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. –Mark 1:4-5
“I can be anything I want to be if I want it badly enough.” I’ve heard a variety of people say that over the years, probably prompted by well-meaning but deluded counselors. The simple reality is that “want” won’t get the job done. It doesn’t matter how badly I want to own a house on Miami’s Star Island or fly around the world in a private jet or have to dodge the flash of the papparazzi as I stroll the red carpet in my custom tailored tuxedo. It doesn’t even matter how badly I want to be able to play a Beethoven piano sonata. The simple reality is that unless I take some action, all the wanting in the world is not going to bring anything good to reality.
At the risk of sounding even more depressing, I don’t believe that we can achieve anything we desire simply by wanting it badly enough and working at it sufficiently. For example, I’m fairly certain that no matter how hard I had worked at becoming an NBA power forward, I could not have managed it. I don’t think I have ever had the potential to be a Navy Seal. My body and my emotions simply didn’t give me the raw materials for these and other jobs.
Similarly, people do not simply become reconciled to God in the manner that mushrooms pop up on an old stump. Certainly, some people have a Road-to-Damascus style encounter with Christ, but for the most part, there’s work that needs to be done. Today’s verses explain that work fairly clearly.
Clearly, somebody has to do some form of preaching. Romans 10:4 asks us how people can hear the Gospel without a preacher. Perhaps John the Baptist understood that in order to make straight the way of the Lord, he had to go and preach. That preaching is the first step in the work that needs to be done to bring people into a saving knowledge of Christ.
Second, the people need to respond. They can’t simply listen to the message, nod blithely, and then pick up their certificate of redemption as they exit. Look at how John Mark describes the situation. The people went out to John. It wasn’t convenient to head from all over Judea and Jerusalem to the Jordan River. These people had to cover some miles to reach John. Then they had to confess their sins. Baptism alone didn’t get the work done. Confession came first, but the baptism followed.
And then what happened? The way for Jesus’ approach to these people had been cleared. They believed and trusted without precisely understanding the object of that trust. These people were natural first-generation Christians.
Now, years later, we want the church to continue. But if the church will continue, then the people must come. And if the people are to come, don’t we need to preach in one way or another? Whether in sermons or teaching or some other sort of ministry, be the “preacher” that the Spirit created you to be.