January 29, 2012

Jesus Uses His Authority - Jan 29, 2012

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When I was a kid growing up in South Dakota, I remember playing in the snow a lot. Sometimes it was sledding or building forts, but quite often it was football.

My brother would come home from school on the holidays, and if there was snow on the ground I’d get suited up and we’d play tackle football out in the white.

Now, most of the time my older brother played down to my level. First he’d kick off the ball by flipping it up in the air above my head, and then he and his friend Tony would get down on their knees, so they were about my height, and then they would “run” after me. If I could avoid their awkward knee-based run - “touchdown”. If not, well, the impact wasn’t SO BAD with all the puffy clothes and snow on the ground.

I remember one time when I got cocky. My mouthing off led someone to deliver a full-speed from-the-feet tackle which hyper-extended my left knee. I was reminded quite quickly that I was just in the sixth grade, and no match for a high-school tackle.

This whole game was possible because my brother and his friends put their full abilities on the shelf for a while, and played down to my level.

When the Son of God became human, he put his God-powers on the shelf. As a child, Jesus grew taller and got smarter just like every other kid. He was here to live like you and me, with all the same pains and temptations, except he would never sin. That way he could offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for us, taking away the punishment for sin that we deserve.

Now, I say that Jesus put his God-powers on the shelf, but that’s not completely accurate. He did read minds, calm storms and heal diseases – in service to others. In other words, Jesus took his God-powers off the shelf to help others.

In our reading for today we’re going to see Jesus do just this. The theme of our mediation is, “Jesus Uses His Godly Authority for the Benefit of the People”.

Mark 1:21-28 (ESV)

21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

This was apparently the first time Jesus taught in the city of Capernaum. This city would become the base of operations for Jesus’ ministry. But this was the first time he sat down to teach in the local synagogue Bible class. His debut was a smash-hit.

Our reading says…
“…they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22 ESV).
This leads us to ask, what was so lacking in the way that the scribes taught? And for that matter, who were the Scribes?

In general scribes were people who could read and write, and who, then, made their living through reading and writing. The Scribes that Jesus encountered were men who had studied the Bible extensively. Some of them were literally lawyers. They had such a good knowledge of Old Testament laws that they could serve as law experts in court.

Now, you’d expect that these people would be the first to say, “This Jesus must be the Savior sent from God. He fits all the signs and prophesies!” But they didn’t recognize this. Sadly, though the Scribes worked extensively with the Bible, most of them didn’t have a true faith in God. There were a number of reasons for this.

First of all, the Scribes were sinners just like you and me. The Bible says that spiritual things are a mystery to sinners without the Holy Spirit’s guidance. In 1 Corinthians 2, verse 14 the Bible says…
“14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14NIV).

But the Scribes had even more working against them than their own sinful nature. For a long time they had been piling up their own ideas, interpretations and rules around the Bible. They called these “the traditions of the elders”.

Let me show you what I’m talking about using a story from Jesus’ life. Turn to Matthew 15. There it says…
“1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ r and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ s 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules” (Matthew 15:1-9 NIV).

It was hard for the Scribes to see the meaning of the Bible through the fog of their long standing traditions. But their love of attention made it even harder. Jesus once said…
“…Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely” (Mark 12:38-40 NIV).
The Scribes were sinners. Strike one. They considered their traditions to be just as important than the Bible itself. Strike two. They were in love with popularity and prestige. Strike three.

Just to round out our picture of the average Scribe, let’s hear Jesus one more time. Turn to Matthew 23, verse 13. There Jesus says…
“13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:13-15 NIV).
That was the Scribe.

You can imagine how different it was when Jesus led the Bible Class.

Jesus didn’t have a sinful nature to get in the way of his understanding of the Bible.

Jesus didn’t want attention, he wanted to teach the people the truth of God’s Word.

Jesus spoke the Gospel to the people. The message that forgiveness of sins was not a product of our doing, it was God’s gift.

John 3:16 says…
“…God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).
A lot of people know this passage, but how many people remember that those are Jesus’ words ABOUT HIMSELF.

Jesus was always pointing people to the law to show them that they couldn’t save themselves through holy living. But Jesus was also constantly directing people to God’s promise of forgiveness which was a gift given through the Messiah.

The Scribes twisted and misinterpreted the Bible either because of their own misunderstanding, or because of their own self-serving intentions. But when Jesus spoke, he spoke the truth, for the good of the people – for the very salvation of their souls.

Now, some people are born talkers. They’re good at it. They can convince people of the most ridiculous things with their smooth words and charming charisma. In other words, they can bluster well enough to give the impression of authority.

But this wasn’t Jesus. He wasn’t just a good talker, and he proved it by what he did in the second half of our sermon reading. Look at verse 23 again. There it says…

Mark 1:23-28 (ESV)

23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

This strange and shocking event at the Capernaum synagogue is a strong reminder that this isn’t just a popularity contest between Jesus and the Scribes. There’s a real war going on here, and the players in this war are more powerful than small town Bible class leaders.

Demons are fallen angels. They were created good, but with free will. And at some point a group of them rebelled against God. They must have thought they could overcome God and take His place. They were wrong. Now they await their final judgment when they will be separated from God and all goodness, forever. Hell was built FOR THEM.

The leader of these fallen angels is Satan, the very being who tempted Adam and Eve in the beginning. In Eden Satan took possession of a snake in order to tempt Eve. Here in Capernaum another demon took possession of a man.

We don’t see demon possession very often today. Oh, I think we could find it close by here if we tried. I would venture to guess that where there are fortune tellers and occult gatherings, demonic activity is not altogether absent. When mediums go in to “trances” I would guess that not all of them are fake.

But the violent, un-looked for demon possession that we see here in the New Testament doesn’t seem to happen much in America. I think that’s because it would validate the Bible and strengthen the faith of Christians if Satan’s forces showed themselves like this. It’s a much better strategy for Satan to lie low, making the Bible look like a fairy-tale to modern man who always believes himself so much wiser than those who came before.

But at the time of Jesus the demons were certainly not lying low. There aren’t many examples of demon possession in the Old Testament. But, at the time of Jesus demon possession was rampant.

Some think that the demons were trying to do what God the Son was doing. He had become human. But all the demons could manage was to take control of the human mind and body for a time.

This is what we find going on in the synagogue while Jesus preached. Someone in the crowd was being used as a vehicle for a demon. He sat listening to everything Jesus said for a while, and then he lashed out at Jesus with angry words.

The demon knew who Jesus was – the Holy One of God.

The demon also expresses opposition to Jesus, and fear. This demon knew what was in store for him someday. Defeat. Hell.

Jesus doesn’t put up with this demon’s outburst for long. He shuts him up immediately and tells him to leave this man alone. With a shriek and a convulsion, the demon forced out by Jesus.

The people were impressed. Not only did Jesus speak with authority, he commanded demons and they listened! Nobody else had exchanges with demons like this! God was obviously at work here. This Jesus was truly a prophet from God. And many of them would soon learn that Jesus was much more than a prophet - he was the Messiah.

Like I said, this story is a good reminder of who our enemies are – powerful spirit beings capable of possessing humans. These spirit beings are not playful, they are vicious. The Bible describes Satan as a hungry lion searching for someone to eat.

Our real enemies are not hunger, poverty or disease - but demons who would manipulate us and destroy our trust in the true God. Demons who would like to cover the Gospel up and take as many people as they can away from God’s loving arms before their time is up.

If it wasn’t for Christ, we would belong to these demons. Sin makes us part of Satan’s group. Only through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross are we rescued from sin’s punishment and Satan’s power.

The apostle Paul says…
“38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV).
Because Jesus suffered the punishment for each and every one of our sins, he has the authority to say, “You’re forgiven. Be at peace”.

Earlier I said that when God the Son became human, he put his God-powers on the shelf. He only used them for helping others. Keep in mind that before Jesus left this world by rising up into the sky in full view of his disciples, he told them that he would be with them, even to the end of the age. That promise still stands for Christians today.

The God-Man who died for our sins, and who has full authority over the forces of evil, is still with us. Let’s hear his promise once more…
“18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20 NIV).
Modern professors say, “We evolved from apes. The Bible is a product of human thought”. But Jesus says, “God created male and female in the beginning. The Bible is God’s Word to mankind.”

Satan says, “You’re a sinner. You’re going to hell unless you save yourself”. But Jesus says, “It’s impossible for sinners to save themselves. That’s why I did it for them.”

We can all say and believe whatever we like. But that doesn’t mean that what we say and believe holds true authority. For true authority we must go to the source, our Creator and Savior.

May our Lord Jesus Christ keep you trusting in his authority, resting your hope for the future on his wisdom and his power.


And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

January 22, 2012

Jesus Came to Save the Ordinary Sinner - Jan 22, 2012

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Where would Jesus begin his ministry if he was starting today? Let’s imagine that the Old Testament prophecies DIDN’T say that he had to be born in Bethlehem. Let’s imagine that the prophecies DIDN’T say he had to be born to a virgin, from the line of King David. Let’s imagine that the right time for the Savior to be born was about thirty years ago, somewhere in America.

If that were true, he’d be starting his ministry right now. Where would Jesus be preaching? Seattle? Somewhere in the Midwest? Florida? What city would he be in? Or maybe he wouldn’t be in a city, maybe he’d start out in the country.

Who would Jesus surround himself with if he was starting his ministry in modern America? What kind of people would he call to be his inner circle of apprentices? Electricians? Waiters? Would they work at Boeing, Microsoft or Starbucks?

Our Bible reading for today will help us to answer these hypothetical questions. In Mark, chapter one, we hear about the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry, and how he called some of his first disciples.

Mark 1:4-11 (ESV)

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Our text tells us that Jesus started his ministry in Galilee. So, the first question that we want to ask is, "Why? Why Galilee? What was so special about Galilee?”

Well, if you asked a Jew from Jerusalem this question, he might have said…

“Well, nothing is special about Galilee. Jerusalem is where it’s at. We’ve got the Lord’s Temple here. All the important traditions and the religious leaders are found here, not in Galilee. Jerusalem is the cultural and religious epicenter of Jewish life.

Galilee, well, Galilee only has little synagogue Bible classes. It’s separated from Jerusalem by sixty-miles of Samaritan land (and nobody likes going there).

It’s a country setting. They’ve got farmers and fishermen, you know, blue collar workers, not a glorious capital city with important rulers and religious teachers.

In addition to all this, in Galilee you’re going to come into contact with a lot of non-Jews. That’s why it’s called “Galilee OF THE GENTILES”. You see, there are two major trade routes that run through Galilee linking Egypt to Asia. There’s the “Way of the Sea” that runs along the Mediterranean to the west, and there’s the “King’s Highway” to the east.

To answer your question, there’s nothing special about Galilee. It’s just an ordinary piece of land trampled by merchants and bordered by unbelieving nations.”

And perhaps this was one of the reasons why Jesus chose Galilee. He hadn’t come to make a name for himself among the religious elite of Jerusalem. He had come to reach out to ordinary sinners.

Look at Mark 2, verse 16. There it says…
“16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw [Jesus] eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:16-17 NIV).
And what better place to reach out to sinners than in a place flung far away from the Lord’s Temple. A place where the unbelieving world had paths running through. A place that was full of common people, everyday sinners who needed to hear about God’s Good News.

One of major goals of Jesus’ life was to remind the people of God’s promise to send a Savior from sin. In Luke 4, verse 42 it says…
42 At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent...” (Luke 4:42-43 NIV).

Of course, another reason Jesus began his ministry in Galilee was to fulfill a 700 year old prophecy. In Matthew 4, verse 12 it says…
“12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:12-16 NIV).

This leads us to our second question. Why did Jesus choose fishermen to be his apprentices? He was going to mold a group of men to announce the Gospel to the villages of Galilee and Judea and then when he was gone – to take his message out into the world. Why would he choose fishermen? And especially why would he choose these fishermen?

If we were to ask someone who lived on the sea of Galilee at this time to tell us about fishermen, they might have said something like this…

“You want to know about fishermen? Well they’re a dime a dozen around here. On a good day there are probably 250 boats out there on the lake. There’s plenty of fish to be had.

If you’re going to be a fisherman, you better have strong arms and a sturdy back. You’re going to be throwing nets and hauling them in a lot. And when you’re not doing that you’re going to be pulling oars. And when the hard work is done, there’s plenty of other tedious chores to do, with all the net mending and gear maintenance that needs to be done. And then there’s sorting and packing of the fish too.

What about the character of the fishermen here? Well, with so many boats out there we get some rough characters like James and John. And some loudmouths like Peter. Peter’s brother Andrew is a little quieter, but that’s probably because his brother does all the talking for him!

Don’t get me wrong though. Just because they’re a little rougher on the edges doesn’t mean they’re bad people. They’re human, just like everybody else. Peter’s married. And I hear his mother in law is sick right now. He’s got things to take care of. I guess it’s good that he’s in business with Zebedee and his boys. They’re bold, but at least they’re bringing in enough fish to make a living of it.”

As for their jobs and lives, these fishermen were ordinary. As for their personalities, they were also ordinary. They had their own faults and failings, just like everyone else.

And perhaps that was why Jesus chose these common fishermen, because they were relatable. They were common sinners, the very people that Jesus wished to reach with the Gospel.

These four men needed to hear the Gospel for themselves. They knew that they were sinners (see Luke 5:8). And they knew what that meant when this life was over. They needed to hear that it wasn’t their job to erase their own sins. They could never do that. They needed to hear that all the hard work in the world couldn’t scrub out a single sin – but God’s Son was about to take an eraser to their record of evil once and for all on the cross of Calvary.

Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that Jesus just walked up and miraculously made these men his followers. Peter, Andrew and John had all met Jesus before (John 1:29-42). Down on the Jordan river, closer to where it spills into the Dead Sea, John the Baptist had called Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. And John and Andrew had been listening. They had followed after Jesus to meet him and spend some time with him. The result of their visit with Jesus was that they believed He was the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior long promised and now finally sent from God.

Being fishermen didn’t define these men. That’s not what they were all about, that was just their job. They were followers of the God of the Bible. They were waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue them.

When Jesus later approached them in Galilee, and told them he was going to make them “fishers of men”, he was inviting them to be part of his teaching team. And they quickly dropped what they were doing and went with him.

That’s something that we need to learn to do too, isn’t it? Christ is our Master. He has erased our sin record forever. He is the Son of God. When we hear him calling us through his Word to some task or job, then we need to drop what we’re doing and go! Nothing can be more important than what Christ directs us to do through the Bible.

In his ministry, Jesus sought ordinary sinners, to save them. This is comforting because we’re all ordinary sinners. Our culture values movie stars and famous people more than “regular” people. But when you take off the make-up and examine the family relationships of the superstars, you find that at the core, they’re no different than you and me. They’re people who have to put their pants on one leg at a time. They’re people who have problems, who get cancers, who will die one day. Ultimately we’re all ordinary sinners who will stand before God to be judged.

And that’s okay for those who know Jesus, because we know that Jesus came to save us.

Jesus told these Galilean fishermen that he was going to make them into, “fishers of men”. And I want to pause for just a second on that phrase. It sounds a little funny to the ear, doesn’t it? I mean were they going to be catching people who didn’t want to be caught? Is that what Jesus’ ministry was all about, tricking people into following him? Not at all.

Think about it like this. My daughter Marnie has a beta fish named “Harold”. Once a week someone has to clean Harold’s tank. If we don’t, the water will get toxic and he’ll die.

Harold doesn’t understand. Each time I try to fish him out, he darts away. I have to be slow and careful if I’m going to get him into the little clear cup that will serve as his temporary home till I get the tank cleaned and refilled with fresh water.

I’m catching him for his own good. But Harld doesn’t understand. So I have to be gentle and smart.

You and I have to have the same attitude when it comes to fishing for sinners with the Gospel. We have to wait for the right opportunity. Fish have to be hungry if they’re going to bite. We have to be gentle. We’re not catching fish to eat or put on the wall, we’re luring sinners into the safety of Christ’s loving arms. But sinners don’t understand that. The devil and the world has convinced them that we Christians are up to no good – that we’re hunting for trophy converts, or something like that. So, we need to be gentle, and approach people like Jesus did.

He was one of them, human. He pointed out sin and the consequences of sin - death and hell. He pointed out God’s promise of salvation made and fulfilled. Our reading says Jesus preached…
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV).
This method still works today. We are common people reaching out to common people. We can point out sin and its consequences. We can point out God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ, made and fulfilled. And the Holy Spirit can change people’s hearts as we speak this simple Good News.

If fishermen can do it, I think we can do it too.

So, where would Jesus begin his ministry if he were starting today?

I’d have to say he’d start in an ordinary place, among ordinary sinners. For these are the people he came to save.

He could start in Hollywood or Lynnwood, West Virginia or West Seattle. The point is, he would select an ordinary place and ordinary people to receive this most extraordinary gift of forgiveness of sins through His blood.

And it would be these same ordinary people he would then send out to bring the gift to others.

When Jesus sent out His apostles to share the Gospel, he told them…
“…Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8 NKJV).
Go and do likewise. Amen.

January 15, 2012

Spiritual Awakening in the Desert - Jan 15, 2011

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In some Native American tribes there is something called a “vision quest”. This is when a young person goes out into the desert without food and stays there for days until they have some kind of a spiritual awakening that is supposed to helps them know what to do with their life.

Our reading for today is centered around a spiritual awakening also, one that happened in the desert around 2,000 years ago. But this spiritual awakening wasn’t caused by peyote or sleep depravation or fasting. The spiritual awakening we’re going to read about today was caused by the Triune God.

Through His prophet John, God reminded the people of Judea that they had a big problem – sin. Through His Son Jesus, God showed the people that there was a solution for sin – the God-Man. He would offer His own PERFECT life to rescue sinners from eternal hell.

Mark 1:4-11 (ESV)

4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 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. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

They say to never judge a book by it’s cover. But when the people came out to see John in the desert, they found a pretty strange cover. This guy was a hermit who lived off of big grasshoppers and wild honey. He wore clothes woven from camel’s hair and spent his time telling people that they had better get their act straight because they were sinners, and God’s day of judgment was coming soon.

John looked odd, but his message rang true. And so the people came in droves.

John’s bare-bones lifestyle highlighted the fact that outward “stuff” isn’t the key to happiness. His whole message screamed, “Let’s stop all this pretending and get back to what really matters. Let’s tend to spiritual matters. Let’s take care of our souls. Let’s focus on our relationship with God, and all the other things of life will fall in place.”

Verse 14 says,
“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:14 ESV).
John’s preaching was a call for change in the hearts of people and for a change in the direction of their lives. He wanted them to stop embracing sin and to trust in God to send the Savior He promised. In fact, John said that this promised Savior was almost there.

The people’s response to John’s message was good. Lots of people recognized that they were sinners and needed a Savior. And they came great distances to hear John preach and to be baptized by him.

Think about what those people were saying when they got baptized. There were making a statement, a public confession that they had a problem, and that problem was inside them. They were sinners who needed the cleansing of God.

That’s powerful thing. We human beings sometimes have a hard time admitting that we’ve screwed up. That something is our fault. That we were wrong. And yet, that’s exactly what the people who came to John were doing. They were saying, “I’m a sinner, God, save me”.

We still do this today when we confess our sins together here in church. Aren’t we just “I’m a sinner, God, save me. I trust in Jesus’ promise?”

May God help us to always admit our wrongs, and look to HIM for the peace of forgiveness.

Now, John was the first real prophet from God who had appeared in Judea in a long time. Hundreds of years had passed since the people had heard from God through a prophet. But John didn’t let it go to his head. He knew what his role was –he was the pre-game show, the warm-up band, the forerunner to the superstar.

John said,
“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8 ESV).

In the Old Testament it said that there would be a voice of one calling in the desert, make way for the Lord. John was the fulfillment of that prophesy. He was the voice in the wilderness. But here we find John not only fulfilling prophecy, but also making new ones about the Savior. John said that the Savior would baptize with the Holy Spirit. That happened on Pentecost Sunday years later. After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, after Jesus had ascended back into heaven, He poured out the Holy Spirit onto his apostles so that they could speak languages that they had never learned. And they used this miracle speaking to communicate the Message of sins forgiven through Jesus to thousands who were in Jerusalem for a special festival.

We can take a little lesson from John’s humility. Yes, people were coming from all over to hear him preach and to be baptized by him, but he recognized that he was just the doorman to the Savior, and that the Savior would do much greater things that he. That’s what we need to remember when it comes to our own repentance. It’s important to recognize our sins as evil. It’s necessary that we drop our sins and turn away from them when we realize we’re sinning. Repentance is good, but without Jesus, it wouldn’t make any difference. We can be sorry about sinning all we want, but without Jesus who stood in our place when the hammer of God fell, well, without Jesus we’d just be sorry and damned sinners.

To simplify, being sorry about our sins is great, but it’s Jesus’ suffering and death in our place that saves us, not our own personal sorrow.

And that leads us to the second half of our sermon text. Let’s read verse 9-11 again.

Mark 1:9-11 (ESV)

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

John made it clear that the problem we all share is sin. And that this sin is a problem deeply rooted within us. But here we see that God’s solution to this problem comes from outside of us, from above.

If you didn’t know Jesus and had seen Him approaching John to be baptized, you’d assume that He was just another repentant sinner, seeking God’s forgiveness.

But Jesus wasn’t there because He had sins to wash away, he was there because that’s where God’s people were. The “repenters”. The ones who sinned, but didn’t embrace sin as their way of life. The ones who continually relied on God to forgive them.

Jesus was there because John was God’s prophet, and He wasn’t about to be grouped with the people who rejected John’s.

The Pharisees didn’t accept John as God’s prophet and therefore, weren’t baptized by him. Jesus basically had two groups he could be associated with, the followers of God who got baptized, or the self-righteous rejecters of God. The choice wasn’t hard.

Like I said, if you didn’t know better, you’d assume that Jesus was just another repentant sinner as He approached John to be baptized. But God the Father wasn’t going to let anyone misunderstand what was going on here. So God tore open the sky and sent the Holy Spirit to rest on Jesus in the form of a dove. Fitting, it was through this Man that sinners like you and I would finally receive peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins. Fitting that a Dove rests on his shoulder. And God the Father also spoke from above declaring Jesus to be His beloved Son, with whom He was WELL PLEASED.

No, Jesus wasn’t a sinner seeking cleansing, He was the one who would make our cleansing possible by his voluntary and sinless sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.

I wonder what it actually looked like when God “tore open the sky”, and when the Holy Spirit Dove fluttered down to rest on Jesus. What a strange scene. And how perfect.

Martin Luther once said that ours is an “alien righteousness”, that is, our righteousness doesn’t come from inside of us, but a righteousness that comes from far away, from heaven itself. It is from a whole other country, an “alien righteousness”.

During the season of Epiphany we learn about Jesus’ ministry, and we see how His words and miracles revealed that He was the Son of God, and the Savior of the World. In our reading for today, God the Father testified to His purity. On the last day God will call us righteous too, not because of the things we have actually done, but because we are in Christ by faith.

As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21
“21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.