“Messengers Marking Out the Messiah” (Mark 1:1-8)

Second Sunday in Advent
December 6, 2020

“Messengers Marking Out the Messiah” (Mark 1:1-8)

In centuries past, in lands where there were kings, when the king was about to go visit various parts of his realm, messengers would be sent out, heralds, to go ahead to each town and announce the soon arrival of that mighty monarch. “The king is coming! Everybody get ready! The king is on his way!” And the people would know what to do. They would clean up any trash littering their town. If there were potholes in the roads, those would get filled in. Got to have everything in order for the arrival of the king! So those messengers, the heralds, had an important job to do in preparing the way, so the people would be ready for their coming king.

Well, in the Holy Gospel for today, from Mark chapter 1, we meet such a messenger preparing the way for the arrival of a king. In fact, there may be even more than one. And so our theme this morning: “Messengers Marking Out the Messiah.”

One of those messengers announcing the soon-coming king is, of course, John the Baptist. John always shows up around these parts on the Second Sunday in Advent. John’s role as the forerunner of Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

And John the Baptist fulfilled that prophecy most effectively. The Messiah was coming, and John was the herald sent ahead to get things ready. To get the people ready. He literally went out into the wilderness, and his voice called out with a message of repentance. There was some road repair to do, in advance of Messiah’s arrival. There was trash to be cleaned up. There were potholes to fill in. There were crooked paths that needed to be straightened out. The king is on his way! Time for Operation Clean-up!

And not just a temporary, surface clean-up, either–as though we’ve just got to put on a good show for a day or two, and once the king leaves town, we can go back to being the slobs we really are. No, this king’s presence–his taking up residence in our lives and hearts–this calls for a thorough, deep-down, continual cleansing.

That’s what repentance is like. What are ways appropriate for God’s people to live, since Christ is coming to reign among us? This is not just a surface show, as though we could deceive God. No, John the Baptist would call us to deeper Advent preparation than that.

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

You, dear Christian, you are baptized. Your baptism puts you into a life of daily repentance. Every day you know you have sins to confess and to repent of and to turn away from. Every day you die to sin and rise with Christ to newness of life, so that you would walk on those straight paths. What are the sins in your life that need repenting? What are the potholes? Where are the crooked places? What needs to happen for those places to be straightened out? What will that look like? John is here today to call you to repentance. The king is on his way.

And the good news is that it is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Calling you to repentance is not so you would have to wallow in misery all the time. No, recognizing your sins and repenting of them is so that you would receive forgiveness for those sins! And that is refreshing! That is renewing! That is joyful! John the Baptist is not just some spoilsport, a wilderness killjoy sent to ruin your Christmas. No way! John is a messenger of the gospel! He’s got good news to announce! “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”

That pardon, that forgiveness, that comfort is coming with the king. And John is here to announce it. John’s whole mission in life was to be the messenger marking out the Messiah. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John was not the light, but he came to bear witness about the light–Jesus Christ, the light of the world. “He must increase; I must decrease,” John would say.

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John freely confessed that Jesus, the coming one, is the mighty Messiah. Jesus is the long-promised deliverer sent from heaven to redeem mankind. Jesus comes to set us free from our slavery to sin and death. Jesus is the only one mighty enough to do the job. We cannot redeem ourselves. Only God can do that. And Jesus is God in the flesh, the very Son of God come down to rescue us.

And the mighty Messiah will do this rescuing in weakness and humility. The King of kings will be born in a manger, not in a palace. A crib and a cross and a crown of thorns will mark his reign. In sacrifice and surrender our Savior will win the victory over Satan. This is how your sins are forgiven: by the blood of the king who gives himself up for us all. And this is how your life is restored and renewed: by the resurrection life of Jesus himself.

John the Baptist comes to announce his arrival. John’s baptism was preparatory for what Christ will do. “I have baptized you with water,” John says, “but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Having completed his saving mission, the ascended Lord Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his church, showing that now we are in the last days and empowering the church to bear witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. And you, dear Christian–Jesus has baptized you with the Holy Spirit, to give you the gift of faith and to sustain you in that faith your whole life long. The Spirit works through Word and Sacrament to strengthen you in your faith.

Messengers marking out the Messiah: We have seen that John the Baptist is just such a messenger. But is there another in our text? Remember, I said “messengers,” plural, meaning more than one. And there is. I would submit that it is Mark himself, the author of this gospel. St. Mark, the Evangelist–he too is a messenger marking out the Messiah.

Mark does that right away, immediately at the start of his gospel. The very first verse says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The Holy Spirit inspired St. Mark to write this gospel. And this book directs our attention to Jesus, to look at him in action: moving with a divine urgency to accomplish his messianic mission and his ministry of mercy. Straightaway, immediately, this plunges Jesus into conflict, as he casts out demons, and confronts and calls out his opponents. Preaching, teaching, healing, gathering disciples–Mark’s story moves right along, heading toward its conclusion in Holy Week and Easter. This is a Savior who identifies with his struggling and persecuted Christians, at the time Mark wrote this gospel and even to this day. Here is a Savior for you.

Mark would have us ponder the question that all four gospels cause us to consider: Who is this man Jesus of Nazareth? Mark tells us right at the outset, and he will lead us to see it over and over. This man is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, promised from long ago to usher in the everlasting kingdom of God. Now here he is. He is, indeed, the Son of God. The Father’s voice will testify to Christ’s identity at his baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father will repeat this at Jesus’ transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And by the end of Mark’s gospel, we will be able to say with the centurion at the cross: “Truly this man was”–and is!–“the Son of God!”

Friends, the Gospel of Mark is the featured gospel for this church year that has just begun. You’ll be hearing a lot from Mark over the next twelve months. And to go along with that, we just started a Bible class on Mark’s gospel, and I encourage you to attend. Mark is the shortest of the four gospels. You may even want to read through it in one sitting. In church, in Bible class, and in your personal devotions, you will be blessed to dive into the Gospel of Mark.

Messengers marking out the Messiah: Today we’ve looked at two of them, John the Baptist and Mark the Evangelist. They have brought us “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” But that’s only the beginning. The gospel continues among us today. God still is sending you messengers to bring you the good news. You’re hearing that message once again this morning: “The king is coming! Make his paths straight! Your mighty Messiah is coming to save you! Your sins are forgiven! You are baptized! And you will share in Jesus’ resurrection victory!”

Published in: on December 5, 2020 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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