The Second Sunday in Advent
December 6-7, 2008
Text: Mark 1:1-8
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Christian Church, almost from day one, was racked with numerous errors. Most of these have not gone away. But the New Testament writers addressed most of the common errors on many occasions. One of the common errors is to divide the Old and New Testaments as though they were telling two different stories. Some would go so far as to say that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament. We see this still today with those who try to say that it was the Father who appears in the Old Testament, but the Son in the New Testament. But a careful study of Scripture shows that it is always God the Son who appears to man. Christ Himself would say that no one has seen the Father, except Him who comes from the Father. Already in the Old Testament idea of God as Trinity it present, though not as clearly presented as we see in the New Testament. But clearly there is a distinction between God the Father and God the Son. In Daniel 7 we see God the Father presented as the “Ancient of Days” and God the Son presented as the “Son of Man”. In this chapter we see that the Father has given the Son authority to act in the world.
Scripture is set up to tie the Old and New Testament together. There would be a bridge that would connect two. There were numerous prophecies about the this bridge person. In fact the very last words of the Old Testament speak of this person. They call this bridge person Elijah the Prophet. But we know from the words of Scripture itself that this prophet was not the old Elijah come back to earth, but a new prophet who would preach with the power and spirit of Elijah, calling people to repentance. This bridge person is John the Baptist. He is the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. But he appears in the New Testament. He is calling people to repentance and baptizing them. His preaching is still the same, Old Testament message - the Messiah is coming. But in baptism, John hearkens forward to the One who blesses the waters and make them a washing of regeneration.
Mark is trying to make this point in his opening words. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Then what does Mark immediately do? He quotes the Old Testament. The beginning is not John’s preaching. Rather the beginning of the Gospel is the entire Old Testament, which John now concludes. John would be the end of the beginning.
Now one of the points that Dr. Voelz, my Greek professor, impressed upon us is the importance of participles. An awful lot of the verbs used in the New Testament are in fact the equivalent of the English participle. What this means is that they denote continuous action, that does not end. If something begins, it also continues. If the Old Testament was the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then that same Gospel continues.
This connecting of the Old and New Testaments is hardly a new concept. The ancient fathers were quick to jump on this idea. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in the fourth century: “With baptism the old covenant ends and the new begins. This is in the fact that inaugurator of the New Testament is John the Baptist... He is the crown of the prophetic tradition: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.”
One must wonder what sort of stir the appearance of John caused. There had been no prophets for four hundred year. The last prophetic words of Malachi warned people to look for the appearance of a new Elijah. Then after four hundred years John appeared in the wilderness. Many wondered what this man was. The ancient father Tertullian says that some thought that John was an angel. In the sense that he was God’s messenger, this is true, for that is what the word angel means - messenger. Eusebius likewise notes that many thought that John was more than a man. But John clearly tells us in his own words that he is indeed just a man, in spite of his strange appearance and thunderous preaching. John only baptized with water. He had no supernatural power of his own.
What was John? He was the forerunner - the one to point people to the reality that the Messiah had come. He was there to prepare people’s hearts to receive their Savior. For it is a fearsome thing to be visited by God. John warned people to repent of their sins. In one of the other gospels, John even warns that the Messiah would bring judgement against those who rejected God’s Word. John was telling people that they were at the crossroads of time. They had one chance to get it right. How did they do that? By repenting of their sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. The problem with this message is that one must first see that they have sin of which they must repent. Many in John’s day, and even today, refuse to see their own sin. Those who see themselves as without sin, likewise will see no need for a savior from sin. The corruption of man’s mind is so sever that we can delude ourselves in this way. But we need only look at the daily news reports to see that mankind is filled with sin and evil. We only need to look into the mirror of the Ten Commandments to see our own sins. Yet, how often do we hear the delusion that mankind is basically good? Where has this basic goodness ever come out in practice? Far from seeing good we see greed and vice of every sort, including sadly, a return of pagan misogyny. As Dr. Alvin Schmidt has explained in his book “Under the Influence”, it is where we see Christ that we see men doing good. Even unbelievers often do good because they are influenced by Christian thought. This all brings us back to John’s call for repentance. We prepare our hearts by examining them in the light of God’s law. We prepare our hearts by laying our sins before the cross of Jesus Christ. For while we are welcoming our King, we are also welcoming our Savior - the One who died for our sins so that we would have forgiveness and life.
John the Baptist is the bridge between the Old and New Testaments. He is an Old Testament prophet who appears in the New Testament. He called people to repentance, even as he continues to call us to repentance today. He baptized people as a mark of their repentance. Yet, he was just the forerunner. He was the warm up act. The One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit was already among them, though not yet revealed. That One, Jesus Christ, would be the main event. John called for people to repent of their sins. Jesus would take those sins from us and carry them to the cross. For without forgiveness, what point is there to repentance? Like people of all ages, we need to be constantly reexamining ourselves, our own lives and our own hearts. John calls upon us to do so. We do this so that we are prepared to receive our King and Savior when He appears. For Christ appears to us in many ways everyday. He comes to us in His Word. But we also we know that Christ will come at the end of time. So for each of these appearances of Christ, our hearts must be ready. And so for us preparation is just as John said. We repent and return each day to our baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. For indeed we were not baptized with just water. We were baptized with the Holy Spirit, in, with, and under the water. And so we prepare to receive our Lord, by returning each day to those holy waters.