Home > Uncategorized > Sermon for Advent 2 — Mark 1:1-8

Sermon for Advent 2 — Mark 1:1-8

Augustana, 2011

Click here for mp3 audio 03 Sermon for Advent 2.mp3

The new Church Year begins at the beginning.  The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ here in Mark chapter 1.  At the beginning is the forerunner, the one who points to the one who is to come, John the Baptizer.  Mark doesn’t tell us much about John.  For him, it is enough to say John is the one foretold by Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”  Surely that should be enough.  Should it not?  This is he whom the greatest prophet, Isaiah, foretold of some 600 hundred years ago.  Here he is just as Isaiah promised, a voice crying in the wilderness.  “Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make his paths straight.”

Mark continues, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  And John wasn’t preaching the Gospel either.  He was preaching the Law. He was preaching a baptism of repentance.  He was a forerunner. There was someone coming after him.  The mighty one is coming.  “Prepare the way of the Lord!”  It’s as if he said, “The Lord is coming.  Here’s your chance to get right before He comes.  He is coming soon, and, trust me, you aren’t ready.  Repent.  Confess your sins and repent.  When he comes, you won’t want to be one of those who haven’t confessed their sins.”

Luther writes (SA III 5) that John is called a preacher of repentance because he was called by God to preach repentance to prepare for the coming one.  This is a repentance that is not just concerned about feeling bad about past sins but truly a repentance that leads to the forgiveness of sins.  John was sent by God to accuse and convict all of their sin and to preach repentance.  Preaching repentance sounds like a harsh thing.  It is certainly often heard that way.  But think on your God who loves you so much that he sent someone to preach to you that you are sinner and stand lacking in the presence of the holy God.  God sends prophets and preachers to urge you to understand how desperately you need what Jesus came to bring, forgiveness of sin, life and salvation.  Isaiah told us God would send such a messenger, a voice in the wilderness.  Mark tells us that voice sent by God was John.  God sent the voice.

In his commentary on Isaiah, Luther has choice words for those who would despise the preaching of the Word while they sit in corners waiting for the Spirit’s revelation, apart from the voice of the Word! (AE 17:8) As we were reminded Wednesday at the commemoration of St. Andrew, Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  “How are they to believe … without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14) (AE 17:8)  John tells us that the Lord is breaking into history to come to the aid of His people, and not just His people but all people. (v. 5)  But in order to be helped, you need to know how you need helping.

When we go to the doctor and complain of some ailment, the doctor is listening and performing the art of diagnosis.  He’s trying to sort out the difference in our cough from bronchitis to pneumonia or something even worse.  Sometimes tests are ordered, they can help tell what’s wrong.  Typically the doctor will say, “Yep, sounds like sinus infection.”  A diagnosis is made.  A cure is proposed.  Rarely do we receive the cure without knowing what’s wrong.  A patient should be involved in his own care.  It’s hard to keep taking a pill when you don’t know why or what it’s helping.  This is the way it is supposed to work with God too.

Increasingly, though, we would prefer a cure from the Great Physician without really facing what truly wrong with us.  Oh we complain of the illness’ effects.  I don’t have peace in my life.  We can’t seem to be forgiving toward others.  Our children and grandchildren have despised the Word of God and the preaching of it.  We sure would like it if all the effects of our sins were soothed away but we can’t bear the diagnosis.  We don’t want to be reminded of our shame.  We would rather just come to church and feel better about these things and ourselves.  Just take the cure without knowing the disease.  But that is not proper care.  We must face the diagnosis.  We must listen to John and his descendants, the preachers who preach the Word of God.

That was John’s message.  Repent.  All of you.  You are like the Jews who attend the temple worship their hearts are far from God.  You go so that you can say you went but show no benefit of it.  It’s like sometimes when we’re reading a book and our minds wander and we realize we’ve “read” an entire paragraph without paying any attention to it.  Except that we go through church that way.  John preached that everything was not right with us.  We are like them, focused on the wrong things.  We stand in need of repentance.  Only in that way, do we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord and the forgiveness He comes to bring.

John prepared the people to receive the ministry of Jesus.  After John had prepared people for Jesus’ coming, people knew that the one John pointed to would be special.  The One coming after John would be significant.  He would be the One long promised and now arrived.  Jesus was all that and more.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus brought was more than an act of repentance or even obedience.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit, such a tiny little phrase, but in that tiny little phrase is the riches of the entire kingdom of heaven all of it given to any who received it, to you, by water and the Word of Jesus.  The baptism Jesus brought has its true meaning only in His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave.  What John began doing as a sign of repentance, Jesus turned into the way He would bestow on people the Holy Spirit.

Jesus came only for sinners, not for righteous people who did not need His forgiveness.  He came for those who were repentant, who faced the diagnosis of the Great Physician and said, “Yes, Lord, I am indeed a sinner.  Have mercy on me.”  And so when Luther encourages us to remember baptism, it is certainly not to encourage us to remember the event but to remember why we needed to be baptized.  You are a sinner.  That’s why you were baptized.  He has called you and made you His own child.  He came for you, to save you, to show you mercy, to hear your prayer and bring you healing, to give you peace, and to make you a hearer of His Word.  Jesus came for you.

Isaiah said the voice would cry out in the wilderness.  John the forerunner said the coming One was on His way.  He gave fair warning you weren’t ready.  Repent.  He’s right around the corner.  Behold, he has come.  Repent and be forgiven.  He has baptized you with His Holy Spirit.  Remember always what He did for you, how He came for you.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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