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The Most Urgent Message

March 11, 2012 Series: Gospel of Mark

Topic: Evangelism Passage: Mark 1:1–11

Open to Mark chapter 1. Today we’re starting a series on the book of Mark and it’s heavy on my heart that we get everything from it that the Lord has for us. So before we get started I want to share some thoughts on receiving the Word. I’m going to use this story to help me.

In the early 1900’s, at the age of 60, Dr. E. V. Rieu completed a great translation of Homer into modern English. The publisher soon asked the Dr. to take on another translation project; they wanted him to translate the gospels. Dr. E. V. Rieu was an agnostic and had been all his life so when his son heard about the project he said the following: “It will be interesting to see what Father will make of the four gospels. It will be even more interesting to see what the four gospels make of Father.” He didn’t have to wait long. Inside of a year’s time, the Dr. responded to the gospels that he was translating from Greek to English, and became a committed Christian.

As we study and listen to the preached word of the gospel in the book of Mark I want us to remember that this is not just a book-this is God’s word. Dr. Rieu’s son had the right view of His word and we want to approach it with the same humble posture. Yes we want engage our minds to rightly understanding and interpret what we’re reading. But this isn’t simply a class where I teach and you learn. There is someone else here doing a much deeper work-doing miracles in our midst. The Spirit of the living God is taking the truth of His living word and going way beyond your ears and mind to your heart; taking the same truth and applying it in 100 different ways-to your specific life uniquely, with all your quirks and fears and gifts and desires. He knows you and he’s at work in you even as we are gathering together. So let’s keep this story in mind and approach the word asking not “what will I make of the Word” (which gives us the option to decide what to do with it) but rather “what will it make of me”?

Read Mark 1:1-11. 

In the opening verse, Mark titles this book “gospel”. This is the first gospel written and one of the first of its style that we now know as “gospel”. There is biographical and historical content but the literary genre of this book isn’t biography or a history. It’s a gospel. This gospel is a story and its meaning. It’s not just a story of the life of Jesus; it’s the story of His life and its impact and implications on humanity; it’s a story that requires a response. Mark, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, composed this story to communicate something specific with its own thrust and interpretation (as did Matthew, Luke and John).

Now the gospel is defined by very specific content. For example, Paul later wrote: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” So the facts of Jesus life and accomplishments comprise the gospel but these facts come with an “accept” button. (creating an online account, must agree with statement or decline service). The gospel requires a response.

Of all the Gospels, Mark is the shortest and most to the point. Mark knows that he has good news (gospel) and that it’s important; it’s urgent. Mark isn’t concerned with all the details. He writes with urgency and action. Mark doesn’t want to sit down over a cup of coffee and ponder theology. No, Mark is in and out. It’s like he’s using Morse code; or on the other end of a military radio in the middle of battle. No pleasantries; no bridge building; very little background. And the details he does share are action oriented and emotional. Mark wants his readers to know something important, to know it quick and to respond with urgency.

Marks style reminds me of the news networks. Have you ever heard: “Channel 5 News-Relaxed Reporting”. No, there’s almost anxiety in there slogans: Ch. 5 News-First, Fast, Accurate; Ch. 7 News-On the Move; Ch. 9 News-Live and up to the minute. There’s this desire to create urgency: “we’ve got the important message…now!” But Mark really does have an important message and he creates a real sense of momentum and urgency for us. When you read this book straight through you can almost feel out of breath.

Mark uses the word “immediately” over 40 times. And he accentuates the urgency with his repeated us of “and”; as if there were no breaks. Jesus did this and then this and then that. Also, the lack of details in between the accounts of Jesus ministry gives the feeling of compression of time; as if time is flying. And He mostly uses the present tense which isn’t normal when you’re talking about the past. But by doing so, we get the feeling that this is happening right now. Mark wants us to feel that because the reality is that it is. Remember, this is not ultimately about the “historical facts” of Jesus life and ministry but the sum effect and implication of His life-the Gospel.

Reality has changed. Jesus, the Messiah, is on the scene. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords; the Son of God who has authority over all things: demons, disease, weather, sin and death. And yet He will lay aside His authority and become the Suffering-Servant who would die for us, leading us back and opening the way for us to be restored to God. And Mark introduces us to King Jesus through, John.

The Messenger
We don’t know anything about John from Mark accept that he “appeared” and he was in the desert. But Mark does tell us that John didn’t just show up. He was set apart. His purpose was planned and foretold by God. John is a fulfillment of a promise. Mark proves this for us by quoting Isaiah (and Malachi). It’s been 400 years since the last prophet spoke about the Messiah and now “BANG” here’s John…in the wilderness as an Elijah type figure; showing that this is a fulfillment of scripture.

John being in the desert and calling people out would have been significant for the people of God. They had history with the desert; there was the 40 years of wandering, captivity in Babylon, the occupation of Syria. It would have been a subtle reminder of rebellion, sin and the discipline of the Lord but also of God’s promise in the midst of the desert place to lead them out. The promise of being lead out of the wilderness into the promise land; being led out of captivity; the promise of making the path straight (God leading them out). Mark wanted his readers to know that God is their deliver.

And it would have been especially significant to Marks first audience because they had just recently been scattered into isolation in the wilderness by the extreme persecution of Nero. So there is an immediate relevance for the Christians that Mark is writing to; reminding them that they have a deliverer. But it’s significant for us all. We were all in the desert; lost, wondering, thirsting, dying, chasing the mirage of pleasures that never satisfy and lead to death. And so we’ll see next week that, for our sake, Jesus would be driven into wilderness to bring the people of God out of the wilderness. He is our deliverer.

Now John was a strange character. He wasn’t out to impress. Camel’s hair? Locusts and Honey? I’m sure he wasn’t using Old Spice. I want to quickly make an observation about John’s character. His outward appearance wasn’t a mistake. It was an indication of his heart. John was fully devoted to God. He lived outwardly what he knew inwardly.

His purpose was to be devoted to and submitted to God, to reject living the way the world does, so that he could effectively proclaim the coming of the Messiah; calling everyone to prepare while there is still time. He may have been weird but people were responding. Kent Hughes says that “the reason John was such an effective witness is that he embodied his message!”

The Message
And so John is preparing the way; calling everyone out to the desert with a message; a very simple message: Repent. Repent of your sin. Humble yourself and turn your heart toward God. Renounce your rule of your own life and acknowledge God as the ruler of your life. John was “proclaiming” or “preaching” a baptism of repentance. And everyone who came out was being baptized.

I’m sure there were skeptics and critics but John was requiring everyone who came to repent and be baptized; it didn’t matter who you were. “I’m a Pharisee. Yeah, and you’re a sinner facing judgment-you need to get down here and repent and be baptized; prepare yourself for the coming of the King.” Prepare the way; prepare your heart! This is a time for action! John isn’t calling people to come out for a support group; this isn’t a time to be heard or to explore our inner child. John is calling people to change. It’s not a time to have a cry, pray a prayer and get back to life as usual. This is a time to be shaken, to wake up, be convicted and change forever. And most who went, felt the urgency and responded.

John was proclaiming but also baptizing which is the response to repentance. Baptism doesn’t accomplish anything; it represents something that has already happened. And we see later in Acts that John’s disciples were baptized again after Pentecost. We know there’s more to repentance than this but they didn’t. It’s happening for the first time. So John is preaching that message as well. Look at verses 7-8.

There is one coming; Your Savior is coming. I’m a prophet, I’m here from God and I’m telling you what’s about to happen: Repent and be baptized now BECAUSE One is coming whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. John’s saying “I’m here to get you ready for Him. But I must decrease so that He can increase.”

Jesus is coming and when He does He is going to do something amazing: pour out His Spirit. He will baptize his people with the Holy Spirit. OT passages immediately come to mind: (Ezek. 39, Joel 2) and again the promises of a faithful God being fulfilled. Again, we know that this baptism of the Spirit will be the result of Jesus dying on the cross, being raised from the dead, ascending back to heaven-they’re going to find out first hand.

He gives His life giving Spirit to raise the dead to life, to comfort the hurting and downcast, to sanctify and purify His church, to illuminate His word and reveal truth; and He will pour out His spirit to equip you to continue to proclaim this message with boldness. He came to baptize you-not with water-but with fire; that will burn within you to proclaim this message.

We are well taught and hold sound doctrine in high regard (and should) but if we fail to recognize that one of the primary purposes of Jesus coming was to pour out His Spirit on us to enable us and empower us, charismatically and supernaturally, to preach the gospel of the Christ we are missing the very heart of God. Feel the urgency with Mark. The King is coming. The King has come but He is still coming for many and you are voice crying out. Get out in the wilderness and proclaim His coming, warn those that don’t know, prepare the way of the Lord and call for repentance. His Spirit is upon you and His Spirit is promised to those who repent and believe in Jesus.

Confirmation of the Message
So John appeared preparing the way, proclaiming the message of repentance and the coming of one greater than himself; one who would set the captives free. And then in verse 9 we are introduced to the Savior and we see the confirmation of John’s message. Read 9-11.

Why was Jesus baptized? This was a baptism of repentance. Jesus had no sin, no need of repentance or baptism. What we see hear is the humility and humiliation of Jesus. Jesus was posturing Himself with humanity. 1 Cor. 5:21 says “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This scene is a foreshadowing of the cross. Jesus had no sin but he chose to put himself in our place and He would do the same thing on the cross. Only, the cross would require the real penalty for sin: separation from God the Father, pain and agony and humiliation and ultimately death. When Jesus chose this baptism of repentance He was saying yes to the cross. And the Father approved. Jesus was committed to become the humble Servant-Savior of the world (our substitute) and the Father was well pleased with Him. The sign of His pleasure was the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus.

Do you know what’s amazing? That’s the same sign that we receive when we put our faith in Christ and repent of our sin. It’s the irony and the scandal of the gospel. The commendation that Jesus received from the Father for His obedience; all of His pleasure, joy, righteousness, all of His reward; is shared with us through Christ Jesus. Through faith in Jesus Christ we share in His glory. The one who deserves death receives life and the one who deserved all glory and honor and praise received punishment and death.

Mark wants us to know that everything has changed because of Jesus; and it continues to change for everyone who hears this message and responds to it. There are still many who have yet to hear and repent. The urgent message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is more relevant now than ever as the days grow shorter and darker. And our job is the same as Mark and John-to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God and to call everyone everywhere to repentance.