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Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church.
We are very blessed and thankful that you have taken the time to join us here this morning.
In the last 8 months I’ve introduced sermons in a variety of ways - I’ve quoted from poets, I’ve cited current affairs and I believe I’ve even quoted Lady Gaga although I don’t recall whether that was in the sermon or the introduction.
Well this morning may be the single most unique and strange introduction yet.
I say that to prepare you and then to say stick with me because I have a point.
The year was 1919.
A young man slowly began to make his way onto the world stage.
He was of average height at 5’9” and really not all that appealing to the eye but he had a charisma about him that was infectious.
According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica “With his charismatic personality and dynamic leadership, he attracted a devoted cadre of leaders, men whose names today live in infamy”.
His ascension to leadership and his ideals eventually led to one of the greatest periods of bloodshed in modern times.
Many of you have figured out by now that the man I refer to is Adolph Hitler.
Now here is why I would start off this sermon with such an utterly despicable example as that - throughout history men have been drawn to charismatic leaders who had the ability to touch the nerves of a nation and mobilize them to move in the direction in which he determined they should go.
On the surface, our passage this morning seems to be about another such man.
It has been estimated that when Mark refers to “the whole Judean countryside and all of the people of Jerusalem were going out to him” that this would have amounted to approximately 300,000 people.
That is some serious influence if given the right message and motivation to act.
But what we’re going to find is that this passage presents to us an antithetical picture of leadership - and really so much more.
And what we’ll find out by the end is that this passage isn’t really about John at all.
Please take your Bibles and turn with me to Mark 1 and we’ll be looking at verses 2-8 this morning.
As I read in preparation for this sermon I came across the following anecdote.
A home Bible study was working through this passage of Mark and were sharing what their thoughts were on what these verses mean.
The first offered, “What this passage means to me is that everyone needs to be baptized, and I believe that it should be by immersion.”
A second responded, “I think it means that everyone needs to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.”
A third reacted honestly, “I am not exactly sure what I should be doing.”
A fourth suggested that the passage meant that if one is to meet God, one needs to get away and commune with nature in the desert.
This passage is about some of those things - there is an element to baptism both by water and the Holy Spirit - but these are really only bit players, secondary roles to the main point.
What we will find is that Mark - in his characteristically brief style is using three methods to continue to fill out the message that he began in verse 1 that we looked at last week
He will point us to Christ through the lens of Old Testament prophecy or The Missive, through the person and ministry of John the Baptist or The Man and then finally through John’s preaching or The Message.
The Missive
Mark 1:2-3; Malachi 3:1; Exodus 23:20; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:14;
Mark seems to be contradicting himself and what he had written in verse 1 as he continues by saying “As it is written”.
Contrary to the popular trend in modern Christianity to say that all of this information was simply passed on by word of mouth with very little appeal to authority Mark is immediately grounding his message in the authority of the Old Testament.
As we seek to reach the lost and to instruct those we are working with inside the church we would do well to follow Mark’s model here and maintain our stance and instruction on the inerrant authority of the Word of God.
It is both sufficient and efficient for the teaching and reproving of the scoffer and believer alike.
This citation by Mark is a bit unique though and it might appear to be confusing to our eyes as we read it.
Many of you probably have notations in your Bibles that attribute the first part of this quote to the prophet Malachi in Malachi 3:1
Or in the assurances given to the Israelites in Exodus 23:20
and Mark doesn’t actually get to a quote from Isaiah that we read in our Scripture reading this morning from Isaiah 40:3 until after these two verses are composited together.
This isn’t a misprint nor a mistake in the text, it is a practice of ancient Jewish writers to only cite the most prominent source.
Mark attributes this quotation to Isaiah much the same way that a memo produced from a committee bears only the name of the committee’s chairperson.
All of the ideas that go in to the production of the statement may not have originated with the chairperson but the statement will bear his name.
And so Mark attributes all of these statements to Isaiah and in so doing points his readers and us to the coming of John the Baptist, but only by extension.
The true semantic thrust of each of these statements - the true point is to point out that another will be coming.
The messenger is only an introduction, the real point of Isaiah and Malachi’s statements here is to point to the One who will come afterwards.
Look again at their statements with me
The first point to notice is the subtle way that Mark changes this quotation.
Malachi writes “See I am going to send my messenger and he will clear the way before Me.”
A shortfall of many modern translations including the CSB is that they fail to capitalize all of the pronouns that relate to God and so we may miss the significance of what is being said here.
Malachi is pointing out that the messenger will clear the way for the arrival of the Lord Himself.
Mark changes this in his rendition to “See I am sending my messenger ahead of You.
He will prepare Your way.”
In so doing Mark is emphasizing again Christ’s deity for his readers.
They would have been well educated in the Old Testament prophecies and would immediately pick up on the change of reference from the Lord (me) to Christ (you).
This is important to note because this messenger that would be sent would not simply herald the arrival of the human political king that all of Israel was expecting but that he would herald the very arrival of the Lord God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
Applying these two texts to the person of John the Baptist demonstrates the high estimation and significance of John’s arrival on the scene.
The messenger in Exodus 23 was not a human messenger or Moses but instead was a divine guide sent by God to lead the people in the way that they should go.
The messenger in Malachi has such a high and holy purpose to announce not simply the arrival of a king but of the Lord Himself that we would rightly expect one of the four angelic creatures that surround the throne proclaiming “holy, holy, holy” but instead what we are given is a mere man - who we will get to in more detail in a moment.
But we should also not miss the significance of the way which John has been sent to prepare - it has such significance that the way is the designation used during the early church for the movement that had been instituted.
Paul speaking to both the Jewish crowd in Acts 22
and before Felix in Acts 24
referred to the faith as the way.
But what was this way that John was preparing - in Mark the way of God is always going to be the way of Jesus to the cross.
Mark’s entire Gospel will continuously move Christ inexorably toward the cross and his ultimate purpose in coming and all of the Gospel should be interpreted in this light.
Even these two brief Old Testament statements that Mark chooses to include at the beginning of his Gospel are meant to point us as readers toward Christ’s ultimate mission.
Isaiah’s prophecy reinforces and builds on the truths already demonstrated by Malachi’s words.
Look at them with me
Isaiah not only tells the readers that the messenger, the voice crying out, will make the way for the Lord again reinforcing Christ’s deity, but also tells them from where.
He writes that there will be a voice crying out in the wilderness.
Throughout Israel’s history the wilderness was always a place of repentance, reconciliation and grace between the Lord and His people.
The inclusion of the wilderness here would immediately turn the minds of the readers to the Exodus and that momentous time of purging and purification of the nation of Israel before they could enter into the promised land and receive the inheritance that the Lord had promised to Abraham.
Mark’s inclusion of these two prophetic texts right at the beginning of his Gospel reinforces the historicity of the Gospel plan - that it wasn’t something that was a secondary path because the first way had failed.
Instead it was always God’s intention to redeem His people this way and throughout the history of the nation He had been pointing people to the coming of the messenger who would herald the arrival of His Kingdom.
And now that man had arrived - but not in the form that the people would have expected.
The Man
Mark 1:4-8; Luke 1:5; 1 Kings 19:4-6; 2 Kings 1:7-8; Luke 1:15-17; Malachi 4:5
There is just something about John the Baptist that is enigmatic.
And yet he’s sort of a paradox as well.
I’m going to try very hard during this series to strictly remain in the Gospel of Mark and to glean from his writing the message that he intends to convey but occasionally for context I may have to dig in to Luke or Matthew and such is the case here.
The only information we have of John’s younger years is found in the Gospel of Luke.
There we learn that his father Zechariah was a priest in the division of Abijah
and that his mother was among the daughters of Aaron.
So he was born with a priestly pedigree.
It is odd then that instead of serving in the Temple the way his father had that Mark, and the other Gospel writers, place John outside of the city of Jerusalem in the wilderness.
Much like the motif of repentance and reconciliation is found in the wilderness, so we also find that God’s most effective leaders in the Bible come out of a time in the wilderness.
Moses was in the wilderness when he happened upon the burning bush.
David spent years in the wilderness running for his life from Saul.
And here we have the emergence of John the Baptist coming, not as one would expect and even his birthright would have allowed him to, out of the wilderness.
I mean if there were a modern version of the story we might have gone out to John and said “come in to the Temple and serve like your dad did - you can have a much greater impact there.
Don’t stand out here on the street corner or outside that abortion clinic or on that college campus and preach there’s no fruit there...”
But here we have John who appears out in the wilderness.
Before we get to what John was doing in the wilderness it’s intriguing to look at the two characteristics that Mark chooses to highlight about the person of John.
Mark chooses his manner of dress and what he ate.
First what he ate, he subsisted on a diet of locusts and wild honey.
It’s not hard to understand why that hasn’t caught on as one of the faddish diet plans that people try and dream up out of the Biblical text.
There’s nothing attractive about that diet.
Well maybe the honey is but locusts - even doused in honey don’t sound appetizing.
But there is an important principle to be found in even these simple food choices.
What we find in John is a man who is so completely sold out to God that he even trusts him for his daily sustenance.
He was eating locusts and wild honey.
These are not the normal cultivated crops or even Ezekiel bread - I mean he had to cook it over dung but at least it was made out of wheat and barley and a few other ingredients.
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