The Forerunner of the Son (John the Baptist)
Series: Meet the Savior Who Was A Servant
Sermon: The Forerunner of the Son
January 3, 2010
Richard E. Powell, Pastor
Scripture Introduction: Today we will begin a new message series through the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark is the Gospel of action. As we study this book over the next few weeks we will find that events in the Gospel move quickly. It has been said that Mark, the earliest of the gospels, “has all the vitality, directness and pace of a 20th century newspaper. Using information supplied by Peter, Mark speaks as if he were an eyewitness of the events that took place.” (Stephen Olford, Olford Expository Preaching Outlines.) One of the key words found in this Gospel is the word “straightway” or “immediately.” As a result, names, numbers, times and locations spring from each page at breathtaking speed. Mark is in a hurry to present the Savior who was a servant. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke each begin with the genealogy of Jesus, but not Mark. He jumps right into the action with Jesus as a full grown man.
The key verse of the book is Mark 10:45 (NKJV). "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
This makes a good summary of Mark’s Gospel; service and sacrifice. Mark emphasizes the service of the Lord in 1:1-10:52. Mark then presents the sacrifice of the Lord in 11:1-15:47. We will not be able to look at each verse in the Gospel. Instead we will survey key events from each chapter. Open your Bibles please to Mark 1:1-8. In this passage we will encounter the forerunner of the Son who introduced the Lord Jesus Christ. The forerunner was named John the Baptist.
READ PASSAGE (Mark 1:1–8, NKJV)
Sermon Introduction: There are two type of language. There is the type of language that we speak to one another that changes nothing. Then there is the type of language which we use that changes everything. For example, as your minister I can say to you in the hallway, “Good morning.” That changes nothing. It does not change the morning and it does not change you. However, if you stand before me, a minister of the Gospel, as Marvin Redd and Angela Cole did this week, and I instruct you to repeat to one another the wedding vows after me, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part,” then that is to speak language that changes things! To speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to speak language that changes things. Mark begins the story about Jesus by telling us that it is one of “good news”. That is what the word, “gospel” means. When Mark used the word it did not refer to a written and bound account of Jesus’ life. The word Gospel would not come to be associated with written accounts until the second Christian century. When Mark used the word, he was referring to the quality of the story he was about to share. He was about to proclaim news which would change everything. After they heard what He had to say then things would never be the same again. It is still true today. When you truly hear and understand the news about the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ then things will never be the same! To reject the Gospel is to die in your sins and face judgment. To hear and believe the Gospel is to be saved! “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. ” (Romans 1:16, NKJV)
Mark is saying, “I have some good news for you, and this news is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark thus wastes no time telling us who Jesus truly is. Mark declares Jesus’ humanity, regality, and deity at the very outset of his book (Mark 1:1).
1. The Humanity of the Lord. (Jesus)
Mark’s good news is centered in the one named Jesus. The name Jesus means, “Jehovah is salvation.” This was the name given to Him before and at His birth. “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NKJV)
2. The Regality of the Lord. (Christ)
Mark refers to Jesus as Christ. This is not another name for Jesus, it is His title. The word “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, “Messiah,” which means anointed one. Jesus is the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. He was God’s chosen and anointed one who had come to deliver us from the bondage of sin and give us entrance into the Kingdom of God. You will hear Jesus declared to be the Christ again in this Gospel. In Mark 8 Peter confesses at Caesarea concerning Jesus, “Thou art the Christ.”
3. The Deity of the Lord. (Son of God)
Mark is quick to point out that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Four times Mark drives home his point as to the deity of Jesus. The first occurrence is here in Mark 1:1. The second is in Mark 1:11 when the heavenly Father declares Jesus is His beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased. The third time Mark shows the deity of Jesus is in Mark 5:7 when the demoniac of the Gerasenes declared that Jesus is the Son of God. The fourth occurrence is in Mark 15:39 at the foot of the cross where a Roman centurion, a Gentile confesses, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” At the beginning of his book, in the middle, and at the end, Mark proclaims the deity of Christ. The deity of Jesus Christ is one of the clearest teachings of the New Testament. So when Mark declares that Jesus Christ is the Son of God he is declaring His deity. Jesus is God. He is the second person of the God-head, three in one; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. “A son is of the same nature and essence as a father; in affirming Jesus as His Son, God the Father was saying that Jesus, His Son, is deity because He is of the same essence as the Father.” Citation: Paul Enns, Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody, 1989), 87.
At the outset Mark affirms the Good News about the One who is both human and divine, who has been appointed and anointed by God to come as the Messiah, the savior of the world, to the Jew first, but also to the Gentile (Romans 1:16). He breathlessly presents Jesus as the sinless son of God, fully man and fully God, the King of Kings, and the Lord of lords. In ancient days when a king would ascend the throne heralds would go throughout the land proclaiming the news. John the Baptist was the herald of the coming King. You can hear Jesus’ estimation of John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel. There in chapter 11 Jesus gave an astounding compliment about John. It was rare for Jesus to give personal commendations like this. Jesus once commended a man named Nathanel. “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! ” (John 1:47, KJV)
Jesus once even commended a Roman Centurion. “When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, ‘I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’ ” (Luke 7:9, NKJV)
But our Lord reserved his greatest commendation for John the Baptist. “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist ” (Matthew 11:11a, ESV).
History has known its share of great men.
- Herod, the Great.
- Alexander, the Great.
- Sophocles, the Great.
- Demosthenes, the Great.
- Ricky, the Great.
OK, maybe not, but we have known many men to be great. Jesus looks at them all and compares them to John and says there is no comparison. Even when compared to the great titans of the Jewish faith, father Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, and Elijah, John the Baptist is greater! God measures greatness by faithfulness to duty with humility. That is what set the Baptist apart from all the rest. It was his faithfulness to duty as God gave it to him. John the Baptist was a man of duty and humility.
Our generation needs some people who will be like John the Baptist. Our generation needs people who will be forerunners of the Son. Our generation needs people who will exhibit faithfulness to duty with humility. Will you be a forerunner of the Son in your generation? What did it mean to be a forerunner for the Son in John’s generation? What does it mean for ours? Observe first…
I. The Personality of the Forerunner (Mark 1:2-3, 6).
In Mark’s Gospel John bursts onto the scene full-grown. In Luke’s Gospel we have an account of his lineage, his conception and birth. Mark by-passes all that and presents the Baptist as a man on a mission. He was born into a priestly family (Luke 1:5-25), but God had other plans for him. God knew that what the nation needed more than another priest was a prophet who would call the people to repentance. God sent John to confront the hypocrisy and legalism of the Pharisees, the skepticism of the Sadducees, the scorn of the scribes, the materialism of the Herodians, and the fanaticism of the Zealots (see John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Mark).
A. John had a Prophetic Ministry.
John was filled with the Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. It was prophesied that one like John would come. Mark points to John’s prophetic ministry by quoting from Malachi 3:1 in verse 2. Mark next quotes from Isaiah 40:3 in Mark 1:3. He also came in the power of the prophet Elijah (Luke 1:17). That means he had a ministry and message similar to Elijah’s
When you compare the lives of Elijah and John the Baptist you discover that they had much in common. (This is adapted from Wilbur Fields,’ “Old Testament History.”)
- Both Elijah and John were rustic, rural, desert preachers (2 Kgs. 1:8; Matt. 1:21);
- Both clothed themselves unusually to make a statement about their generation (2 Kings 1; Mark 1);
- Both had unusual diets (Elijah feed by the Ravens night and day as they brought him sustenance. John as he ate locusts and wild honey);
- Both preached judgment (1 Kings. 17:1; Matt. 3:7 – 10);
- Both denounced a king---Elijah with Ahab and John with Herod (1 Kings. 21:19; Matt. 14:4);
- Both were brought down by a woman;
- Both became discouraged (1 Kings. 19:4, 10; Matt. 11:2 – 3);
- Both were followed by a greater prophet—Elijah by Elisha and John by Jesus (1 Kings. 19:9; Matt. 3:11 – 12).
- Both met unusual ends. Elijah was translated up into Heaven without having to die. John the Baptist had his head lopped off in the prison fortress of Machaerus because of his message.
B. John had a peculiar ministry. (dress and diet)
“Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. ” (Mark 1:6, NKJV)
John’s dress was in keeping with that of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). But it was more than that. John dress was a protest against the effeminate, luxurious lifestyles of the materialistic generation of Israelites in his day. By dressings as he did, he reduced himself to nothing, a desert man, devoid of all but the bare necessities. He was a walking billboard saying to his generation, “You must renounce everything that is more important to you than God, and you must repent if you are going to be prepared for the coming Messiah.”
His diet speaks of the same thing. John ate locusts…grasshoppers. Now before you condemn John as being gross, may I remind you that his diet is not grosser than eating raw oysters, frog’s legs, or alligator tail! John’s diet was an indictment of a generation of gourmets who had forgotten that, “man does not live by bread alone, but lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). John was foreshadowing the coming Christ who would later say, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34).
The picture of John adds up to a person who is eccentric, odd, and peculiar. John the Baptist was willing to risk being called an oddity in order to be the forerunner of the Son in his generation. I wonder how many of us would be willing to be a little eccentric in our generation if it meant we could prepare the way for people to meet the Savior. I do not mean that we should try to be weirdoes in every way. Just a few minutes watching so-called Christian television will prove that we do not need any more Christian weirdoes. John the Baptist was not godly because he was odd. He was odd in his generation because he was godly! There is a profound difference. We do not need to be odd to be godly. In this generation we just need to be godly to be odd! Too many professed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are living compromised lives. Rather than being transformed by the Word of God we have conformed to the ways of the world. Ghandi said he would have become a Christian if it had not been for Christians. Our lives must authenticate the truthfulness of our message! We must take God seriously.
We need some men and women who are willing to risk being called eccentric (out of center) if it means we can point people to Christ. In a generation like that of John the Baptist, are we willing to be like him in preparing the way for the King?
We have seen the Personality of the Forerunner. Secondly, I would have you to note…
II. The Activity of the Forerunner (Mark 1:2-4).
“As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.” “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’” John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. ” (Mark 1:2–4, NKJV)
The appearance of John the Baptist on the scene of prophetic history was momentous. For 400 years prior to John the Baptist, God had refused to speak to His people through a prophet. Malachi was the last writing prophet of the Old Testament. When he ended his prophetic book we are told there was not a word from the Lord. For centuries the Jewish people waited to hear from their God again. What would come of the call of Abraham? What would come of the Mosaic Law? What would happen to the promises of God to His people? Dr. John Phillips notes in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, “The Jews needed some good news badly because God had not spoken to them for four hundred years, and terrible years they had been. It had all come down to the fact that, in Jerusalem, an Edomite monster of a man named Herod the Great sat on the throne of Israel. The Promised Land itself had dwindled in size and importance to a small and despised province in a vast and alien empire. Moreover, the land was ruled from Caesarea on the coast, a wholly Roman city. A pagan governor (Pontius Pilate) presided over the local interests of a Gentile emperor (Augustus) in far-off Rome, and the emperor was demanding that divine honors be bestowed on him. It was all bad news for the Jewish people. Moreover, it was a mystery to them. Were they not the chosen people? Was not Palestine the Promised Land? Why had God been silent for so long? Was there to be no end to their sufferings and humiliation?”
When John the Baptist burst on the scene he unleashed the pent-up expectations of the Jewish people like releasing a compressed spring! John became the spring board of God’s activities in the coming of the Christ on the world scene.
A. John was a Preacher.
First of all, John was a herald, a preacher, a proclaimer. "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4)
The Greek word kerusso is translated preaching in verse 4. It speaks of a herald who would go before the king into a city. The herald would tell the citizens of that city that the King was on his way and that they should prepare themselves for his arrival by repenting and getting rid of their religious rubbish. Mark informs us that King Jesus was preceded by His own ambassador, John the Baptist.
I do not believe that I am making too much of this when I say that when God wanted to prepare the hearts of his people for the coming of the Christ He turned to a preacher, a herald, a proclaimer! I know that there are many in our day who downplay the importance of preaching. They say that it is foolish to assume that a man standing to proclaim the truths of an old book called the Bible can have any impact on society. They believe that preaching is old-fashioned, passé, and antiquated. But when God wanted to prepare the world for the coming of His Son He chose to send a preacher! I am here to tell you that God still chooses to work through the foolishness of preaching! “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). The world may repudiate the proclamation of the Gospel, but God still calls out men who will stand in the public places and unashamedly point to Christ! As long as I am your pastor I will refuse to preach from the book of opinions. Instead, I will stand with THE Book in my hand and say, “Thus says the Lord!”
B. John was a Baptizer.
"John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4).
John was not just a proclaimer, he was a baptizer. He is given his name by the peculiar activity by which he is known, baptism. I call it a peculiar activity because in John’s day what he was doing was unheard of. There were proselyte baptisms whereby a pagan convert to Judaism would undergo a ritual bath to wash away the impurities of his Gentile past (see, Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale reference library (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 145.), but that is not what John is doing. There was also that strange sect of ascetics known as the Essenes who practiced personal, self-administered, ceremonial washings each day, but that is not what John was doing. This was not even Christian baptism which we practice today. It was a wholly new thing. No, John was calling on grown, dignified Jews to repent of their sin and to show that they were ready for the coming of the Messiah by being baptized in the Jordan. John was saying, “Our nation has drifted so far from God that you are no better than the pagans who want to come to our religion. You too need to humble yourselves and prepare your heart for the Messiah.” Just as the Old Testament people of God had to pass through the waters of the Red Sea in order to meet their God at Mt. Sinai, so this generation of Jews would have to pass through the waters of baptism to prepare them for the New Covenant.
John was preaching a baptism of repentance. That word repentance means a radical reorientation of life. ILLUSTRATE: GPS (u-turn)
Repentance is a radical reorientation of life where one begins to take God seriously in every area of life. You don’t dabble in repentance. You either repent or you don’t. There are no half-measures when it comes to biblical repentance. Biblical repentance is intellectual, emotional, and volitional.
- Intellectual: One cannot repent until his mind has been apprehended with the knowledge that his sin is an affront to a holy God.
- Emotional: Repentance brings Godly sorrow which is more than fear of punishment. It is not like the little girl who was overheard praying, “God, please make me good, just good enough that mommy won't spank me.” You are not just sorry you got caught. You are not just sorry you broke God’s laws. You are sorry that you broke the heart of a loving father-God who is bound by His holiness to punish sin.
- Volitional: It is a repudiation of sin. You willfully turn from your sin and turn to God seeking His forgiveness!
The preaching of repentance is the missing note in modern preaching. We have stopped calling people to repentance. But there can be no authentic Christianity without a call to repentance. We must confront people with the reality of their sin and the need for repentance and faith. Our generation will never believe the Good News until they are first confronted with the bad news that apart from Christ they are lost and condemned in their sins, bound for Hell. The Good News is that even though the wages of sin is death, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). John prepared the way for the coming of the son by preaching a message of repentance in his generation and so must we.
We have seen the personality and the activity of the forerunner. Notice thirdly,…
II. The Humility of the Forerunner (Mark 1:7-8).
“And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” ” (Mark 1:7–8, NKJV)
Do not misunderstand me when I speak of the humility of John. He was not a namby-pamby, effeminate, milk-toast, sissy preacher. Once when the Pharisees and Scribes made the journey out to the desert to hear John preach he greeted them with the words, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Matthew 3:7). No. John was not a meek and mild preacher. He was a fiery prophet of God. But when it came to his relationship with the Lord, he was profoundly humble. John the Baptist was the older cousin of the Lord Jesus Christ. John knew, however, that even though he was before Jesus in time, the Lord was before him in rank. Sometimes I have had to pull a staff member aside and “pull rank” on him. I had to remind him that he was not the pastor of the church. Well Jesus never had to “pull rank” on John. John knew his place. It took humility for John to know where he stood in relation to Jesus. John knew that his task was not to elevate himself, but to elevate the Lord. His task was not to point to himself like some spiritual sycophant, but to point away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ. If John had confused himself with the one who he was to announce it would have been a travesty. In humility John confessed that Jesus was superior to him.
A. He preached that Jesus had a superior majesty.
“There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. "(Mark 1:7)
The most menial task to which a household slave could be assigned was the loosing of a person’s dirty sandals and washing their feet. John felt that he was not even worthy to do this lowly task. Why did John feel this way? He knew Jesus had a far greater majesty than he could ever hope to have. To quote John Phillips again, “Between John and Jesus a great gulf was fixed, not a gulf of degree but of kind. John was a mere man; Jesus was a Man but much more than a man. John was a voice; Jesus was the Word. John called for repentance; Jesus demanded rebirth. John was a messenger; Jesus was the Messiah. John’s mother and the mother of Jesus are believed to have been sisters, but one could not speak of John’s father in the same breath with the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phillips, John. Exploring the Gospel of Mark: An Expository Commentary. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004, p. 21.) John preached that Jesus has a superior majesty.
Let me say to anyone who is called out of this ministry to preach or to teach God’s Word: Don’t forget your place before the Lord. In, and of, ourselves we are not even worthy to loose the leather straps used to fasten the sandals of our Lord much less proclaim His Gospel! Let us who preach and teach confess, “I am but a voice of one crying in the wilderness, pointing to another.” And church, do not canonize your favorite preacher or spiritual hero where you talk more about him than the one he proclaims. When people leave our services after hearing this stuttering stammering preacher I don’t won’t them talking about me. I want them talking about Jesus! I say with John the Baptist in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” To be forerunners of the Son in our generation we must learn the secret of pointing to another!
B. He preached that Jesus had a superior ministry.
“And he preached, saying, ‘There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ ” (Mark 1:7–8, NKJV)
John is saying, “I am but the shadow; He is the substance. I am the reflection of that which He is the reality.” John’s water baptism of repentance was symbolic. Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Ghost was supernatural. One baptism touched the body. The other touched the soul. One baptism was outward and visible. The other was internal and spiritual.
Even your pastor when he stands in this baptistery must make the same confession John made. I indeed baptize you with water, but only Jesus can baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Historically this promise of John (and Jesus: Acts 1:5) was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. On that day believers were baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. Personally, the promise is fulfilled at the moment you believe on Christ. By the Holy Spirit you are baptized into the Body of Christ! The Holy Spirit takes up His dwelling in the believer. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. ” (1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV)
Conclusion: I have a confession to make. When I read from Matthew 11:11 about Jesus’ compliment of John I did not give you the entire quote. Let me read it to you in its entirety. “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. ” (Matthew 11:11, NKJV)
Jesus said you can be greater than John the Baptist if you will only humble yourself like he did and serve God. Are you willing to be a forerunner of the Son in your generation? Will you devote your life to cultivating the personality, the activity, and the humility of John the Baptist? Church, in this New Year, let us dedicate ourselves to going ahead of the savior and proclaiming His gospel. God measures greatness by faithfulness to duty with humility.
Let me also say that John the Baptist represents the best that religion can do apart from the Sovereign, saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ in grace and mercy. Some of you this morning are the very ones to whom Christ has sent me to preach the Gospel so you can be saved. I have done all I can do today. “On one occasion, David Livingstone, the intrepid pioneer missionary to Africa, brought some natives with him from the deep interior to the coast. There the land suddenly ended. One of the astonished Africans said, ‘We followed the white father through the forests and across the plains, up the mountains and into deep valleys. The land went on and on. Then, all of a sudden, it came to an end. “There is no more of me,” it said.”” John the Baptist said essentially the same thing. “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” ” (Mark 1:7–8, NKJV)
John the Baptist could get people up to the Kingdom of God, but not into it. Only Jesus can get people into the Kingdom of God. The same is true of this preacher today. I can get you to the Kingdom, but only Jesus can get you into it. Will you turn from your sin today and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins?