When I first read this text, I thought it was simple. The text is short, only 8 verses, and Mark is clear, direct, action-oriented. The more times I read Mark 1:1-8, though, the more preaching challenges I hit. Here were the three biggest for me:
1. Mark is so concise that he sometimes leaves you begging for elaboration and explanation. What does it mean that "he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit"?
To answer that essential question of the text, I had to do something I don't regularly do: leave the text. In the spirit of "let Scripture interpret Scripture," I went to Romans 14:17, to let it interpret "baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
2. The phrase "baptize you with the Holy Spirit" means many different things to the people in our church, who come from different backgrounds and traditions. How could I preach this text so that every believer, regardless of his or her background and perspective, would benefit—would long for and thirst for a fuller life in the Spirit of God? I decided to "trust the text" and stay close to Mark 1:8 and Romans 14:17, to try to say no more than they did.
3. What is the application to today's listener? John the Baptist had a unique and unrepeatable mission of preparing people for Jesus. I decided to step one rung up "the ladder of abstraction" and focus on his core message—prepare for Jesus (and his greater baptism, in the Holy Spirit) by repenting and confessing.
In the final words of the final chapter of the final Old Testament book, written by its final prophet, we hear this: "See, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes." The prophet says there will be a day of the Lord, ...
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