Sermon 2: The Coming of the King
Text: Mark 1:2-11 – As it is written in the prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!’” John did immerse in the wilderness, and preach the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and those of Jerusalem, and were all immersed by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a belt of leather around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, “There comes one mightier than I, after me, the laces of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I indeed have immersed you in water: but He shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit.
And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was immersed by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending on Him. And there came a voice from heaven, saying, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”
Mark wrote to a Roman audience; an audience that grew up hearing the stories about various gods, hearing the legends about the children of the gods, and even tales about prophesies regarding these various supposed deities coming to earth. But if they started reading the gospel that Mark wrote, they’d instantly be captivated by his statement that there is only one God (Mark 1:1 literally says that Jesus Christ is “Son of the God”). And Mark follows that by quoting two prophecies that pointed to a theophany (appearance of deity on earth).
The Text, part 1 – The Prophecy (Mark 1:2-3)
(2a) As it is written in the prophets
With this statement, Mark subtly asserts the superiority of this prophecy to those supposed prophecies of Greek and Roman legends. When “prophecies” appear in Greek and Roman myths, they’re almost always introduced in the same story where they are “fulfilled.” That is to say, there are no examples of a “prophecy” being given in the name of Zeus or Hermes or whoever that was written down and then fulfilled at a later period of time. All the “prophecies” appear for the first time in the stories that they supposedly point to.
Meanwhile, Mark starts off with “As it is written in the prophets…” This bold statement invites his readers to do some research and look at the fact that these prophecies have been on record, foretelling a theophany, for hundreds of years! This is a massive distinction made between the gods of Rome and the God of heaven whose Son is the subject of this short book.
Some translations follow a less-trustworthy Greek text and have the phrase “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” but the first quotation isn’t from Isaiah—it’s from Malachi.
(2b) Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, which shall prepare the way before You
If one of the Roman readers of this book were to take Mark’s challenge and look for this prophecy, he’d find it in the book of Malachi, written about 450-500 years before Mark wrote his book. While this prophecy foretells the work of John the Immerser (Jesus quotes it as such in Matthew 11:10 and Luke 7:27), its primary focus is on the coming (theophany) of the Lord. Malachi 3:1 says “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before ME.” If you continue reading that verse, you’ll see that it was spoken by the Lord (Jehovah).
Now, Mark knew that the majority of his original readers wouldn’t take the time to look up the original prophecies, and so—as the narrator—he only brings up three in his entire book, two of which are right here. There are other Old Testament prophecies mentioned, but they are mentioned by Jesus, and Mark is simply quoting Him.
In the ancient times, when a king was going to visit a city, he would first send a messenger, a herald, first to announce his coming so that the people could be prepared. Oftentimes this would be done months—sometimes over a year—in advance of his arrival. The cities that received an arrival of the king were considered to be specially favored, because the king didn’t make trips to all the cities. It was an incredible honor to have the king visit your city.
When it was announced that the king was coming, the people would work hard to beautify their city. They would many times build new buildings, would repair older ones, painting them, repair the city streets, and anything else they could think of to make a good impression for the royalty that was blessing them with his presence. It was the job of the messenger, the herald, to encourage the people to be ready. He would point out the things that needed to be fixed in the city, and would give suggestions on how to best be prepared to welcome the king.
Since this was true of people preparing to meet a physical king, how much more should they be preparing when it is the God of heaven whose coming is being announced? Since the great kings of the earth would announce their arrival months in advance, how much greater is the King whose coming was announced hundreds of years in advance?
(3a) The voice of one crying in the wilderness
This is an interesting contrast with the historical background. A messenger would go into cities to announce a future visit of the king, but this messenger of prophecy would make his announcement in the “wilderness.” This was another clue to the original readers that there was something different about this theophany, about this arrival of a monarch.
Verse 3 is a quotation from Isaiah 40:3.
(3b) Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight
In addition to beautifying the buildings and the city, prior to the arrival of the king, the inhabitants of the city would do road work. They would smooth out bumpy roads, straighten out twisting roads, and not just inside the city. They would work on the path to their city gates for several miles outside their town, just so the king’s journey to their city would be a pleasant one.
Of course, Mark is about to drop a figurative bomb on his readers when he tells them that the preparation for this king has nothing to do with fixing roads and beautifying buildings.
The Text, part 2 – The Messenger (Mark 1:4-6)
Mark doesn’t dwell much on John the immerser—John is only a part of about 30 verses (less than 5% of the book of Mark). The messenger was an envoy of the king, but everyone knew that while he was an important person, he was nothing compared to the one whose coming he announced.
(4) John did immerse in the wilderness, and did preach the immersion of repentance for the remission of sins.
Mark began this section with the words “As it is written in the prophets…” or “Like it was written in the prophets…” and then gives the quotations. But verse 4 is a continuation of that phrase. “Like it was written in the prophets…John did immerse in the wilderness, and preach…” Mark’s point in this verse is to show (1) the person—the messenger, John—who was foretold, (2) the place—the wilderness—that was foretold, and (3) the preparation—immersion of repentance for the remission of sins—that was foretold.
The preparation for the arrival of the great King—God in the flesh—didn’t involve fixing the streets or building new buildings. It involved preparation of the people. The Roman readers would have been perplexed by this. “What kind of king seeks moral cleansing, spiritual betterment prior to His arrival instead of physical improvements?”
The work of the messenger, John, was to get the people to think about their spiritual condition, believing in the coming of the King, the Messiah, repenting, and being immersed for the remission of sins. This is how the “way of the Lord” was being prepared. This is how His “paths” were being made straight. When the King arrived, He preached the same thing, and commanded that the same thing continue to be preached even after He left (Luke 24:47, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38, etc.).
Because John’s work was one of spiritual preparation, his immersion was one with spiritual effects when coupled with repentance. It had the same effect as the baptism commanded by the King (Jesus Christ), through Peter, on the Day of Pentecost three years later—the remission (removal, forgiveness) of sins.
(5) And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and those of Jerusalem, and were all immersed by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
The ancient heralds would go to the city gates or to public place inside the city to make their announcement, and all the people would come to hear it. John made his announcement in the wilderness, but still all the people came to hear it. He was (as seen in verse 7) announcing the coming of the King, and the people who believed him wanted to make themselves right in anticipation of His arrival.
(6) John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a belt of leather around his waist; and he ate locusts and wild honey.
Mark adds this information about the appearance and diet of John for a very important reason. The heralds of kings in the ancient days would be clothed in fine clothing, expensive clothing, and would expect gifts of clothing from the people. They also expected, as emissaries of the king, to be “wined and dined,” eating the best food that the city had to offer (without paying for it, of course). Not all were like that, for certain, but it was common for the heralds of kings to take advantage of the people in the city, with the implication “I’d hate to have to tell the king you were uncooperative…”
In stark contrast to these well-dressed and well-fed men, John came dressed in camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist. And he didn’t feast on the best the people had to offer—his diet consisted of things he could get for himself, provided by nature.
The thoughtful Roman reader couldn’t help but be struck by the imagery. What kind of king sends his messenger dressed in poor man’s clothing and eating locusts? But at the same time, they would have also had a level of admiration for the king whose messenger refused to use his position to line his own pockets and fill his own stomach.
The Text, part 3 – The Announcement (Mark 1:7-8)
The prophecies quoted by Mark for his readers started with the messenger, and Mark identified the messenger. The prophecy then spoke of the preparation, and Mark described the preparation. The prophecy spoke of the place where this work was to be done, and Mark showed the location. The prophecy then gave the announcement—the Lord is coming!
(7) And he preached, saying “There comes one mightier than I after me, the laces of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”
This is John being the herald, the messenger, announcing the coming of the King. The people listening to his message didn’t know exactly who this King was yet (they knew He was the Messiah, but they didn’t know it was Jesus yet), but Mark’s readers were given the answer at the very beginning: Jesus Christ, Son of the God.
As important as the herald was, and as much respect as he was to be given, he was nothing compared to the King which would follow. This is the imagery that Mark, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is presenting to his readers. John, the messenger of the King who is the Son of the one and only God, should have been—by worldly standards—the most important herald in the history of mankind (and Jesus even said there was no man greater than John, Matthew 11:11). But even the greatest messenger in the history of the world wasn’t worthy to touch the feet to untie the shoes of the King he was announcing.
How powerful and mighty must this King be!
(8) “I indeed have immersed you in water, but He shall immerse you in the Holy Spirit.”
This is a continuation of the announcement of the coming King and a description of His greatness and power. John had immersed people in water—that common item that covers the majority of the globe. And it wasn’t even pristine water, it was the not-exactly-clean water of the Jordan River, which was inferior to the rivers in Syria to the north (2 Kings 5:12). The point is that John immersed people in a common element, but that the King who would come had the power to immerse people in power from heaven. What an incredible contrast!
While John’s listeners were familiar with the Holy Spirit, Mark’s original readers probably weren’t. And so it comes as no surprise that just a few verses later, Mark shows the source of the Spirit: God Himself!
The Text, part 4 – The King Arrives (Mark 1:9-11)
(9) And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was immersed by John in the Jordan River.
The reaction of the readers must have been much like the reaction of Nathanael, who said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). That is, if they’d even heard of Nazareth. They had probably heard of Galilee, and that would probably have elicited a similar reaction. Galilee was an insignificant area, so far as the Romans were concerned.
But they’ve already been told that Jesus is the Anointed One, son of the God (1:1), they’ve been shown the prophecy about the messenger announcing the arrival of this Lord (1:2-3), and they’ve read his might and power described (1:7-8). So their expectations were probably something completely different from what happens in this verse. It’s no surprise, since that’s what happened with the Jews as well. They expected a Messiah much different than the one that God sent.
John described the coming King as someone who was so mighty that He had the powers of heaven at His command (will immerse you with the Holy Spirit), and so regal that John wasn’t even worthy to untie this King’s shoes. The expectation, then, would be someone who thought of themselves as above everyone else, who couldn’t be bothered with the common person. Yet here comes Jesus, going out into the wilderness, coming to the same person for baptism, going down into the same dirty, common waters of the Jordan River, allowing the one who wasn’t worthy to untie His shoes to immerse Him like he had done so many others.
This verse reveals Jesus as a King who is humble, not like the kings of this world.
(10) And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit like a dove descending on Him.
Take a moment to picture this scene in your mind. Jesus has come to be immersed in the waters of the Jordan River by John. Jesus steps into the water and stands next to the Immerser. John then takes hold of Jesus, and plunges Him beneath the water’s surface before lifting Him back up. And at that moment, the heavens open up. Do you see the clouds parting in the sky? Do you see a bright ray of sunlight shining down towards our Lord? Don’t just read over this verse and miss the incredible scene that took place, because this is part of the proof of what Mark stated in the first verse: Jesus Christ, Son of the God.
Jesus, the King, was described as the one who would have the power over the Holy Spirit (baptizing people in the Holy Spirit—verse 8). Now, in this verse, it is shown that the Holy Spirit comes from heaven—from God—and resides with Jesus. Some view this event to be the moment when Jesus is anointed as King.
(11) And there came a voice from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
Here is the public proclamation of Jesus as Son of the God. The heavens have opened, the Spirit has descended, and now the voice from heaven itself—the realm of the one true God—speaks, announcing that Jesus of Nazareth is His Son.
Mark concludes the opening section of his account of the good news of Jesus by showing that Jesus is the Son of God, just like he stated in the first verse.
The Old Testament was Written for our Learning.
If you look through the book of Acts, you’ll see that the apostles used the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. While we do not live under the Old Testament (nor did the apostles after the Day of Pentecost), we can increase our faith and learn more about God by studying those writings. Even though Mark doesn’t spend a lot of time bringing up the Old Testament prophecies, he does show that he is familiar with them, and that they can still be used to prove the truth of Jesus as the Christ.
The Messenger of God Cannot be Focused on Himself.
There was no one greater than John the Immerser, according to Jesus Christ, but John didn’t let that status, as the messenger of the King, go to his head. He didn’t wear fancy clothes when he proclaimed his message—the Pharisees did, but John didn’t. He was dressed in common clothing. He didn’t try to abuse his role and make demands of people, catering to his whims and opinions. Instead, the only demands he made of people were those that involved their spiritual condition (Luke records these in greater detail). The ones who were trying to run others’ lives, he called a “generation of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). Likewise, if we are to truly be God’s messengers, we need to make sure we focus on making people spiritually prepared for the Lord’s coming. Making an issue, demanding that someone cater to your opinion, is putting the focus on you and not on God.
Jesus was Humble, We must be Humble.
There are baptized believers who are arrogant instead of humble. Sometimes it is seen in how they talk about those in denominations, as though they are so much smarter than those denominationalists because of a proper understanding of baptism—as though the denominationalists are intentionally keeping themselves out of heaven. Other times it is seen in how they treat other Christians, specifically those who are struggling spiritually, as though they never have any spiritual struggles. Jesus came to save the lost and to give us an example of the attitude we are to have towards others—brethren and non-brethren alike. Jesus lived a life of humility, of humble service, not using His status as King to make people bow down to His every whim, but showing them the right way to live. We need to follow that same example.
Baptism Involves being able to “come up out of the water.”
The largest religious denomination in the world teaches that sprinkling water on someone is considered baptism. Others teach that pouring water on someone’s head constitutes baptism. But when Jesus was baptized, He “came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10). That means He first had to be “in” the water. You can’t “come out of the water” after having some sprinkled on you. You can’t “come out of the water” after having some poured on you. But you have no choice but to “come out of the water” after you’ve been immersed in it. Baptism is immersion.
The King of kings, the Son of the one true God of heaven, did come to the earth to visit mankind. When He did, He lived a life of perfect service and obedience to the Father, giving us an example to follow. He gave those who believed in Him and wanted to be saved a very simple command: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins.”
Why don’t you come follow the King now?
-Bradley S. Cobb