heart is attention and non-sexual affection.  Kids, when you hear words in school that everyone laughs at and your classmates freely look at other people’s tests and then brag about their A on the test.  When you hear something inside that says, “This isn’t right; I can’t do this.”  That’s the Holy Spirit.  You see, Jesus understands; every kind of temptation you face, he faced.  And he not only survived, he conquered! 

            But Jesus also relied upon God’s word.  In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptations, he records 3 of Satan’s attacks and all 3 times Jesus doesn’t argue or debate, he just quotes scripture.  The more we argue with our temptations, the more we lose.  I hear guys who say, “It doesn’t hurt to look; it’s God’s beautiful creation.”  We can all find ways to rationalize and when we do, we lose.  The Bible tells us to FLEE from our temptations, not fight and argue with them.  That’s what Jesus did.  So fight temptation like Jesus did, submitting to the Holy Spirit in you and the word of God to guide you.  Read it, study it, and memorize it.  Wherever you are, take the next step.  Time is running out.  Satan has already taken too much ground.  It is time to fight temptation the way Jesus did.

            My second action step for you is this:  When you are in the “wilderness,” simplify and refocus.  Simplify and refocus. Like a camera, zoom out to get the big picture and then zoom in on what is really important.  What I mean is this; we all face times when nothing makes sense and we just feel cut off from everything.  For me, it has been an extended time of depression.  For you it might be that or other forms of wilderness – it might be a relationship with your spouse that is empty and hollow; it might be financial troubles that just won’t leave you alone; it might be friends at school whose peer pressure is so hard to escape but it feels like no one else is where you are.  In those times, simplify.  Simplify your focus on Jesus, even if he feels like he’s as far removed from you as everyone else.  At the height of my depression, I didn’t want to read (which for me is like breathing) and I didn’t want to have lunch with anyone or go to meetings or do much of anything.  What I needed to hear someone say to me was, “That’s OK, Bruce.  You are in the wilderness.  Simplify your life’s externals so that Christ can be the sole focus for a while.  And if you do and he still seems silent and distant, then just wait.  He has a reason for the wilderness.  Just simplify, seek and wait.”  Does that describe where you are or where you have been?  Some simplify but leave Jesus out of it.   Don’t do that.  You won’t learn the wilderness lessons unless he is part of it.  Simplify w/ Jesus.

            Finally this, and this one is a question that you can just think about:  Who is in the wilderness that I can serve?  Remember how the angels ministered to Jesus?  Angels are simply God’s messengers.  I don’t want to stretch this analogy too far, but I’ll say this:  I think that the church today becomes our “angels” and messengers of God for each other.  They were there at any time for encouragement and strength; they were willing and available.  We cannot afford to be merely a collection of individuals.  We are family.  I think we need to ask the question of ourselves and begin to look around.  The other day Dave Fix called me with a question.  We had each recently seen a mutual friend and we had each picked up a vibe that something was wrong with this friend.  WE both felt it.   Dave acted.  He sought this person out, made contact and asked to get together.  That’s a messenger of God who serves each other in the body.  Who is in the wilderness that I can serve?  When the focus is on Christ, filled with the Spirit, educated with the word, we’ll know. 

            Well, friends, you explore those things in your connection groups and with your sermon notes this week.  This journey is just beginning and just picking up speed.  As you are living the action points from the message and discussing them further in your connection classes, get ready for next week.  I want you to read Mark 1:14-28 in preparation.  Jesus is primed and ready and he is about to demonstrate his authority.  And when he does, Wow!  And if you haven’t started reading, why not go ahead and just read all of Mark 1 this week.  Let’s pray.

“How to Get and Keep a Focus on Christ”

Mark 1:1-13                                                                         Pastor Bruce Dick – BEFC

Pt. 2 in Gospel of Mark                                                                      March 18, 2007


v  Review:

o   Peter…

o   Mark…

o   Why this gospel was written…

v  Mark’s Story – Focused on Jesus…(Mark 1:1-13)

o   The ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:1-8)

§  Title of the Gospel (v. 1)

§  Prophesies concerning John the Baptist (vv. 2-3)

§  John’s ministry (vv. 4-8)

He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist…It is Elijah the Tishbite.” (2 Kgs. 1:8)



o   The baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11)

o   The temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:12-13)

Who in every respect has been tempted as we are, YET WITHOUT SIN.”              (Hebrews 4:15)

Action Steps:  How can I get and keep focus on Christ?

o   Fight _____________ like Jesus did - 2 ways…

§  Relying upon the __________ ___________.

§  Relying on the ______ of ______.

o   When you are in the “wilderness,” ___________ and _______________.

o   Ask and Act:  Who is in the ______________ that I can serve?

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