ST. STEPHEN’S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
Striving to speak God’s saving truth in love. Ephesians 4:15
St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School | Beaver Dam, WI | 920.885.3309
A sermon on Mark 1:1-8 for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 7 and 10th, 2017.
If any of you are like me, the following situation might play out at home. The phone rings. Without looking at the caller I.D., I pick it up. Immediately, I regret answering the phone. “This is an important message about your credit card bills,” comes the voice on the other end. Click. “You have been chosen for an all-expense paid cruise to the Bahamas,” announces an excited voice. Click. “This phone call is to conduct a survey,” blares an obviously recorded message. Click. We call them junk calls. We sign up for the “Do Not Call Registry”, yet some calls sneak through. It does not take long for us to hang up because we do not have the time, patience, or just do not want to deal with the person on the other end.
At other times a message comes that we need to pay careful attention to. One of the members from church calls wanting to tell a pastor that their husband or grandparent is in the hospital. A good friend, one whom we have not talked to in a long time, wants to catch up. Our parents call just to check in. We will spend time on those calls. We want to talk. We want to listen. It might even be hours before we hang up letting the other person go.
An important message comes from our lesson today. We will slow down during this busy time of the year to listen to the words from God’s spokesmen for they are very important.
Listen, An Important Message Comes!
In the opening part of his gospel Mark started out not with Jesus’ birth but with his entrance into the public ministry. Before Jesus made an appearance though, he had a forerunner. This man came to make sure the people were ready to meet their Savior. He wanted the people to realize all those prophecies from years past would soon be fulfilled. Isaiah prophesied about this forerunner, “A voice of one calling out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3).
Before Gabriel appeared to Mary to inform her that she would give birth to the Savior, the angel visited Zechariah. Elizabeth and Zechariah, even though well past child bearing years, would be parents of another important figure. They named their child John, which Gabriel commanded them.
John came right before Jesus to prepare the hearts of the people with a special message. “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). The hearts of the nation had become a wasteland. They grew tired in their waiting for the prophecies about Jesus to be fulfilled, so the prophecies became forgotten. Their patience wore thin in for the Savior to come, so they turned to other gods to find forgiveness. Their once watchful eyes full of excitement and eager anticipation soon became sleepy and drowsy in preparing to meet their Savior.
The nation needed to be reminded of all those prophecies. A messenger had to come to rouse the weary. Their hearts needed to be refocused not on false idols but on God who alone could save them from their sins.
John came preaching that message of change. It would no longer be years but only moments before Jesus would come. Their anticipation and waiting would soon come to an end. The people needed to repent. They needed to turn from their sinful ways. Their hearts had to change from a wasteland to one prepared to greet the King of kings. They needed to turn to Jesus, who would soon be revealed for all to see.
Repentance is a key aspect in all of our lives. We might not always be able to define it, but we carry out repentance every day without even thinking about it. At the heart of repentance lies sorrow over sin. We need to do an honest self-evaluation of our life. We see the many sins we commit. At this time of the year we sense materialism all over. Stores tell us we need all these things to be happy. Children go around saying, “I want. I want. I want.” With family, friends, and so many others to buy gifts for we feel all this season is about is giving, giving, and giving.
We examine our own hearts to see how far we have walked away from God. We focus on parties and entertaining, but we forget all about church. We prepare all the presents, Christmas cards, food, travel plans, and anything else, but we forget to prepare our hearts to meet our Savior.
Those words of the one in the desert ring true today. We need to prepare the way for the Lord. We cannot let all the outward preparations make us miss out on the true preparations that need to be made. We cannot let the worldly crowd out our Savior. Our hearts need to turn in true and humble repentance to our Savior.
The sorrow for all our sins mounts. We see how crooked and depraved our hearts have become. We need to make our hearts straight. We need to hear the wonderful news of the forgiveness of sins through Christ. That sweet comfort is found only in the gospel message.
John did not proclaim a message of his own choosing. John could only speak the message given to him from God. He did not turn people to their own strength or his teaching. He turned the people toward the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.
God’s messengers today speak not what they want the people to hear. God’s messengers make the hearts of the people ready by proclaiming his Word. God’s Word alone can break a heart crooked and hardened by sin. God’s Word alone brings us to repentance as we turn to Jesus for salvation. God’s Word straightens out the paths to meet Jesus.
The law does work. It brings us to sorrow over our sins. The gospel soothes. The gospel of Jesus brings news of forgiveness through Jesus alone. Mark writes his gospel for this very reason, as he states in the opening verse, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Jesus came to make our hearts prepared to meet our Lord not just at Christmas but when he comes again. This is done through repentance. It is a turning away from our sinful actions. He alone makes our sins go away by his innocent death and resurrection.
Turn to Jesus. This very important message comes to turn our hearts in repentance to him. The message does not stop there. Repentance continues with trust in God.
Many people came out to listen to John. Each had their own reasons. Some wanted to check out this strange man wearing camel’s hair, a leather belt, and who ate locusts and wild honey. The Pharisees sent out their spies. They wanted to get a handle on John’s message, so they could discredit him and portray him as a lunatic preacher. Many went out to the Jordan River for the right reason. They confessed their sins and were baptized by John.
As the crowds came out to listen to John, John’s message never wavered. He always pointed the people to Jesus. “One more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals! I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8). John recognized his unworthiness. He came only as a messenger. His message pointed to someone much greater. A time would soon come when John would fade into the background to give way to Jesus and his life. He wanted to make sure the people trusted in God.
John’s baptism was only with water. Jesus’ baptism would be with the Holy Spirit. Jesus would baptize with something much greater. The time would not be far off in the future. The time would be now. Jesus was here. John pointed to him. The people needed to trust in him. Jesus would fill his followers with the Holy Spirit for a life of faith.
We stand hearing the message from John. He is not the Savior of the world. However, he points us to the Savior. God continues to send his Spirit into our hearts through the power of Holy Baptism. This washes away all our sins. The Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts. We trust in God for all things.
This is the joy we have in our life. Our sins have been taken care of. Our hearts have been prepared to meet our Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit. We trust in Christ and the message he brought.
The wonderful message comes. We hear about it all the time. We do not want to hang up on this important message. We cannot think there will always be time to return to our Lord. The time is now. Turn to God in repentance. Confess those sins. Trust in God for forgiveness. Listen, An Important Message Comes! Amen.