Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our text for this morning is the Gospel Reading from Mark 1. In our meditation on this text today, we take some time to focus on the role of John the Baptist as the Lord’s instrument to prepare his people for his coming—both his first coming and his second coming. And the way that Mark begins our text for today (and consequently his Gospel) gives us an indication of the significance that John’s story plays in the grand narrative of salvation.
If you’ll indulge me with an alternate translation of our reading’s first verse, Mark writes: This is the beginning of the preaching of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). In other words, John’s preaching which follows marks the beginning of proclamation of the Good News. John’s story plays a significant role in the Lord’s work of preparing his people for his coming.
2. What happens next, after a brief Old Testament citation, is: 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 (Mark 1:4-5). There are two significant details that I would like to draw your attention to in these verses, both of which have to do with John’s location. First, where is John? John is in the wilderness. Now, if you know anything about Israel’s geography, you know that talking about the wilderness means that you’re talking about the desert. What’s significant about the desert biblically? The desert is the place where God’s people were formed after the exodus from Egypt. It was the staging area for entrance into the promised land. So now, with John, the desert is the place where preparation begins for the formation of a new people who will be partakers of the new creation which the Lord himself, in Jesus, is about to bring. But that’s not the only significant detail about John’s location. John is baptizing where? In the river Jordan. What’s so significant about the Jordan River biblically? The Jordan was the location of the beginning of Israel’s new life under Joshua. (Might I remind you that the Hebrew & Aramaic behind Joshua’s name, Yehoshua/Yeshua, is the same name translated in the New Testament as “Jesus.”) After 40 years in the desert, the Jordan was the place of Israel’s entry into a new land flowing with milk and honey—a place similar to Eden, or to the new creation. So now, the renewal of God’s people and their participation in the blessings of God’s new kingdom begins at the Jordan River. To put it differently, John’s ministry in the wilderness at the Jordan River signals to us that the Lord is preparing his people for his coming through John.
3. Verses 6 through 8 of our text give us two final indicators of how the Lord is using John to prepare his people for his coming: Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:6-8). So, here’s John in the wilderness at the Jordan River dressed a big strange, although his strange dress signaled that he was a prophet. But there are two things about these verses that are extremely significant. The first is fairly obvious, John is proclaiming that someone greater than he is coming—someone who will bear and bestow the Holy Spirit on his people. The second detail of significant might be less obvious—among John’s strange diet was the consumption of honey. And this isn’t your normal store-bought honey that he’s eating, it’s quite clearly wild honey. Do you see the subtle signal Mark is making here? There’s honey in the wilderness! The land flowing with milk and honey is no longer restricted to the developed areas of Israel. God’s transformation of his people and his creation is stretching even to the wilderness! John’s story prepares us for the reality that the eternal rule and reign of God is near.
4. And even though John the Baptist died long ago, the reality is, the Lord is still at work preparing his people for his second coming. The problem that we run into in our privileged, self-centered 21st century American culture is that when things don’t quite go our way, we would rather throw ourselves a pity party than trust that God is at work. God doesn’t always work the way that we think he should. That’s because God is God; you are not. We need to repent of this privileged, self-centered attitude and trust that in our baptism, our sinful self was put to death with Christ on the cross so that his Spirit might begin to prepare us for Christ’s second coming and the eternal life that Christ will grant to each one of us in his eternal kingdom. My friends, even when we can’t see it, the Lord is at work preparing his people for his coming. It is in this that we place our hope and trust as we walk through this difficult, confusing life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.