Thursday, August 20, 2015

Christ is returning - Are you getting ready?

This message was preached Aug. 19th, 2015 at the Heritage Baptist Church in Greenwood, Il.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.  (Mark 1:1-8)

As an introduction to the book of Mark, I would like first of all point out that this is a Gospel account.  The gospels are the narrative record of the words & works of Jesus Christ while He was here with us.  It is the historical accounting of all those activities and teachings which God knew necessary to explain himself to us.  It is not the record of all the deeds and words of Christ.  We know this from the statement of John in chapter 21 verse 25 of his gospel, – there are many things we have not been privy to know. 

This is not to say that we see Christ only in the Gospels.  For we see Christ in the pages of Genesis chapter 1 in the act of creation. And we see Him in Revelation, 22:20, wherein He testifies to us “Surely I come quickly”. We should be seeing Christ in every corner of the Book. 

This Gospel account is written down by Mark, and by the unanimous testimony of many theologians the theme of it is to Disclose or Unveil the Suffering Servant.  The early Church’s testimony was that Mark was close to Peter and that the content is of Peter.  Papias asserts in 140 AD that Mark was recording the messages of Peter.  Justin Martyr calls it the “Memoirs of Peter” 

As to the date of writing, we can be sure it was before the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, due to Christ’s prediction on the Temple in chapter 13 verse 2, but beyond that there is considerable debate even in the early church. 

The key verse for the book is Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  This key verse not only summarizes the book nicely, it very nearly splits the book into its 2 greatest divisions, His ministry of healing and teaching, and the giving of his life a ransom for many.

Immediately in the book, Mark quotes the prophets. In Mal. 3:1a, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me. In Isa. 40:3, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Mark points us to the prophets Malachi and Isaiah, who in turn point us to John the Baptist, who himself points us to Christ. In our passage we see that the message conveyed is that we need to get ready!  John the Baptists message is just that! Prepare the way of the LORD!  We know what that looks like…

What happens when the President or some dignitary is to arrive in Chicago?  The whole city is in a whirl.  Streets are blocked off.  Secret Service arrive ahead of them.  And no one gets access apart from a screening.  Indeed – sometimes by invitation only could you be in the throng!  

But what would you do?  The queen of England is coming to Chicago, and you have the invite.  Get ready!  One doesn’t arrive in shabby or dirty clothes, does he?  It would be completely out of place. 

When we know the boss is going to be in the office, we work differently, right?  Yet if we change our habits and appearance for such as these, how much more the LORD of the whole universe!  The question we must ask ourselves is How are we to prepare?  This is the heart of the matter. To do that we must examine three doctrinal phrases and topics. 

1. What is the ‘baptism of repentance’ (v. 4)?  Considering the whole of the phrase, “preach the baptism of repentance” we must at once see that it is a message which is preached, so the ‘baptism of repentance’ must be in the context of a message.   We do tend to immediately seize upon some words, and especially those which carry rich theology and the word baptism is one of them.  The student of the Bible, while immersed in the Scripture must always first bring to bear the immediate context – and after a careful study and understanding, begin to look at those greater contexts of the book, the testament, and the whole Bible.  Always the various spheres will agree.  When we see an apparent discrepancy our conclusion should be that there is a lack in our understanding of the texts and contexts at hand.  We need to sharpen our understanding if possible at that time.  We never sit in judgment of the Scripture – always it judges us, as we see from Hebrews 4:12.

The preached message of the ‘baptism of repentance’ which John did proclaim is a message and therefore not concerned with water.  In order to grasp that immediate context, we must look at the words defined.  The Greek word Baptizo is means at root ‘to overwhelm, to immerse, to submerge’.  Now here is the sense of verse 4, we might render the verse more plainly, John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins.  Two other translations are interesting, YLT, “John came baptizing in the wilderness, and proclaiming a baptism of reformation -- to remission of sins” and the Geneva, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of amendment of life, for remission of sins.  In other words the message of John was to cause the hearers to be overwhelmed of their need to repent! The actual practice of such daily repentance – looking to the seed which is to come, and which we know as Christ – is the remission of sins! But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  We need to know what that means.

2 Secondly, the Scripture tells us to look to the messenger.  John, we read in verse 4, preached a message of repentance for the remission of sins.  How should we understand this?

Was this a new message? Didn’t the blood of bulls and goats suffice at that time?  It couldn’t be, for Hebrews 10:4 tells us, For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.  The phrase ‘take away’ referring to sins in Hebrews 10:4 is the same root word as is translated remission in our passage in Mark.  Hebrews 10:4 is our proof text.

Yet it is quite helpful to go beyond the proof text – not that it is invalid on its own.  But there are some doctrinal matters so deep that we can go to many places Scripturally to see why Hebrews 10:4 is true, and in doing so, we will be enriched.

John Gill’s note on Mark 1:4 is quite useful at this point.  He says,

not for the obtaining the remission of sins, as if either repentance, or baptism, were the causes of pardon of sin; but the sense is, that John preached that men should repent of their sins, and believe in Christ, who was to come; and upon their repentance and faith, be baptized; in which ordinance, they might be led to a fresh view of the free and full forgiveness of their sins, through Christ; whose blood was to be shed for many, to obtain it 

Gill references the message of Peter in Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Loraine Boettner also informs us on this in his discourse on The Atonement,

“He died not merely a corporal death, but a particular kind of death in which he experienced in detail the severity of the divine vengeance against sin. By paralleling even the Old Testament ritual for the sin-offering it was made plain that He was our sin-bearer.”  

We need only read Isaiah 53 to see this in vivid detail.  No animal could suffer as a man.  Animal sacrifice, at this point barely even pictures the propitiatory and sacrificial death of Christ. 

There is an interesting discussion among theologians about the kind of debt mankind owed to God.  I really don’t want to delve all that deeply into the discussion, but I think it would be helpful if we consider that debt.  I am myself deeply indebted to Ray Comfort and the Living Waters ministry, as to evangelistic method and apologetics.  One of the frequent arguments used is that of owing a large fine, and having someone step in to pay that fine.  As long as we do not take it too far it is a good argument.  However it does fall into the trap the theologians are dealing with. 

The debt we owe to God is not a fine, which one pictures like paying a speeding ticket.  The debt we owe is not pecuniary in nature.  It is penal.  The penalty for sin is death.  One cannot pay with some other medium of exchange, like money to get free. Death must be rendered. To be fair to Ray, he regularly also speaks of the suffering death of the Savior to pay for our sins.  Someone must suffer.  This is another reason the blood of bulls and goats can never remit sin. 

The Old Testament book of Micah expresses the futility of the sacrificial system in 6:6-7, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?!  Sin is so deeply imbedded we have no offering which we could bring – no matter the source, yet here, even in the old dispensation, it was known that the blood of bulls and goats will not satisfy. 

3 And here we reach our third doctrinal matter. The blood of bulls and goats will not satisfy.  But it does cover – consider the fact that the first blood ever shed for sin was that of animals, and by the very hand of God, to provide skins for Adam and Eve.  So perhaps when we think of such sacrifices – it is to the horror of the cost of sin – not the satisfying nature of it.  For it has none except that which poorly pointed to the satisfying blood sacrifice of our Savior.

One of the things blood speaks of is found in Leviticus 17:11 which states, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” So now we have this word atonement presented to us.
In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for atonement expresses the idea of covering sin or the sinner.  C. I. Scofield has a very helpful note on Exodus 29:33 which says,

“The English word "atonement" (at-one-ment) is not a translation of the Hebrew kaphar, but a translator's interpretation.    According to Scripture, the legal sacrifice "covered" the offerer's sin and secured the divine forgiveness; according to the translators it made God and the sinner at-one. But the O.T. sacrifices did not at-one the sinner and God.

Here Scofield quotes our verse in Hebrews, "It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins." Continuing on,

The Israelite's offering implied confession of sin and of its due desert, death; and God "covered" (passed over) his sin, in anticipation of Christ's sacrifice, which did, finally, "put away" the sins "done aforetime in the forbearance of God.” Romans 3:25

And this is exactly what we might expect from the very beginning.  As we learn in Genesis where we see that even in the very order of those events, the Proto-evangelium comes first in Genesis 3:15, and only afterward does God shed the blood for skins for a covering in anticipation of Christ in verse 21! 

So when John Gill comments on verse 4, “that John preached that men should repent of their sins, and believe in Christ, who was to come” his comments have a certainty, and John’s baptism is then a pointing to Christ.

Mark now quotes directly John in verses 7-8, “And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.  8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” 

People tend to get caught up in the moment and confuse the messenger with the Savior.  John’s statement serves to redirect men to look to Christ.  We have this banner here behind me, “Behold the Lamb of God” for that very reason.  Even John the apostle himself became confused in Rev. 19:10 when he attempted to worship an angel. 

But how do John the Baptists comments augment our understanding?  We are dealing with preparing the way and making paths straight and while Malachi tells us that the messenger will prepare the way, Isaiah tells us John’s message is that we prepare the way.  I could say it differently – How John prepares the way, is to point us to Christ by telling us to ‘get prepared’!  We are to prepare the way of the LORD.

And this is done by baptism and confession of sins.  These things do not do anything in and of themselves – no work a man could do would be sufficient.  But, as they are in faith – in the blood of the Savior to pay for our sins, they are effective.  The ancients were to look forward to the Christ.  Our look is backward to the Cross and Christ.  As we see the cross we see that everything anticipated is achieved.  He said, “It is Finished!” Now in saying that we must realize that this is a theological achievement. There remains a completion in history, as we are reminded in Revelation, “Surely I come quickly.

Part of the preparation for the Lord is that act of coming to Christ the 1st time for salvation.  And while atonement is a one-time accomplished fact in Christ – now, having been redeemed we live his life before men.  Galatians 2:20 is an appropriate verse at this time.  “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Did you ever consider how much your life should point to Christ?  Our lives – in both word and deed ought to point to people to the Savior.  I do not believe the idea that the church, in a political sense is bringing in the Kingdom.  But it cannot be denied that as we fulfill the command to “Be holy as I am holy” Men will be moved to consider Christ.  It cannot be denied that as a Church, we are the bride of Christ.

What does a bride do on her wedding day?  On that day, and for weeks, even months before, she is getting ready for the Day!  Matthew 25:1-11 is the parable of the ten virgins.  Five were wise, preparing by getting oil for their lamps, 5 were foolish.  Lazy and unprepared they had no oil and only after the Bridegroom arrived, did they see the folly of their laziness. 

We are the Bride of Christ!  Our anticipation is that he is coming again!  What are you doing to prepare for the supper?!  Matthew 22:1-14 is another parable of a marriage feast.  In verse 11 we read of one who was not dressed properly.  He was cast out. 

The Kingdom of heaven is AT HAND!  Are you preparing?!  Get ready – Christ Returneth, Hallelujah Amen!  The parable of the marriage feast ends with a profundity – Many are called, but few are chosen.  Yet while we might ponder the profundity, let’s not stumble over the obvious.  We need not wonder who the chosen are – they are the ones who are preparing and making themselves ready for the feast.  Repent!  The Kingdom of heaven is at HAND!

Do you see yourself as unprepared?  Get prepared.  Get ready! Now I hope that I have not left you hopeless, and I hope this final word will encourage you as you seek to do all for the kingdom.  John stated in verse 8 that, “he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”  This is that Comforter.  That Helper promised to us.  We are not left alone to do our preparation.  Christ has given us His Spirit. John 14:16 states, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.

And he has called us friends.  John 15:13-15 says, “Greater love hath no man than this –that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”

In John 13 we read of Christs washing the disciple’s feet.  This is a fitting passage to close with.  "Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean." (John 13:9-11)

As we go to prayer in a few minutes can I encourage us to do a little self-examination? John’s message to repent was given to a people who had a long tradition of belief.  Judaism is rich with Scripture and a history and these people could be said to be like ourselves.  We have a 2000 year history in the Church.  Just like the Jews, we have our peculiar denominations.  So when we hear the call to repent, we do need to see that it applies to our case just as it did to the Jews. 

Some here need to know the Savior.  You may not even have had your head & hands washed, to use the metaphor of Peter.  You are trusting in your own goodness before a perfectly Holy God.  Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” You need to repent! Do you think that you can stand?  You cannot!  You have not come to trust the Savior in faith.  You need to respond to the Spirits call upon your life! 
Some need their feet washed. That would probably include the majority here this evening.  The dirt of the world has once again dirtied our hearts, minds, and feet.  We’ve again turned to idols from the living God.  Repent!  Turn again and do those things which you did when you first believed!  Let us all ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord!’


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