You have to admit, it’d be pretty cool to have your name mentioned anywhere in a book written by God. I mean, can you imagine picking up a Bible, opening it up, and seeing your name there?
I don’t care how obscure the text, I don’t care if it was in some genealogy that everybody skips over, I don’t care if your name had to be Malchiram, or Pedaiah or Shenazzar; it would just be so awesome to have God write a book and put your name in it, somewhere, anywhere.
But still, and we can be honest here, there are some places where it would be better to read your name than others. There are some places we’re all just thankful we’re not mentioned, like as the guy married to Jezebel. There are other places though, where we all would kind of wish we were mentioned.
Now, personally, I think if you could, if you could pick a spot in the Bible where you’d like to be mentioned, if you had the choice to say, “I’d like to have my name inserted here,” I don’t believe there’d be any place you could choose that would be better than the opening verses of the gospel of Mark.
Besides the obvious reasons, the fact that Mark is the most read book of the Bible, the fact that Mark is the most widely translated book of the Bible, the fact that Mark is about the most exciting time in the Bible, besides all those reasons; have you ever just stopped and considered how remarkable these opening verses of Mark really are?
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘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.’ John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Think about what Mark is saying about John.
I don’t know about you but after reading verse 1, “The beginning of the gospel…” I expect Mark to say something about Jesus; but he doesn’t, at least not directly – instead he says something about John. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…John appeared…”
How awesome is that?
Can you imagine being the person chosen to lead off the gospel about the Son of God?
How cool would it be to open up your Bible to the gospel of Mark and see that Mark says the gospel begins with something you were called to do?
I’m not sure that we as 21 first century Christians always appreciate the uniquely important ministry John had.
It’s not just that his ministry was mentioned here at the beginning of Mark, which is pretty amazing in and of itself, Mark highlights just how important his ministry was by pointing out that his ministry was talked about even in the Old Testament.
When we open up our Bible and have our devotions we read things that relate to us, but all in a very general way. We read love your enemies, and we have to apply it to ourselves, we say Josh or whatever your name is, love your enemies.
But when John opened up his Bible and had his devotions, he could open to several passages in the Old Testament that were all talking specifically about him.
Mark quotes three:
“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘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.”
He writes this like it’s all from one passage, but it’s actually from three: the first part is from Exodus 23:20,23, the second part is from Malachi 3:1, and the third part is from Isaiah 40:3. It’s not that Mark made a mistake by attributing them all to Isaiah, it’s just that the first two only amplify his main point which is found in the text he quotes from Isaiah.
What Mark wants us to understand is that John the Baptist’s ministry was a fulfillment of promises God made in the Old Testament.
Now I’m not sure, but I was wracking my brain this week, and I don’t know of any other prophet (besides Jesus) who’s prophetic ministry was prophecied about. It wasn’t like John was only speaking prophecies, he was the subject of other people’s prophecies.
If you take the Exodus prophecy, God promised he’d send John 2000 years before he was born.
That almost sounds like something from a movie, a guy finding an ancient text where he is prophesied about. If God talked about what you were going to do thousands and thousands of years before you were born, that might be a clue, what you were going to do was pretty important.
In fact, I’d have to say John would have to be up there on the top of the list of the most important ministries in the Bible.
Obviously, there are lots of significant things people did throughout the Bible. To lead the people out of the Promised Land, that’s great. To be the king over the nation of Israel, pretty cool. To write a book of the Bible, awesome.
But I would venture to guess that if you asked the greatest men of the Bible whose ministry was the most unique, the most fundamental, they’d point to John the Baptist.
After all, he came to:
“…to prepare the way for Jesus…”
In the ancient world, the roads were poorly
maintained. So a king, before he traveled somewhere, would send someone up ahead to make sure everything was ready to make his trip smooth.
That’s why John came.
Mark sums up his ministry like this:
“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.”
John was sent by God to get His people spiritually ready for the salvation He was going to provide through Jesus Christ.
We see exactly how John did that in verse 4, he made Jesus’ way smooth “by baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Leading off the gospel, prophesied about in the Old Testament, divinely commissioned by God to make Jesus’ way straight – it’s obvious John’s ministry was of the utmost importance.
The fact is, if you look to the other gospels, you find out even the angels were impressed.
You remember what the angel said when he appeared to Zechariah, foretelling John’s birth?
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.”
When angels start calling you great, you know that you’ve made it. As far as ministry goes, John the Baptist is pretty much at the top of the heap – that’s the first thing Mark highlights for us about John in verses 2-4 – this is a man who truly had a unique responsibility – an amazing ministry.
Now shifting our focus for a minute, from the ministry to the man, I don’t know if you noticed but while John might have had this amazing ministry, he really was a bit of a unusual individual. In fact, in spite of all that I just said about his ministry, the thing is, if he showed up at our church, we might wonder a bit about what was going on. We’d probably look at each other and whisper, “Who let this guy in?”
I mean the man was clothed with camel’s hair and he wore a leather belt around his waist; we definitely wouldn’t want him planning the fellowship meal because Mark tells us he ate locusts and wild honey.
That would have been almost as strange in Jesus’ day as it is on ours.
Plus, not only was the man a bit different, the place he chose to minister was at least to our way of thinking somewhat strange – definitely not in the thick of things. If you check it out, his ministry was taking place somewhere that really wasn’t accessible at all. Mark keeps saying that he was out in the wilderness. It wasn’t like it was right off the 309 or anything. People didn’t even have cars, they had to either walk or ride their donkey all the way out there.
On top of that, his message definitely wasn’t seeker sensitive.
Mark writes that he was proclaiming a ‘baptism of repentance.’
First off, to tell the Jewish people that they needed to be baptized, that was, well it easily could have been taken as an insult. You see, in their way of thinking, the people who needed to be baptized were Gentiles. If a Gentile was going to become a Jew he had to be baptized.
So what John was saying to the people of Israel basically was, ‘look you are so messed up right now – that you might as well be a Gentile. You think you’ve got it all together, but you don’t. You are not in a safe, special relationship with God just because you are a Jew. If you are going to be right with God, you need to repent and demonstrate that you understand your need for cleansing by being baptized by me in the Jordan River.’
John was like a one point preacher, every time you showed up to hear John, you knew you were going to hear him tell you to repent.
He wasn’t this guy who soft-pedaled the message to attract crowds. He was one-hundred percent straight up.
The most important religious leaders come to him because they want to be baptized, how’s John respond?
“Oh great! Now my ministry is taking off! How can I help you? You can sit over here. Let me just take care of you.”
No, um, not quite.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you, ‘God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’”
I can just picture all the church growth experts rushing forward in unison to turn John’s microphone off.
What are you doing? You just can’t say that! especially, not to the religious leaders, the important people in the community.
And John would be like, I’ll say that and you know what I’ll say more. He steps back up to the microphone and gets even more specific, speaking directly to the crowds themselves…
‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise…’
Then he turns and singles the tax-collectors out, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do…’
Then to the soldiers, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’”
If you know people, you know that people don’t like people who tell them what to do. If you are going to talk about repentance and get away with it, you have to talk about it in such general terms that nobody knows you are talking about them. If you are going to get specific and starting actually getting into people’s kitchens, most of the time people are going to start getting upset.
But with John the Baptist, the exact opposite started happening. This man became the rage. He was this unusual individual who was way out in the middle of nowhere who kept telling people that they were messed up, needed to turn from their sin and start doing what God wanted, and the result?
“… 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.”
Everybody had to see John. Some say as many as 300000 went out to see John in the wilderness.
And it wasn’t just like they went to see him, they actually listened.
He told them to repent and so they got in the water and started talking to everybody about their sins.
People from every background, important people – religious leaders, despised people – tax-collectors, powerful people – soldiers, regular people – farmers; it was like they all were mesmerized by this man.
In fact, Mark 11:32 says that pretty much across the board, everybody was convinced he was a prophet.
Some people even wondered if he was the Christ.
He was such a big deal that Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote right around 90-100 a.d., spent more time talking about John the Baptist than he did about Jesus.
We’re talking about a guy whose ministry probably lasted about two years, and yet it had so much of an impact that people were still talking about it 60-70 years later.
Apparently, the people loved John so much that after he died, when the person who killed John, Herod Antipas, was defeated in battle, Josephus writes, “some of the Jews thought it was God who had destroyed Herod’s army, and that it was a very just punishment to avenge John the Baptist.”
As far as human beings go, they just don’t come any more important or successful than John. Not only did this man have a unique ministry, what we’ve seen in verses 5 and 6, the second thing Mark highlights for us is that this man’s ministry had unique results.
If you are an ambitious Christian and you are looking to be the greatest Christian who ever lived with like the most important ministry, sorry to say, you’re too late.
Because you know what Jesus said about John – and this tops it all off!
Luke 7:28, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.”
When we look at John the Baptist, we are looking at the greatest, most important human being who ever walked on the face of this planet – a man who had a unique ministry, and whose ministry had unique results.
But – and let me clue you in – we’re arriving at the point of this message – but do you know what John the Baptist said when he looked towards Jesus?
Mark 1:7 and 8,
“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. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”
I’ve talked for a long time about John the Baptist this morning, but do you know who John the Baptist would want me to talk about?
What I want you to go home today appreciating, is just how supremely significant Jesus is.
You take the most important person who ever lived, whose ministry was just so vital, and who accomplished such great, almost unbelievable things and you compare him to Jesus and what do you discover?
Jesus is far, far, far, far better than the best.
To quote John:
1.) He is mightier.
2.) He is more important.
And 3.) His ministry is more essential.
John understood his limitations. He understood his place. He understood he was not the Savior. He understood that he did not have the ability to save, that there was only one who had the power to do that. That’s why John kept saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
And that’s why John says here, ‘I am not even worthy to stoop down to untie the strap of his shoe.’
Now think about that, “untie the strap of his shoe,” that’s not like a glorious job. That was a job for a slave, and not just a job for any slave, it was a job for the lowest of slaves.
And yet here’s John, this person we look to and respect, this person if we got a chance to meet, we’d all be like, oh my word, I can’t believe I get to meet John – we’d be falling at his feet; here’s John, this person that the greatest men in the Bible looked up to; here’s John this person that made the angels say, wow; here’s John this man who obviously had a special relationship with God, I mean he was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb; here’s John the greatest of the great, and what does he say when he comes Jesus, he says, I’m not even worthy to be the lowest grunt in his kingdom. He is more powerful than me and He is more important than me.
His ministry is more essential than mine. “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
We may look to John the Baptist, envy his position and think to ourselves, isn’t he great. But John? He wants us to look beyond him, to Jesus.
Really the reason I wanted to take such an in depth look at John the Baptist with you is because, bottom line, even though his ministry may have been unique and even though the results of his ministry may have been unusual, his attitude, aah, his attitude, it should be the attitude of each and every one of us who is a Christian:
“I exist to point people towards Jesus Christ.”
His ministry might have been unique and the results might have been unique, but not his attitude, not his message, no his attitude, his message should very, very common: Don’t look at me…Look at Jesus.
We waste so much time living for ourselves, trying to make ourselves look great.
We get consumed with our reputation. We think about what other people think about us.
We want to be important. We want other people to know other people to know about us and what we do.
We do something for God and we start thinking of ourselves as something great, as indispensable, as a mighty one of God. But then we come to a passage like this and it’s really humbling because what this passage makes very clear is that:
It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s never been about us. And if anyone thinks it is, that person’s missing the point, completely.
It’s all about Jesus.
I want to close by challenging you to examine your attitude towards Jesus in light of John’s.
What’s most important to you: Jesus’ glory or yours?
When opportunities come up, when people are looking at you: Do you use those opportunities to point them towards Jesus or do you use those opportunities to point them towards yourself?
Why do you do what you do: are you serving so that people might remember you and might think great thoughts about you or are you serving so that people might forget you and might think great thoughts about your Savior?