Mark 1:1-8 The Forerunner in the Wilderness
Last Sunday we looked at the individual God Himself selected to write one of the four Biographies of Jesus. We saw that in many ways Mark wasn’t any different than many of us. He struggled with anxiety and fear. He struggled with his faith and had times in his life that he chose to let his fears get the best of him, to the point he abandoned his faith to save his hide, or at least he perceived that he had to flee to save his life. Based on what I see in other Biblical characters, if God has given you a task to do, you need not fear for your life, because God will sustain you no matter what the task or potential threats until you accomplish all that He has laid out for you to do.
If you’d like a good picture of how that works, take a moment and turn in your copies of God’s Word to the Old Testament Book of 2 Kings 6. While you are turning there, let me set the scene for you.
In many ways similar to how it is today, Israel was surrounded by enemies. One of their most powerful foes was the Syrian Empire to their north. In the passage we are about to look at together, this enemy was making plans to attack, but it seemed like every time they made their plans, the Nation of Israel was prepared, as if they had a seat at the planning table. That is exactly what we see takin place in this passage.
Please stand with me for the reading of God’s Word.
2 Kings 6:8-23 “8 Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” 9 But the man of God (Elisha)sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” 10 And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice.
11 And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”13 And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.”14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said (to Elisha), “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He (Elisha) said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. 19 And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.
20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. 21 As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” 22 He (Elisha) answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 23 So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.”
You see God had given Elisha a task to do, and Elisha didn’t need to fear, even a whole army, because God was with him.
God’s work in and through Mark was far from done and as a result, Mark had nothing to fear. That is a truth we can hold onto as well, you know God has given each of us a job to do and as long as we stay at the center of His will, we need not fear the attacks of the enemy, our God is faithful and gives us everything we need to accomplish His will for our life.
Last Sunday in our look at the man, Mark, the fearful deserted, we saw that one of the things God used to restore Mark and strengthen him to stand strong to the end, was He brought Barnabas on to the scene, and Barnabas showed us The Power of Encouragement . We also saw last week that God can Transform The Coward Into The Courageous.
With that as an introduction, let’s now turn to Mark 1:1-8. This will be our text for this morning.
As we begin our study in the Book of Mark, I want to clue you in on who Mark’s target audience was, this is key for us to really understand how things are laid out and why there are certain things in the other Gospels that we do not see in the Gospel of Mark.
For one, Mark was written to Roman citizens, many of whom were slaves in the Roman Empire. And Mark has a specific picture he wanted, or I should say, God through Mark, wanted the recipients to see. He wanted them to see Jesus as the servant. That is why, for instance, Mark does not contain a genealogy, like what we see in both Matthew and Luke. You see Roman citizens were not concerned with the lineage of a servant.
He also wanted them to see Jesus as The King, and that is why he included much of what we will be looking at this morning when we get to verses 2 & 3.
To begin with this morning we see: Next Slides
The Identity of the Servant King. Mark 1:1
The Identity of the Servant King. Mark 1:1
Before Mark identifies the Servant King, he first lets the recipients know that what he is about to tell them is good news. That is what the term Gospel means. But the term goes way beyond what we may think of when we think of good news. Good news for us can cover many different things. Pam may come home from shopping and tell me she has “good news”. Kohls had a 20% of sale on everything she bought today. Now while that may be good news, it pales compared to the meaning behind the Greek word used for Gospel. The word for Gospel was only used for things like announcing a huge military victory, a political triumph, a physical rescue or glad tidings of salvation. So, before Mark identifies the Servant King, he makes sure that his readers know that the news he is about to tell them is huge.
He goes on to identify the Servant King in 3 distinct ways. Next Slides
1.The Name: Jesus.
1.The Name: Jesus.
His human name was “Jesus”, which means “Jehovah is salvation”. When the angel was talking to His earthly father, Joseph, he said “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Next Slides
2. The Title: Christ.
2. The Title: Christ.
The term “Christ” is not a name but a title. One that would have been hugely significant to any Jewish readers, because it identified Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, that they had been waiting for Him since the days of Abraham. The “Anointed One” Whom they understood to be the promised “Savior of Israel”. We will find out as we continue on through the Gospel of Mark, that He wasn’t just the Savior of Israel, but the Savior of the whole world. Next Slides
3. The Lineage: Son of God.
3. The Lineage: Son of God.
The name “Son of God” John MacArthur writes
“..speaks of Jesus’ lineage and right to rule. He is one in nature with God—coeternal and coequal with the Father. For those Roman pagans who wrongly regarded Caesar as a god, Mark introduces them to the true divine King: the Lord Jesus Christ....Throughout the course of His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly demonstrated Himself to be the divine King, and Mark is careful to present the overwhelming case to his readers (cf. 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 13:32; 15:39).”
Having introduced his account as a royal proclamation of the divine King, now Mark moves on to introduce them to the Kings forerunner:
The Forerunner in the Wilderness. Mark 1:2-8
This is non other than John the Baptist.
Now, perhaps you may be wondering why Mark would start with John the Baptist, why wouldn’t he dive right into telling his readers about Jesus, I mean Jesus is the One this whole biography is about. That is actually an excellent question. Let me tell you what is at play here and why beginning this way was such an important thing.
Remember, Mark is writing to Roman citizens, and one of the things he is doing in introducing Jesus to them, is proclaiming Jesus as a king, not just a King, but The King. Well for Roman citizens, no king would just show up onto the scene. He would always be preceded by a herald in advance, and often times that herald would have a whole team with him. Their jobs were to prepare for the coming king. To spruce the place up as much as possible. In many instances they would actually smooth out any roads the king would be traveling on. That is what we see taking place in verses 2 & 3 where we read “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way, 3 ... ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight”. Once the heralds servant’s were done preparing for the coming king, the herald would then alert the king and when the king showed up onto the scene, the herald would march before him announcing his presence. That is what we see John doing.
What I find interesting is, the place John the Baptist did both the preparation and the announcing, for that, look at verse 4. “John appeared, ... in the wilderness”. The wilderness John did his work in was a journey of 20-30 miles by foot. Yet the people streamed out to see him by the thousands. Look at what Mark writes in the first part of verse 5 “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him”.
Now, since John wasn’t preparing a physical city of a physical path for Jesus arrival, what was he preparing? Next Slides
John Was Preparing the Hearts of the People. Mark 1:5
We recently completed our series in the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah. Historically the Book of Nehemiah was the last book in the Old Testament and took place 400 years before John the Baptist public ministry started. During those 400 years the Nation of Israel had largely turned their backs on God and as a result, no one had heard a Word from God during that time. We know them as The 400 years of Silence. For the Nation of Israel, their hearts were cold and hard and John was here to assist in preparing their hearts to once again here from God, this time through the Mouth of His Own Son, Jesus. Similar to clearing a road in a city awaiting a visit from the king, John was there to remove the obstacles that had been built up in their hearts of the Israelites to make sure they were ready to receive The King.
And how did John do this? We see at the end of verses 4 & 5 “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5 ...and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Again, keep in mind most of these people were making a 20-30 mile hike into the wilderness to go and listen to John and John’s message was not an easy message. He held nothing back and what he was calling for them to do was a tough pill to swallow. While you and I are pretty familiar with baptism, they were as well, however, the baptism they were familiar with was for Gentiles. It was a symbolic washing that symbolized their rejection of pagan ritualist religion and acceptance of Judaism. Jews were virtually never baptized. What John was having them do was quite radical. To a large degree those being baptized were looking at themselves as outsiders that were not fit for the coming Messiahs kingdom.
By the way, there are many historians that believe the John was baptizing in the exact place where God moved through Joshua to part the Jordan River for the Nation of Israel to cross at the end of the Exodus.
Now. let’s look a little closer at the man John the Baptist. Next Slides
John’s Clothes and Diet. Mark 1:6
“Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.”
Needless to say, John wasn’t likely to be featured on the cover of GQ! When it talks about clothes made out of camel’s hair, this was a very course and rough hair that had to be uncomfortable to wear. Somewhere along the lines of wearing a burlap sack. And his diet of locusts, which is basically grasshoppers, and honey, well let’s just say he probably didn’t have any issues with people trying to take food from his plate!
One of the things we need to see in his clothing and diet is, John continually lived a life of great sacrifice for the sake of proclaiming the Good News of the coming Messiah. That life of sacrifice jumps off the page in verse 7 where we read;
“ And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”
What we are seeing here is;
Humility In The Servant of God. Mark 1:7-8
John the Baptist entire ministry is summed up in these 2 verses.
Mark 1:7-8 “ 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Every message he ever preached in the wilderness, every person he ever baptized, all was for one purpose and one purpose only, to point people to the coming Messiah. And now that Messiah had come onto the scene and from this point forward John fades into the background.
John MacArthur writes “That is what it meant to be the forerunner, the herald who directed everyone’s attention away from himself and toward the coming King.”
Later, in the Book of John, John the Baptist tells his disciples regarding Jesus “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:3)
When John makes the statement “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” He is making a huge statement. It is easy for us to not pick up the significance of what John is saying here in our day and age, but in the days John was living in, untieing the straps of someones sandals was reserved from the same servant that would wash the feet of the master when he woulds arrive home. Those of you who have listened to messages on the washing of people feet know that this was reserved for the lowest servant of the house. John is saying that he is worse than the lowest servant in comparison to Jesus.
John goes on to further distance himself from Jesus and His ministry when he says “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John is saying that all he is capable of doing is washing them with water ion the outside, but when Jesus comes, He has the power to completely transform and cleanse them on the inside.
So, what is the lesson for us from looking at John the Baptist?
John the Baptist was probably the most impressive individual ever born until Jesus came onto the scene, we learn in Luke 1:15 that John was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb”. John had every reason in the world to be proud, yet he was as humble a servant as has ever walked on the face of the earth.
The lesson we need to learn from John the Baptist is that we are to serve the Lord with absolute humility. We are to understand that we as believers are to follow John’s lead and understand that our lives are to be lived for one purpose and one purpose only, to point people to the coming Messiah. When we live our lives in that way, a pandemic like the Corona Virus doesn’t fill us with fear and anxiety, instead, it opens up the door for the peace of God to flow through us and gives us an opportunity for His light to shine through us.
That’s the lesson we learn from John. May we follow his lead.
Let’s close in prayer.