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The Great Forerunner of the Great Servant: A Look at John the Baptist

To begin our study of the gospel according to Mark, Todd examines the ministry of John the Baptist, a great man who claimed to be unworthy of even untying the sandals of Christ.

Todd WagnerMar 12, 2000
Mark 1:1-8

Messages In This Series (10)
Jesus was Known for His Friendships with Sinners: What are You Known For?
Todd WagnerJul 16, 2000
Jesus, Two Groups and a Guy: The Danger of Lame Living
Todd WagnerJun 25, 2000
Baptism: What It Is and Is It for You? The Leper Revisited
Todd WagnerMay 14, 2000
The Leper Who Talked & the People Who Don't: How Disobedience Affects God's Purposes
Todd WagnerMay 7, 2000
If Busyness is Killing Your Heart, the Secret Place is the Solution
Todd WagnerApr 16, 2000
Do You Know Where to Take Your Suffering Friends?
Todd WagnerApr 9, 2000
The Testimony of an Unclean Spirit: Are Words & Information Enough?
Todd WagnerApr 1, 2000
Spirit Directed Fishing: Get Near Water, Get Your Line Wet, and Bait Your Hook
Todd WagnerMar 25, 2000
The Day All Heaven Broke Out
Todd WagnerMar 18, 2000
The Great Forerunner of the Great Servant: A Look at John the Baptist
Todd WagnerMar 12, 2000

We're going to look at the gospel of Mark. It's one of the books in the Bible that obviously talks about the person of Jesus Christ. I'm going to tell you as we go through this why my life has been changed by him and why I think he's worth every aspect and every bit of my energy. But there are a lot of different people who say a lot of different things about him.

In fact, the people Mark was writing to primarily were in the midst of all kinds of hell, all kinds of turmoil in their lives, specifically because they had been made a target by the world leader at the time, a guy named Nero, who was doing all kinds of atrocities to folks who followed Christ, including sticking a peg right through their being, dipping them in kerosene, and using them to light the way to his gatherings.

They were being covered in animal skins and thrown to dogs. A lot of folks were wondering if this Jesus was really worth following. Mark's gospel is specifically bent to address that. Yeah, this is the way of a servant, but it is the way worth living because it's the one life which leads to life alone.

There are a lot of different people today who have different views of Jesus, even as there are a lot of folks here today who have different views of Jesus. Some say he was an outlaw, some say a politician, some say a magician. The great question we hope you can answer more firmly than ever before as a result of our time in Mark is…Who do you say he is?

Father, thank you that we can come and examine what your Word has said and make a decision for ourselves who we say this Jesus was. I pray, Lord, that those of us who know you would grow deeper and more passionate about serving you and those of us who don't would feel the freedom that men and women in your presence have always felt: to walk away and leave you and scoff if they want or to humble themselves in what you call wisdom and to follow the beginning of wisdom, which is to fear you and acknowledge your great holiness and our great sin, the separation that caused and the provision we find in this outlaw, this person Jesus. Teach us that wherever we are. In Christ's name, amen.

Mark is one of the Gospels. I'll tell you what I appreciate about it. Mark is an action gospel. He jumps right into it. Some books of the Bible are what you'd hear as theologically heavy or they have a great deal of background that you really need to understand as you dive right in. Mark was written to people who were incredibly pushed to make a decision about this Jesus, specifically to folks in Rome.

Most folks believe Mark's gospel is the written account of Peter's testimony. As you know, Peter was one of the guys who Christ took with him everywhere, one of the three he was most intimate with and who he exposed to more of who he was than even the other nine. This is Peter's account through Mark. Peter spent much time there in the west over in Rome. The folks in Rome were struggling with how to live in the face of all the persecution, and Mark is getting right to it.

You have to understand this about folks who lived in Rome: they loved their king. There was what was called the emperor cult, this worship of Caesar, the idea that Caesar was a god and worthy of being worshiped. Whoever the leader was often claimed deity. The great Caesar was one all men served. Mark comes right at them with this idea that, "No, we're going to introduce you to a greater Caesar, one who isn't king by his own self-proclamation and even by public opinion but one who has always been King and always will be King.

The irony of this King is he's not a great king because he has many servants but because he's a great servant himself and has great concern for your status in life and has great concern for your need and has made great provision for your soul, and that great provision demands a great response." But Mark is not trying to make this thing smell pretty. In fact, he's going to show you all through this book the failure of those who are around this Great King, this Great Servant.

Nonetheless, this Great King will endure. The question Mark really leaves hanging at the end of his book is not so much "This is how it's going to end" but "How are you going to end this story? What are you going to do with this person Jesus? What are you going to say of him?" Listen to this introduction that one man wrote.

"The shock that the crucified Jesus is the Messiah, God's Son, makes clear that God cannot and will not be confined by finite human expectations. This is the God who made the platypus, a mammal so unmammal-like that expert scientists declared it a hoax when it was first sent to the British Museum. The religious experts of Jesus' day rejected him because he did not fit any preconceived notions of what the Jewish Messiah would be or do.

We today are little different from first-century Jews and the disciples in wanting a Messiah who does our bidding, wins our wars, destroys our enemies, and exalts us. Throughout Mark, the disciples display a delight in power, glorious achievements, and personal ambition; they want a Messiah who is above suffering and who will give them their heart's desires. We too want a [Jesus] who graciously adapts his will to our desires and needs and is dedicated to serve us rather than [the world].

The Messiah we meet in Mark is a rude awakening to those who are more interested in themselves and in ensuring their personal salvation and entrance to eternal life… As was the case during Jesus' ministry, so today many will not believe or will try to mold Christ into their own images by telling him who he is and what he is to do.

They want glamorous, gimmicky, short-term solutions to their own problems. Many try to domesticate the scandal, turn the cross into jewelry, and turn the Christ into a teacher of self-actualization. The gospel of Mark is the antidote to this distortion as it presents the foundation story of the gospel about Jesus Christ, who suffers and dies on a cross."

You see, he blows our categories. If we think God is going to come and make an impact on this earth…he's going to come with power, he's going to come with might, he's going to come averaging 60 points a game in the NCAA tournament… We expect him to be big and on the scene and do impressive things and bring people into a headlock and teach them what submission looks like, but that's not the way he came.

The purpose of the gospel of Mark, one guy wrote, is to show that though Jesus is King he is also a servant and to provide through this King's life a model of discipleship through the example of being a suffering servant who is obedient even to the point of death. This is not a comfortable Jesus to meet that you're going to find. He's not going to enable us to live self-satisfied, self-serving lives.

We have to decide for ourselves who we say this Jesus is and if we will follow his example. You're crazy to…unless he is who he claimed to be, unless he is the Great King, unless he is, in fact, the Creator, unless he is the one who has made provision for our greatest need. Then we want to give all we have to him. Let's dive into Mark and see what we have.

Here's what it says in Mark, chapter 1: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." I'll say this probably a number of times, especially as we get toward the end of the book. The beginning. This is not just for the next three or four verses that he's telling you this is the beginning. Mark is saying, "These 16 chapters I'm about to give you is just the beginning." There's no sweet ending to this book.

It ends with the women who go to look for Jesus on Easter Sunday running away, wondering what they're going to tell the other disciples. The other disciples have all scattered. They're hiding. They're scared to death. What's going to happen at the end of this book? What's going to happen with people's response to this person Jesus who didn't fit into our categories and ended up crucified with just the beginning of the word of his resurrection coming to us in Mark 16?

Mark is saying this is the beginning, and the great ending will be written by each one of us. God, in his sovereignty, you need to know, is going to ensure that the ending will glorify him, but you have to determine if your beginning and following after him is going to end in the ending he himself has said ultimately will be known throughout the earth.

The beginning of the story of Jesus. They're going to show you that though he is a great king, he doesn't bring men to subjection to him. The key verse all throughout this book comes in chapter 10, verse 45. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." That's the story.

It says, "This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ." To folks who lived in that day, when they heard the word gospel, it always was related to Caesar. It was about good news. That's literally what the word means. Good news about what the generals have accomplished for our king Caesar on the battlefield. They'd come back and declare the gospel, the good news that "We've acquired a new territory. We have brought another land into submission." That was gospel to them.

What Mark is about to tell them is "Let me tell you the real gospel. Let me tell you a gospel that is seriously good news." It gets to our first point. If gospel to you is anything other than that which relates to things of eternal significance, you are selling yourself short. Let me explain what I mean by that. If you say, "Man, that is good news," and you mean it in a gospel sense…

Again and again, folks are saying, "I can't wait to hear news on how this business deal is going to close." "I can't wait to find out if that girl is going to respond 'yes' when I ask her to marry me or just to go out one time" or "I can't wait to hear how I did this semester at school. That's good news. That is gospel. That's all I need. That's life for me."

Again and again, we keep saying stuff like, "That is great. That's the best news I've ever heard. Unbelievable! What else could I want? That is gospel truth to me." The reason we know that stuff is false, that all the good news the world puts before us that we seek to find a solution to… The reason it's not ultimately true gospel is because it's not going to be another 24 hours before you're waiting for more good news.

What did Anne Murray say? "Sure could use a little good news today." That's because yesterday's good news wasn't good enough. Well, this book is about real good news. The only news you can truly ever call good is news that changes or ensures your eternity, and the good news right here is that the great God is a great servant who has made a great sacrifice, which Mark will make the case deserves a great response. This is the good news. What are you going to do with it?

The very first guy we see in the next six or seven verses is a guy by the name of John the Baptist. That's where we're going to focus today, because you're going to find out that this Great King has said about this man John the Baptist that he's the greatest man ever born of a woman. Whenever I hear the guy I have declared as King say that about another person, I want to get to know his life.

What we're going to look at today, interestingly enough, is not so much this Great King Jesus but the one who prepared the way for him about whom Jesus said, "This is a great man." Then we'll find out where Jesus goes as this great man John the Baptist declared, "The King is coming." Let's read what it says in Mark 1:2-8.

"As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 'Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."'" Mark pulls some verses from the Old Testament (Exodus 20, Isaiah 40, and Malachi 3, if you care), and he's saying, "This is not just some Johnny-come-lately idea by God. This has been what he has purposed to do from the beginning."

This man John the Baptist, who is on the scene, is declaring, "Now is the time that God is going to give you your great hope, your great Deliverer, your great Messiah." That's what this is about, the beginning of the story, the gospel of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is just the Greek for the Hebrew Yeshua, the one whose name means the Lord saves. Christ is just the Greek for the Hebrew Messiah, which means Anointed One, the one who's going to give you what you're looking for. It says in verse 4:

"John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, and saying, 'After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the [power of his presence] .'"

Anybody can come and make those claims. The question is…Are the claims of that man true? That is where we'll start next week and moving forward, but today we want to look at this guy John the Baptist. He was kind of an amazing individual, one that if you went and looked in Matthew 11… In fact, go ahead and go to Matthew 11, because we're going to bounce back and forth from Matthew 11 and Mark 1 the rest of the day.

I want you to see more about this guy John the Baptist's life and what we can learn from him as we begin to study this gospel of Mark. What's so interesting about Mark is that he doesn't put certain things in there. He has not made any issue about the fact that Jesus has any kind of heritage coming from this King David, like Matthew does, because genealogy isn't important when you're talking about a servant.

It doesn't matter if you're a blue blood or from the barrio. If you're a servant, the question is ifyou are a good servant. Luke tells you a lot about this baby, because Luke is writing to the Greek mind. He tells you this great baby with this great story of conception and this great story of a birth grows to be a great man, because the Jews wanted to know about the perfect man. Luke says, "Here he comes."

But to the Roman mind, where Mark speaks, to the mind in persecution, you want to know, "How could this guy be the Great King if he ended in a not-so-great way, if he suffered? I thought caesars brought others to suffer at their feet. What kind of king is this who suffers for those who know him?" It's a king you need to know. It's a king who if he existed and used all his power and all his glory for your kindness and your benefit, wouldn't that be good news? He says, "You bet."

John the Baptist declared that he's coming, and John the Baptist is telling folks, "You need to come out to the wilderness." He tells the entire nation of Israel they need to prepare themselves. The word repentance is a word which has more to do with a change in thinking, and that's what most of us need to do about Jesus. God wants to transform us by the renewing of our minds.

He's not looking for us to go through some ritual of behavior where we abstain from certain activities and show our holiness by what we do do and don't do. No. He says true transformation comes when you acknowledge your need, his greatness, and his provision for that difference, and that change in mind will then bring about a change of life. That change of heart will bring about a change of hands.

So John says, "Listen. I know you Jews think only the Gentiles who are converting to Judaism and only the defiled Jews are the ones who need to go through baptism," which was a sign of purification, a ritual that would bring about transformation in that way. He's saying, "No. The entire bunch of you is lost. You're looking for a messiah who's going to come and be a caesar, and I'm going to have a messiah who's going to come and be a sacrifice.

You'd better change the way you're thinking, because y'all don't know your greatest need, nation. It's not that you're being oppressed by some godless dictator. It's that you're being gripped by sin, and the fruit of your rebellion from Christ is choking out any life you could ever experience, no matter if you had your own king with a Jewish last name or not." John says, "You come, and all of you identify with your impurity in thought by being baptized."

It's interesting where he takes them. He takes them out to the wilderness, which to a Jewish mind was a sign of their disobedience, a sign of their wandering, a sign of their being set apart from where God had intended them to be. If you'll go back with just a quick reminder to the Old Testament, who was it who led them ultimately out of the wilderness into the place of promise? It wasn't Moses. Moses left them in the desert. It was Moses' servant, Joshua, whose name Yeshua means the Lord saves, whose name in the Greek is Jesus.

"Just like Yeshua led you out of the wilderness before, Yeshua is going to lead you out of the wilderness again, but you have to acknowledge that you are in a place of despair, that you are in a place of starvation, a place that does not provide for you what you want and what you need, and that you need one who will graciously lead you out of your situation, who can lead you into the place of promise." John is saying, "I have the one, and you make your way to follow him."

In Matthew 11:11, this is what Jesus said about this one, John the Baptist, who declared these things I just shared with you: "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!" I'm going to tell you I've already made a decision in my life who this Jesus is. A number of you have.

I'm going to say that he is, in fact, the Great King who happens to be a great servant who made a great provision for my sin and deserves a great response. When he says to me, "This is the greatest man who was ever born of a woman," I want to observe that man's life. Let's take a look at some of the things that are in John the Baptist's life and see if we can't learn from them as we get ready to study this life of Christ.

1._ Great men speak the truth wherever and to whomever_. See, John the Baptist was not giving a very popular message. He was not one you would probably want to see come to your dinner party if you were of the nation of Israel, who thought they were the folks everybody in the world ought to applaud and emulate themselves after because they had God's Word.

John the Baptist comes up and says, "Let me tell you something, guys. As a nation, you've missed it. As a nation, you thought God was about all your rituals and all your showing up at the temple and all your little sacrifices and all your dos and don'ts and keeping the law. The law was to teach you that you fell short of what God intended you to do.

The law was to create a need in your life, a need that would humble you, a need that would allow you to realize that you fall short of God's intended pleasure in your life so you'd cry out to him, 'Lord, have mercy on us. We deserve your wrath. Unless you give us what we do not deserve, unless you don't give us what we do deserve, judgment, then we're in a great fix.'"

John was there to declare that. He spoke the truth wherever and to whomever. In fact, just turn two chapters to your right to Matthew 14, and we'll give you an example of where John ended up because of this. John the Baptist ended up in prison. You'll find this caused him no shortage of problems in his life. The reason he was in prison is laid out in Matthew 14. Read with me in verse 1.

"At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, 'This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.' For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, 'It is not lawful for you to have her.' Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet."

But when Herod's birthday came around, there was a great party, and Herod said to Herodias' daughter who danced before him, "You can have whatever you want." So the daughter who had pleased Herod went to her mom, who was upset because John the Baptist had come into Herod's presence and said, "Herod, I know you're king. I know you rule over this land I'm in, but I have a problem with the way you're acting. You took your brother's wife and are living with her, and that is wrong."

He spoke the truth wherever and to whomever, and he didn't stay too concerned about how that was going to affect him. He was not a respecter of persons, if you will, or a lover of position. In Mark 6, where Jesus talks about this story, where John the Baptist is mentioned again, it says Herod loved to hear from John. He called him into his presence and said, "John, you're an amusement to me. You speak with power, and you talk about this Jesus. I want to hear more about him."

But one of the things John said was, "You need to get ready to meet him, Herod, because you're a man who's living in sin. Just because you're a powerful man doesn't mean you can take whatever woman you want and use her for your own pleasure." You see, he had finally gotten the big gig. He was chaplain for the governor, yet John was not interested in keeping that position. John was committed to being a man who spoke the truth wherever and to whomever.

Meredith Hurd and I were talking before the service about her grandfather, a guy named Fred Smith, a man who has been sought after by almost every godly man you could mention to be on his board. Fred Smith, who's a man well into his last years, and I had lunch about a year ago. I was asking Fred what it was about his life that made him so sought after by the Billy Grahams and by InterVarsity and by… Like I said, you name a significant person in the kingdom, and these men have asked Fred to come in and talk to them about their ministry and their plans.

Fred said to me, "Todd, somewhere along the line I got the reputation to be a truth-teller, and they are in scarce quantities these days. I think the reason men want to spend time with me and hear from me about what I think about their ministry and mission in life is because I'll speak the truth to them."

He told me a story about when Billy Graham's ministry was in its early days, how Billy Graham called his board together here in Dallas (Fred was living in Cincinnati at the time). He flew him and everybody else on his board down, and they met in Dallas and had a little presentation. There's a place in Colorado Springs called Glen Eyrie. You might be familiar with it. The Navigators own it now. It's a fantastic, unbelievable retreat center, an old castle that's nestled in the front range of the Rockies. Beautiful property, great property.

Billy Graham starts this meeting by saying, "Men, I've brought you down here today because I believe it's God's will that we buy Glen Eyrie." He said, "We have an incredible opportunity. They've called me and told me they'll sell it to us for a price well under mark, and I think it's God's will that we buy it."

Fred said he raised his hand. Billy acknowledged him, and he said, "Billy, I sure hope you didn't fly me all the way down here from Cincinnati to argue with you about whether or not you knew how to discern God's will. I believe you do, and if you think it's God's will that we buy Glen Eyrie, I'll help you raise the money and buy the property. On the other hand, if you're willing to talk about it, I think it's a lousy idea."

Billy said, "Well, yeah, I'm willing to talk about it. That's why I called you guys here." He said, "Fine. Well, then don't make me argue against God. Let's talk about it." It turned out it was a lousy idea. Fred told him why he thought it was, and they didn't buy it. The Navigators later did. It was the perfect place for them. Later on, Billy bought a place in North Carolina that was the right place for his ministry.

But at that time Fred said, "Billy, you don't need to buy a retreat center. You don't need to be getting a place and settling down and bringing people to you. If you buy a retreat center, that means you have to do retreats. That's not what God has you doing. God wants you out there telling them about the truth. Let somebody else do the retreats now. There will be a day for us to bring people to us, but, Billy, you're an evangelist. You go. You take the gospel message to them." So they didn't buy it.

I kind of laughed. I said, "Fred, how come when you're old and as distinguished as you are and you tell people the truth you're considered a wise old sage but when you're young like I am and try and speak the truth you're considered brash and arrogant?" He just laughed. He said, "Todd, let me tell you something about diplomacy." I thought he was going to say, "As a young man, you need to learn diplomacy."

He kind of laughed. He goes, "Yeah, people will tell you that maybe it's because of someone's diplomacy." He goes, "I don't think much of diplomacy." He goes, "Diplomacy, to me, is the fine art of saying to a Doberman Pinscher, 'Good doggie, good doggie,' until you can find a brick." Diplomats are going to want to tell you they're your friend, they're your friend, they're your friend until they can get the deal they want, and then out comes the brick.

Fred said, "Todd, you just be a truth-teller. You do it with all the grace you can. People will scoff at you because of your youthfulness, but you be a truth-teller. Do it in love." I pray all the time when I communicate (and I prayed it when I communicated today) Proverbs 15:2 would be true in my life. "The words of the wise make knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly."

If the message I want to share with you guys today and the weeks coming offends you by the way I say it, I will ask your forgiveness, but if what I say is biblical and that offends you, for that I cannot apologize. I don't think John the Baptist just went in there and said, "Herod, you're an adulterer. You're a letch. You're an idiot. Look at what you're doing." I think, though, somehow he communicated that what Herod was doing was wrong, and Herod didn't like it.

Herod did not like the fact that John was not concerned with position or power. Herod found a man who was concerned with truth, and great men are always concerned with truth. So are great wives. Wives, you have to love your husbands enough to speak the truth in love to them about issues in their life. Y'all have to love the people you're asked to serve who are in positions of influence and power.

Whether it be a pastor, whether it be an elder, whether it be a leader in your world, you have to tell them and not be so fearful. "If I say this, they're going to put me in prison…if not literally, figuratively…in their life. Others will get to serve in their court, and I love serving in their court." That's not a friend. If you need your position or your friendship so much you're unwilling to speak the truth to that friend, then that friend doesn't need you; you need him. That is why it is so difficult for people of influence to have true friends.

I was talking to a professional athlete about eight weeks ago. You can't turn on SportsCenter without seeing him. He's probably going to be the next Michael Jordan, everybody says. He and I were having a conversation. I just looked him right in the eyes and said, "Who do you know who isn't using you?" He turned and looked at me. I said, "Who do you know who's not using you?" He said, "My mother." I said, "Be careful. If you don't get folks who are around you who can start to tell you the truth about your lifestyle and the way you live, it won't be long before you'll never get to where you want to go."

You might not be the next Michael Jordan, but I'll ask you…Who is not using you? Do you have friends who will speak the truth in your life and who will love you that way? Are you that kind of friend? If you want to be great men in the eyes of this Great Servant who made a great sacrifice which demands a great response, you'll speak the truth in love.

2._ Great men will suffer for their convictions. In other words, they posses the desire to die right rather than to live wrong. That's what great men do. Where did John the Baptist end up because of what he said to Herod? He ended up in prison. John the Baptist was not afraid of the fact that he ended up in prison. Others encourage you to make sacrifices all the time, but you have to decide right now where _you're going to make sacrifices.

John the Baptist was not a man who concerned himself with his own petty comforts. For some reason, God wanted him to declare the truth in the wilderness, so out to the wilderness he went, away from all of the worldly pleasures and comforts a man of his stature could have had. When he was finally brought back into the city into Herod's very court, he was not willing to compromise his message to stay there, and he was willing to suffer for his convictions.

The world will encourage you to suffer for certain things, to make great deals, to gain great fame, to gain great control of your life, but I say to you, and you should say to me, "What is ultimately significant in your life, and what are you really willing to suffer for?" What are you willing to do to make a sacrifice with your time, to sacrifice your creativity? Where will you invest your convictions and your entrepreneurial spirit and make sacrifices?

If it's not for the cause of the Great King, wherever you're investing your time is in the wrong place. Great men and women make great sacrifices. John the Baptist made great sacrifices for his conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, worth doing everything he needed to do for him. What you need to do for this Messiah is different than what John the Baptist needed to do, but you need to do everything God wants you to do for him. Great men suffer for their convictions.

3._ Great men are not afraid to reveal they don't have all of the answers_. Look at Matthew 11 again with me. Look at what it says in verses 2 and 3. "Now when John, while imprisoned…" Why was he imprisoned? Because of what he said to Herod. "…heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples…" John was in prison, and he was acknowledging that things weren't matching up. Things weren't making sense. "Hey, if you're the King and I'm the King's forerunner, why am I suffering the way I am right now?"

But he didn't act like he had his act all together. He knew there was a solution, there was an explanation that right now, given his circumstances, he just couldn't put together. So he was wandering a little bit in his faith. This is a guy who had been anointed by the Holy Spirit from his birth to declare about the fact that Jesus was the Anointed One, and now he's shaken a little bit by that. Have you ever been in a position where everybody looks to you for answers?

Even in your family, if you're the dad, people look to you to have the answers. Men have a notoriously bad rap about always trying to give answers or never asking anybody else for answers or help when they have questions themselves. This is a great man about whom Jesus says that among those born of women there has never been anybody better, and one of the things John did is when he wavered in his understanding, he was not afraid to ask others for help.

He's in prison. Life is confusing, so he sent word by his disciples. He said, "Guys, I have a question I don't have answers to, and I need you, guys who look to me for answers, to go get the answer for me." He said to them, "Go and ask Jesus, 'Are you the Expected One or shall we look for somebody else?'" That had to be a tough thing for John to say, but nonetheless, he said it.

There's a story I have here by a guy named Dave Barry. If you don't read Dave Barry on Sundays in the Dallas Morning News, you're missing a little laughter in your life. He talks about how men have a hard time asking questions sometimes. I want to read you from this. Barry writes, "Last July, when a group of Danish researchers announced that men have an average of four billion more brain cells apiece than women, a lot of us guys decided to celebrate this affirmation of our superior intelligence by spending a couple of months drinking beer and throwing furniture off the tops of buildings to see what happened to it.

But now we return to find that many women have been ridiculing the Danish discovery. These women have been saying that, okay, maybe [men] have more brain cells, but it doesn't matter, because [men] never use their brains to think about anything besides sex. This is not true! Males are perfectly capable of thinking about other topics, as is shown by the following conversation, which was recorded on a cockpit voice recorder just before a recent airplane crash:

Pilot: I'll tell you what, that flight attendant has a [beautiful pair of legs]. Whoa! Looks like engine No. 1 has stopped working!

Copilot: Whoa! So have engines No. 2, 3 and 4!

Pilot: Whoa! [What about them Cowboys?]"

So, it's not just about women, Barry says. "Another thing I wish to point out is that when men appear to not be thinking, they often are thinking, but it's about some issue that women would not understand. For example, back in July there was a widely publicized incident in which an elderly couple set out from their home in Kenilworth, New Jersey, to drive to a doctor's office 2.8 miles away, with the man of course at the wheel. They were located more than 24 hours later, after having driven an estimated 800 miles through an estimated three states.

We all know why this happened. According to the Associated Press story, the man 'refused to ask directions during the entire trip.' Of course you women are laughing about this. For years you have made fun of us men for refusing to ask directions. But did it ever occur to you that we have a reason? Did it ever occur to you that, with our four billion extra brain cells, we might be thinking about something that you don't know?

That something is this: Under the Rules of Guy Conduct, if you're a guy driving a car, and you don't know how to get where you're going, and you pull over to ask another guy, and he does know, then he is legally entitled to take your woman! Yes! He can just lean through the window and grab her! That's what the elderly Kenilworth, New Jersey, guy was trying to prevent, and you women laughed at him!"

Don't we act like that sometimes? We act like we can't let anybody know that everything in our lives is not battened down and knotted down and tied down. You know what? The first class I took when I was at Dallas Theological Seminary was the History of Doctrine by a guy named John Hannah. He's really Dr. Dr. Hannah. There would be guys who would raise their hands and ask a question in class, and this guy, who had been in school for 15 years and now teaches people, went up there and goes, "You know, I'm not really sure."

I was back there, 23 and roaring, and I went, "What? I'm paying this guy $400 a credit hour and he doesn't know? Hey, I know. Ask me. I'll tell you the answer to that question. Are you kidding me? You don't know? What?" Do you know what I learned in that class more than anything? I can't tell you a whole lot about Jerome or Justin Martyr anymore.

I can't tell you a whole lot about Anselm and all of the boys of church history, but I can tell you what I learned at that man's feet was that the more you know, sometimes you're a little bit slower to tell what you know, and you're willing to humble yourself sometimes and ask some questions. It was the best lesson I could have learned early in seminary, to stop and say, "You know what? I need some help here. I don't think I have it all figured out. What do you think?"

Great men are not afraid to ask others for help. It's what Jesus himself did, modeling what a great man did. He said, "You know what? I'm grieved deeply right now." In the garden of Gethsemane as he went to the cross, he said, "Would you pray for me? I need your help at this point."

4._ Great men know what to do with their doubts_. Where did John the Baptist send his disciples? He sent them to Jesus. Great men know to go to the Scriptures. You look in the Scriptures. The life of David. Go read Psalm 13. David had a problem. He said, "God, how long? How long will it continue?" But David had the courage to sit there and let the Lord respond. Great men are not afraid to reveal they don't have the answers, but they know where to go: sit at the Master's feet until they hear from the Word.

That's what Jesus gave back to him. Matthew 11:4: "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and report to John what you hear and see…'" From Isaiah 35 he says, "…the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.""You go tell John he was right and that God's Word has been true in my life, and if you don't know from your personal experience, learn from my works and what God has said."

5._ Great men are steadfast and purposeful_. Great men like John know what they're out there for. Look at what it says in Matthew 11:7. "As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, 'What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?'" Of course not. John was not just somebody blown here and there, but he was a man who was sure of what he believed. He was not swayed by public opinion or by private misfortune. He was steadfast and purposeful.

He did not fear men like Saul. He wasn't ruled by polls and opinions like other world leaders are today, but he knew what his life was about and he lived by it. There's a great illustration of a man who was teaching a bunch of young guys some stuff, and he had a jar. He took a bunch of large rocks and put them in the jar. He had a few extra rocks on the table, and he said to everybody out there, "Is this jar full?" They go, "Yeah, it's full." He goes, "No, it's not."

He reached under his desk and pulled out a bucket of gravel and poured that gravel over the big rocks and filled up the jar. He said, "Is the jar filled?" They go, "Yeah. Now it's filled." He goes, "No, it's not." He took out some sand and poured the sand over those big rocks and over the smaller rocks, and it filled in there a little bit more. He said, "Now is it filled full?" They kind of caught on and said, "No, it's not full." He goes, "That's right."

He reached under the desk one more time and took a pitcher of water and poured it in there, and it went in through the sand, through the gravel, through the big rocks until it started to come over the edges. Now he asked, "Is it full?" and they went, "Yes. Now it's full." He said, "That's right." He said, "Do you know what this illustration is to show you?" One guy raised his hand and said, "Well, it's to show you that if you try you can always squeeze more into your life." He goes, "No. that's not what it's trying to show you."

What it's trying to show you is that if you don't get the big rocks in first you'll never get them in. See, what John the Baptist determined was what the big rock in his life was and that he was going to serve this King we're going to study for these next weeks. He said, "I'm going to get that in my life first. I'll put some gravel and some sand and some water around it, but I'm going to determine this: I know what my purpose on this earth is, and I will not let anything intervene and get in the way of that." Great men are steadfast and purposeful.

6._ Great men live with an eternal perspective_. They desire to be more holy than they desire to be happy. Look at the verse Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8. "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…"

That was the big rock in Paul's life. It was a big rock in John's life. He said, "I'm not living for today. Today is fleeting. Today is but a vapor. 'The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God endures forever.' I'm going to stick my life on this word of God." John lived with an eternal perspective. That's the only way he could suffer for his convictions.

That's the only way he could look at Herod and say, "Herod, I don't need the position or the comfort you can offer me. What I need to know is that I'm investing my life wisely, and I'm going to invest all my creativity, all my entrepreneurship, all my energies in this Jesus who I believe is the one who if he has favor toward me, that alone is good news." That's what a great man does.

7._ Great men fearlessly proclaim the person of Jesus Christ. What I love about John is that it wasn't about John. He prepared the way by telling people what their situation in life was. He called them _to the way of selflessness and surrender to this great Caesar who himself was a servant, and then he did what so many men fail to do: he got out of the way. He said, "Listen. I'm not fit to untie his sandals. This is really about him; it's not about me. I'll give you the message. I'll tell you who he is. I'll tell you how to prepare yourself for him." But he got out of the way.

One of my verses that I continually have come across my mind if I'm going to be half the man God wants me to be is John 3:30. It's John the Baptist when he is being pushed and pushed and thrown up to positions of exaltation. John looked at what people were doing with him and said, "Let me tell you something. As Jesus must increase for you to get what you're after, I must decrease. It's not about me; it's about him. I am here to point you to him." As a man who tries to invest his life in others, as a guy who wants to impart to other people passion about Christ…

People a lot of times will give you a lot of credit and want you to play a really significant role in their life, but if I'm effective at doing what God has ultimately called me to do, I have to continually take them to the Lord. I have to continue to show them that he is the one who has their answers, not me, and not love that position of authority I have in their life but be somebody who can say, "Look. I have to slowly decrease in your life as you become more familiar with your King, and he must increase." Great men fearlessly proclaim the person of Christ.

One of the biographers of Billy Graham was asked what it was about Billy Graham's life that they thought made him so successful. I won't forget the guy's response. He simply said, "God can afford to share his glory with someone who refuses to touch it." He said, "Billy Graham refuses to touch glory. He's a man marked by humility, integrity, and prayer."

Do you know what our job is as a body? We said this the very first time we met. Let's settle the glory issue up front. I really believe God wants to do significant stuff with us, but if we want to be a great church, we're not going to be great because we have the finest music, the finest speakers, the finest children's ministry. We will be great for one reason: because we fearlessly and boldly proclaim the person of Christ and get out of the way and we become servants of others.

Let me leave you with this. This is a book of beginnings. This book begins with this guy named John the Baptist. He comes and he's gone. By verse 9, you'll find out next week he's going to bring Christ into his presence, he's going to baptize Christ, and then we'll find out why that is and why Jesus went through this baptism if he didn't need to cleanse himself because he was the pure one from God, but then John is gone, this one who Jesus says is the greatest of all men born of a woman.

So, we looked at his life and the great things that are true in John's life. You might be sitting out there going, "I'm none of those things. I'm not a person who has suffered for my convictions. I've suffered for my own self-exaltation. I don't like to ask other people questions because it shows weakness and vulnerability in my life. I surely haven't proclaimed the gospel." And on and on and on.

Well, this book, as it said, is a book of beginnings. One of the things this book wants to drive you to is a place of asking…What do you want to begin to be today if you've never been it before? Even if you've blown it in the beginning, this truth we're going to offer in the gospel of Mark through this person of Jesus… It says it's not too late to change your ending.

Peter blew it. The guy who gave this message to Mark blew it himself. He had a lousy beginning. He was a big mouth who ran too quickly to speak sometimes and did things he shouldn't have done, and he blew it. This book ends with Peter being a failure, choking in the presence of a 10-year-old little girl about who this Jesus was. Peter was nothing like this John we just studied.

He was a failure because he didn't fearlessly proclaim Christ; he hid from the fact that he was even identified with him. But where the book of Acts picks up is where the gospel goes. If you meet this Jesus who is this Great Servant, he can change everything. He made weak, feeble, scared Peter, running from little girls, an individual who boldly proclaimed the truth of the gospel.

Listen to what Peter said in Acts 2. This is Peter speaking. This is where the gospel went because Jesus changed him. "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know…"

We may not know it yet, but right there in verse 22 is the gospel of Mark. That's what we're going to study these next weeks: those miracles, wonders, and signs which God performed through him. Mark doesn't waste a lot of time with the words of Jesus. He wants you to see Jesus and see that he's a man of power, that he is God in the flesh, so you can respond to that.

Peter says, "…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." Here's a man willing to suffer for his convictions, and Peter did. He was changed. His beginning was awful. You read the gospel of Mark, and you'll see Peter fail again and again and again.

You might look at your life and see failure again and again and again, but there was a transformation that happened in Peter's life, and that transformation, we're told at the beginning of the book of Acts, is that he finally understood who this Jesus was, and the Spirit of that Lord lives in him.

"But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. […] Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified." Here's Peter's basic message: "Jesus is God. You crucified him, and you're going to suffer for it." Something changed, and that something can change in your life and in my life.

I'm praying as we go through Mark it does. I'm praying my life becomes more committed to this Jesus and I let him transform me, and my flesh, which loves self-exaltation, which loves people to think I have all of the answers, which does not like to suffer for convictions will become more conformed to this Great King who became a great servant for me and dealt with my greatest need and who appropriately demands a great response.

This is the truth: the promise is for you and your children and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself. My prayer is that the Lord would call you to himself this morning, that in the weeks coming ahead as we study the life of Jesus he would call you to himself, no matter what your beginning has been, that you would let Christ impact you and he would change your ending. You want good news? Your good news better not have anything less to do than with that which involves eternity. If it does, you're selling yourself short. Let's pray.

Father, as we study now this gospel of Mark and learn more about who this Jesus is, I pray we would become not just like John the Baptist but we'd become more like Jesus, that we would use whatever greatness you have given us as a gift to serve other people and that we would follow the example of him and be suffering servants and be obedient even to the point of death, as John the Baptist was, as Peter was, and as we can be and will be as we depend on you.

We thank you, Lord, for your grace, and as Peter has said himself, "This good news is for you and for your children, for all who are far off." Father, for those of us who are far off from you right now from living this kind of life, draw us near. Reveal yourself to us. Transform us, that the world might see that this King still reigns. We pray it in Christ's name, amen.


About 'Gospel According to Mark, Volume 1'

The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. This volume covers Mark 1:1 through Mark 2:17.