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I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lord's Day Message: The Beginning of the Gospel


The Beginning of the Gospel
Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 It is written in Isaiah the prophet:  “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 
“a voice of one calling in the desert, 
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs 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.”


The people who study the science of how the brain works will tell you that if you hear a message once, there is a 10% chance that you will remember what was said.  If you hear the same message a second time, the chance that you will remember it jumps to 60%.  But if you hear the same substantial information three times, there is a 90% chance that you will remember the message.

This Advent Season we’re looking at beginnings.  Last week we began by looking at the Very End, and we found that Jesus is Lord at the Very End.  Mark begins his Gospel with these words:  The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  The word “Gospel”, roughly translated, means good news.  And news of any kind always begins with a message.  News must be passed on, or it isn’t news.  It must be broadcast, published, preached, orated, told, shared, written, spoken, or sung. 

The Gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ begins with a message

Listen.  At first you may need to strain to hear it:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman (Genesis 3:15) 

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) 

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin, who will be called Son of the Most High God (Psalm 2:7) 

“In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin, who will be called Son of the Most High God.  He will be son of Abraham (Genesis 22:18)

“Be not displeased because of the boy (Ishmael) and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin, who will be called Son of the Most High God.  He will be son of Abraham, son of Isaac (Genesis 21:12) 

A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin, who will be called Son of the Most High God.  He will be son of Abraham, son of Isaac, son of Jacob (Numbers 24:17)

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin, who will be called Son of the Most High God.  He will be son of Abraham, son of Isaac, son of Jacob: of the Tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) 

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin, who will be called Son of the Most High God.  He will be son of Abraham, son of Isaac, son of Jacob: of the Tribe of Judah, of the Family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin, who will be called Son of the Most High God.  He will be son of Abraham, son of Isaac, son of Jacob: of the Tribe of Judah, of the Family of Jesse, of the House of David (Jeremiah 23:5)

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.  One is coming, out of all humanity, of those born of woman, who will be born of a virgin, who will be called Son of the Most High God.  He will be son of Abraham, son of Isaac, son of Jacob: of the Tribe of Judah, of the Family of Jesse, of the House of David, who will be born at Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)  

Oh yes… The Gospel about Jesus Christ begins with a message. 

The Gospel begins with a messenger
You know the really remarkable thing about the message we just heard?   Some parts of it were spoken to Abraham, a man who was born in what is now central Turkey sometime between 2000 and 1800 B.C.   And God said to Abraham, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:1).  One part was written by King David, who reigned in Jerusalem from 1010 BC to 970 BC.  Some parts of the message were spoken to Isaiah, who was born somewhere in Judah in the first part of the 700s BC.  And God said to Isaiah, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Some of the message comes from Micah, who spoke to Israel between 737 and 690 BC.  When God spoke to him, he replied by saying, For this I will lament and wail; I will go stripped and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches. For her wound is incurable, and it has come to Judah; it has reached to the gate of my people, to Jerusalem.  (Micah 1:8-9 ESV) 

Some parts of the message were written by the prophet Jeremiah, who was born in a village called Anatoth, about 3 miles north of Jerusalem, in 626 BC.   God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 1:5-8 ESV)

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He was born somewhere in Northern Israel around 3 BC.  In response to God’s call he said, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs 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.”

Oh yes… The Gospel about Jesus Christ begins with a message and with a messenger

The Gospel also begins with a desert.  And that’s the really strange thing about this news.  If I had been God, I would have sent my messengers to the large cities: to Babylon, to Jerusalem, to Athens, to Rome.  But God sent many of them to a crushed and broken, conquered people.  Some of his best messengers died in obscurity in places like Iraq, Turkey, and Egypt.  And when the penultimate messenger appeared, God sent John the Baptist out into the wilderness to preach his message. 

And the tenuous nature of how the message was passed from one person to another is also utterly remarkable.  Aside from the probability that none of these men knew one another personally, how likely is it that people would walk 30 miles in droves and without supplies to see a kook who dressed funny and ate first century health food?  But if The Gospel begins with a message and a messenger in a dessert, The Gospel begins with a path that becomes a highway.  

Several years ago, I was out in Sacramento, California.  I had taken my son Tim to a unicycle convention there.  One of the days of the conference involved the unicyclists riding their wheels on a dirt trail beginning in a place at around 7000 feet above sea level and riding down to a genuine ghost town at around 4000 feet.  It was an all day affair.  I decided that since there wasn’t anything to do in a ghost town in Northern California, I’d take a drive and go see Lake Tahoe, about 80 miles east of there in extreme Western Nevada. 

I got out on the interstate and started heading toward Reno.  About an hour into the drive I saw the drama of helicopters fighting a wild-fire not far off the road.  I-80 at that point is a splendid, majestic highway that winds its way through the Sierra Nevada between Sacramento and Reno.  It is 3 lanes in each direction with a wide median between the east and west bound lanes.  The road is an absolute marvel. 

I was amazed as I watched the firefighters.  But the fact that I was watching them caused me to notice a small sign just at the crest of one ridge.  The sign said, “Donner Pass,” and marked the spot where a wagon train got stuck in the snow in the winter of 1846.  Fully half of the 87 people in the group died that winter, and the rest survived only by eating the flesh of the dead.  It is a grizzly story.  How did this pass through the mountains at 7000 feet of elevation go from being a deadly wagon path to being a six-lane highway?  How did the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus go from being one man dressed in a hair shirt to a phenomenon that all Israel came out to see?
  
And if the Gospel begins with a message and a messenger in a dessert, and a path that becomes a highway.   The Gospel really begins with abandon.  Those who came out to see John preach, the text in Mark says, were Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  This wasn’t some orderly, “take a number and wait in line” kind of thing.  These were masses of people who heard John call them to repent and believe the good news that their sins could be forgiven and who could not contain themselves and in reckless abandon rushed into the river crying, “I want that!  I want THAT!” 

The Gospel that begins with that kind of abandon is a Gospel that begins with  brokenness.  They knew they were broken.  They knew that what John said was true of them.  This was no sanitized stained-glass window sanctuary.  These went rushing forward in their brokenness to soggy sepulcher, a tomb of water from which they would receive resurrection.  Have you ever given yourself to Jesus like that?  It is not too late.  He invites you today.  Don’t just let someone serve you a small cup of grape juice and a piece of bread.  The good news is that your sin can be forgiven.  Your rebellion against God can be done away with.  The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God can begin for you with one moment of abandon and brokenness. 

The Gospel began at the river with bending.   They were utterly destroyed by John’s words and bent down to be baptized by him in the river.  The remarkable thing about the invitation that Jesus gives you today is this: abandon your sin and your brokenness and come dine at my table.  If you feel one tenth of the conviction they felt that day at the river, you’ll be eagerly grabbing the plates as they are passed… you might even rush the table to sit with Jesus for just one hour. 

If you’ve never known the Gospel, the good news that begins with a message and a messenger and a desert and a path that becomes a highway and calls you to say to God “Here I am,” and abandon that begins with brokenness that causes you to rush into the water or rush to the table and cry “Take me!  Take me!  Take me!”  then this may be your moment for the beginning of the Gospel.

AMEN.

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