A Voice Crying - Part 1

Mark 1:2-8

Tom Pennington  •  June 8, 2008
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Tonight we come back to the Gospel of Mark and we really come to Mark's introduction. The first verse is sort of a title, if you will, for his gospel; his own title. Beginning in verse 2, we begin a brief introduction that takes us in to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. To really appreciate the introduction that he gives us, you have to step into modern times and understand the Jewish thinking today.

Several years ago on Larry King Live, I heard Dennis Prager, the conservative Jewish talk show host, make a very fascinating point. He said that while the expectation of the coming Messiah is part of the foundation of Judaism, it is not a crucial part of their faith today. He said that in fifteen years, his fifteen years in Jewish schools, he had heard maybe 10 minutes discussion about the Messiah. But that kind of low level interest may be common and popular today, but that has not always been true. And so not only do we have to understand the mindset today, but we have to take that mindset and go back into the first century, back into the mindset of the Jewish people of that time. The Old Testament had promised that the Messiah would come and the Jewish people of the first century were eagerly waiting for the Messiah. There are many different indications of this. Let me walk you through some of them.

You start even back at the very beginning in Israel's first book given by Moses in 1400 BC and Moses writes, quoting our Lord, "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; He [will] bruise you on the head and you shall bruise him on the heel." Here you have the promise of a child who would defeat Satan and bring permanent redemption. At the very beginning, at this stage, there are only two people in the world and you already have the promise of the Messiah in seed form and all of the people of God knew that promise from the beginning. It was passed along and eventually, under inspiration, Moses encoded it for us 1400 years before Christ.

Going to the New Testament there are a number of indications there that there was, in fact, this hope going back to the very beginning and throughout the Old Testament revelation.

Matthew 2:4: "Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born."

There was this expectation so that when the wise men showed up, Herod says I want you to tell me, not if the Messiah is coming, not if there is a Messiah, but where will the Messiah be born and is it possibly Bethlehem? As it turns out, exactly what they told him. In Luke 2:38, Anna spoke of Him "…to all those who were looking for the redemption of [Israel]." You remember early on in Jesus' little life when He's dedicated at the temple, Anna says there are a lot of us looking for the redemption of Israel, for the Savior. Luke 3:15: "Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, [John the Baptist], as to whether [or not] he was the [Messiah]."

There was such a rabid interest in the Messiah and His coming that they even thought perhaps it was John. There was an expectation according to John 1 among the people of the coming Messiah, a passage we'll look at next week. John 1:41, we're told that the early disciples finding each other said, "'We have found the Messiah' (which [translated] means [the] Christ)."

Andrew and Peter, as Old Testament believers, were anticipating the Messiah. In John 4, even the Samaritans were expecting the Messiah. You remember Jesus' interchange with the Samaritan woman. They anticipated that the Messiah would come. In John 7, the people are expecting the Messiah. Jesus said referring back to the Old Testament that Abraham rejoiced to see the day of the Messiah, he saw it and was glad. John 12: "The crowd then answered Him,"We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this Son of Man?" " They knew there would be a Messiah; they were confused about what Jesus was telling about the death of the Messiah.

You go to the preaching of the early church in Acts 2. Peter says there on the day of Pentecost, David looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah. In Hebrews 11, we're told that Moses chose Christ, the Messiah, over the riches of Egypt. Moses made life changing decisions based on his commitment to the Messiah. That was 1400 years before Christ. Now think about that for a moment. The clan of Jacob had been in Egypt for over 300 years and Moses' mother had been his only teacher of these things. Where did she learn about a Messiah? It was obviously commonly understood that the Messiah would come. 1 Peter 1 tells us: Peter says that the prophet, the Old Testaments prophets, understood that salvation would come through the Messiah. What they did not know was what person it would be and what time He would come. The Spirit predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and His glory, and the prophets understood that His sufferings would come first and His glory would follow. They understood so much. They just didn't know what person or what time.

So when you survey the evidence, it's clear that the Jews and all God fearing people had for millennia anticipated the coming of Messiah. So with that in mind, turn in your Bibles to Mark 1 and notice how Mark begins his gospel. And, by the way, when we use the word gospel, we use it to refer to these books. It wasn't used that way until about the third century. When you see the word gospel in the New Testament, it's always referring to the message of good news, the proclamation of good news, and that's how it's used here. He says here is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Messiah. Now think about that. Mark begins his account of the life of Christ with this incredible announcement: Jesus of Nazareth is Israel's long awaited Messiah.

Now if you were Jewish or if you were a God fearing Roman Gentile like Cornelius, and you were at all familiar with the Old Testament, with the Septuagint, your first question would have been this: if He's the Messiah, where is the messenger? Where is the messenger? Because the last prophet of Israel had promised that before Messiah came, a messenger would come first and prepare the way. Here's how it's worded in Malachi 3:1, " 'Behold, I am going to send My messenger, [God says,] and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,' says the Lord of hosts."

Now that is a fascinating prophecy, it was a prophecy that was made almost 450 years before the life of Christ, before He began His ministry. Since that time in Israel, think about this with me now, since that time 450 years before there had been no miracles, there had been no revelation, no Shikanah glory cloud in the temple, and no prophet from God. That helps you understand why all four gospel writers include the story of John the Baptist. I mean think about that they don't even all include the birth of Christ, but they all include John, because of the prophecy. So this section about John is not extraneous detail that's just getting in the way of our getting to Christ. It goes to the heart of Jesus' credentials as Messiah, so verse 1 says: "The good news of Jesus the Messiah the Son of God."

And that means the beginning of the good news about Jesus is the forerunner, the one who comes before. The good news begins with the coming of the forerunner. It was the basis of Jesus' authority. And as Mark develops his point that Jesus in fact has the credentials of Messiah, he does so in two distinct ways as he looks at the forerunner. In verses 2 and 3 we're going to see the Old Testament prophecy of the forerunner and in verses 4 through 8, the first century fulfillment of the forerunner; the messenger who would come. This is absolutely crucial because Jesus' credentials are based on this.

There was a long line of prophets in the Old Testament. Moses came first and you remember Moses was vindicated and validated by God as a prophet at Mount Sinai. 2,000,000 people heard God speak from the mountain, saw the clouds–they knew that God was there, and God made it clear that Moses was His prophet. He was His man.

And Moses, then, in succession, lays out a series of qualifications in the book of Deuteronomy for prophets that would come. To be a prophet you had to always be right. You had to be validated by previous revelation. If your prophecies were out of step with previous revelations, you were not a prophet, even if everything you said came to pass. There were these qualifications that were put in place. And so what you had through the Old Testament are all of these validated prophets, but that ends with Malachi, 400 years before the first century. But Malachi ends by validating the next prophet, the great prophet that Moses had predicted and he said, "You will know Him because I will send My messenger before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah."

So let's look then at the Old Testament prophecy of the forerunner. If you look at Mark 1, we looked really at verse 1 last week. And so we're going to go right to verses 2 and 3 which here give us that Old Testament prophecy. Notice what he says,

"As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

'Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.' "

Now this is absolutely fascinating: Mark, remember, is writing to whom? To Romans, to Gentiles and he only uses a sparing use of Old Testament quotations and every time an Old Testament quotation appears in Mark's gospel, Mark is quoting Christ quoting the Old Testament. In other words, Mark himself as a writer never directly quotes the Old Testament except for once, here in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 1. So he begins his book with his only Old Testament quote. That means he considered it to be very important. Notice what he writes, "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet…."

The heart of the quotation that he's going to share with us comes from Isaiah, so he says it's written in Isaiah. But verses 2 and 3 are actually a kind of collage of two Old Testament texts. The first one in verse 2, is from Malachi 3:1, and in verse 3 it's taken from Isaiah 40:3.

Now I want us to look at both of those together. Turn with me back to Malachi 3. I put it on the screen a moment ago but I want you to turn there, Malachi 3:1, and notice what he writes: "Behold…." Now remember [this is] the last prophet of the Old Testament, 400 years until John the Baptist. " 'Behold, I am going to send My messenger,' [God says,] 'and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,' says the Lord of hosts."

Now turn over to the next chapter, Malachi 4 and he actually ends his prophecy with a similar message, Malachi 4:5-6:

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse."

Now this passage has been taken out of context by some modern ministries. It's not talking about being a patriarchal father and all of your children being in line. Although Biblically we are supposed to make sure our children obey us, that's not the thrust of this passage. The thrust of this passage is a prophecy about two great events. Both of these passages that I've read to you in Malachi, chapter 3 and chapter 4, both of them were partially fulfilled at the first coming of Christ. They are both quoted in the context of the first coming of Christ. And yet both of them have not been completely fulfilled, they will both be ultimately fulfilled at the second coming.

You can see this, by the way, clearly back in chapter 3:2, right after that promise that the messenger will come before the Lord: "Who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like a fullers' soap." And it's speaking of judgment. So obviously just like so many prophecies of the Old Testament, there is this near fulfillment and a distant fulfillment. The near fulfillment had to do with the first coming of Christ, the distant fulfillment, the second coming of Christ. In the first coming, listen carefully, in Jesus' first coming the messenger who was to come in the spirit and power of Elijah was John the Baptist, and we'll see that in just a moment. So that's the first passage, Malachi 3 and 4.

Now I want you to turn back to Isaiah's prophecy, Isaiah 40. Let me give you the context. This prophecy was written to the prophets who would minister to Israel during the Babylonian captivity. So in other words, it's not yet the Babylonian captivity, Isaiah lived and ministered in the 700's BC. The captivity doesn't come until 586. But he anticipates that and he writes to those prophets who will minister to God's people in the Babylonian captivity and he says to them in chapter 40:1-2:

"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.

"Speak kindly to Jerusalem…"

So in other words, listen, you may be in Babylonian captivity, but the prophets are now commanded to say there's comfort from God.

"Speak kindly to Jerusalem,

And call out to her, that her warfare has ended,

That her iniquity has been removed,

She has received of the Lord's hand

Double for all her sins."

On what basis is there comfort for these people? The answer is the arrival, the ultimate arrival of the Messiah. Take comfort because the Messiah will come. And as the rest of Isaiah makes it clear, when He does come He will make an end of the guilt of their sin by taking it upon Himself. But here again is the same thing we saw in Malachi. First, before Messiah comes, there will be a messenger. Notice what he says Isaiah 40:3-4:

A voice is calling,

"Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;

Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

[Let] Every valley [will] be lifted up,

And every mountain and hill be made low;

And let the rough ground become a plain,

And the rugged terrain a broad valley;

Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

And all flesh will see it together;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

Now what's going on here? The point is the prophets of the Babylonian captivity are to say to the people of Israel, take comfort, and the reason you're to take comfort is because your iniquity will be dealt with, and it will be dealt with by the Messiah who is to come. And the Messiah will be preceded. Before He comes, there will be a messenger and the messenger's responsibility is to clear the way for Messiah. Now you have to get a little bit of the picture of the time here. In the ancient near east, kings would send a herald before them, sometimes months in advance to the various villages and cities and towns where he intended to go, saying, "I'm coming, get ready," so that everything could be prepared for his arrival when he came.

So here you have this voice, verse 3, a voice is calling. Literally, a voice is calling out; a voice is crying out; it's a loud cry or a shout heard from a distance. It includes intensity and emotion. What does this person shout out to the people of the land? It shouts out (you'll notice the next phrase is in quotation marks), here's what the voice cries out, "Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God."

You see roads in the east at that time were not properly maintained. So the herald went before the king. He had a number of duties. He announced the arrival of the king for a number of purposes, but one of those purposes was for the roads themselves to be repaired so the king could come. It involved everything modern road building requires, just with primitive tools and equipment. It meant as you see in verses 3 and 4 there, it meant removing obstacles, it meant building bridges and causeways. It meant straightening crooked roads, filling in valleys and leveling hills, just as we do today to make a good road. But they were preparing for the coming king.

Isaiah's point is that is what God will do for the Messiah. Before He comes, God will send a messenger whose purpose it is to prepare the highway for Messiah. But it's not a physical road or physical preparation that God has in mind here. It's a spiritual one as we'll see in John the Baptist's ministry in a moment. If the people of God are to be ready for the coming of Messiah, they must be prepared spiritually and morally. The image is of preparing a road to the city, but the meaning is preparing the paths of your life so that you're ready when Messiah comes. It is a demand for repentance.

So the point of the whole quotation, going back to Mark's gospel, the point of the whole quotation, D. Edmond Hiebert writes, is that, "John's preparatory ministry in fulfillment of prophesy authenticated Jesus' Messiahship and prepared for the beginning of His official ministry as Messiah." In other words, John shows up according to the prophecy to make a smooth road for Messiah in the hearts of the people of Israel. That's the prophecy.

Now I want us to go from there, as Mark does, to the first century fulfillment of the forerunner. We've seen the prophecy, the Old Testament prophecy of the forerunner. Let's look at the first century fulfillment, and this comes in verses 4 through 8. And just to warn you, we're not going to make it through all of that tonight. Now, John connects John the Baptist and Jesus to Old Testament revelation. This isn't some new thing, he wants you to know. This isn't somebody's aberrant version of Judaism; this is what the God of the Bible had promised and predicted. And so having explained the prophecy, Mark now moves on to show how John fulfilled that prophecy. Notice what he writes in verse 4, we come out of the distant past, out of the prophecy given in Isaiah's prophecy, 700 years before, in Malachi's case 450 years, and we now come into the first century verse 4 says, "John the Baptist appeared."

Here we get our first glimpse of the man: John the Baptist appeared. By the way, the Greek text literally says, "John, the one baptizing." Baptizing was so much what he was known for that it was like an attachment to his name: John, the one baptizing. We call him John the Baptist. He wasn't, by the way, southern Baptist or, you know, no matter what you might hear from your southern Baptist friends. He was simply the one baptizing. It was so much a part of his ministry that that's how he came to be known.

I have a friend in California who ministered with me at Grace Church and he was often involved with helping families through the difficulties of the death of loved ones. And he developed as a result of that a nickname that went with his constant care for people in that category. The same thing happens with John the Baptist. John is his name. The Baptizer or the one Baptizing is the common understanding of who his ministry was.

Now who was this man? Luke gives us the most information about him and I'm not going to take you through all that Luke writes, but let me give you a summary, a thumbnail sketch. His parents were Zacharias and Elizabeth. They were devout Old Testament believers according to Luke 1. His father was a Levite, actively serving in his rotation at the temple. Understand that the priestly divisions were divided up into 24, so that priests only served, if you were a priest you only served, 2 times a year at the temple in Jerusalem. The rest of the year you were in your village, somewhere in the nation of Israel, teaching the people the Scriptures. That was the primary role of the priests when they weren't serving at the temple. And they didn't serve at the temple all the time. There was a rotation because there were so many of them that in the time of the New Testament. You served, if you were a priest, you served 2 times a year at the temple in Jerusalem and only for a week each time. So you served 2 weeks out of your year at the temple in Jerusalem. And because of the large number of priests, even when it was your time to serve at the temple it would have been very unusual to get to actually enter the temple itself.

Now you remember the Holy of Holy's was reserved strictly for the high priest and for him only once a year. But the holy place which was outside of that, still part of the temple building, (it's where the incense was, the show bread, all of those other parts of the temple were in that outer area of the temple proper, the building) and the priests would go in there. But not all of the priests, only the ones that were assigned. In fact, in New Testament times Luke tells us they were chosen by lot.

So, in other words, there were so many priests that not all of them would get to go into that place. Instead, they would draw lots to see who of those priests serving over their two weeks, there at the temple in Jerusalem, actually got to go into the temple itself. It would have been very unusual, but it fell to Zacharias by lot. Understand the situation: it's really hard for us to imagine what it would have been like for Zacharias. This would have been the most precious and holy moment in this devout man's entire life; to get to go into the temple, into the holy place next to the veil where the presence of God was manifested. To go in, to burn the incense, he was chosen to go into the holy place alone and burn incense. So he goes up to that massive entrance way, 50 yards by 50 yards was the entrance of the building. And he walks into that door and there he finds the holy place and as the doors close behind him, he finds himself alone, alone so close to the presence of God, a remarkable moment for this man.

While he was in there, another remarkable thing happened. The angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son in their old age. And they were to name this boy John. Gabriel came with that message, "Call him John." John was a common Hebrew name, a common Jewish name meaning "the one to whom Yahweh is gracious." Remarkable story of his beginning, but we don't hear anything else after his birth. We don't hear anything else from John until Luke 3:2 where it says, "…the word of [the Lord] came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness."

So when did this happen? When exactly did John appear? Well let me take you through very briefly a line of arguments so you can understand this. John was six months older than Christ; we know that from Luke 1:26. So they were very close to the same age. From our New Testament study, we know that Jesus began His ministry at about the age of 30, so that means, so did John. So putting all that together with the study we did of the survey of the New Testament, and I won't walk you back through all of the reasoning for our dates, it was probably the spring of 26 AD that John appeared in the wilderness. Notice, it says he appeared in the wilderness.

Matthew tells us it was the wilderness of Judea. This was a rugged land that was west of the Jordan and the Dead Sea extending up toward Jerusalem. It began west of the Jordan

and down by the Dead Sea and extended up toward Jerusalem. It was a barren, rugged, desperately dry without vegetation except just scrub brush. In fact, let me give you a little glimpse of what it was like.

That is the Judean wilderness; you see it at a distance. I can tell you up close and personal it is a lot more unfriendly than it even looks in that picture. That's where he shows up. So, verse 4 says, "John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness…." What comes next in verse 4 is a summary of his ministry. It says, "…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

Here is an overview of the ministry of John. Now let's take that apart a little bit. First of all, notice his method. His method was preaching. He appeared preaching. Now the Greek word here is a familiar New Testament word, it's the word "caruso" which simply means" to proclaim as a herald." This was the characteristic of John the Baptist's ministry; he proclaimed as the herald of the King. That's the picture behind this word. This same word, by the way, continues throughout Mark's gospel. It's used of Jesus in Mark 1; look down at verse 14, "Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, [caruso] preaching [crying out as a herald]…."

In fact, Jesus said it was one of the key reasons He came. Look down at verse 38, "He said to [His disciples,] "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby; so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came [to do.]" Jesus chooses His disciples later to do exactly the same thing. Look at chapter 3:14: "And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and… [He chose them so] He could send them out to preach…." Chapter 6:12 you see the same thing: The disciples"…went out and preached that men should repent."

Jesus commanded his followers to preach throughout the whole world, look over at chapter 13:10: "The gospel must first be preached to all the nations." And Jesus assumes that that's going to happen because over in chapter 14:9, He says, "Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her."

Again in chapter 16, He commands that it happen, chapter 16:10: "She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping." That's not the passage I want. There it is verse 15: "…He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to [every creature].'"

You fast forward to the rest of the New Testament and in Paul's letters, intended for pastors, it's commanded of all New Testament elders. We are told in 2 Timothy 4 to "caruso"–"preach the word", and do it when it's popular and do it when it's not. Now I belabor this because this was the method God ordained for John the Baptist, that Jesus used and embraced, that He sent His disciples out to do, that He commanded them to do all around the world, and the Apostle Paul tells every elder to do.

Folks, I realize that I, and to some degree our church, are anachronisms. We are outside of our times living in the past, because preaching has become out of style. But what did Paul tell Timothy: do it when it's in season and do it when it's out of season. This is God's method. God didn't say, "I sent John the Baptist to have a discussion." Understand this was His method, preaching. And it is still God's method.

Now go back to Mark 1, again, and look at verse 4: "…preaching a baptism of repentance…." The key word here is "repentance." The inward requirement that John came insisting upon was repentance. In fact, listen to Matthew's version, Matthew 3:1: "Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying (and here's what he preached) 'Repent….'"

Pretty simple sermon: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

We'll talk more about the second half of that, Lord willing, next week. But what I want you to see here is the stress of his preaching was on the issue of repentance. His preaching wasn't about baptism primarily. When you hear him called John the Baptizer you might think that that was really what he was all about. But his preaching was primarily about the need for repentance.

What is repentance? Well the Greek word for repentance means a change of mind and heart, but a change of mind and heart which is so radical that it leads to a change in the life. And this is clear with the ministry of John the Baptist, John preached repentance. But it's clear that the repentance he required was far more than mere change of mind.

In fact, let's look at Luke's gospel. Because Luke gives us a little fuller account of this message of repentance that John preached. Luke 3:7, right after the prophecy there, you'll see in your Bible there in verses 4 and 5, the same prophecy from Isaiah 40:7 says, "So he began saying to the crowds [this is John] who were going out to be baptized by him, 'You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'"

He says, "You know what; you're like a bunch of snakes running from a wildfire on the plain. Who taught you that that was important? What I want you to do, don't come out here to be baptized by me, I want you [verse 8] …bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' [don't worry about your lineage] for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham." It's no big deal who you're descended from. "Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [And] the crowds, were questioning him, saying," "Okay, you want us to repent; you want us to bear fruits in keeping with repentance, what does that look like? What shall we do?" And here's the kind of answer he would give them. He would say to them, here's repentance: "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none…."

In that day, the poor had one set of clothes or none at all; and the wealthy had two or three and he's saying, "Share with the one that has nothing. And he who has food do the same. Verse 12: "…some tax collectors… came to be baptized, and they said… 'What do we do?' [What does repentance look like for us?] And he said to them, 'Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.'" [There's a radical thought.] "Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, '…what about us, [if we're going to show the fruit of repentance,] what shall we do?' And he said to them, '[Don't] take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and [here's a hard one] be content with your wages.'" That's what repentance looks like for you, he told the soldiers.

So what I want you to see is that the repentance that John was preaching was not just a change of mind, a change of heart about something. It was a change of mind, it was a change of heart but it was such a radical change of heart and mind that it affected how you live and the decisions you make. This was the inward requirement he insisted upon. He came preaching and he came preaching repentance.

But along with this inner requirement, there was an outward sign that John required in his ministry. It was a baptism of repentance. Now understand that the concept of baptism was not new to those in the first century. There were numerous ritual washings that were required of the Jews. If you were going to go up to the temple and you were going to worship then and for various things, you had to take a ritual bath, a ritual immersion bath. In fact, they have found hundreds of these. They're called mikvahs, or ritual immersion baths near the temple. Here's one of them. If you were going to be ritually cleansed you, would come down one side of this, immerse yourself in the water and then you would exit the other side and you were now cleansed, you were now ceremonially, ritually cleansed.

That's probably not the background for John's baptism of repentance. Far more likely it proselyte baptism. By the time of Jesus, if a Gentile wanted to become a true proselyte to Judaism, you said, "I realize that Israel's God is the true God, but I'm not Jewish. How do I get in, with full standing, as a child of the covenant? How do I get there? You had to do three things. The first was Qorban, a sacrifice, a burnt offering. The second was Milah, if you were a man you had to be circumcised, and the third was Tebhilah, or baptism.

When this baptism, this proselyte baptism, took place there were 3 witnesses, usually ordinarily members of the Sanhedrin. The person would cut his hair and his nails, be completely undressed, make the confession of faith, the Shema, the Old Testament Deuteronomy chapter 6, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one (God)!" He would make the confession of his faith, and then he would be immersed completely. Usually, in this case, he would immerse himself so that every part of the body was touched by water. He would go in one side immerse himself fully and step out of the other side. Women were attended by women, but even in that case the Rabbi stood outside the door to make sure they could hear what was happening and that she was, in fact, being baptized. As the proselyte stepped out of the waters to the other side, he was considered in the language of the Rabbi's "a child of one day" or a "little child just born".

This wasn't so much spiritual renewal, but it symbolized a new earthly life and a new relationship to the God of Israel. That was proselyte baptism. And into that background comes John and John's baptism. John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. If you take it in the context of proselyte baptism, which most scholars are prone to do, and I certainly think this is true. Then what John was doing was a proselyte baptism for Jews.

John was saying this, you may be Jewish, but that doesn't matter. Remember what we just read? Listen, God can raise up these stones to be Jewish; that doesn't count for anything. He was saying the fact that you were Jewish doesn't mean that you are any closer to the kingdom than Gentiles. If you want to truly be a part of the true Israel and prepare for the Messiah, then you need proselyte baptism. You need to be baptized into becoming a true son of Israel, just like the Gentile does. It was the ultimate admission of sin, and of a pattern of sin and an unworthiness to be a part of true believing Israel and a lack of preparation for the coming Messiah, the lack of privilege to belong. It was a demonstration of complete repentance. It was really a precursor of Jesus words in Matthew chapter 5 when He issued that first beatitude, "Blessed are the (what?) the poor in spirit." The beggars in spirit, those who recognize they have nothing to plead before God. That's what proselyte baptism in John's case for Jewish people meant. It meant this Jewish person renounced every privilege he thought he had, like Paul in Philippians 3, and said I have nothing; I deserve nothing from God but His wrath; I need to start all over again if I'm going to ready for Messiah's coming. It was true repentance.

I, also, should mention according to Acts 19, John's baptism wasn't Christian baptism. When Paul discovered that there were those in Ephesus who had been baptized with John's baptism he instructed them, and then had them re-baptized with Christian baptism.

Understand though that John wasn't the only one [that] Jesus and His disciples baptized. John 4:2, though, says that Jesus Himself was not doing the baptizing. Instead, He was authorizing His disciples to do it, this same kind of baptism. So that is the cultural background of the baptism that John was doing. The Jews did it to show that a Gentile was repudiating his old life and becoming attached to Israel and Israel's God. John came along and did the same thing, but he argued that even the Jews needed it, and that it must be accompanied by genuine repentance. John only baptized those who were already repentant.

So he preached repentance and he sealed that repentance of the heart with an outward sign, the sign of proselyte baptism. You need to become a true Jew, which you are not. The spiritual result you'll notice back in verse 4, says "for the forgiveness of sins." D. Edmond Hiebert writes, "The physical rite itself did not produce this spiritual result. But submission to the baptism as the outward testimony of personal repentance was the condition for receiving the divine forgiveness." How could such forgiveness be possible? How could God take these people who like us were such sinners, on what basis could they become the child of the day, could they start over again, could they bury the old life in the waters of that proselyte Jewish baptism and come out a true Jew who loved the Lord his God and was preparing for Messiah to come? On what basis could that happen? Turn with me to John 1, because John himself explains it to us. John 1:29, "The next day John saw Jesus coming to him and he said this, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

John got it. He understood that he was preaching repentance. But the only way that the repentant person could enjoy forgiveness wasn't because they were repentant. They didn't earn forgiveness because they were repentant any more than you and I earn God's forgiveness by being repentant or by believing. The only basis on which they were redeemed is the same basis on which we are redeemed and that is the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb, the One who carries away the sin of the world: Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah.

You see John's message was very much New Testament, even while he was the last Old Testament prophet because just as all of those Old Testament prophets did, just as Isaiah did, so John came with this message. Listen, you better repent. You're going to prepare for the Messiah? You're going to be ready for His coming? You need to repent. And if you'll repent, on the basis of the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God who will carry away the sins of the world, you can be redeemed. That's the same message we have today, isn't it? That's the message each of us or many of us have embraced. Our only hope is to turn from our sins in repentance. By the way, repentance became the message of the book of Acts after the death of Christ, after the resurrection, at Pentecost and beyond Peter says, "Repent." And then he tells them to be baptized as well, as the outward symbol. So John's baptism was not Christian baptism but it was a precursor because it testified to the same thing.

Folks, Jesus' credentials are authentic credentials because of the prophesy, because the prophesy was fulfilled. The messenger came and he said; "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He's coming; here He is. He must increase, but what? I must decrease." The messenger came. The word of God is settled. The last prophecy of the Old Testament was fulfilled in this man who did nothing but preach: get ready He's coming; get ready He's coming; repent; prepare your hearts; there He is. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Those of you who are here tonight who are believers, that's where your hope is. I hope as we go through this gospel you're reminded again and afresh that your hope is the same place those first century Jews listening to John the Baptist message was. The Messiah is coming back, and your only hope is that you have repented and by the grace of God the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb has been credited to you, and His righteousness as well. If you're here and you don't know Jesus Christ, this is the Apostle Peter's message through Mark to you. He is the Messiah, He's the One promised and He came to do exactly what the Old Testament prophecy said He would, to die in the place of sinners. What are you going to do with Jesus? That's another question Mark asks and answers as we flow through this letter. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we thank You for this wonderful account that reminds us again that our Lord was clearly authenticated by the Old Testament, by what it predicted, even the great prophecy of the messenger who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah, this amazing man. A man, that our Lord said, was the greatest man who had lived to that time. Lord, we thank you for the authenticity of our Lord's credentials. He is who He claimed, and You made that clear. Help us to respond in faith, and help those who know Christ, who love Him, who have repented, who have believed, who have left the old life behind to pursue Him. Lord may we be better followers of Christ this week. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.