This sermon was first delivered on August 21, 1977 at Paradise United Church of Christ in Louisville, Ohio. It is based upon Scripture from the Old Testament – Isaiah 11, 1-5 and the New Testament – Mark 1, 1-15.
The opening words of the Gospel According to Mark declare the urgency of the message about Jesus. It starts out, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark set out to tell the “good news” – the gospel of how Jesus came, thru the plan of God, to bring to mankind the help and hope they could not live without.
Jesus’s message came in an age burdened by superstition and false gods. It came in an an age of witchcraft and astrology. Death was everywhere the victor over the hopes of the people. Judaism was overloaded with legal restrictions. The average person’s daily life held no light or hope for his or her eternal destiny.
Now a new day dawned! Jesus had come to reveal the eternal purposes of a father God! Who could keep quiet in the face of such earth-shaking news?
Thirty years after Jesus’ amazing life no one had tried to write an account of His impact on the events of His time. People had been able to pass on His sayings and teachings through the spoken word. Many were still living who had seen Jesus heal the sick. Many were still living who had heard him preach. Many could say, “I remember.” or, “I was there.” or, “I saw Him.” or, “I heard Him.” – and their words carried instant authority. No one denied their authority, and it became the basis for the
About 60 years after Jesus died Nero began persecuting Christians. Both Peter and Paul died in this persecution. Eyewitnesses to Jesus miracles were now few and far between.
So, by 65 AD the earliest Gospel, Mark, was written for a specific reason – to declare the good news of Jesus Christ. Judging by evidence in the book, many scholars today believe the author was a Christian leader who felt compelled to set down the message of salvation as proclaimed and believed by the Church in Rome under the stress of its persecutors.
One question emerges again and again throughout this Gospel – WHY DID JESUS DIE? This question was being put daily to Christians under fire in Rome. They were being asked why was he willing to die? What kind of faith upholds a disciple in the final trial? So the writer forged a declaration of faith in this Jesus whose mighty works brought a new day to those who believed Him to be truly the son of God,
Mark’s writing is rough, abrupt and to the point. He covered the highlights, Matthew and Luke went beyond Mark and added more of Jesus teachings. They both smoothed out the roughness of Mark’s writing.
Mark writes with vividness and honesty. It moves almost breathlessly through the events of Jesus life and ministry, hurrying to the climax, his death and resurrection. Mark plunges directly into the adult life of Jesus. He moves swiftly through His Galilean ministry. Then he devotes six of the sixteen chapters to the destruction that awaited Jesus in Jerusalem. This emphasis tells us much about what Mark considered central in the Gospel.
Listen to Mark’s writing style in Mark 1:2-13 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark continues, “And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from
heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.”
The narrative is swift – but not haphazard nor without pattern. He carefully selected the events he wrote about. He paints swift word pictures of the ministry of John the Baptist who told the people to, “…prepare the way for the Lord”. He tells of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist. Early Christian converts wondered why Jesus should accept baptism. Surely he had no need to be cleansed. But he chose to be baptized to identify himself with his people in their search for deliverance from evil powers. During this act of commitment he received an assurance that he is God’s son being commissioned to a special task of bringing all persons to God.
Today baptism in the name of Jesus has come to symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as repentance. It is a gift of power to energize the heart at will. Being a Christian is above all a gift. It makes no primary demands other than to accept the glorious gift of God in Christ.
Such a gift can be given even to an infant child. But, for a child to claim that gift – the child’s parents must join in pledging to nurture and to support the child as he or she grows in Christian love.
Now, with a brief pause to tell about temptations in the wilderness, Mark hastens to a second distinct emphasis. He brings Jesus at once to his homeland.
After John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus began preaching the good news to his own people. “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This was the new theme that Jesus sounded. It was the main theme of his preaching and teaching. “Repent and
believe the gospel.” – John the Baptist had called for such a turnabout from the easygoing acceptance of evil. Now Jesus preached forgiveness of sins offered by the Heavenly Father.
Jesus assured the people of his day, and He assures us today that this good news is not too good to be true. There is no catch to it. No strings. Jesus is forever reaching toward each one of us saying as Jesus said, “I am come that ye might have life and have it abundantly.”
Mark continues, “And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” And immediately they left their nets and followed Him. And going on a little further farther he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.”
Sun-bronzed brothers – rough hewn fishermen, hardened to work. Think of their surprise to see this stranger approach them and with confidence and authority say. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Can you imagine this happening to you? A stranger commanding you to follow him? Yet Jesus gave these men a vision that went beyond their daily tasks. He gave them a vision of a world that God was only then beginning to form. At the same time,
he gave them the task of remaking this world.
He gives us this same vision today. His quiet authority transcends the ages as he whispers in our souls, “Follow me.” To someit is a constant whisper. To others a thundering command.
Jesus has the right to command us to follow Him because his entire life showed his beliefs. When he spoke of faith, men and women saw that His life was in God’s hands. When he called for Christian love and concern as the mark of the new Kingdom, they saw it in His invincible good will to Samaritans, to Romans, to prostitutes, to low class, to tax collectors, to ALL peoples. When he declared God’s power to reclaim men and women to wholeness, they saw Him healing broken bodies and minds. They saw Him bring health and wholeness to all whom He touched.
There is a great need for spiritually-revived churches today. A revived church rejects theological experimentation and liberal
translation of the Bible according to one person’s feeling as to how we should live in today’s world and looking at the Bible as a “nice book of stories”, but not relevant to living in today’s society. A revived church becomes evangelistic in program and outlook. A revived church becomes a growing church. A revived church works for the welfare of those in the community in which it is located. The deplorable moral condition of a nation can be reformed due to the influence of a revived church. Joy and praise will be the cornerstone of worship services. Ministers will preach under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
You might say that this is just a wishful pipe dream…just wishful thinking. My answer to that is that it happened under John and Charles Wesley in the 18th century. It happened in our own country during the Second Awakening in the 19th century. And it can happen again in the 21st century starting in the year 2000.
Revival is a result of a mighty indwelling of the Holy Spirit in response to the earnest prayers of burdened, concerned, dedicated Christians who are willing to work to make it happen.
Great leaders are produced in times of revival. And, we have very few truly great church leaders today. Reverend Billy Graham comes to mind along with Pope John Paul II. The past generation has produced two outstanding United Methodist
leaders, in E. Stanley Jones and Harry Denman. Dead churches do not produce great church leaders. They produce ecclesiastical bureaucrats and church politicians.
When you consider the personal cost of revival it is sobering…maybe even frightening. Revival means fasting. Revival means rejecting liberal ecclesiastical leadership. Revival means soul searching confession. Revival means earnest repentance. Revival means holiness of heartland life.
Now, all these things considered, we must really want a revived church. We must be willing to talk the talk and walk the walk. We must be willing to give up some of the comfortable things in our lives for the real true blessings of God’s Holy Spirit. Then, believe it or not, our lives will be even better than before. Our lifestyles will change for the better. As the song says, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.”
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Orthodoxy is important. Correct traditional doctrine is necessary. But, it is the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit which makes the Bible come alive and the Christian church…The United Methodist Church, Trinity United Methodist Church become vital, attractive, and inviting.
There is a tremendous movement of the Holy Spirit abroad in the world today. Hopefully our United Methodist denomination will become a vital part of it … make itself open to the fresh winds of the Spirit and become a part of the coming great revival looming on the horizon.
The whole Christian church desperately needs revival and renewal. And, it is the laity, you and I who will lead the way. Fortunately, in this church, we are blessed with a Sprit-filled pastor who is open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and is seeking to help us make Trinity a Sprit-filled church.
The good news – The Gospel – strength thru weakness. It is power through submission to God, who alone can speak powerfully to those who yield themselves to His will.
Jesus is God’s agent – an agent of the Kingdom of He proclaims. Through the Resurrection, God showed His triumph over evil. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ shows beyond all doubt that Jesus is the true Messiah.
And that is why Jesus died.
A Closing Prayer:
Our Father God, it is overwhelming when we think of how Jesus died on a cruel cross to atone for our many and varied sins. It seems too easy that the Good News, the Gospel he preached in HIS day is so relevant and readily available to us today. Grant that your Holy Spirit will inspire us to work and help make this church a vital, revived beacon of Methodism in the Mahoning Valley. After all, that is why your Son Jesus, our Savior, died for all peoples everywhere.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.