Have you ever taken the time to look back on the changes God has made in you since you were born again? Over the years, God brought people into your life who helped to mentor you toward spiritual maturity. It may have been parents, pastors, relatives, teachers or friends who were a godly influence on your life. Over time, you learned to pray, to study the Bible, to worship the Lord, to speak for the Lord, and to change your behavior to become more like Jesus. Thank God for those who made a difference in your life.
Now consider this odd question: Did Jesus have to go through that process? In Luke 2:52, we learn that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” We are baffled by the fact that Jesus grew as a human because He is and has always been God. But these things did happen. In God’s plan, the eternal Son of God was born as a human baby, grew up into an adult, and, during his experience on earth, learned to be what God the Father intended Him to be.
How could God learn or be trained to become “Christ-like?” It sounds strange, but that is what happened to Jesus in His early years. But He was not alone in this preparation. In Mark 1:1-15, we are made aware of people and events that prepared Jesus to begin His earthly ministry in Israel. God the Father used the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, the Father’s own announcement, and the Spirit’s training in the wilderness to ready Jesus for His ministry to sinful and needy people. With these influences, Jesus was completely equipped to begin His ministry.
This morning, we will look at the first two who were sent by God the Father to prepare the way for Jesus.
- The prophets announced His preparation (1:1-3).
It is interesting to think that God used people from the past to prepare for Jesus to arrive on earth. Some of those whom God used were prophets whose writings are recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. Mark quotes two passages regarding the messenger who would prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival. These verses are from Malachi and Isaiah.
Malachi 3:1 – “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
In this prophetic passage, Malachi records what God had promised to do. He was going to send a messenger who would prepare the way for the Lord’s future appearance. After this time of preparation, the Lord would arrive.
Isaiah 40:3 – “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
In this prophetic passage, Isaiah tells us that there would be a voice crying out in the wilderness. It seems strange that a voice would be heard where few people live. But his message would be heard and it revolved around preparing the way for the Lord. God Himself would arrive and the people should make ready for His appearance.
These prophetic verses were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. But they talk about both His coming ministry and the ministry of a messenger who would prepare the way before Him. “Roads in the east were generally poorly maintained. A coming king would send ahead of him a representative to assure that the roads had been adequately prepared.”4 This is what this promised messenger would do. “He was to remove hindrances in the hearts of the people so that they would be ready to receive ‘the coming one.'”4
Who was this promised messenger?
- John the Baptist prepared for His coming (1:4-8).
John the Baptist was the messenger promised by Malachi and Isaiah. You can read more about his birth and ministry in the Gospel of Luke (1:5-25, 59-80; 3:1-22). Mark tells us about his message, lifestyle, and announcement about Jesus.
His message revolved around repentance (4-5).
Although he was in the wilderness, John had a productive ministry to the people in Judea near Jerusalem. He called on the people to repent so that their sins could be remitted. To show their repentance, each one was called upon to be baptized.
There are two thoughts here in John’s preaching:
Repentance – If you saw someone in the street and he looked at you sternly and yelled, “Repent!,” what would your response be? What would he be telling you to do? Repentance is “a turn about, a deliberate change of mind resulting in a change of direction in thought and behavior.”1 John was telling the people to turn from their sinful thoughts, words, and behavior to God. Repentance affects the mind (which others can’t see) and speech and behavior (which others can see). When someone sees himself from God’s perspective, he has a choice to continue in sin or turn from it to God.
Baptism – It would be easy to look at John’s baptism the same way we look at Christian baptism today. But to the Jewish people, it was different. “John’s baptism was no innovation since the Jews required Gentiles wanting to be admitted into Judaism to be baptized by self-immersion. The startling new element was that John’s baptism was designed for God’s covenant people, the Jews, and it required their repentance in view of the coming Messiah.”1 So, baptism was an outward, public action that showed others that they were serious about their repentance from sin. It was also a baptism unto remission of sins. In other words, this repentance brought them to a place where they would be ready to meet Jesus, the One who would grant forgiveness for their sins.
His lifestyle was different (6).
I recently saw a video of someone supposedly passing out gospel literature on the sidewalk. When people refused to take his pamphlets, he would kick them and make them take them. Do you think that would be a good idea? Would people take the gospel more seriously if you kicked them? I don’t think that would be a good idea.
Now consider how John’s lifestyle affected his message. His lifestyle was not something we would choose to follow, but you can be sure that it got the attention of the people to whom he spoke.
He wore odd clothes.
Did you notice how John the Baptist dressed? He wore clothing made from camel’s hair held together by a leather belt. Mark doesn’t mention it, but he may have been under the Nazirite vow as the angel said he would not drink wine or strong drink (Luke 1). If so, he would have been even more startling to see. Nazirites refrained from all alcoholic beverages, would not cut their hair, and would not touch a dead body (Num. 6:3-7).
He ate odd food.
He also ate locusts and wild honey. While these supposedly “were the common diet in desert regions”2 it seems strange for Mark to make mention of them as if it were different than what normal people ate. I think this shows us what John the Baptist was willing to endure as he sought to do God’s will.
He was like Elijah.
While not mentioned here in Mark’s gospel, other places in the Bible say that John the Baptist was like Elijah. When you consider how John dressed, you would not be wrong to think of Elijah considering how that prophet was described.
2 Kings 1:7-8 – “Then he said to them, ‘What kind of man was it who came up to meet you and told you these words?’ So they answered him, ‘A hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’”
Jesus also noted this similarity. During a longer discourse about John the Baptist, Jesus said, “If you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matt. 11:14). “John the Baptist’s ministry was marked by ‘the spirit and power of Elijah’ (Luke 1:17), fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi 4:5–6.”3 Consider these verses below:
Luke 1:17 – “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Malachi 4:5–6 – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
Elijah was a great prophet used by God to turn the hearts of Israel from Baal worship to the One, true God at Mount Carmel. While we may get stuck on his odd appearance, these Scripture prophecies show how great his mission was. Like Elijah, he would preach with great power and people would be turned from their sin to the Lord. Their repentance would be evident in their changed hearts before the Lord appeared on the earth.
His preaching announced Jesus’ coming (7-8).
From these verses, we learn that John knew his place. He was the messenger not the Messiah. So that the people would not attach themselves to him, John announced the coming of Jesus. He said three things about Him. (1) Jesus was mightier than John. (2) John did not feel worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal strap. (3) Jesus’ baptism would be better than John’s as it would include the Holy Spirit.
John did a good job of preparing the way for Jesus. God used his message to convict people of their sinfulness and need to repent and turn to God. But he also made it clear that he was not the important figure; he was only there to prepare people for Jesus. After some time, John’s work began to come to a close and Jesus was introduced to the world.
Before we move on, let’s consider something that we can learn from the ministry of John the Baptist. Remember two things about him: (1) He preached repentance, and (2) he pointed people to Jesus. This ought to be instructive for every Christian. We often want people to like us when speaking the gospel to them. This often shapes our discussion to avoid anything that would possibly turn off the person we are speaking to. But is this what we should be doing? If we follow the example of John the Baptist (and later Jesus), we will preach repentance from sin and point people toward Jesus no matter how they respons. Think about it for a minute. Why would someone be convinced that he needed to be saved if he didn’t first understand God’s opinion of his sinfulness? As you speak to others, be sure to include the need for repentance. Without it, our gospel will not be complete. But as you “preach” repentance, be sure to point the person to Jesus—the solution to their sinfulness.
After this sermon, we will be observing the Lord’s Supper. It is a time where we Christians are reminded of what Jesus did on the cross for us. As we eat the bread, we are reminded that He gave His body to be broken for us. As we drink the grape juice, we are reminded that He gave His blood to pay the price for our sins. These are the things the prophets and John the Baptist were preparing people for. The announcement of God’s coming plan and the preaching of repentance prepared the hearts of the people to believe what Jesus eventually did for them on the cross.
I wonder if God has brought you to the place where you see your own sinfulness to God. All of us, including me, are sinners. We have broken God’s laws and done things that God would be just to condemn us for and send us to Hell. Our first response needs to be repentance—a change of mind about our sin, accepting full responsibility for it, and agreeing with God that we are wrong. When we come to that place, we will be ready to understand what Jesus did on the cross for us. He, the perfect Son of God, took our place and died in our place so that God could be just in forgiving our sins. This is why John the Baptist preached repentance to the Jewish people so long ago. This is why I am preaching repentance to you today as well. Now let me ask you an important question: Have you repented of your sin against God and believed Jesus. If not, will you today?
1 Grassmick 103.
2 Grassmick 104.
3 “Who was Elijah in the Bible?”
4 Hiebert 24-25.
Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.
Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville; Thomas Nelson, 1983.
“Was John the Baptist really Elijah reincarnated?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=1632 on 7/22/2023.
“Who was Elijah in the Bible?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=42 on 7/22/2023.