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Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:4-11 Part 2

Two of the greatest plagues of the human condition are guilt and the remorse it brings, along with feelings of unworthiness. It is our shame over mistakes made and sins committed that leaves us feeling unacceptable and even unwanted in the Father's Kingdom. In Mark's opening words, his account of John's words offer great solace to these painful parts of our human experience.
As this scene unfolds, John the Baptist preaches in the wilderness proclaiming a repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark adds the detail that "people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him." The need for forgiveness and freedom from guilt was obviously as great a problem then as it is in our time. Imagine the multitude gathering at his feet, longing to hear his words and find in them some freedom from the oppressive shame of their lives. John's words offered hope, and they readily responded.
It is with their attention riveted that John turns to the nature of his ministry. He reminds his listeners that he has only come to prepare the way for one who is greater. He can only baptize with water, but the Christ will baptize with the Holy Spirit of the Living God. In today's verbiage John is saying, "Just wait, you ain't seen nothing yet!" John preaches of the restoration of life that Christ will bring.
Can there be a more destructive force in our lives other than that of guilt? Guilt robs us of our sleep, it eats away our health, it destroys our relationships, and distorts our view of self worth. The psalmist writes of the power of guilt... (Ps 32:1-4 NRSV) "Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. {2} Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. {3} While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. {4} For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer." John comes proclaiming the Good News that through the power of God at work in the lives of individuals that such pain and remorse can be removed. After discovering the joy of God's grace the psalmist adds, (Ps 32:5 NRSV) "Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, `I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,' and you forgave the guilt of my sin."
The same promise of forgiveness is scattered throughout the New Testament. 1 John 1:9 states, "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (NRSV). Not only does Christ offer the forgiveness of sin and the removal of guilt, he also provides the promise of a new life. "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Cor 5:17, NRSV). To those suffering from a painful past that cripples the present, Christ offers forgiveness and restoration of life.
The story of Simon Peter on the night of Jesus' arrest is one of the greatest lessons of forgiveness and restoration in the Scriptures. With the crowing of the rooster the reality of his acts of betrayal crushes his spirit. He runs out into the night bitterly weeping with the remorse of his actions. It is the same Peter, days later, who first spots Jesus on the shore of the sea (John 21). He springs from the boat and swims to shore, his heart filled with joy over the prospect of being reconciled to Jesus. After a fellowship meal, Jesus singles Peter out, and they dialogue about love, service, and the Kingdom. It is the extended grace of Jesus that restores his life and his fervor for the Kingdom. The past is forgotten, and the second chance begins.
This passage also speaks to those who have grown to feel unworthy for the Kingdom's service because of their past. To those who seem like "nobodies," the testimony of John offers great hope. Take a quick glance at John. He preaches in the desert. He is clothed with camel's hair and a leather belt. His diet consists of locusts and wild honey. We would call him a bit unusual; a most unlikely candidate to introduce the Son of Man. Yet notice that this common, unusual, unlikely person was chosen by God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.
It is a reminder that God often chooses the unlikely among us to do great things. Often, as we feel most unworthy or unlikely, the same God calls us into the Kingdom's work. Turn to Luke's account of the birth of our Lord. The fantastic news of Christ's birth was told, not first to royalty, but to commoners. God chose to reveal the event to sleepy shepherds gathered on the hillsides of Bethlehem. What wisdom to proclaim the birth of the King of Kings to those who felt unworthy and unlikely. In that moment of divine grace, their lives were transformed from being faces in the crowd to becoming men remembered for the rest of history. Their story teaches that there are no unworthy nor unwanted persons in God's Kingdom. All are important and all can be used of God.
John the Baptist teaches us the lesson of potential. God sees us, not as we once were, nor even as we now are; God sees us through the lens of the Son's love. Therefore God sees in us what we can become... witnesses of the Kingdom. We are unworthy no more. By God's love and offer of grace our guilt and remorse is removed, and we are empowered to proclaim God's glory. Yes, our past shouts "failure!" Our sins proclaim our guilt. We are not worthy. But, we are called, used, affirmed, and needed.
That's good news!
Jon R. Roebuck