December 7, 2014
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ….
Whenever Caesar’s army won a battle runners went to the cities of the empire to announce the victory. These announcements were called “good news”. The people celebrated the good news because an enemy had been defeated. Mark is also announcing the good news of the victory of Jesus Christ over the enemies of not just the empire, but of the whole earth—which includes the victory over those realities that trouble us—you and me.
But Jesus Christ has no army, navy, or air force. In Mark’s telling all he has to prepare his way is this wild man in the wilderness, John the Baptizer. Israel has not had a prophet for 400 years! It’s had kings, priests, military leaders, and false Messiahs—you know how you could tell a man was not the messiah? If he died….
But no prophets—no man or woman filled with the Spirit of the Lord who spoke truth to power and who proclaimed the coming judgment and healing of God.
Then John shows up like the ancient prophet Elijah who also wore a leather belt around his waist. Elijah had been God’s spokesman against the corrupt King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel and Elijah had won the famous contest on Mount Carmel against the 450 prophets of the pagan fertility gods.
Now it’s as if Elijah is back in the wilderness east of Jerusalem preaching to the masses going out to see this sight. Could this really be a new prophet from God? Has God really remembered us? Is God really doing something new? In your life can God do something new?
Maybe the people are tired of the religion of the Temple, run by the Sadducees who were in bed with Rome. Maybe they are tired of trying harder to be religious like the Pharisees. Maybe they are hungry for some message from God that has been given to John the Baptizer.
They are in a deep rut, overwhelmed by the status quo, with how things have always been.
So they go out to see this wild man, but when they get there there’s a catch: John isn’t interested in being a celebrity in search of praise and photo ops. He is interested in preparing the nation for the advent, for the coming, of God.
Israel had been chosen by God from the beginning. Chosen to be the people into whom the Divine Presence would be kneaded like yeast into dough, for the sake of the world in need of redemption from evil and sin. The covenant was such serious business that it had to be cut into the flesh through circumcision. Over fifteen hundred years, through people like Moses and David, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Deborah and Ruth, Israel, both through its obedience and disobedience, has been prepared to be the womb for God’s Son.
Now the time has come and this strange bug-eater wearing camel skins calls the people to prepare for the arrival of God.
This is always seen as good, though unsettling, news!
God coming to Israel, God coming in Jesus Christ, God coming in the Holy Spirit through word and sacrament, confession and committee meetings—God coming to us is always good news, but our minds are so quick to lose the plot.
I say this because in my own life and in the lives of countless people I’ve counseled in the church the question I get is rarely about God coming to us, but rather about how can I get back to God.
Our minds see the spiritual life like a ladder we must climb or a journey we must take. And this feels so right because we are absolutely convinced that we are lost in some fundamental way and that it is up to us to get back to God.
How can I get to God is always the question I hear—even in my own mind.
A common story is that of the young mother who grew up in a church and had a spiritual life, but fell away after college, but now wants to get back to God.
Nothing wrong with wanting to get back to God, as long as you understand first and always that God has already come to you first. We do not have to get cleaned up, prayed up, read up, or signed up to get back to God. All we have to do is wake up to the One that is shaking us awake.
Mark is not telling the bad news of how we need to work hard to get back to God, but rather he is telling the good news of how God give everything in order to come to us.
Jesus comes, as Mark will show, to communicate one fundamental thing: The Father’s heart for us and the Father’s presence with us.
That’s the good news. God is coming.
“Prepare the way of the LORD, make his paths straight.”
Certainly there are things though we can do to make ready for God’s visit.
I have a friend who would spend a whole day cleaning his dorm room at college to prepare for a visit from his mother: the wall poster of Rachel Welch would get taken down and the underwear on the floor would get picked up.
It is a common joke in England that wherever the Queen visits she smells fresh paint. See N. T. Wright Mark for Everyone
When the town gets the good news about the queen’s visit they begin to clean the streets and paint the houses—not to earn her visit—she’s already said she is coming, but to put on their best face for this woman they respect and love who is coming to bring her love to them.
This is why the people confess their sins: because God is coming, not in order to make themselves worthy of God’s visit.
Do you see the difference?
So we ask ourselves: do we come to church, say our prayers, and read our Bibles, so God will forgive us and help us, or do we do these things because we want to get to know better the God who is right here with us in Jesus Christ forgiving our sins and answering our prayers?
Do we confess our sins so God will like us, or do we confess our sins to free up mental bandwidth to experience the love of God already being poured into our hearts?
This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Next week we will delve more deeply into John’s instructions for preparing ourselves for the God who comes, but this week let us notice how many times our minds twist the good news of God’s coming into the bad news of how far we are from God, as if we are too far away for God to find us.
Notice the number of times you believe the voice in your head telling you that you are not…choose your phrase: not– good enough, worthy enough, rich enough, thin enough, happy enough, lucky enough, smart enough for King Jesus to come to your home, your church, your nation, or your heart.
The good news is that King Jesus has come to bring the Father’s love to us.
John says “the one who is more powerful than I is coming…I am not worthy to be his slave who unties his shoes…I am not worthy” and you are not worthy, but he is still coming.
Tired of the status quo, tired of thinking the same destructive thoughts with the same predictable results?
Theologian and good ole southern boy maker of fishing lures Baxter Krueger puts it this way: “the gospel is not the news that you can be involved with Jesus, if only you get your religion right. The gospel is not news of what can be at all. It is the new of what is.”
He says, “it is not about you inviting Jesus into your life; it is about Jesus already including you in his.” Across All World’s: Jesus Inside Our Darkness
John the Baptizer is throwing water into our faces to wake us up.
He says, compared to Jesus I am nothing special, because I only immerse you in the river, but he immerses you in God.