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The sermon this morning was followed by the ordination and installation of several elders to the session of MacAlpine Presbyterian Church. We observed Feast of the Epiphany last Sunday, thus this morning we observed Baptism of the Lord Sunday and we looked at the story from the Gospel of Mark. In particular we looked at how Mark introduces us to Jesus and to Jesus’ ministry. The passage for today is the last stage of His preparation for that ministry. The sermon audio is available here. Next Sunday’s sermon is going to unpack Luke 4:1-13.

St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness by Anton Raphael Mengs, 1760, I’ll leave it to you to judge whether the artist has captured John with the correct clothing.

Today we have a new class of elders to ordain and install for MacAlpine Presbyterian Church and even a couple elders for the previous class. This marks the beginning of a new chapter in the life of this particular church as we follow Jesus Christ in this new year. I have no doubt that God has more things He is going to do through you. You may already have a good idea of what things those are but you are not sure that you are really ready to get started. You may think you need to prepare the way for Jesus. And there is a sense in which we are preparing people for Jesus to come again by introducing the people in our lives and the people we meet during the week to Jesus. But as you think about what it means to be ready to be an elder in His church let’s look at how Jesus prepared for His ministry. Jesus was very well prepared when He began His ministry. No doubt His parents had told Him all about those stories from His infancy that we also hear every year. We can be sure that much of His preparation for ministry was studying the Hebrew Scriptures. You can see that from the passage in the Gospel of Luke where a twelve-year-old Jesus stays behind in the Temple. Now Luke tells us that Jesus was about thirty (30) years old when He began His ministry. So even after that three-day training seminar in the Temple at age twelve (12), Jesus was not ready to begin for something like another eighteen years. And this is where the Gospel of Mark begins. The theme throughout Mark’s prologue is that of preparation. John the Baptist’s ministry was a ministry of introducing Jesus. The baptism that John did was a way for people to express their desire to get ready for the coming of the Lord. And we then see the final steps in Jesus’ preparation for ministry with His baptism by John and spending forty days in the wilderness. We can look at the temptations in the Gospel of Luke next Sunday. Luke gives us many more details. But hear the beginning of the story the way Mark tells it:

Mark 1:1-13

  1. Mark is not talking about us in this passage – he is introducing Jesus to us.
    1. All too often we look at passages like this and we read it as if it is telling us to do something or even telling us what might happen to us. Of course, all Scripture applies to us – as Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Thus there may be some practical things that we can do in response to this passage. But we must not be too quick to jump to the application or we will be liable to misunderstand the passage and therefore to misapply it. Some, for example, have thought that after we are baptized we need to spend time with God alone in the desert. Today we aren’t very likely to jump to such an application because it is so at odds with our culture to renounce the world, but asceticism was very popular in the fourth century where that wasn’t at odds with their culture and there were many famous Christian ascetics before that time. Some ascetics might take it literally and go out into the desert to live and others might take it more figuratively. But Jesus going into the desert after His baptism was an inspiration for all manner of asceticism. We might not jump to that particular application but people today make the same mistake. For example, one of the most common errors today (though uncommon in the past) is to argue from those baptisms performed by John to our own baptisms—even though ours is a different baptism than the one John did. Thus there are some people who think that Mark teaches that we should reject the baptism of infants because Jesus and the many others with him may have all been adults when they were baptized by John. There are some who may even assume it teaches that the proper mode of the new covenant sacrament of baptism is immersion because Mark tells us that Jesus came up out of the water. We might even read the first few verses as telling us about how we need to get ready for Jesus – to prepare the way for Him. But this passage is not about us – nor is it even about the new covenant sacrament of baptism – it is all about Jesus. Mark tells us about John’s ministry in order to introduce us to Jesus.
    2. Mark introduces us to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He comes out and tells us this in the very first verse before even telling us about John. And then as we read the quote attributed to Isaiah we are to connect the dots and see that John is the messenger who will prepare the way for this Son of God, and as we read John say that someone is coming after him who is mightier we are to again connect the dots and see that John is talking about Jesus. The second part of the quote is from Isaiah but the first part is actually found in Malachi, not Isaiah, thus Mark probably means for us to see the quote as a summary of the teaching of the latter prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve—Malachi being the twelfth installment of the Book of the Twelve. [Isaiah was a way to refer to the latter prophets.] Thus the latter prophets foretell this great prophet who will prepare the way for God Himself. One way to describe this great prophet is that he is the return of Elijah, which is what the last couple verses of Malachi do. How do you know who Elijah is? The way that he dresses. [Here we must look to the former prophets where we read about Elijah – in particular Kings.] King Ahaziah of Israel was not well and wanted to know if he would get better and sent messengers to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, but while the messengers were on the way to do so Elijah stopped them and told them to go back and tell the king that he will die. And when the king asked who it was that told them this, they said, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And the king immediately recognized who they meant, saying, “It is Elijah the Tishbite” (2 Kings 1:8). Thus when Mark describes the way that John is dressed we are supposed to immediately recognize who he meant – John is the new Elijah. But Jesus is the Son of God. And this identification of Jesus as the Son of God is even more pronounced when we see the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending like a dove and a voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” The whole reason that all Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to the wilderness to be baptized by John was to renew Israel’s status as the Son of God. But by contrast with all Judea and all Jerusalem it was this one man from Nazareth of Galilee whose coming up out of the water was answered by the coming down of the Spirit of God. So Mark is introducing to us Jesus Christ as the true Israel – the true Son of God.
  2. And Mark introduces to us the ministry of Jesus, the true Son of God, by showing us Jesus submitting Himself to a baptism of repentance.
    1. The ministry of Jesus was to repeat the story of Israel without the rebellion of Israel. Jesus is the true Son of God who repeats the Exodus event being baptized in the Jordan River and then being driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days. Jesus would be the Israel of God that the nation of Israel failed to be. A beautiful picture of His repeating the story as the true Son of God is that the angels are ministering to him in the wilderness. We know that the nation of Israel eventually went into exile and Christ would repeat this part of the story of Israel again without rebellion. Christ’s exile was to die for the sins of the many who would follow Him. So His ministry was to repeat the story of Israel without the rebellion of Israel.
    2. And Mark’s introduction to this ministry is Jesus submitting Himself to a baptism of repentance. The baptism of John was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus Himself was without sin, but He submitted to a baptism of repentance on behalf of the many sinners who would follow Him. He identified Himself with the people of Judea and Jerusalem, whose repentance was not perfect – by going out and being baptized among them in the wilderness. Thus already in the introduction to His ministry, Mark shows us Jesus identifying with sinners and confessing their sins on their behalf.
  3. The introduction to Mark is not about us being prepared for the coming of the Lord or even just about using being prepared for our ministry, it is about following Jesus who has prepared the way before us.
    1. We might approach this text wondering if we are ready for the coming of the Lord or even wondering if we are ready for whatever ministry God has for us. But Mark shows us that only Jesus could confess the sins of His people on their behalf so that the heavens would be ripped open and the Spirit of God come down. All this about John and his baptism is really only to introduce us to Jesus and to His ministry. It is not about what we do, lest we only be numbered among all Judea and all Jerusalem, imperfectly confessing our sins. It is not about us getting ready for the coming of the Lord or even us getting ready for our ministry.
    2. It is about following Jesus who has prepared the way before us. It is about what Jesus did and being numbered with Him. Verses 8 and 9 are put side by side to offer us a stark contrast between the baptisms by John and by Jesus. (I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Mark 1:8-9). Jesus submitted Himself to a baptism of repentance but the baptism that Jesus established is a baptism with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who makes us ready for our ministry by giving us the Spirit to speak through us. Jesus is the one who makes us ready for the coming of the Lord by interceding for us before the Father and by cleansing us of our sins. You might not be sure what shape your ministry will take, but if you follow Christ it will be the shape of the cross because you will be following Jesus on the way He has prepared.