Further thoughts on Mark 1:1-8. (These thoughts follow a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN. If you would like to listen to that message, go to www.grayroad.com, click on "Sermons", and then find "Prepare the Way of the Lord".)
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
'Behold, I will send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,"'
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."'
So, what's the point? That is at the heart of my efforts to preach expository sermons. That big word just means that the main point of the text is the main point of the sermon. So, what's the point here? What is Mark driving at? I believe it's clear that Mark is driving at the greater quality of Jesus' person and work over John the Baptist, about whom Jesus would say, "...among those born of women none is greater..." (Luke 7:28). John the Baptist's ministry was so great that some wondered if he might be the Christ (Luke 3:15), and on one Catholic website, it is even asserted...
"John the Baptist...had original sin, but no personal sins whatsoever. John the Baptist never committed the least personal sin in his entire life, not even a single, semi-deliberate venial (i.e.- minor) sin. John the Baptist never committed even the least of sins in his heart, mind, words, or actions." (http://www.catholicplanet.com/future/John-Baptist.htm)
That seems pretty unbelievable, doesn't it? It is clear, though, that John the Baptist was highly esteemed then, and he is today. In many ways, this is a good and right esteem, for He was greatly used of God to 'prepare the way of the Lord'. However, no matter how highly esteemed John the Baptist is, Mark must make clear that Jesus is greater. His power is greater ('mightier than I'), his significance is greater ('not worthy to stoop down and untie' his sandals), and his work is greater ('he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit'). whatever else we might say about these 8 verses in Mark, we must primarily concern ourselves with what it primary.
Does all that make sense? I hope so. Now, let's walk forward to the personal application. If I had a guess, you probably weren't looking to hear the word 'idolator' in yesterday's message. We were seeking to apply the idea that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist...really, that He is greater than any preacher or pastor or missionary or servant of God...that He is greater than all.
In thinking about this, we noted that God has established relationships in which some lead and some follow (e.g. - church, family, workplace, and even society). It is good and right to have mentoring relationships, to have people from whom you can seek godly counsel, and to have men preaching and teaching God's Word for the benefit of our souls. But...if our allegiance is to these types of people over and above Jesus, then we have become idolators. That was the context...remember it? Still, 'idolator' does feel like a strong word...are we sure we want to use it? Is there a better word?
Let's think on this by looking to a couple of sources for definitions of 'idolatry':
Easton's Bible Dictionary
"Image-worship or divine honour paid to a created object...The forms of idolatry are (1) Fetishism, or the worship of trees, rivers, hills, stones, etc. (2) Nature worship, or the worship of the sun, moon, and stars, as the supposed powers of nature. (3) Hero worship, the worship of deceased ancestors, or heroes."
Unger's Bible Dictionary
"In a general sense idolatry is the paying of divine honor to any created thing; the ascription of divine power to natural agencies. Idolatry may be classeified as follows: (1) the worship of inanimate objects...; (2) of animals; (3) of the higher powers of nature...; (4) hero-worship or of deceased ancestors; (5) idealism, or the worship of abstractions or mental qualities, such as justice..."
The interesting idea in both of these definitions is that what we call "hero worship", which would be the direct application from our text, would be giving divine honor to a created being...or ascribing divine power to natural agencies. We may think, "I don't think of that person as God." Well, we may not have such an overtly idolatrous thought, but let's ask ourselves some questions.
Do I turn to this person before I turn to the Scripture when I am looking for answers about life, about God, about salvation, about the church, etc.? When I read that person's book, do I "examine the Scriptures...to see if these things are so", or do I simply assimilate that man or woman's teaching into my thoughts and life with no further study? If the counsel I receive from this person doesn't quite make sense, do I just assume that I they are probably right and go forward with what they have suggested, or do I take time to seek the Lord in His Word and pray?
These are not a formula, by any stretch, but they can be helpful guides for us. Let me finish with a personal story. After the Lord called me into ministry, I had the chance to work with some great youth pastors and pastors. I was an intern in the churches they served, and I loved every minute of it. Once I landed in a full-time ministry role, I found myself overwhelmed, as many young pastors do. It seemed that almost every week, I was calling one of these men to run a situation past them, and whatever they thought was best, I would do it...it just made sense. I trusted them...why wouldn't I just act on what they say?
A few years into my ministry career, having continued this mode of calling every time I felt a little stuck, things changed. One by one, God removed these men from the pedastals on which I had set them in varying ways. As I went through this time of my life, heartbroken by what was happening in these men's lives, God opened my eyes to what was going on in my own heart. I didn't just have mentors, friends, and counselors. I had idols. I didn't consider any of these men 'God', but I would have failed horribly if I was asked those questions written just a couple of paragraphs ago. So, I had to repent of such idolatry. I still love these men, and I still get counsel from them at times. However, the way in which I receive counsel is different. They never meant to be my final authority...I had given it to them.
We must always be on guard to this kind of idolatry. We should and must depend on one another...it's what the New Testament protrays when it teaches us about the church. Still, it must always be clear that our ultimate dependence is on Christ and His Word. "Little children, keep yourself from idols" (1 John 5:21).
If you have time, come back to the blog on Wednesday afternoon, November 4, to read a couple more thoughts from Mark 1:1-8.