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Sermon for December 10, 2017

Mark 1:1-8 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series B)

“The Beginning of the Gospel”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

December 10, 2017

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark, chapter 1:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

          Our God is the God of beginnings. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God began time and space. Everything that exists has its beginning in God the Creator. God, the Author and Giver of Life, began our very lives in the womb of our mothers. “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love” (Job 10:11-12a ESV). God is the God of beginnings.

          However, the Fall into sin obliterated God’s good creation. It brought corruption and death to the life that God had made. We are conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5). We enter physical life spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Sin has separated humanity from God, throwing up “a dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14) between God and His creation. The psalmist David says it this way, “They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:1-3 ESV).

          We also know from God’s Word that sin means our death and eternal punishment. God said to Adam in the Garden, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19 ESV) Ezekiel 18:20, “The person who sins is the one who will die.” And the Apostle Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). What a horrible reality! What a fearful and terrible end!

Death and hell are very real. Even though it is not popular to talk of such things, we must do so nevertheless. They are what we humans deserve because of our sins. It’s not simply that we inherited sin, but we “do” sin in our thinking, speaking, and acting. Our consciences convict us of our wrongs against God’s Word, and yet how often do we “turn off” our consciences and live, act, think, and speak the way we want? We say and do and think what strokes our sinful egos, fills us with worldly pleasures, and gives us the treasures of this world that we so long for. God creates life in us and Satan, the world, and our own flesh steal life from us and lead us into death, hell, and eternal punishment.

There is good news, however. From the very moment that sin first entered into God’s good creation, it was the Lord’s desire to redeem, to rescue, and to restore His creation. God had already determined that the Seed of the woman, a descendent of Eve according to the flesh, would crush the head of that ancient snake, the devil (Gen. 3:15). For God is the God of beginnings AND He is the God of new beginnings.

St. Mark brings us from Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created,” to the beginning of this good news, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, just as it stands written in Isaiah the prophet.” And what is written in Isaiah is the promise that God would send His Servant to redeem, rescue, and restore His creation and that God would send His own messenger to prepare the way for the Lord’s Servant, the Messiah-Savior.

So the Good News of the Gospel begins with John the Baptist, the voice of one calling in the wilderness. He proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Already in the ministry of John, the Lord is preparing people to receive the gift of gifts that saves from death and hell, the forgiveness of sins which will be fully purchased by the One whose way John prepares.

“Less than a century ago, in 1919, a young lieutenant colonel and two hundred fifty soldiers made the first road trip across the United States. The caravan traversed 3,242 miles through eleven states in sixty-two days, an average of fifty-two miles per day. Poor roads, rough pavement, winding routes—the message was clear: for our nation’s security, to move forces and equipment in case of attack, to say nothing of ease and comfort, there needed to be a better way. The young lieutenant colonel was Dwight Eisenhower. Forty years later as president, Eisenhower instituted the Interstate Highway System that allows us to make the same trip in well under a week.

John the Baptist entered a world where the way for the Lord’s arrival was as rough and winding as that first American road trip. John comes to prepare, to make straight, the way for the greater One following (Mk 1:1–10). By his proclaiming a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the way is opened and people prepared to meet the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and forgiveness of sins remains the way through which the Lord leads us through this life to eternity.”[1]

Today, we meet the Lord Jesus, God’s Servant who came to save the world from sin, death, and hell, where He promises to meet us—in His Word and Sacraments. By means of water combined with God’s Word “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” we follow the command of Christ to give a new beginning to sinners the world over. Holy Baptism is a “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7 ESV). Regeneration is new birth; it is new life, a new beginning for people like us who were lost and condemned by sin to death. Holy Baptism brings Christ Jesus to us through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. This saving faith receives the gifts Jesus won for the world when He suffered and died on the cross and rose again on the third day: forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.

Baptism is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for each one of us as this sacred washing with water and the Word unites us with Christ in His death and resurrection. Romans 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” So if baptism connects you to Christ’s death, then it also connects you to His resurrection and new life in Him. If by Baptism you have died with Christ, then your sinful self is destroyed and you are freed from sin. You are forgiven and gifted a new spiritual life and nature.

Since you know Christ rose from the dead, you also know that death no longer has power over you because it doesn’t have power over Jesus, and you are united with Jesus by grace through faith. “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:9-11 ESV). You are alive to God in Jesus the Savior. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life, a present possession. This is the new beginning that God has gifted you by faith through water and the Word in Baptism. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV).

The new beginning has come to you by the Lord’s gracious favor. The One mightier that John has come, Jesus, who has baptized you with His Spirit through water and the Word. The Holy Spirit has given you saving faith in Him who died and rose again as your Savior and Redeemer. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is your new beginning given to you by means of the Sacrament of Baptism in which you receive the forgiveness of sins, rescue from the power of death and Satan, and eternal life. For this new beginning and new life of faith, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born [anew] to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5 ESV). Amen.

 

[1] From “Ideas for Illustrating,” Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 28, Part 1 Series B.


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