All Age – John the BaptistSunday 4 October 

Mark 1:1-8 Good News Translation 

1 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.[a]2 It began as the prophet Isaiah had written: 

“God said, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you 
    to open the way for you.’ 
3 Someone is shouting in the desert, 
    ‘Get the road ready for the Lord; 
    make a straight path for him to travel!’” 

4 So John appeared in the desert, baptizing and preaching.[b] “Turn away from your sins and be baptized,” he told the people, “and God will forgive your sins.” 5 Many people from the province of Judea and the city of Jerusalem went out to hear John. They confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan River. 

6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced to the people, “The man who will come after me is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to bend down and untie his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

These are the prophets that Mark quotes from: 

Malachi 3 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. 

2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. 

Isaiah 40 

3 A voice of one calling: 
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord[a]
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.[b] 
4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; 
the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. 
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 

This passage at the beginning of Mark’s gospel raises many interesting questions for us, some of which we discussed in our Zoom service together. Why was it ‘good news’? Why did so many people come out to listen to this wild man of the desert? What was it about him that was so compelling that people responded? Was baptism a new thing or already a Jewish custom? What did the people understand by the Holy Spirit? What were they expecting? What did they understand about the Messiah? What were they expecting?  

One of the big questions for me was, why prepare the way? Why couldn’t Jesus just walk in and get on with it? Why did John call for repentance and forgiveness before Jesus started his ministry? We know repentance and forgiveness continued during and after his ministry, but why were they needed before people had even seen him? 

I wonder if it’s a bit like this: Have you ever seen Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares TV programme where he goes into a failing restaurant and tries to turn it around, usually with a lot of inspirational swearing? John the Baptist is similar, with a few key differences. It’s as if he walks into the kitchen of this big restaurant and it’s in a MESS. It’s about to be condemned for breaching every health and safety rule in the book and there have been cases of food poisoning, terrible reviews on Trip Advisor, you name it. And John says to the staff, ‘Guys, this amazing chef is turning up tonight to take over the restaurant and bring in a new regime and he’s starting by cooking a feast for all his friends TONIGHT! He does these amazing things with loaves and fishes, you gotta see it! So, come on! We need to get ready.’ 

So he gets them washing all the dishes, cleaning down the surfaces, buying in fresh ingredients, putting clean cloths on the tables, so that everything is clean and ready for the new chef to walk in. And it looks amazing and the team are excited. “But,” he says, “it’s what the chef will do tonight that is the REALLY important and exciting thing. I’m just washing dishes – He is going to make a feast! He’s the important guy!” 

So it’s interesting that the thing John called people to do in preparation for Jesus was repentance and baptism. There’s no point having a new chef with a new regime if the staff think everything was just fine the way it was and that nothing needed to change. If the new chef is going to be able to work with them, they need to recognise the need to do things differently – to BE a different kind of people. And that’s what repentance means: simply saying – I was wrong, I’m sorry, and I want to get things right. Or even just, “My life’s a mess.” It might not be ALL our fault, because usually other people and the situation around us are messy too, but whatever the reasons, repentance is saying: “I’m in a mess and I want to be healed. I’m sorry for my part in the damage and I know I need a power greater than me to fix things. I know I need God.” Baptism by water is the sign of that – the cleansing of the kitchen so that it can begin again in a new way. 

So, what does this mean for us? Perhaps we can ask ourselves: Do we want to be ready for what Jesus can do in us and through us? It doesn’t mean we have to get ourselves squeaky clean like the restaurant kitchen (because we can’t) but we do need to lay ourselves open to Jesus, to open (prepare) the way for Him to enter in and take over. Unfortunately, we keep making mistakes and need to do this over and over again. The good news is that Jesus is ready to forgive us, over and over again. 

And gradually, over time, his Holy Spirit changes us so that there’s less of the Kitchen Nightmares and more joyous feasting in the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember how the passage from Mark ends with John saying that Jesus will baptise us with the Holy Spirit? That is what brings in the power that is greater than us, so we don’t keep going back to total mess, but become stronger, better and more like the Great Chef! 

You might want to take a moment to offer a simple prayer of repentance. You know what the mess is in your life, whether it’s a few minor muck ups this week or a big seething nightmare that’s been going on for years – or both. Whatever it is, let’s lay it before Jesus. Of course, He already knows what the mess is, even better than us, but by laying it down we’re saying we want to let go of it and we want to come to Him with open hands and heart so He can forgive us, cleanse us and renew us. Our prayers don’t need to be long or complicated. Simply: Dear Jesus, this is the mess… I’m sorry, will you forgive me and start me again? 

1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.  

You are forgiven, you are free. This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. 

Go in peace, preparing the way of the Lord 

speak in courage, as voices calling in the wilderness 

Live in love, as a renewed people of God.