Someone Greater Than John Has Appeared

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John the Baptist knew how to gather a crowd. People came to him from all over Judea and throughout Jerusalem. But John didn't want the attention for himself. He used his popularity to point people to Jesus.

Mark 1:4-11 Baptism of our Lord Someone Greater Than John Has Appeared 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 baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Dear friends in Christ, People have their heroes, on the screen, in the workplace, in the classroom, on the field or on the court. These heroes are celebrities, people who capture a crowd’s attention by what they say, how they act, how they dress, both in their professional appearances and in their private lives. John the Baptist was a celebrity of sorts. People recognized him as someone special. Even Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). John was a great man. But John pointed to someone greater than himself. John pointed to the One whom God anointed and equipped to be our Savior. I. The Messenger pointed to the Messiah The evangelist Mark writes, “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness.” But he did not appear out of thin air. Three decades earlier John was born to the old priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. Even before John’s birth, the angel of the Lord told Zechariah that his son would “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Now, thirty years later, John began to do what he was born to do. We might expect to see such an important messenger proclaiming his Master’s message in a populated and important place. But John did not do his work in the streets of Jerusalem or in the crowded temple courts or in the synagogues of the cities around Israel. John preached in the wilderness where no one lived. Yet, thousands came out of their comfortable surroundings to see this man. Some might have only been curious because John dressed like the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Some might have only wanted to see this man whose diet consisted of what was available to him in the open country, locusts and wild honey. But what really captured people’s attention was John’s message. John was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance is a change of mind. It’s a change of mind about sin and a change of mind about God. Repentance includes, first of all, a sorrow over sin which we call contrition. Contrition is not simply a bad feeling because I got caught doing something I should not have been doing. Contrition is the sorrow that acknowledges that what I’ve thought, said or done has offended my God. It’s the kind of sorrow that hates sin, and wants nothing to do with that sin anymore, a sorrow that turns away from that sin. But contrition is only the first part of repentance. Repentance then also includes faith. It includes trust in the full and free forgiveness that God promises, offers and gives through the Messiah. That Messiah was exactly the One to whom John was pointing: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John was a superstar. But he was not the Messiah. The Messiah himself was about to arrive on the scene to fight against mankind’s greatest enemies. He would win the victory that God had promised throughout the Old Testament age: freedom from the condemnation and control of sin, freedom for life with him under his gracious rule. Those who took John’s message to heart confessed their sins and admitted their need for God’s forgiveness. Then John baptized them. He washed penitent sinners in the waters of the Jordan River. The Jordan River was the main river in the land. But it had no special powers in and of itself. John could have used any other source of water. But it is interesting to think about the symbolism in John’s use of the Jordan River. In the Old Testament, the Israelites crossed over the Jordan as they left their years of wilderness wandering and entered into a new life in the Promised Land. Something similar happened when John baptized people. John was only a man. He could only apply the water. But because God’s promise of forgiveness through the coming Messiah was connected to the application of that water, when penitent sinners received John’s baptism, they left their old lives of sin and entered into a new life. God turned them into his own set-apart people, with hearts cleansed and freed to serve him. Those whom John baptized looked ahead in faith to the Messiah. We look back in faith to that same Messiah. Otherwise John’s baptism and the baptism we have received are essentially the same. Both were ordained by God. Both consist of water connected to God’s promise in the Redeemer. Both offer and give the same spiritual blessings. Because of the connection to Christ’s work, in baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, and new life as members of God’s family. If you have not yet been baptized, or if you have not yet brought your children to baptism, stop by my study and let’s talk about it. If you have already been baptized, treasure this sacrament as a wonderful personal precious gift from God. Think about your baptism often and turn to it every day. Why? Because we have spiritual enemies who want to rob us of the blessings that God has given us. One of those enemies is our own sinful nature, the “old Adam” in us. Each of us is contaminated with a naturally sinful heart, and the evidence of that is apparent every day. As God’s child in Christ, I don’t want to sin. But I do. The apostle Paul describes it well: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Romans 7:21-23). You might be in a position right now where you have acted like the lost son in Jesus’ parable who turned his back on his father, squandered his inheritance, and let sin rule his life. You might be tangled in a specific sinful situation, a pet sin, or something that your conscience says that you should not be doing. Listen to John’s message today. Repent! Admit your guilt and turn away from your sin. Trust that God sent a Savior to wash away your guilt. Then, by the strength and guidance he provides in his Word, begin to live your new life as his child once again. In other words, return to your baptism. This is where God declared you personally forgiven for Jesus’ sake and has made you a member of his holy family. II. God confirmed His Message at Jesus’ Baptism John the Baptist was born for the purpose of proclaiming this very same message. Then, when Jesus appeared on the scene, God confirmed John’s message. In the next verses Mark tells us that Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptized by John. The first question we might ask is “Why?” That was John’s question too. He said, “I need to be baptized by you, and you are coming to me?” Then Jesus told him, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14,15). So John consented and baptized him. Then Mark writes:  Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus did not need John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins because Jesus had no sin. He was always in perfect harmony with his Father. But by being baptized Jesus identified himself with every sinner. He had arrived to take our sin and guilt on himself. By his baptism Jesus was also fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies which said that the Messiah would receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit which would enable him for his work. Later the apostle Peter picked up on this when he told others “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how (Jesus) went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil because, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38). So Jesus’ baptism marked the start of his work as the Messiah. God the Father confirmed the fact that Jesus was his Son. God’s Spirit enabled Jesus to do what he came to do. From that point on, Jesus served as the Prophet, preaching the good news of sins forgiven in his name. He served as our Priest, representing us before God then offering himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He served as our King, battling our greatest enemies to win the victory over sin, death and Satan. John the Baptist was a great man. He prepared the way for the Lord. He pointed people to the Messiah. Then, when Jesus appeared on the scene, God confirmed John’s message. The One greater than John appeared, fully qualified, set apart, and equipped to be our Redeemer. Amen. Pastor Karl M Schultz January 14, 2018
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