Will you Listen?

Mark 1:1-15 An Announcement about the coming King

Everyone is announcing things, all year round now 24/7 everything in the world is announcing to anyone and no-one – something, everything. To anyone who will listen, to those who do not even want to listen they still hear something. We are all crying and shouting about something in our life, seeking to be profound, to influence, or simply we just want to speak. Everyone is announcing it seems and no one is listening. When you think of it, the whole point of social media is to announce, to make us feel like we have a voice and we are being heard. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus and Instagram all exist to give people a platform to speak and a platform to be spoken to: To announce to the world what they had for dinner, when they went to the gym, what book they have been reading. I am no different, I love to announce: I use twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Plus and other platforms to find opinions and to give my own, to post my (edited) photos and give some gloss and meaning to life. You are announcing, I am announcing, everyone is announcing something. Since September this year we have passively consumed thousands of announcements created to impose on us what is coming: first it was Halloween and with it the necessity to spend money on sweets and candy and fancy dress costumes. Then from the moment the clock struck midnight on Halloween, those adverts were deleted from the hard-drives of the TV companies and, instead we have an onslaught of Christmas ads. In those minutes between our favourite shows we heard about the next DFS, Harvey Norman or Black Friday Sale: companies bombard us from every angle using TV, radio, print, social media to let us know – in case we have somehow forgotten – that Christmas is just around the corner and we need to get ready. Companies spend millions on slick, well produced adverts to announce their Christmas good news. Additionally, most of us spend hours – online, over the phone, in person – announcing the news of our lives to whoever will listen.

We as the Church of Jesus Christ here on earth at this time are all about announcing, we have been doing it for 2000 years since the son of God told us to. Frankly, we are not very good at it sometimes, we are almost fearful of what we are called to announce. Yet we are not just called to speak it, but to live it: our whole lives should announce the reality of Jesus Christ and his coming. The Gospel is a Good News Announcement. Advent is a season of announcement, and a season of expectation of what is coming. Each week in the run up to the celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ we give thanks for those who announced it and we look forward in preparation to His second coming.

Today we are looking at a passage that is all about announcements: it is a short passage with four announcements in it:

1. The Announcement about the one who will announce the One who is to bring God’s Final Pronouncement. (1-3)

2. The Announcer Announcing the message and the Final Pronouncer (4-8)

3. Heaven Announces the coming of the King (9-13)

4. Conclusion: The King Announces as he intends to announce (14-15)

The Announcement about the Announcer (1-3)

How something begins can either make it or break it. If a new TV show doesn’t capture you in the first few minutes you’ll find somethings else to watch. I like to read, and one of the books that has impacted me the most was “To Kill a Mocking Bird”; it was profound, and it also had a brilliant start. So when Harper Lee announced the second book “Go Set a Watchman”, I was somewhat excited. It was downloaded (onto my kindle) and read, but it was a book that lacked a good start, middle or end. The Gospel of Mark is not one of those books. It could not start stronger as Mark declares: “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” However, Mark does not simply mean this is the beginning of him announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ; nor, the beginning of him writing about the good news of Jesus Christ. The word for ‘beginning’ in verse one is of the same root as the word that gives the first book of the bible its name, Genesis. Mark is saying: “This is the Genesis of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Mark declares boldly from the start what the entire book is about, it is the announcement of God beginning a new Creative work through Jesus Christ. Mark’s Gospel announces the Good News of God found in the person of Jesus (Aramaic Jeshua: ‘Yahweh is Salvation’ ).

Mark then points to the Prophet Isaiah to remind us that, while this is a new beginning, it is not something unexpected – if the people knew God’s word they should have known that something was about to happen because of what already was happening in the dessert. As verse three tells us there was one already here who was preparing the way for the one who would come and bring a genesis moment. What these first verses should remind us of this Advent. is that God is not surprised, the Genesis of Jesus Christ was not an after through – it was the plan all along, as God declared in Genesis 3:15 that the serpent’s head would be crushed. Every prophet from that point announced and pointed to the fact that ‘Salvation belonged to God’ and now Mark declares boldly and strongly, that there will be no need for another because the penultimate Cryer is here, which means the Final one is close.

The Announcer Announces

You are going to want to Listen what I have got to say, because you will need to listen to what he has to say (4-8)

No sooner are we told of the announcer who will clear the path for the coming of God’s good news than he arrives on the scene in verse four doing exactly what we are told he would do: In the wilderness, making a straight path for God; declaring that people should turn from their way towards God’s way; that they should follow that straight path through the wilderness of our world. John’s calling was a domain for people to see the wreck of their own lives and put their trust in Yahweh. John teaches ‘turn and receive’ that is turn from your sin, trust God, and receive forgiveness. His is a message of changed heart and purpose: transformation which would result in receiving God’s forgiveness. What we can also tell from the other Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus is that John the Baptist demanded proof of transformation. He wanted to see change effected, and see that his message had taken root in the lives of believers: to him a changed heart resulted in a changed life. It is a question which demanded an answer from those who would approach him and it is a question that asks not something just of them, but of all of us. If we claim to be walking in God’s way, is their evidence of it? In verse 5 we see that the whole of the Judaea countryside are drawn to John because of his faith and what he preached. John was someone who lived and practiced what he preached, the people could see that and wanted to know more of it, so much that they would make the journey to hear him. Is the same true today of we who claim to be followers of Jesus? We who are meant to be those who have repented – turned from the way of the world – and received the forgiveness of God, can those around us actually tell? Not only that, but are they drawn to us to want to know more? Secondly, verse five is a picture of a new Exodus as God’s people move out to him with a genuine-ness that has not been seen for some time; a sincere change of heart that can be seen through a wonderful phrase at the end of the verse . The reality is that it was not only John who was at work; God himself was at work in the heart of his people to prepare for a new Genesis.

Verse six shows us a man who is either the world’s first hipster-vegan, an adherent to one of the many modern wonder diets we hear about, or a mad man who is not quite right in the head, randomly shouting spiritual things in the dessert that seem to attract a crowd interested in those sort of things. Yet, we know because of what we have read so far and where we read it that is has to be so much more than that. There is more to John’s fashion sense and diet, much more. You see John is not just someone who teaches by words, he teaches by how he lives. His life in its entirety backs up what he announces. The simplicity of his living is a judgment against the self-indulgent nation of Israel. His living mirrors his message, that to truly place your trust in God you have to live differently. The challenge then for us is: why are we failing to be like John when we need to be? Additionally, John’s clothing would identify him to the Jews as the ‘Elijah’ that Malachi spoke about as God’s coming messenger: yet another sign that something new is about to happen; something similar, yet never seen before.

John must have seen hundreds of people coming to him; their lives being transformed by God working in them through his ministry. John is able to live boldly and freely because he knows it is not about him, because he centres his life on God not himself. John knows that he, like all of us is just a piece of the jigsaw, a sign on a trail, a clue on a treasure map. John is the tip of the arrow that points to something greater; someone greater than himself. Jesus Christ. Hear the words again of verse seven as John announces to the world the fullness of his message “After me, comes one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John declares that all he has done, has been to point to the one who will come, the one who is so great in stature than even the lowest act of servanthood John does not quality for. John announces that the reason he exists is to point to the one who will fulfil the prophesy. John pointed forward to one who was to come and today, as followers of the one who came, we point back towards the Cross and forwards to what is still to come. This is the call of the Gospel: to know that we are nothing but an arrow, yet, be joyful knowing that is all we are required to be and to live out our lives wherever God has placed us, pointing to the work of Jesus Christ. If you would say that you follow Jesus, can you also say that in you live as an arrow, pointing to the one who is greater, announcing the Good news of Jesus and living your lives so that your friends, family and anyone within your sphere of influence will see something of him?

Heaven Announces (9-13)

So we have seen Isaiah announce about one who is to come in preparation; and we have seen the one who has come to prepare, fulfil his purpose to preach and declare that the entirety of his existence is to announce in word and deed the final announcement. No sooner than we hear of him who is to come, than we meet him, Jesus enters the narrative. And with that meeting the sky is torn open and Heaven announces, in fact declares, that what all of Israel’s history and the prophets have foretold is finally here. The new time is about to begin, the question is, are we ready for it to? Isaiah has spoken, John has spoken and now God the father speaks: “This is my son, whom I love and I am well pleased.” Jesus is baptised by John, an act that identified him with the people of Israel as their Saviour an identity over which God speaks His delight and approval. Jesus is introduced to us with the very voice of God speaking over him, the question is can you hear it and agree with it. To even claim this is the voice of Yahweh would offend the sensitives of the Jewish reader because with it there is no middle ground. When God speaks it indicates that this is God’s plan, there is no middle ground on which to stand here: either Jesus is who he says he is and is about to do all that God has spoken through the prophets and now through John the Baptist, or he is as useful to us in relation to eternity as a water pistol is to fight a raging forest fire. When God speaks we must listen, so do you hear?

In case we are in any doubt about who this new Jesus figure is, again Mark uses imagery familiar to the Jewish reader to enforce what he is trying to claim. As now the Holy Spirit enters the fray and sends Jesus into the wilderness. So in two short verses (11-12) we see the beginning of God’s final chapter in terms of Salvation and we know that it involves the fullness of God in trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. Verses 12 and 13 are a short summary of Matthew’s account and mirrors the experience of Israel (God’s previous vehicle of Salvation) who wandered for forty years in the wilderness. However, unlike Israel Jesus, though he is tempted never once betrays his sonship, in fact he defeats Satan (in the fact that Satan flees) an act that is only possible for God; an act that announces that he is both Lord and true servant of God, a truth that ensures that Satan will never directly challenge Christ again. He is the Lord even of the Angels.

Conclusion: Jesus Announces, Will you? (14-15)

The passage closes with a quick transition, something that is so familiar to Mark’s Gospel: John the Baptist suddenly departs the scene (because of his arrest) and we enter the final act of this wonderful passage. What Isaiah announced – that someone would come and prepare happened; he (John the Baptist) arrived, announced and pointed to someone greater who would do something greater and just in case we were left with any doubt, the voice of God himself declared that it had begun. Now, in these last two verses what everything has been pointing towards begins. As John the Baptist is removed from the narrative (like a literary masterpiece) and the stage is set for the main character to take centre stage. All that human history has pointed towards is now ready to begin. So Jesus Christ whom God spoke over and declared his love for, now begins to speak with the same authority as the father: “The Time has Come.” What Jesus is declaring to those who were with him and to us who read this wonderful passage, is that the Genesis moment Mark announced at the beginning of his Gospel has now arrived.

So in the final verse (15) of this passage, we see Jesus proclaim his message, the same message that he will preach throughout all four Gospels. Repent and believe the good news, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus was declaring that the hour of God was now; the time to which all of the Old Testament had looked forward to was finally here. So the ground work had been down (by John the Baptist) and now the people must place their Trust in this Jesus Christ the Messiah. What Isaiah had prophesied, what John had pointed to had now begun. Yet, the people would still have something to learn – that this was not an earthly Messiah who would bring about an external triumph like winning a general election to usher in a new Golden age of a nation, no, this was something utterly different: The kingdom of God would be nothing like the kingdom’s of this world, it would not be one ruled by Sword, but by spirit. It would be a people that transcends time, space, ethnicity, creed or bloodline, it would not be a kingdom ruled by kings but by a servant, a kingdom of strength in weakness not power. It would be an upside-down inside-out Kingdom like none that have ever been seen or ever will be seen. Yet it would be a kingdom that no earthly king could stop, and one that still grows to this day, the question then for us is are we in the kingdom? Have we like the disciples would come to do, placed our trust in Jesus Christ, the Messiah that John pointed to?

The entire passage points to this moment and the cross of Christ where Jesus would bring about the fulfilment of his rule in defeating the final weapon of the enemy. That challenge for us from this passage today is twofold:

Firstly, are we a people who have heard the news and believed it, because the truth is that you can be faithful to God’s church and not faithful to him, you can come every Sunday and listen to preaching, or you can read books and know all about kingdom without either being in it or bowing before its King -Jesus. So are you sure that you have bowed the knee to the King of heaven and declared your sinfulness, asked him forgiveness and then gratefully received it?

Secondly, and finally if Jesus is your king do you live like he? Is there something different about you? Does your life display the Glory of God? The reality is simple, Jesus Christ is not just the king of a moment where you admit your sin and need of a Saviour, he is the king of every moment from that time on and king of everything that you have and can offer. He gives us all we need and demands our all for his purpose. So if we claim to be citizens of the Kingdom of God then our lives should be different, they should been affected by the grace we have received as we work out with fear and trembling the salvation of the Lord. We should live like John the Baptist, showing the world where our loyalty lies and pointing like a blazing arrow in the night to the one who is to come again. So this advent, as we look at the king who is announced let our lives announce the king who will come again to bring about the fulfilment of his kingdom.

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