Prepared for Jesus' Powerful Arrival
2nd Sunday in Advent
December 10, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Prepared for Jesus’ Powerful Arrival
Mark 1:1–8 (NIV84)
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” 4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Preparations and advertising is already in full gear, not for Christmas but for the Winter Olympics. What is your favorite event to watch? About the only winter Olympic sport I have played is curling. Slide a heavy stone across the ice and try to get it to stop in the right place. It is fun to play but maybe not as exciting to watch. Instead, we tend to like watching the competitions that have some power and action. The downhill skiers fly down the slopes at over 80 mph! I’ll watch that. The ski jumpers actually soar through the air for over 200 meters. As someone who studied aerodynamics, I will definitely watch that. Even the figure skaters whose routines are choreographed for grace and beauty display amazing power by leaping high off the ice and spinning around what looks to me like a hundred times before landing gracefully. I’ll even watch that. Many people are drawn to displays of power and athletic competitions usually provide such a display.
As we continue to prepare for Jesus’ arrival, Mark draws us to Jesus by telling of his power. He tells us how John powerfully prepares people for Jesus powerful arrival.
John’s Powerful Preparation
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.
From Jerusalem to the Jordan River is about 20 miles. At a nice pace it would take someone about 7 hours to go from Jerusalem to the Jordan River. Then, of course, you would have to make that long walk home again. This was not an easy journey and most likely would be a several day trip out to see John the Baptist.
Maybe you make such long trips to see your family, but those who came to see John had no family connection. Maybe you would make a trip like this to watch a football or baseball game or some other sporting event. Maybe you’ve made a trip like this to see your favorite musician in concert. John was not putting on a concert. He was not entertaining the crowds with displays of power. Although John is a prophet, the Bible records no miracles being done by John. He is not even dressed to impress a crowd. Camel’s hair and a leather belt is as simply as it gets. The people obviously did not come to see him for the food either. John’s diet was the diet of those who have very little. Locusts and wild honey won’t draw a crowd.
What was so impressive, so powerful, about John that crowds of people made a long, difficult journey into the wilderness to see him? He was divinely called to proclaim a message and it was this message that drew the crowds.
It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”
John’s work was foretold by Isaiah. He was to prepare the way for he Lord. Before a powerful ruler would visit a city, the advanced party would physically prepare the roads for him. They would fill the potholes and make the road smooth for the coming of the king. Gabriel told Zechariah much the same about his son, John. “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”” (Luke 1:17)
John powerfully prepared people for the coming of Jesus with the proclamation of law and gospel. John the Baptist is well known for calling on people to repent. He calls the leaders of the Jews a brood of vipers. He told the people to repent of their selfishness and greed. Repent of slander and jealousy. It is easy to see John as a fire and brimstone kind of preacher because he preached the law with all its force. Repent or you will be burned up like chaff. While this is true of John, the evangelist Mark summarizes his ministry this way:
And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
John’s message was not all fire and brimstone. He preached forgiveness of sins. He baptized people, not an outward sign of inner obedience to God. His baptism was of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Those who were baptized walked the twenty miles home with the assurance that their sins are forgiven. Their baptism was God’s promise to them that he forgives them. John proclaimed to them how this would happen. It would be though the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John preached the gospel of Jesus’ sacrifice for sins. Jesus was yet to begin his public ministry but John preached the gospel of forgiveness through the blood of the Lamb of God. John surely preached the law with all its force but only so he could proclaim forgiveness to those the Holy Spirit brought to repentance.
The preaching of law and gospel has been stressed in Lutheran preaching for centuries. John is a great example of this kind of powerful preaching. Maybe instead of being call Lutherans, we could take the name of John and call ourselves Baptists. Or is that name taken already?
John’s powerful message had results.
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Wouldn’t you love to have results like that? Everyone we invite to our Christmas services accepts the invitation and comes. Whenever we talk about what the Bible says, people believe it. When a fellow believer sins against us, they immediately repent and we immediately forgive them or the other way around too. We repent and they forgive. It would be wonderful if our use of law and gospel always turned out the way we wanted but it doesn’t. And Mark was using hyperbole when he says that all of Jerusalem went out to John. There were still many who would not repent and believe. Yet, John did not change the message because he knew the powerful Savior was coming. The message of Christ is the only message that can save.
Jesus’ Powerful Arrival
And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
While John’s message is powerful, Jesus himself is powerful. John feels that he is less than a servant compared with Jesus. Only the lowliest of servants would take off the dusty sandals of their master and John is not worthy of that duty. The power of Jesus becomes a theme in Mark’s gospel. We are only in the first verses of his gospel and already Mark has outlined for us the power of Jesus.
First of all, Mark tells us directly that Jesus is God. In the first verse Jesus is identified as the Son of God. Just two verses later, Jesus is identified as the Lord whose way John will prepare. Again Jesus is God. You cannot get more powerful than God himself.
Mark goes on to tell us about all the powerful miracles Jesus performs. Unlike John, crowds do come to Jesus to see his power in action. By his word, Jesus heals the sick, strengthens the lame, casts out demons, stops storms and raises the dead. He is far and away more powerful than John or any other human.
Therefore, it is amazing that Jesus lays aside his power and glory as true God for a time. He does not use his almighty power to prevent his arrest or the false charges brought against him. He does not stop the soldiers from flogging him or the leaders from mocking him. He has all the power in the universe but submits himself to the pain and shame of crucifixion. He does not even use his power to prevent his own death. He is what John told the people, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By his humiliation, the laying aside of his divine power and glory, Christ has redeemed us and all people. We were powerless to overcome our sins and Christ set aside his power to pay for our sins.
It is interesting that his miracles drew great crowds. Outward displays of power tend to do that. But his crucifixion drew more of his enemies than friends. Displays of seeming weakness tend to do that. Jesus would again show his divine power on the third day. In his resurrection we see his true power on display. He is more powerful than sin, more powerful than death, and more powerful than the devil. We prepare to celebrate the arrival of this powerful Savior during this season of Advent.
As you ponder the Christ-child in the manger this Christmas, remember his power to save. Maybe you can also remember you baptism whether as a young child or later. John baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Something powerful happened back then and something equally powerful happened in your baptism. Jesus sent you the Holy Spirit to wash away sins and create faith. Though it did not look powerful on the outside, God worked through water connected with his Word to change your heart from unbelief to faith. That is power.
Outward displays of power are amazing to watch in the Olympics. But in spiritual matters, we look for Jesus to powerfully work through outwardly ordinary things. John proclaimed the Word of God and baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Seek Jesus’ power in his Word and Sacraments. Through these means our powerful Savior gives forgiveness, life and salvation to all who believe.
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