The Jordan River in the Judean Wilderness
Mark 1:1-8 — The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John the Baptist was, back in Bible days, in the same business I am in now— preaching. And we both have the same message— telling people about Jesus. But I preach in a very different setting. I am in town; John did his preaching out in the country. I get to preach from a pulpit in a beautiful, historic old sanctuary. John was outside. I wear a microphone and my voice is projected from speakers. John was a “voice of one calling in the wilderness.” Look at the above photograph of the Judean wilderness. It is not the kind of place you would want to set up a pulpit to try and attract a crowd.
But John did attract a crowd– huge crowds, day after day. Verse five says “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to hear him.” I have always wondered how that worked. In my congregation it is easy. People show up at 8:00, 9:15, or 10:45 Sunday mornings, and about half way through the service, I get up and talk, and they, very politely, sit and listen.
But how does that work for a “voice calling in the wilderness?” There would have been no newspaper ads, no radio spots to announce the new preacher, and no church building with a sign out front announcing worship times. It was just John out there preaching about the coming Savior, and the news getting out by word of mouth. People would tell everyone they knew, “You need to hear this guy and what he has to say.”
What do you need to hear? What are you listening to? These days, we are all able to be listening to something, all the time. For some, it is the television on in the house all day, and the radio always on in the car; or, my preference, audio-books when I am driving. For others, it is the hundreds, even thousands of songs downloaded onto their phone or stored up in the cloud. For some others, it is the news all day, every day– Fox News, CNN, or something else— each supplying a steady stream of breaking news and whatever commentary you want to hear. And there are dozens of sports channels, thousands of movies on Netflix and Hulu, and billions of videos on YouTube, short and long, silly and profound.
What are you listening to? This is an important question, because what we listen to, is what we think about, and what we think about, is what we become.
Sometimes people who listen to the news all day become very angry, not only with how things are going, but also with other people who have different views on why things are not going well. And there is much to be angry about, but we don’t only want to be angry and forget to be grateful. And we do have significant differences, but we must remember to see people on more levels than just the political. And the songs we listen to change us, for good or ill, and we become different people in our morals, our outlook on life, and our treatment of other people. We have to ask ourselves if we want to become the type of people whose songs we are hearing. Sometimes we do, but oftentimes, we do not. And Hollywood can tell such wonderful and powerful stories, but they can also, in such a wickedly appealing way, present an outlook on life that is crude and vulgar and just wrong. And we’ve been seeing every day on the news what kind of people are telling us these stories and teaching us about life. Do we want to learn from them and become like that? I love movies, but we have to be discerning about what we see and listen to and what it does to us.
There is an old Sunday School song titled “Be Careful” and verse two goes like this: “O be careful little ears what you hear, O be careful little ears what you hear; there’s a Father up above, And He’s looking down in love; So, be careful little ears what you hear.” The people in the Judean wilderness wanted to hear John. In order to do so, they made an inconvenient journey out to an unpleasant place. Oftentimes, what we listen to distracts us from the realities of life. And we like to be distracted from our troubles. But John moves us in a different direction. John’s message is a reminder to listen to a word from God about our sin, about eternity, and about Jesus. We must be careful that we are not distracted from that, because Jesus himself said that is the one thing we need most of all. (continued…)