Prepare Ye The Way

Intro to the Gospel of Mark 1:1-13

We recently witnessed the coming of the President of the United States and the Pope to Kenya. These visits costed millions in preparation and hosting. Every arm of government and religious organization was called to best behavior. Never at one time Kenyans been so patriotic and as religious as we experienced last year as we welcomed these 2 prominent and powerful icons of the 21st century. This reception does not compare in any way with how we received the Nigerian President recently.

About 2000 years ago, the most important figure in the history of man entered the world. You would think much of His reception and his hosting, but it was not so, only a few who recognized who He really was took to task to Prepare the Way. If Jesus Christ was to re-enter the world today- What Kind of welcome would he get? How have we prepared the Way?

We begin a new series and approach to our preaching. A verse by verse journey through the gospel of Mark and thereafter other books of the Bible. Our aim is to get us back to the meat and bone of scripture as we refresh ourselves on the truths, relevance and application of the Scriptures. This approach allows us to re-live the events of the bible as well as confront us with hard questions about our understanding and application of God’s word. It also means we can all be on the same page, by reading ahead and anticipating the Sunday teaching with an inquisitive heart.

I invite us together to be students of God’s word. Not merely to confirm and appease our positions and spiritual perspectives on things, but to be open to be confronted and challenged in our thinking, as well as in our being. As we read the book of Mark, be ready for action, be open for the move of God and be challenged to serve.

So some back ground to the Gospel of Mark.

The book of Mark is the Shortest of the 4 Gospels and is believed to have been written first. The other gospels quote all but 31 verses of Mark. This gospel records more miracles of Jesus than does any other gospel. The Author is John Mark, who was not one of the 12 disciples of Jesus but was acquainted to the Christian faith through Peter and later became a close follower of Paul and Barnabas in their missionary Journeys. He mentioned several times in the NT and later was also referred to by the apostle Peter as a son.

Not so much pomp and glamour can be alluded to this man who authored the first Gospel, yet God used him to preserve this great message to us.

Written in Rome between A.D 55-65 (about 30-35 years) after Christ had died, John Mark writes this gospel to the Christians in Rome to affirm the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus is the true son of God. This is the message of Mark, he wanted to encourage the Roman Christians and prove beyond a doubt that Jesus is the messiah. Mark is said to be an action thriller of some kind. Focusing on the actions of Jesus, more than his teachings, He presents a rapid succession of vivid pictures of Jesus in action- His identity revealed not just by what he says but by what He does.

Read 1: 1-13

But let’s now briefly get into the set, the world of the text. From the last prophet, believed to be Malachi, the page we turn between the OT and the NT represents about 400 years since the Israelites heard any word from God. Under the reigning ruler of the Roman emperor Tiberius, the Jews led by their religious and community leaders had secured a peace of Rome agreement that allowed them to live and retain their identity as Jews. The Romans allowed them to continue in the worship of their God which now not only was at the temple but at various synagogues. There was now a new array of religious leaders including Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law.  Priests and Prophets were rare and silent. Over all these authorities, sits a governing body called the Sanhedrin (High council) the religious supreme court of the time.

Before the Romans colonized the Jews, they had already been under the rule of the Persians led by King Cyrus, then the Greeks took over led by Alexander the great. Alexander’s strategy was to inculcate the Greek culture among his colonies including, language and trade. When the Roman’s took over, they found the Jews already cultured and speaking Greek, which they too came to learn and use. It was at this time about 336 Before Christ, that the Hebrew O.T was translated into Greek, which was called the Septuagint which was widely used by the Jews even Jesus quoted from it.

But after 400 years of silence, God breaks the silence again. The Jews now were hungry for the promised Messiah. They had looked through the prophecies and all indications were that the promised one was yet to come.  God had brought about the perfect political and religious setting for the work of His son. God had set the stage for the final era of salvation story, an era of the Good News for the Jews and the Gentiles alike.

The Jews waited for a leader who had been promised for centuries before by prophets. They believed that this leader- The Messiah or anointed one’ would rescue them from their Roman oppressors and establish a new Kingdom. Many of the Jews however overlooked the prophecies that also spoke of this coming King as a suffering servant who would be rejected and killed. It is no wonder that many rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

Mark does not mention the story of Jesus Birth. Instead he begins his gospel by the announcement of John the Baptist. Roman officials of this day were always preceded by an announcer or herald. When the herald arrived in town, they knew that someone of prominence would soon arrive. Because of Marks audience was primarily Roman Christians, He began his gospel with John the Baptist whose mission is to announce the coming of Jesus, the most important man that ever lived. The story of His birth would not be as significant as the message of the Announcer.

In every aspect of the Word God had prepared the way? He had orchestrated time, prophecy, politics and season and even a fore runner for the arrival of Christ? Today I ask, how have you prepared your way? In other words, how do you appreciate the Revelation of Jesus to you? How do you value his coming into this world? John puts it this way in John 1:9 – The one who is the True LIGHT, who gives LIGHT to everyone, was coming into the world.

The Coming of Jesus into the World is surely the Good News. This is the beginning of the Gospel that Mark speaks off in verse 1. The Gospel is really the story about Jesus, right from the beginning of how he came to this world to how he left. The question is how well do you know the Gospel? Our faith is not based on a summary of statements but facts about a real historic experience. Are you illiterate on the most important story in the world?

As we said Mark is straight forward – He states His course, His climax right at the beginning. That Jesus is the Messiah and He is the Son of God. That should awaken our interest, the rest of the book shows how he comes to this conclusion.

God prepared the Way also by means of  Prophecy. Mark quotes Malachi and Isaiah who were some of the prophets who prophesied about Jesus.  God used prophecy to declare his intentions over his children as well as encourage and comfort them especially in their dark times. Prophecy comforted them that God was still on Course. It is the same today- the prophecies yet to happen e.g in Revelation are not to fill us with fear but to prepare us and comfort us that God is ultimately in charge.

“Look I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way, He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord’s coming, Clear the Road for Him.”

All those who knew him prepared the way.

People came to be baptized by John as a sign for repentance. In John’s ministry, baptism was a visible sign that a person had decided to change his or her life, giving up a sinful and selfish way of living and turning to God. This was an old custom, but John gave it a new meaning. Because of the relative peace and common language that was there, many people travelled to come and be baptized in preparation for the Messiah. Dressed like Elijah, living on wild honey and locusts, He really stood out as a Prophet. Many indeed thought he was the resurrected Prophet Elijah.

But how did John the Baptist prepared the way? And what can we learn from John the Baptist

  • John the Baptist prepared the way by getting out of the way- The identity of Jesus affected John’s Identity, He knew who he wasn’t- In the gospel of the apostle John- When He was asked are you the prophet Elijah, who are you?- He seems to say I am nothing, but my message is everything, I am but a voice, I am life in passing, light for a moment. In other words, John was humbled and broken, despite the task God had given Him.
  • We see His attitude about his ministry in verse 7- Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am so much greater, that I am not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals.
  • John who himself was a Miracle baby His Mother Elizabeth and Zechariah in Luke were blessed to have him in their old age, His father Zechariah had been mute until the birth of John when He was able to speak again. He had greeted Jesus in the stomach and Jumped up when Mary mother of Jesus had gone to visit Elizabeth, His mother.

He Knew that His baptism was only an outward symbol, but the true Baptism of the Spirit that does not only cleanse us from sin, but gives us the power to live for Him, is the Baptism into Christ through the Holy Spirit for those of us who believe. Baptism into Christ prepares the way for us for eternity.

How have we prepared the way? Sometime Like John, Preparing the way means getting out of the way

  • Only those who are broken will receive him. He resists the proud and draws near to the humble.
  • Accepting and Receiving Christ has always been about stepping aside, putting the self away so that Christ can take the center stage.

Has your pride kept you from preparing the way? The way of the Lord has always been the way of Humility.

Jesus enters the Scene at about 26-28 years of age to be baptized by John. He had lived in Nazareth since He was a young boy. This city was despised and avoided by many Jews, yet this is the back ground God chose for the Messiah to be born.

If John’s Baptism was for the repentance of Sin, Why was Jesus baptized- was it to say he was a sinner himself. No- Jesus was sinless, Although He did not need forgiveness he was baptized for the following reasons

  • His baptism was a commissioning of His ministry over the next 3 or so years. This was the time God had chosen to launch the ministry and work of Jesus. He would no longer just be the son of the carpenter but now the son of God. His baptism, marked the beginning of His ministry of being the savior of the world.
  • He also was baptized to show support and affirm John’s ministry- In His baptism He acknowledged that God indeed was the one who sent John before the Jews as a fulfillment of Prophecy.
  • But He was also baptized to show and identify with our humanness and our sin and also give as an example to follow. This then is solid ground for teaching Baptism as obedience but also as a model after Christ. In His baptism Christ Identified with us as fallen, In the same way When we are baptized we identify with Him. We are buried with Christ and Risen with Him.
  • For a Christian, the question is not would you like to be baptized but When are you ready to be baptized? (Invite those who are ready)

But an amazing event Happens at Jesus baptism. As Jesus was coming out of the water,  he saw the heavens splitting and the Holy Spirit coming down  and descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said “You are my son whom I love with you I am well pleased.

This one of the rarest occasions that God shows up in what we call- Trinity. Although this word is not in the bible, God shows up here in 3 persons. The father, the son and the Spirit present all at once with a display of such unity and resolve. Yet still One God.

I want to carefully teach on this subject for a little while- There is too much emphasis on this term Trinity. So much so that our understanding and skeptics portray an Image of 3 gods in one, Instead of 3 persons yet one. This is even so for Christians to believe that God comes to us in Portions, That when we believe in Christ, The Holy Spirit has not yet come Until another baptism of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we even say in our Christian lives that we are saved but not yet filled with the Holy Spirit.

But God is essentially one, we error to try and speak of Him as though He was 3. Just like we can speak of Lamik the husband, lamik the farmer, and lamik the father- we still speak of one. God’s LIFE is whole, when we receive Christ- The fullness of God dwells in Him, See Col 1:19. We receive him as father, son and Spirit.

But Finally another way of Preparing the Way: Don’t miss the powerful words spoken over Jesus at his baptism.

“You are my son whom I love with Him I am well pleased”-

Powerful words that speak into and affirm the Identity of Jesus. This was Important for the people to hear just as it was important for Jesus to hear. Only those who had come to prepare the way heard and saw this experience. God spoke into the identity of Christ. But picture the Scene for a moment….what are your thoughts about the man in the water?

It was important for God to say these words over Jesus. Knowing the journey ahead- God spoke into the Identity of Jesus? He belonged to Him, He Loved Him ( He was accepted) and He was pleased with Him (Significance)

If Christ is in us, God speaks this of us….He is our father, He Loves us and He is Pleased with us. Belonging, Acceptance and Significance- We all long to hear someone say this of us. What a powerful way to affirm and commission Jesus.

A little lesson in parenting here: How do we compare in how we prepare the way for our children. Imagine beginning the day speaking these words to our Children? You are my Child, I love you and I am proud of you. So much harm and destruction is in our world today because of Missing Dads who needed to affirm their sons and daughters with these words. Instead of killing their identity and calling them all sorts of names, Speak LIFE into their identity, This is the kind of affirmation that Commissions them well into the world.

Back to the story- Jesus was then taken to the wilderness to be tempted. He was tempted for 40 days by Satan. There is not so much said by Mark about this period- what happened. But Mathew mentions how he was tempted. Just like Adam and Eve yet He did not sin. After such powerful affirmation of His identity- Satan comes to tempt Him on his identity and He does this the same way he did it to Adam and Eve, To Jesus Christ and to us today.

The bible summarizes it in 1 John 2:16 as the lust of the eyes, The lust of the flesh and The pride of life.

First the Lust of the flesh- After 40 days and night, the devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread- To which Jesus says “man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. In other words – The greatest of physical needs (survival and material things) cannot compare with our need for God.

How would do you compare in this area of testing- have you found the Lord as your greatest and most important need?

Second the pride of LIFE: Satan tempted Jesus – saying if you are the son of God, jump from the highest point and see that the angels will hold you up. In other word’s invoke your power to prove you are the son of God. To which Jesus responded You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. In other words “ I don’t need to prove my identity to anyone, not atleast by feats of majesty and power but by humility and servanthood.

How do you compare in this area of testing- Have you given into the world’s temptation of/proving they must know Who I am. ‘You should know people’ too much pomp.

Lastly the Lust of the eyes: Satan took Jesus and showed him the kingdoms of the world and their glory told him all this I give to you, if you bow and worship me- To which Jesus responded- Get away from me satan, you must worship the Lord your God and serve Him only. In other words not even The gold, the goods and the girls, Money power and fame can rob me of my identity and my worship of God.

How do you compare: Have you given in to the worship and pursuit of the lust of the eyes- I see I want to the loss of the way.

Part of preparing the Way- Is through the wilderness. After such a high moment, Jesus is taken to the wilderness to be tempted.

In the same way, Part of Preparing the way for us is wilderness experience where we will be tested on our priorities, Pursuits and Pleasures. Part of preparing the way is our willingness to have these changed in our lives so that Christ may Come.  So the question is Have you prepared the Way for the Messiah, the son of God. How have you received the most important person in history? What ways do you need to ask him to Change, so that like John- You may prepare the way?

Let’s Pray.

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