“… One More Powerful …”
12/10/2017, Second Sunday of Advent
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
God of peace, be with us in our Advent journey, to the stable and beyond;
be with us in our meeting, and in our travelling together;
be with us in our worship, and our praying together;
be with us in our Advent journey, to the manger and beyond;
our God of peace, be with us. Amen.
On this Second Sunday of Advent, the traditional theme is Peace. The Hebrew word for this Peace is “Shalom”, which we find in words like Jeru–Salem (which, as always, is in deep need of peace).
Last week we read from the Gospel According to John, which has no Birthday-of-Jesus story; the closest John’s Gospel has is when he says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. And this week we read from the Gospel According to Mark, which doesn’t even come that close! No star; no manger; no shepherds; no angels; no magi; no “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes”.
Today’s Advent reading offers such peace, perfect peace, peace that passes understanding. And today’s Advent reading offers us an opportunity to experience that peace through “One More Powerful” than all the chaos and fear we experience every day.
Hear the Word of God from one of Jesus’ first followers, as we read Mark 1:1-8 …. —-
1 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 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.” (NIV)
The Gospel According to Mark is both the shortest of the four Gospels and the oldest. Scholars think that probably Matthew and Luke used Mark as a general Gospel-writing guide and as a primary source document, and then John came along and wrote his Gospel in an entirely different manner. But Mark does something different from all of the other the other Gospel-writers.
Ancient writings, generally, started in one of two ways: either they declare the purpose of the book (look at Luke as a prime example – “an accurate account of the work and teaching of Jesus Christ”), or they jump straight into the main subject of the book (Matthew’s “The genealogy of Jesus Christ”). Mark does both! (“The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”)
Verse 1 is almost a Title of the Gospel. Let’s invest some time there, and then we’ll take that opening verse through the rest of this opening paragraph.
Just like John, and Genesis for that matter, Mark starts off with “the beginning”. Is he reminding us of God’s active role in history? God created the heavens and the earth, and now in the age when the Gospel is made manifest, the Son of God becomes human. The Greek word used here, arch, suggests that not only is this the start of the story, it’s also the origin, the cause of the whole thing. This is the “beginning” of the fulfillment of God’s everlasting Word!
“The beginning of the Gospel….” The NIV says, “The beginning of the Good News….” That’s what “Gospel” means. Eu-aggelion. But this is not good news like, “It’s a snow day, no school tomorrow!” Not like, “Good news, we get out of worship early enough to beat the Baptists to the restaurant!” This is Good News beside which there is no comparison. Let’s come back to this “Gospel–Good News” in just a minute.
“The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus ….” This is not a new religion, with a whole new set of truths to be taught or a set of doctrines to be believed. This Good News is a bout a person! His name is Jesus. He was born, we learn elsewhere, in Bethlehem in the days of Quirinius and Herod the Great.
“The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ ….” The Messiah. The Old Testament promised-Savior.
“The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God ….” Not just any person. Not just another prophet. Not even “the” prophet! No! This is Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God! The ultimate Savior! Matthew and Luke both give genealogies detailing Jesus’ lineage, and they both tell us that Mary His mother was a virgin, and that God Himself is the Father. And John tells us that this One who is “with God and who is God … dwelt among us, and to all who believe Him and receive Him, He gives the right to be called children of God!”
Now let’s go back to that word “eu–aggelion”, “Gospel”, “Good News”.
Mark continues, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah ….” The phrase, “it is written” carries with it the weight of full authority. “It is written” designates the authority of a king or magistrate. “It is written in the Prophet Isaiah” designates the authority of God, for Isaiah is thought of as the Prophet among prophets. The fact is that what Mark quotes only partially comes from Isaiah. It also comes from Moses and Malachi! But putting it under the words of Isaiah signifies that it is God’s authoritative Word of truth (and, frankly, all four Gospels quote from Isaiah 40:3 here, including Mark).
Have you ever read a sign or a note that had misplaced a comma or a semi-colon? “Motorcycles Take Caution”. Well, do they really? That road sign needs a comma in order for it to be the command it is meant to be: “Motorcycles, (comma) Take Caution!” The more famous one says, “Let’s eat Gramma.” Right? It needs a comma!
Isaiah writes: “A voice of one calling, (comma) ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…’”
Mark writes: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, (notice how the comma moved) ‘Prepare the way of the Lord….’”
Is the voice calling in the wilderness? Or is the voice telling us to go to the wilderness?
And who is this voice? Is it the Elijah that Malachi tells us about? And notice what the voice says (I have, personally, always gotten this wrong until this year). It does not say, “Prepare a way for the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior.” It says, “Prepare the way for the Lord! For YHWH! For God!”
Remember that this is about the “Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” Just like John so poetically says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!” So Mark prosaically says, “The beginning of the Gospel of (the person) Jesus (who is the) Christ, (who is) the Son of God.” He now claims that He is, indeed, God Himself! The content of the Good News, the Gospel, is Jesus! And Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us!
Three times Mark uses the image of “the Way”. John the Baptist comes as the forerunner who proclaims the Gospel-Good News that Jesus, the Son of God, Emmanuel, is the Way of Salvation; He is the Way of Eternal peace, Shalom with God, Shalom with neighbors, Shalom with self.
And he says that he is declaring the Presence of … One More powerful … than I! This one will baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit! – that is a right, and an ability, that belongs exclusively to God!
All of this is to state that this Christ-event, Christmas, the incarnation, the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God, Emmanuel, is not a random arbitrary last-resort occurrence! It has been in the works since the dawn of Salvation history, since Moses and the Exodus, since Abraham and the covenant, since Adam and Eve and the Creation of all that is. This is the consummation of a purpose-driven history of revelation from God Almighty.
Therefore, God has been preparing for this new beginning in Jesus Christ from the time of Moses and the Prophets!
The Advent application for us is simply to become aware of the “Wilderness” we are in.
In this desert-place, can we hear the voice of one calling?
Is it time for our new beginning, in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, Emmanuel?
If you need that kind of Peace today, it is yours for the taking, regardless of the wildness of your desert storm. God with us, revealed in us, Emmanuel, Emmanuel. Amen.
Edwards, James R.; The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark; Eerdmans; Grand Rapids, MI; 2002; Pp. 23-33.