Versions of this sermon were preached in Upton 11/3/18 Hook 27/5/18 Hanley Castle 10/6/18 Hanley Swan 13/7/18 Ripple 20/1/19
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way’ –
3 ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.”’
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather beltMark 1:1-8
roundhis waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: ‘After mecomes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
In this week of Brexit bad news, the week Project Fear warned us we’d have, the week when all the bad news seems to have happened at once, I want us to look at some really good news instead.
Yousee no matter we get a good deal, a bad deal or no deal, no matter who thePrime Minister is in a month’s time, no matter whether we get a 2ndreferendum or not, there is real good news out there. And we find it in ourgospel reading, from the beginning of the gospel of Mark.
NowMark was one of Jesus’ early followers, he was a leader in the early church, and close friends with Simon Peter one ofJesus’ very first followers. We know Peter was crucified in Rome by EmperorNero around 64-68AD, and we think Mark wrote his gospel probably a couple ofyears after this, to collect together all the things Peter had experienced of Jesusinto a single account, and he did this because he wanted everyone to know thatJesus is GOOD NEWS.
That’swhy he begins his account with these words:
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God”.Mark 1:1
Sothe Gospel of Mark is a book of good news all about Jesus, God’s chosen rescuer,who is also the Son of God.
Thattitle “Son of God” doesn’t mean much to us today because very few of us do thesame job as our same-sex parent did. MyDad was a journalist, his dad was a coal-miner, every generation has adifferent career.
Butin Jesus’ day, father handed on the trade to son who handed it on to his son. Tocall someone the son of a builder meant they were a builder. The son of acarpenter was a carpenter. The son of a baker was a baker. So what do you thinkMark means by calling Jesus Son of God?
And Mark spends the rest of his gospel trying to show us just how Jesus lives up to that claim. The miracles, the healings, the teaching, are all recorded to help us reach the conclusion the Roman centurion watching Jesus crucifixion reaches at the very end of Mark’s gospel.
“Surely this man was the Son of God.”Mark 15:38
Butwe’re getting ahead of ourselves…Today we’re just going to focus on the firsteight verses of chapter 1, which gives us three ways that Jesus the Messiah, theSon of God is good news for us today:
1)Jesus is good news if youthink life is meaningless
Sciencetells us life is meaningless. On scientific assumptions, we’re random biologicalaccidents in an insignificant corner of a rather dull bit of a nearlyinfinitely vast expanding universe that will one day stop expanding andcontract back on itself into a tiny clump and presumably explode again inanother Big Bang. In scientific terms the universe is a loop. It’s goingnowhere, there’s no point, no purpose, no meaning.
Butthe beginning of Mark’s gospel says that’s rubbish. Do you remember those oddbits in the reading? “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straightpaths for him” and so on?
They’reOld Testament prophecies about Jesus which Mark includes to show us that thereis a plan and purpose to history.
Ratherthan being a meaningless random accident, the Bible tells us that God createdthe world deliberately. And he made it good , in fact very good. Perfect.
But the perfection was spoiled by people. We told the creator of the universe that weknow better than him – and all the evil and brokenness we know today – –sickness disease, disaster –it all comes from that. Yes it really is all ourfault.
And that’s why Jesus is such good news – because he’s come to put it all to rights. He took on human flesh, was tempted in every way we are but without sin,and then died a criminal’s death – on a Roman cross. Three days later he rose from the dead tobring us new life, and one day he’ll return in all his glory to judge us.
Andthat’s where history’s headed – From a beautiful beginning towards a finalreckoning. And that means everything we do in the here and now, matters.
Solisten if you think your life is meaningless – the answer is to find out whatyour creator has to say to you about the purpose of your life. And better do itsooner than later – because one day there’s going to be a reckoning.
Jesusis good news if you think life is meaningless.
2)Jesus is good news whenwe mess life up
Lookwhat Mark tells us next – he tells us about John the Baptist coming preachingin the wilderness dressed like the Old Testament prophet Elijah. That’s whatall the stuff about leather belts, locusts and wild honey was. John’s an Elijahfan-boy and just like Elijah he’s calling people to return to God.
Whydo people need to return to God? Because we’ve all turned our backs on him. We’veall failed to live up to God’s standard of perfect love. And that’s a problem becausethere’s a judgement coming.
That’swhy John the Baptist’s out there calling people to “repent of their sins.” I guess we’d call him a hellfire anddamnation preacher today, warning us about the coming judgement. And he wasn’t one to mince his words. InLuke’s gospel John calls his crowd a “brood of vipers”. That’snot a compliment!
Butthere’s a point to the challenge. John hasn’t come to make people feel badabout themselves – he’s come to show them that a new beginning is possible withGod – but if we want that new beginning with God – we have to admit how bad weare – and repent our sins.
Thatword repent isn’t so familiar today, but it means “Do a U-turn.” When analcoholic repents he stops drinking booze. When a cynic repents she chooseshope. When an adulterer repents he zips up his pants. When a liar repents hetells the truth.
AndJohn is saying we all need to repent.I know from my own story just howsignificant doing that U-turn is. There were things I’d done wrong which I feltdeep shame over, they were a burden crushing my spirit, a barrier between meand God.
Andthat helped me realise why Jesus is such good news – because his death on thecross is all about God reaching out to us with a gift: a gift of love and forgiveness,a gift that breaks down the barrier between us a God, a gift that lifting theburden of guilt and shame we feel..
Andthat gift comes to all who admit their need, and ask for it. It’s as simple as that. Which is why Jesus isgood news when we mess things up.
NowI said earlier, repentance is all about doing that u-turn in your life. And I’m very conscious that it’s a lot easierto talk about than to actually do. Changing your life is really hard. Andthat’s why …
3)Jesus is good news forthose who know they need help to change
Thelast part of our passage holds out great hope for us for when we’re strugglingto change. Let’s look again at how Johnthe Baptist describes Jesus in v8, John said,
“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”Mark 1:8
Whenwe come to Christ, when we trust in his death on the cross to take away oursin, then God comes to live in us by his Holy Spirit. That’s what that phrase “baptismin the Holy Spirit” means.
Andwhen the Spirit comes to live in us, he does a number of things. For starters, hefunctions like a mark of ownership – his presence in us declares we belong toGod. Another thing the Spirit does isconnect us to God and to one-another. Sometimes he gives us special knowledge andwisdom. At other times he gives us new gifts and abilities. And he also empowersus to change how we live.
StPaul puts it like this,
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”Galatians 5:22-23)
Hesaying that when the Holy Spirit is in our life,then all those things that wefind hard – loving our enemies, joy instead of cynicism, kindness, faithfulness,self-control – all those things we find impossible become possible if only we’llask for the Holy Spirit’s help. They’rethe fruit of His presence in our lives.
Bookshopsare full of books about how to change your life. And the answer they offer isalways the same –work harder – work smarter – it’s all down to you. But thegood news of Jesus is that it’s not all down to us. If we’ve given our livesover to God, if Jesus is our real treasure in life, then the Holy Spirit isworking in us to bring about change. He’s changing us to be more and more likeJesus. I wonder what that will mean for each of us in 2019.
Jesusis good news because
- He can help us to change.
- He offers a new beginning
if we’vemessed up.
- And he’s proof that
there’shope and purpose in life.