These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the gospel of Mark. It has not been proofed for grammatical or spelling errors. I present it to you as-is.
Have you ever had to prepare the way for someone?
- For example, you know someone is coming over to your house who has had surgery and has a hard time walking or an elderly person who struggles to keep their balance. Since you know they are coming over you prepare the way for them. You make sure the toys are picked up so they don’t step on them or and in some cases you move the furniture a little bit to make a straighter and smoother path for them to get where they need to go.
In a similar way, you and I are used by God to prepare the way for the gospel to enter into someone’s life. By the way the live and treat others God uses us to remove some emotional clutter and theological baggage that is keeping people from believing in and following Jesus. You make it easier for the gospel to get to them.
Today we are going to be introduced to John the Baptist. God used him to prepare others to meet Jesus and become followers of Jesus.
Mark 1:1 says, This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began 2 just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. 3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” 4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”
Jesus said that “among those born of women none is greater than John” (Luke 7:28, ESV). We are talking about someone that Jesus himself was impressed with. One of the things that made John the Baptist great was his dedication and commitment to being a messenger for Jesus Christ who prepared the way for Jesus to encounter others. Every follower of Jesus is a messenger of Jesus at some level. Some of us are good messengers and some of us are not. Through John the Baptist we see several characteristics that messengers of God, like you and me, should have in our lives
God’s messengers are sent by God (2-4a).
First, God’s messengers are sent by God. Mark tells us in verse 2, “It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “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!’” This messenger was John the Baptist. (NLT).
God has a plan. He wrote out that plan in God’s Word and that plan is unfolding exactly as God wrote it. Verse 2 says, “It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written….” God’s Word tells us what God has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. You can trust the Bible. You may not understand everything in God’s Word and some of it, you may not like, but God’s Word is perfect, trustworthy, reliable, divinely inspired, infallible, and inerrant. 1 Peter 1:20 explains why when it says, “Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God” (vs. 20-21, NLT).
One of the things the prophet Isaiah said was, “Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!” This refers to customs no longer familiar, but everyone in the first century would have understood them immediately. In ancient times, construction crews would arrive at a city long before the planned arrival of a king to level hills, fill ditches, clear debris, and remove obstructions in order to prepare a wide, unencumbered, straight road into the heart of town. This work also served as notice to city officials: “Prepare yourselves and your city to receive the king.”
John’s purpose was not to remove debris from the road, but debris of the heart and mind so people could receive the King of kings who was coming. In some ways, all believers have this responsibility to help “prepare the way” and to “clear the road” for people to encounter Jesus. Some of the ways you can do this is by telling people about Jesus, living an example to follow as a follower of Jesus, and answering questions with a Biblical worldview.
I think we see some of this in 1 Corinthians 3:5 when Paul writes, “After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (vs. 5-6, NLT). You may not be John the Baptist, but you are sent like him into the lives of some people to help prepare the way for them to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God’s messengers deliver God’s message (4b-5).
Number two, God’s messengers deliver God’s message. Mark goes on to say in verse 4, He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River (NLT). John shows up and delivers God’s message. Some were excited about it and some were not. John did not create this message. God created John and gave John the message. Here is what this means for you and me.
- For me as a pastor, I’ve already been told what to tell you or remind of you. It’s God’s Word. It’s God’s message. This is why I walked you through James verse-by-verse explaining what God’s Word says to us. I don’t create the message, I just deliver it.
- The same is true for you. When you are talking to others about Jesus or heaven or hell or marriage or money and you are sharing God’s Word about it, you are simply delivering God’s message about that subject.
This is why it’s important to know God’s Word so you can deliver God’s Word. You need to know the truth to share the truth. That’s what John the Baptist was doing.
Let’s go back to John for a moment and look at his specific message. We are told that he “preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (NLT). There are three words you need to know here.
The first word is the word “repented.” John’s message included the concept of repentance. God’s Word says a lot about this and is crucial to salvation and spiritual growth. We are going to talk more about this as we go through Mark, but here is what you need to know today. “Repentance” is a change of mind. Your thinking agrees with what God says about sin, heaven, hell, salvation, Jesus, and even about you. You use to think you didn’t need Jesus, but now you know you do. That’s repentance. You use to think you could be good enough to get to heaven, now you know it is only through Jesus and His grace. That’s repentance. You use to do something that you thought was okay, now you see it as sinning against God. That’s repentance. Repentance is a change of mind that produces a change in behavior, action, and lifestyle.
Let me give you an example of this. Paul is writing to some believers and he is praising them for what God has done in their lives. In 1 Thessalonians 1:8 he says, “And now, the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God” (vs. 8-9, NLT). That’s repentance. They changed their mind about their idols and God. As a result they turned away from idols and started serving God.
The second word we need to think about in John’s message is the word “forgiven.” – Forgiveness in the Bible is a “release” or a “dismissal” of something. The forgiveness we have in Christ means God releases you from the penalty of sin and dismisses all charges against you because of sin. You are pardoned. This is why there is no condemnation from God toward those who are in Christ Jesus. You are forgiven. This is why you can stand before God justified which means you can stand before God as though you have never sinned. God has forgiven you. Only God can grant that kind of forgiveness and it can only come through Jesus Christ.
The third word we need to focus on is the word “baptized.” Baptism (baptizdo) literally means to dip or immerse. People were coming to John in the river and he would physically dip and immerse them in the river.
Let’s go back at look at this again, We are told that he “preached that people should be baptized [why?] to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (NLT). The first real way to show that you have turned to God is by being baptized. It is an external demonstration of what has happen to you internally.
We are going to look at baptism and why its significant in a latter lesson, but what you need to understand as a messenger of God is that you don’t create the message it has already been given to you and that message includes telling people to turn to God to be forgiven and then to be baptized as a physical demonstration of what has happen to you on the inside.
God’s messengers are to be examples of God’s message (6).
Number three, God’s messengers are to be examples of God’s message. Notice what Mark says in verse 6 about John, His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locust and wild honey (NLT). John the Baptist is not some weird man living out in the wilderness who starts yelling about Jesus. John was in perfect control of his lifestyle and what he was doing. He was intentional. He took on the dress and style of the ancient prophet Elijah who called God’s people to national repentance.
John’s dress and lifestyle were a protest against the godlessness and self-serving materialism of his day. It amounted to a call to separate oneself from the sinful culture, repent, and live a life focused on God. Even his context, the desert wilderness, was meant to emphasize this, for it was originally to the wilderness that Israel came out of Egypt. The people having to leave their towns and lifestyle to go hear John in the wilderness was a subtle reminder of them leaving their sins behind and coming to God. Let’s think about this for a moment.
Clothes: We are told “his clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist” (NLT). Most of the religious leaders of that date wore the best clothes, lived in the best houses, and didn’t really care about people’s lives. John decided to be the opposite. He wanted what he wore to make a statement.
Food: We are told that “for food he ate locust and wild honey.” Remember, John is making a statement with his lifestyle. The religious leaders and elite of his time (the Sadducees, Pharisees, chief priests, and scribes) ate the best meat and drank the finest wine money could buy. John, however, decided to eat from the hand of God, as it were. He depended on no human institution or economy, which left him free from politics and social pressures. His lifestyle choice gave him the freedom to fear no man and to fear God alone.
But let me be clear here. John never called the people to live and dress like he did. This is a part of his personal calling and ministry. This was a personal conviction of his. This is something that God wanted Him to do.
My point is this: the reason John was such an effective witness is that he embodied his message! He was all in. So the question I have for you and I, “We obviously need to speak for Jesus and declare His message, but what are we saying with our lifestyle?” What does your lifestyle say about your God and your commitment to Him?
God’s messengers are to be humble (7).
Number four, God’s messengers are to be humble. In verse 7 we are told, John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am – so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals” (NLT). John understood that his life was not about his life, but about Jesus. So often we want to be great in the eyes of others. Even in the church or Christian ministries. We want our ministry to be better than others. We want the recognition of how we serve God. If we are not careful serving Jesus turns into serving our own agendas and making ourselves look good. However, John was the opposite. He was humble and he knew how great Jesus was and how unworthy he was before Him.
John understood the principle of decrease when he said in John 3:30 about Jesus, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (NLT). He must increase and I must decrease. The spot light needs to be on Him and not me.
In some ways, John’s humility is seen in his attitude to serve Jesus. He saw this as a privilege and an honor to tell others about Jesus and to point other to Him. I’m not worthy to untie His shoes, but He has given me the incredible and awesome task of telling other about Him and introducing them to Him. John was humble. This reminds me of 1 Peter 3:15 which says, “You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (vs. 15-16, NLT).
God’s messengers are not expected to do what only God can do (8).
Number five, God’s messengers are not expected to do what only God can do. Look closely at what John the Baptist said in verse 8, I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit! (NLT).
When John says, “I baptize you with water” he is simply stating that he can only clean or change the outside of you. He is saying, “The best I can do is external. I can point in the right direction. I can tell you to stop doing this sin or that sin. I can help you do some religious activities. I can only baptize you with water. I can wash you on the outside, but eventually you will get dirty again. I can only immerse you into water.”
When John says, “… but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John is saying, “Jesus can immerse you in the Holy Spirit. You can we washed on the inside by God’s Spirit. I cannot save you, but Jesus can. I cannot cleanse you spiritually, but Jesus can. I cannot help you on the inside, but Jesus can. It’s through His Holy Spirit.” When John refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit he is referring to the salvation, cleansing, and forgiving of our sins that only the Holy Spirit can through Jesus.
This reminds me that I’m not God. I cannot change people. I can only do what God would have me to do or say, but it is God who brings about real internal transformation and changes in the heart of the people in my life.
God had people in your life who prepared you for Jesus. They prayed for you. They answered your questions. They loved you. They talked to you about Jesus. They forgave you. They were patient with you. They did what they could do and let God do only what He could do.
Now, its your turn to help prepare the way. Its your turn to pray for others. To love them. To forgive them. To be patient with them and to tell them about Jesus.
Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest person born of women. One of the things that made John great was his dedication to point people to Jesus. As I see it, greatness is measured by what people think about Jesus because of you. True greatness is not in what people think about you; its what people think about Jesus because of you. A question we must answer as followers of Jesus is, “What kind of Jesus does my life cause people to think of?” Or do they even think of Jesus when they think of me?