|The 'Beginning' of the Gospel
September 26 / 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" ó
"a voice of one calling in the desert,
ĎPrepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.í"
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 camelís 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" (Mark 1:1-8)
Every story, whether fact or fiction, has a starting point. There is always a place of "beginning."
John as the Beginning Point
In order to tell Jesusí story so as to invite others to be his disciples, John Mark chooses the work of John the Baptist as his starting point. He is by no means the only person who saw Johnís work at the launch vehicle for what Jesus said and did. When Paul preached the gospel in Antioch of Pisidia, he told of John the Baptist as he started to unfold the facts about Jesus (Acts 13:23-24). And Peter, John Markís example and mentor, began his story of Jesus to the Roman centurion named Cornelius with an account of the preaching of John the Baptist (Acts 10:36-38).
John Mark, then, is not alone in thinking that an appropriate "beginning" to the gospel is the person and work of John the Baptist. Why? And what can we learn from this?
Johnís work effectively framed the ministry of Jesus because it was a ministry that focused on repentance and the kingdom of God. The "kingdom of God" was a positive hope about something better in the future, and "repentance" was the reaction to an inferior present situation. The "kingdom of God" was life as it is meant to be, and "repentance" is the acknowledgment that life as I am living it now is a disaster.
The Jews to whom John preached certainly didnít believe their life situation was ideal. They were living under the oppressive boot of Rome. They had only what freedoms the Romans chose to give them ó and those could be taken away on a whim. They paid burdensome taxes and were at the mercy of tax collectors who would cheat them of more than they were justly due to collect. For most of the heartsick and poor Jews who heard John preach, the kingdom would be a dynamic Messiah who would kick the Romans out of their homeland and restore the splendor of Kings David and Solomon to Israel. To their minds, history was at a crisis point. It was time for something to happen. Something had to happen.
Various Beginning Points
Have you ever been at such a point in your own life? Are you there today? The point of "beginning" with Jesus Christ varies from person to person.
For some of us, the beginning of the gospel was in our families of origin. We were fortunate enough to have godly fathers and mothers who not only told us Bible stories at bedtime but taught us that the meaning of life is found in those stories. They were examples of Christian character. They loved and nurtured us. They pointed us to Jesus. Others of you didnít have parents who led you to Christ. It might have been a Sunday School teacher or a neighbor who cared about you. Thank God for people who mold and shape the life attitudes and faith of young people!
My impression is that more and more people these days are getting to be teens and adults without the early introduction to Jesus I had. Some of those teens get into trouble of one sort or another. Some of those people begin their adult years behind bars. Others arenít in jail but they are in hopeless relationships or have made such serious moral blunders that they are starting their adult lives with two strikes against them. If the gospel ever has effective contact with that person, it will be in the context of crisis or stress, weakness or doubt.
In the year to eighteen months ahead, we are going to redouble our efforts to reach hurting, doubting, searching people with the message of Jesus. Our plan is not to flood the city with tracts or to spend two million dollars on TV ads. We are going to encourage you to be sensitive to someone God will put in your life who needs a Savior. Your burden will not be to convert that person but to model the life-changing gospel to him and to draw him to a teaching circle that will expose him to the message of Christ.
Is there one empty chair in your small group that could be open to someone who doesnít know Christ but who does know some of your group members well enough to be open to an invitation to study the Gospel of Mark with you? Or is there a discouraged believer or disconnected family you can draw into your group? Would you spend just a few minutes praying about the possibility the next time you meet?
Is there one person you can think to invite to our Ministry Fair on October 3 just to see what your church is all about? Next Sunday weíll have a out on the front lawn with ministry booths set up by practically every specialized ministry at Woodmont Hills. For those of you who want information about a particular outreach of this church, this is your chance. If you know someone who is curious about who we are and what we do, this is their chance.
Would you consider being a mentor person or mentor family to one of the thirty persons CCSI has committed to partner with in October? We have partnered with Shrader Lane to form this ministry whose goal is to help struggling families and single parents get on their feet, out of the poverty cycle, and into a self-reliant lifestyle. We received a call from Washington a few weeks ago about this effort. It stands to be a model of what some are calling "faith-based initiatives" for helping the poor. But we still need a half-dozen or more mentors who will commit to the coming year.
Is there someone who comes to mind who might join us for what is going to be called Gathering 2000 ó that fantastic first Sunday of the year 2000 ó when we will worship with Christians from all over Nashville in the Gaylord Entertainment Center and hear Michael Graves preach Christ? We are going to start the new year, new century, and new millennium with an affirmation of Jesus Christ to our city. From 4 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. on January 2, 2000, we are going to turn an 18,000-seat arena into one huge gathering of Christians across denominational and racial lines. We are going to affirm that there is more in Jesus that unites us than there are differences in doctrine, organization, and history that divide us. In the process, many of the churches involved have committed to combine our total offerings for that day to try to raise half a million dollars or more to help the poor of this city.
Or maybe you want to begin praying now for some people you will invite to the Billy Graham Crusade to be held at Nashvilleís new professional football stadium June 1-4, 2000. Although I typically donít get very excited about big-event evangelism, this one is different for me. For one thing, it will be a concrete way for the churches together on January 2, 2000, to carry through with our commitment to work together in Jesusí name in our city. This stands to be the final crusade in which Billy Graham will be able to preach. His age and failing health make many think this will be his final event of this sort. The sheer novelty of such a week is likely to bring out thousands of people who arenít going to show up at any of our churches in Nashville. They will come, Dr. Graham will preach the thesis that every life needs Jesus, and many will respond to "make a decision for Jesus Christ." When they do so, a high percentage of them will ask to be counseled and instructed by people out of a Church of Christ background. Iím going to help with that process and will be asking scores of you to join me.
Donít think in terms of "movements" and "events." Think in terms of one person to love, pray for, and help expose to the gospel. Pay particular attention to that one person in times of particular stress and vulnerability. You will be showing the heart of Jesus to her and preparing her heart for the sowing of gospel seed in it.
Permit me to let you in on a little secret about John the Baptist. Shortly after he baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, he was arrested, imprisoned, and put to death. During the personal ordeal of his imprisonment, John began to have doubts about Jesus ó and thus about himself. Had he been wrong? Had he blessed the wrong man? Had he failed God with his life? So from his cell he sent some friends to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Matt. 11:3). I suppose John was still under the impression that the kingdom of God would be chariots, horses, armies, and conquest. And Jesus was simply continuing to preach Johnís message of kingdom nearness and showing compassion to lepers, deaf persons, and the poor (Matt. 11:4-5).
How could God have used somebody with Johnís doubts and disappointments? The same way he can use you and me with all our misgivings and problems! I want to be someoneís beginning point for knowing Christ. What about you?
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