Out of the wilderness
Mark Part 1
There is a big market today in Biographies- Stories about the lives of famous people, in history or modern day celebrities.
You get the impression, that some of these biographies are being written to catch the wave of popularity before it disappears.
I wish to start a series looking at the one of the great timeless biographies.- The Biography of Jesus Christ by John Mark
We call it the Gospel of Mark – The second of the books of the New Testament. It is my hope to cover this in five sessions of which this is the first.
As you will see each of these sessions has a title and it is my prayer that you will gain an insight into the life of Christ as we look together at this amazing account.
The other four sessions are
2. A ministry of Power.
3. A prophetic Life.
4. The road to Jerusalem.
5. A passionate suffering servant.
2 A little background
To say that Mark’s Gospel is a Biography of Jesus is not strictly speaking true as they are more probably the memoirs of the Apostle Peter. You have to remember that Mark never physically met Jesus. He was a cousin of the Barnabus who was drafted into the apostolic team in Acts:
Ac 13:2 “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Col 4:10”My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)”
What else can we find out about John Mark?
Mark was a friend of Peter’s and at some stage around 50 A.D. and probably in Rome, Peter must have started to work with mark to collect his thoughts about the events of Jesus’ life as he remembered them.
The account was written it seems for a Roman audience and the date makes it one of the earliest accounts there is; but we cannot be certain. It is sometimes thought that Mark’s Gospel was used by matthew and Luke to help them write their biographies and there are, as you probably know common passages in each, but the evidence is not conclusive, and I certainly don’t want to go there at this point!
3. Mark Chapter 1:
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’ ”
And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
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.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
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.
I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1: 1-13
So let’s move to look at our first and shortest section of Mark’s account of the life of Jesus. Again from a biblical scholars point of view, what does Mark’s account miss out that both Matthew and Luke include?
What’s missing are the birth accounts and the genealogies.
There may be two reasons for this
- Peter’s Knowledge of Jesus began with his ministry into Galilee. He simply did not know about the birth accounts, so did not include them.
- Mark’s hope was the same as mine- He wanted this account to be a wake up call to the people he was speaking to- The Roman believers.
If you have ever had one of those hotel wake up calls you know what it is like to hear that jarring ring whilst you are peacefully dozing.
There you are comfortably snoozing when suddenly there is that –
Well that was Mark’s intention- He wanted to break into Roman comfort, to make them realise the kind of world they were really living in is a desert wasteland into which the message of Jesus breaks in.
The desert wilderness of Judea is a place of thirst.
The images of deserts we often have are not complete and this account beats down the merciless light on us to help us understand.
So yes there is
- The Heat of the sun- With nowhere to hide from it, no escape.
- The sand- Which leaves you with no sure footing
- The lack of any moisture- Such basic needs are deprived
But it is also
- A place of wild beasts not passive and empty, but full of attack and danger
- A rocky wilderness An impossible place to cross without a lot of help.
A Place of thirst
And our world is no different for those without the message of hope that Jesus brings.
- No escape from the glare of the world’s expectations
- No safe foundation on which to stand
- No certainty of your basic needs being met
- A place of attack
- A pace that you simply cannot survive.
It was to this wilderness that John the Baptist went to fulfil his calling by God.
John – the cousin of Jesus; son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. We know so little about this guy but God had clearly spoken to Him and told him to be
4. A messenger of Jesus in the wilderness.
It is my main hope with this session to remind you to that you are messenger for Jesus in this wilderness we live in 2000 years later.
We live in a wilderness – a cruel and inhospitable place in which people have a desperate spiritual thirst – they will chase after anything to quench that thirst.
I don’t know if you have seen the film ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ It is a Black & White film set in the Sahara desert during the second world war where a group of soldiers get stuck and eventually make their way out of the desert, but during their ordeal a dream is spoken of -a dream of an ice cold lager in a bar in Alexandria. At the end of the film this moment is achieved- with the condensation trickling down the glass the survivors look with parched lips at their dream come to reality.
People in a desert will chase mirages illusions caused by the effects of the heat, that play tricks on the mind, when they reach what they think is safety they find it vanishes- dreams that can never satisfy.
People stranded at sea will get so thirsty that they will drink the salt water and this will make them very ill; driving them mad with thirst.
Spiritually thirsty people will try imitations of real spiritual food that ultimately leads to destruction.
We carry a message for the thirsty in a dry and desolate world. We will look at that message a bit more in a moment.
Now let’s focus in on this messenger that God sent into the wilderness.
Lk 1:17 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.”
Mk 1:4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mk 1:5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River.
Mk 1:6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
5. His appearance
He wore a coat of camel’s hair and spoke with the same prophetic power that Elijah did. He is often described in his appearance and actions as a type of Elijah
2Ki 1:7 The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?”
2Ki 1:8 They replied, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.”
The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
The messengers of Jesus are then prophetic people- This fashion statement was also a declaration of separation- I choose not to follow the fashion – the obsession with image that dominates the lost in the wilderness.
I am not suggesting that you don’t try to look your best or that you walk about looking ‘weird’, but just think of the difference to your budget that buying a pair of jeans from Tescos or Asda compared to a pair of Levi 501’s or similarly with a pair of Adidas trainers. We need to model these principles from an early age so that our children are rescued from this image conscious wasteland.
Ro 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The messenger of Jesus rejects the pattern of this world -its mould.
6. What about his diet?
What does John’s diet tell us about him?
He was prepared to be totally dependent on God for his every provision. He did not rely on a monthly paycheck, or benefit, or pension cheque; he relied on God to meet his needs.
This is fundamental to our lives as messengers of Jesus. Dependency on God not what is provided by the state or our employer.
Compare John’s approach to the one shown by the Israelites in the wilderness.
7. What was the messenger’s mission?
But what was John doing in this desert? - two things.
- Declaring a message (More of which below)
- Leading the people to repentance using baptism in water.
John was not afraid to be politically incorrect, he was not afraid to tell it like it is. He was not afraid to offend. He was the voice crying in the wilderness
This message is one of repentance.
This is a word that even today is so unpopular- Why?
Because it means owning up to what we have done wrong.
Actually saying sorry. Facing up to your faults.
It is too that moment of coming to your senses that then results in a change of lifestyle.
In the story that Jesus told remember the young man in the pig sty.
Lk 15:17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!
Lk 15:18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
Lk 15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
Lk 15:20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
For John he could see his people thirsty in a spiritual wilderness that desperately needed to be changed like the people stuck in Egypt in the days of Moses. They needed to be rescued then by being taken from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea and into the promised land.
They clearly identified with that image as John offered them Baptism in water, plunging them in the refreshing water of the Jordan. An act which was stuffed with symbols of repentance and changed life.
This was what the messenger did
8. But what did the messenger say?
Mk 1:7 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.
Mk 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
There are clearly four parts to his message
- Who is Jesus in relation to John?
- Who is John in relation to Jesus?
- What can John do for those around him?
- What can Jesus do for those around Him?
These four messages can be ours too
1. Jesus is powerful- FULL of power
The bit of the word powerful that often gets downgraded is the FULL bit!
Jn 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
2. We are His servants- The humility of a servant is in his attitude of service not in the act of service.
Jn 13:16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
3. Our lives can be a powerful provocation to repentance through our testimony we can provoke a response. This testimony needs to be ready to be used when we are prompted.
4. Your lives will be changed by His Holy Spirit.
There is a wonderful set of verses in Isaiah 44:1-5 which speaks so powerfully of the impact of the Holy Spirit on the spiritually thirsty.
Isa 44:1 “But now listen, O Jacob, my servant,
Israel, whom I have chosen.
Isa 44:2 This is what the LORD says—
he who made you, who formed you in the womb,
and who will help you:
Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant,
Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.
Isa 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
Isa 44:4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.
Isa 44:5 One will say, ‘I belong to the LORD’;
another will call himself by the name of Jacob;
still another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD'S,’
and will take the name Israel.
9. Life comes to the Desert
Mk 1:9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus embraced and endorsed the message of John in a way that John least expected. The other Gospel writers make more of John’s reaction, but Mark merely states the facts Jesus identifies wholly with this gospel of repentance.
Not only Jesus as a man But the whole act is filled with God’s pleasure as God three in one is displayed in the only moment of human History Father son and Spirit manifest distinctly to declare Jesus as the Son of God.
This moment deserves far more time than can be given to it here. But you do see what is happening here. God chooses this moment out of all others to say in this powerful way to the human race. “This is a good thing to do”. No wonder Baptists enjoy it so much!
Baptism marks that attitude of servanthood mentioned earlier, its not the act but how you got there that God approves of so very much. He says
I am well pleased.
10. Victory over the wilderness
God clearly wanted to use John’s own mission field- the wilderness -to demonstrate that everything Satan could throw at us, can be defeated, that the harsh barren wilderness of the world is not what God intends for us but victory,- victory over tempatation.
Tim Blake April 2007