Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, March 05, 2021
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Get Ready for His Coming

Mark 1:1-8

This is the “second” year in the Christian lectionary, and in the second year, we focus on the Gospel of Mark. There are three years in the lectionary, and each one focuses on one of the so-called “Synoptic Gospels,” Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospel of John kind of gets thrown in here and there throughout all three years.

Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. And most likely, it was the first of them to be written, probably somewhere around 55 AD. Tradition says Matthew was first, but Bible scholars don’t think that’s correct anymore. The reason we think Mark was first is because almost all of Mark is repeated in Matthew, Luke, or both of them. So the thought is that Matthew and Luke both already had Mark’s Gospel available to them when they wrote. They used it as a starting point and then added other parts of the story to suit their particular audiences. It seems more likely that Matthew and Luke added to Mark rather than Mark taking away from Matthew.

Mark was written for a Roman audience. The first thing we notice is that there is no birth narrative, and not even a theological introduction like John gives us. The Romans were obsessed with power, status, and prestige. No powerful, dignified person would just show up without a herald to announce their arrival, so Mark starts with the coming of Jesus’ herald, John the Baptist. He presents Jesus as a man of power. The focus is on Jesus’ actions. There are fewer words of Jesus and more miracles of Jesus in Mark than the other three Gospels. But the surprise is that Jesus, the man of power, the Son of God, rather than demanding that others serve him, which is what a Roman would expect, instead lays down his life as a humble servant of all. Mark both speaks to the Roman audience and challenges their understanding of what greatness is. If the Gospel doesn’t challenge our culture and its ideas, then we are missing something in it!

By the way, Mark, John Mark technically, was not one of the Twelve Disciples. But it seems that he was an early disciple of Jesus, a man who followed Jesus during his earthly lifetime. We know Mark went with Paul and Barnabbas on their first missionary journey. Later he worked with Peter. The book of Acts tells us that when Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, he went to the home of Mark’s mother, Mary. Some have wondered if Mary’s home was also where the disciples met in the upper room for the last supper and continued to meet after the resurrection. Some have also wondered if the “young man who ran from the Garden of Gethsemane naked after a soldier grabbed him by the shirt” was also John Mark. Only Mark’s Gospel records this, and some have wondered if Mark is telling his small but strange part in the story!

Mark begins with the prophetic words about Jesus. He is actually quoting from both Malachi and Isaiah here. Malachi foretold the coming of God as a purifying force. Isaiah focused on how God’s people should prepare for his coming.

How do we prepare for the coming of the Son of God? Typically, at this time of the year, we are thinking about how we prepare for Christmas. We have a long list of things to do: Things to buy, gifts to wrap, stuff to bake, parties to attend and parties to host, decorations to hang, and so on. Probably the parties have come off the list for this year. We put on the appearance of happiness, celebration, generosity, and prosperity, even if we don’t necessarily fit the appearance. But we’re talking about getting ready for the coming of Christ, not getting ready for a holiday. Frankly, it seems pretty obvious to me that the holiday has become perhaps a little bit too secular in its celebration. There’s more focus on materialism in our celebration of Christmas than anything else. Getting ready for the coming of Christ is something else.

John the Baptist came to prepare people for his coming. And John lived the part. His clothes, his diet, his home in the wilderness all testified that society was not ready for the coming of Christ. His message made it clear: “Repent of your sins. Turn to God. Be baptized.” In the first century Jewish world, Gentiles were baptized when they converted and became Jewish. Jewish people didn’t get baptized. It was a rite of conversion. Why would the people born into the covenant need to convert?

The answer is because you can’t rely on your birth. John’s message is that it was not enough to be born in the right family. One had to make a personal decision to enter the Kingdom of God. One must turn from sin and turn to God. Baptism was an outward sign of that inward decision.

“I’m not the guy,” John said, “But he’s coming. I’m not even worthy to be his slave. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The same Spirit by which Jesus did great works is available to all who follow him.

We prepare for Jesus with repentance and humility. Jesus isn’t Lord till we repent of our sin and remove the sin and pride from our lives. This is the preparation we need for the season of Advent.

It is a contrast to what the world is thinking of in December. The world is focused on getting ready for Christmas, and frankly, a lot of their preparation has nothing to do at all with being ready for Christ. But this is our season of Advent. Christ is coming again. Will we be ready for him when he comes? Not unless we repent of our sin, lay aside our pride, and turn to Christ.

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