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Grace in the desert 22 Feb 2004 PM

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Grace in the desert

2 This is what the Lord says:

“The people who survive the sword

will find favour in the desert;

I will come to give rest to Israel.”

                                                JEREMIAH 31 v2

 

 

4 And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

MARK 1 v 4

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

MARK 1 v 12

 

I would like to take that rather lovely verse in Jeremiah and apply it as a text to the first passage in a Lenten series. (The opening verses of Mark’s Gospel.)  We shall use Jeremiah’s promise which has its roots in the Old Testament experience of God’s people – to illuminate the opening of Mark’s Gospel.  Then, God willing, we shall continue our study in the Temptations of Christ on Wednesday.

Jeremiah wants us to catch the beauty of God’s promise – as the AV puts it “they found grace in the wilderness”.   And they will find it again – in greater measure.   God delights to transform the wilderness – perhaps that is why He often sends His people through such places. Certainly the children of Israel found out a lot by their travelling in the desert.  He did not always transform it in the way they expected.

When you look at the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel you wonder at how he began his task.

1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way”—

3 “a voice of one calling in the desert,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’ ”

 And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

It is not Mark’s usual custom to give many Scripture references – but clearly he felt this to be an exceptional situation – and so he opens his gospel with a title – and then verses from Isaiah and Micah.

Then – without further ado, and in a style distinctly his own – Mark get’s down to the matter of Christ’s earthly ministry.   There is no reference to His birth – we are straight into JOHN THE BAPTIST and CHRIST’S BAPTISM AND TEMPTATIONS.

What struck me – and struck me forcibly was this repeated reference to the “desert” or the “wilderness” – and that theme, together with the verse from  Jeremiah I have already quoted gives us our word for tonight.

As we approach the beginnings of Christ’s ministry we are struck by the DRAMATIC way in which first JOHN and then JESUS appear upon the scene.

This is for us a wonderful underlining of the way in which God delights to DO HIS WORK IN THE MOST UNLIKELY SURROUNDINGS.

This is GRACE IN THE DESERT

Quite simply divided we have here :

·       God’s Grace in the desert – the subject of distinctive prophecy – GRACE PROMISED

·       God’s Grace in the desert – the wonder of distinctive ministry – GRACE DECLARED

·       God’s Grace in the desert – the wonder of distinctive care – GRACE ATTENDING

GRACE PROMISED   a distinctive prophecy vv 2 & 3

2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way”—

3 “a voice of one calling in the desert,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’ ”

We might add the verse from Jeremiah for our purposes tonight – but Mark uses two Bible sources to remind us that the work of Christ is always in fulfilment of the Word. 

JOHN the BAPTIST comes in a very dramatic way upon the scene.  His appearance and his uncompromising yet preparatory witness – is a reminder of ELIJAH in so many ways.

When the promised herald of Messiah comes – he comes unmistakeably upon the scene – and the Scripture is literally fulfilled.

“A voice calling in the desert…”

Some of the Old Testament prophecies are obscure and not immediately relevant – but these two references combine to make an unmistakable BANNER, a CLEAR ADVERTISING POSTER – a HOARDING OVER THE DARKNESS OF THE WAITING WORLD – the Christ is coming.

Everything about John’s ministry was a fulfilment of the PROMISE OF GRACE – as Jeremiah put it “the people will find grace in the desert”

I guess if John appeared today we would not mistake him.  His style of life and his uncompromising message would draw attention to him now as it did then.  

And that ministry was incredibly effective in drawing to John the crowds from Jerusalem    

And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7

And they travelled considerable distances – happy to go into the desert place itself – the inhospitable regions of the Jordan valley to hear this man – because this was the

FORERUNNER of MESSIAH HIMSELF

and still down the years – even into today’s world with it’s very different DESERT of uncaring masses and disenchantment and individualism – the same GRACE IS PROMISED

A Voice calling in the wilderness.

Grace Declared – A distinctive ministry  7 - 10

7 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. 8 I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Of course John’s ministry was distinctive – but what was it about?

It was about JESUS

It was not only natural – but ordained of God that the disciples of John should become the disciples of Jesus.

JOHN 1:

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptise if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptise with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.



That was the gracious nature of John’s ministry – that it led to the Saviour Himself.

In the same way that the Promise of Grace in the desert was so distinctive and so unmistakeable  - so his central emphasis – that of pointing to Jesus is equally forceful.

Those subjecting John to questioning on behalf of the authorities  were left in no doubt – JOHN CAME TO INTRODUCE JESUS

So Mark moves on directly to the equally dramatic THEOPHANY – as God breaks through at the baptism of Jesus:

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

From the very beginning there was to be NO MISTAKE ABOUT JESUS:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”

It is of the nature of God’s grace that it is VERY CLEAR – IT RENDS HEAVEN TO DECLARE THE GLORY OF THE SON!

This was truly “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” – GRACE IN THE DESERT!

And that which marks the testimony of John should mark our testimony too.

Is our word to our neighbours and to those to whom we have a duty of care, under God, a message as unambiguous and clear as that?

Do we so prepare the way for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the lives of those around us that they know WHO IT IS we preach.

Can there be any question about it?

Will anyone ask if we are seeking just to draw attention to ourselves – or are we unmistakeably with Wesley:

His only righteousness I show,
his saving truth proclaim;
'tis all my business here below
to cry, "Behold the Lamb!"

5.
Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his name,
preach him to all and cry in death,
"Behold, behold the Lamb!"

So that our ministry – and the ministry of this Church results in a rending of heaven and a declaration from God Himself concerning His son.

and, finally:

Grace attending – Distinctive care – vv 12 and 13

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

I notice again the reference to the DESERT – and as my Lord enters the wilderness Himself and endures the temptations He experiences for Himself the CARING MINISTRY IN THE DESERT

“and angels attended Him”

Mark passes over the wording of the temptations – the subject of our study on Wednesday – but he does emphasise for his listeners:

the INHOSPITABLE SURROUNDINGS and the ANGEL MINISTRY

It seems to me that yet again Mark is reinforcing Jeremiah’s words – for this is GRACE IN THE DESERT

It is GRACE ATTENDING.

·       It is a mark of my Lord’s TRIUMPH

·       It is a mark of my Lord’s RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS FATHER

·       It is a mark of my Lord’s OWN MINISTRY

This is GRACE IN THE DESERT

My Lord enters the desert at the behest of the Spirit – he endures the taunts and temptations of the Evil One – and, when he triumphs over him by the Word – he is ministered to.

And I may know the CARING GRACE if I share the TRIUMPH

If my trust is firmly in the Son who endures so much for me upon His cross – then I may share

His triumph – and HIS ATTENDING CARE

This is GRACE IN THE DESERT

My Lord is faithful to His Father – obedient to the Spirit – steadfast in immense testing

HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER IS CERTAIN

And so is mine – If I trust in Him and in Him alone.

This is GRACE IN THE DESERT

As My Lord was in turn ministered to by angels – so His ministry is exquisitely CARING

And if I trust in Him I can experience a tenderness – an understanding of my pain and care –

an identification with my need.

So I leave you with this glorious thought – GRACE IN THE DESERT

·       God’s Grace in the desert – the subject of distinctive prophecy – GRACE PROMISED

·       God’s Grace in the desert – the wonder of distinctive ministry – GRACE DECLARED

·       God’s Grace in the desert – the wonder of distinctive care – GRACE ATTENDING

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