Monday 6 August

Sam Allberry is speaking at the New Horizon evening celebrations from Monday to Thursday this week. Sam is a pastor and writer based in Maidenhead, UK, and a global speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He is an editor and a writer for The Gospel Coalition and the author of a number books including Why Bother with Church?and the bestselling Is God Anti-Gay?  Here is a summary of his message from Monday evening.

Reading from Mark 1: 1 – 11

Recently, I started to watch the TV series “Broadchurch”.  It’s a show that keeps you guessing right until the end. I prefer the kind of crime shows in which you know from the beginning who did it. This is one of the reasons that I like Mark’s gospel. Mark tells you the key conclusion right at the beginning. Unlike the characters in the Gospel, we know the message right from the start. This is the “Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”

Mark is thought to be the earliest of the Gospel accounts. Mark was a close associate of the apostle Peter. We also have the witness of an early Christian writer (Papias) who said Mark was Peter’s secretary. So it would make sense for Peter to be the main source for this account. And yet, Peter doesn’t look good in Mark’s gospel. It is such an honest account. There is nothing remotely heroic about the disciples in Mark’s account. They are all weak.

If you are conscious this evening that you are a bit of a mess. If you know you are a “lousy” Christian, then you are Jesus’ sort of person. Mark’s Gospel has the ring of truth because it is not contrived. CS Lewis says, “Christianity is a religion that you never would have guessed.” It is counter-intuitive.

This evening we are going to look at the title verse and the first two scenes of Mark’s Gospel.

Mark puts his cards right on the table, “This is the Gospel”… gospel means good news. Prior to this, the word “gospel” was not a Christian word.  Christianity is not advice. It is not a programme. It is not 10 rules for life. It is a message of something that has taken place. It is news! This is THE gospel… the announcement… the news to beat all news.

The word Gospel has now been almost entirely hijacked by Christianity. We will never hear anything more momentous than the news Mark shares with us.   Mark is not trying to impart information; he is trying to introduce a person. There is a lesson there for us. When we think about sharing the faith, we need to be talking about Jesus!

Defending the church is not evangelism. Making the case for Christianity ethics is not evangelism.   Evangelism is telling people about Jesus. For some reason we find it easier to talk about the church than we do about Jesus!

Mark says, “this is the beginning…” The Bible began with a big “beginning” – Genesis –  and now there is a new beginning. This is where it all comes from.

A great scholar Larry Hurtado recently wrote a book called, Why on earth did anyone become a Christian in the first three centuries? It gave no social advantage. It was not easy to be a Christian at that time. Why are people becoming Christians in Yemen?   The Republic of Ireland is becoming more secular but evangelical Christianity is growing!

If religion is a virus then arguably, Christianity is the most virulent virus there is. The number of people becoming Christians every day is estimated to be 170,000. Mark says, “This is how it began. This is the beginning of it all.”

Maybe some of us here know that we don’t love Jesus as much as we used to. You used to love reading the Bible. It felt so natural to pray. Some of us are here because we know we need to re-kindle our zeal for the Lord. Mark invites us to go back to the beginning and see Jesus afresh.

So let us look at these first two scenes:

The Promise of the King – (Mark 1: 2 – 8)

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn’t take us to the nativity. He starts us off in the desert. In Mark’s day, the wilderness was where God’s people had spent so much time. Those surroundings were a picture of their spiritual life – they were barren and lifeless. God had promised throughout the Old Testament that He would come Himself and lead them out of the wilderness years.

He would send a messenger first. What a wonderful promise but it has been 400 years of waiting until (v4) John appeared, baptising in the wilderness. The messenger has come. John starts to speak and notice what he does. In this place of barrenness, he is either putting people in water or putting water on people. And all of Jerusalem is turning up. It was a difficult journey – but people were coming. This was a renewal movement. John is calling them to repent, to turn around (180 degree).

When we go in the wrong direction, we have to repent (turn around). John was saying, “This is where you are spiritually – far from God and needing to turn back to Him. You are spiritually parched and desperate for the water of God’s spiritual reality.”

All of a sudden, Mark tells us about John’s clothing and diet. There is a lot about John the Baptist that echoes Elijah. In Malachi, God had promised to send an Elijah. The OT ends with that promise. So if there is someone now in the wilderness who is like Elijah that means God is about to come.

John says, “It is not me. I’m just the forerunner, someone is coming down the road after me and He is mightier than I.” John’s preaching moved hundreds of people but someone greater is coming.   This is the most influential spiritual leader that the people had seen for centuries and he says, “I’m not worthy to untie His sandals.”

John is saying, “I can give you the picture of water poured out in the wilderness. He can give you the reality. I can wash your skin. He can wash your heart. I can make you wet. He can make you new.”

And so the time finally comes in v9… God is coming to bring people back to Himself. And that is fantastic news for any of us who know we need God. When we’ve lost our sense of spiritual reality. John is saying, “The next guy to show up will be the Lord and He is coming for you.”

The Arrival of the King (v9 – 11)

God is promised and then in v9 and Jesus of Nazareth arrives. God has come in the person of His Son. Jesus turns up and initially we don’t hear Him, we just see Him. He slips into the crowd and presents Himself for baptism. Everyone else is coming for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The one who has no sin, comes to receive a baptism for the forgiveness of sins and we are reminded of another Isaiah prophesy of one who would be numbered among the transgressors. The first thing Jesus does is to identify with sinners – He is coming to stand with us. He is coming to be our champion. By receiving the baptism we need to receive, He is putting on our team strip… He stands with us.

And as the Gospel account continues, we see our champion going after the enemies that we are powerless to confront (sin, sickness, etc.).

As Jesus comes up from the waters of baptism, the heavens are ripped open. The Spirit comes down. (God had promised to put His Spirit on His servant). And then we have the voice of the Father that says, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” That is not the voice given to a sinner. It is the voice that addresses the divine Son.

And yet as we see the baptism of Jesus, we are given a trailer of what He is going to do.  I love going to the cinema. And one of the things, I love the most is the movie trailers. Jesus baptism is a trailer for what He has come to do as our champion.

Jesus spoke of another baptism that He would undergo – His death – and His first baptism points to all He would achieve in that second baptism. As Jesus underwent crucifixion, heaven was ripped open for us and the curtain was torn. At that ultimate baptism, the Spirit came down on all of those who would come to Jesus.  The words that the Father spoke to His son, He now speaks to those who are IN Christ. The Father now sees us through the perfection of His Son. Because Jesus was willing to stand in our shoes, we can now stand in His shoes as children of God.

You will never meet anyone better, bigger or more beautiful than Jesus Christ.