17 December 2008

And he preached

by Frank Turk

This morning we got a prayer request for Ashley, so before getting started here take a moment to ask God for mercy and His power to be real for Ashley's family today.

Last week I think I exceeded my word count by a jillion, so just a brief post today. And in posting briefly, I'm realizing that this year I haven't blogged a single word about Christmas yet -- and a week from today is Christmas Eve.

You know: the Gospel of Mark is the only one which doesn't really give a "Christmas" account. Some people may say that John doesn't either, but maybe those people don't really understand why John goes from "in the Beginning" to "the Word became flesh".

At any rate, Mark has other fish to fry in telling the Good News of Jesus Christ, starting here:
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

"Behold, I 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."
Now, when Mark wrote this, Leviticus and Deuteronomy would have been books ~1400 years old, (thanks Dan!) right? And Isaiah would have been a book about 700 years old. And the last OT prophet would have spoken about 400 years previous.

I mention that because even 400 years is a long time -- especially in an age with no internets and blogs, no printing press for weekly news magazines, no technological tools for preserving cultural foundations except pen and paper. Yet Mark makes a point of starting out his view of the Gospel by showing that in fact there is no Gospel without these pen and paper artifacts.

Think of this as a devotional moment for us as we consider Christmas -- because what we really want to do at Christmas is sort of close the Old testament and get on with the angels, and the shepherds, and the girl with the forgiving fiance, and the stable, and the idea or the story that this Jesus fellow was relatable and therefore we should at least give him a chance to say what he has to say.

But when Mark starts his story of the Gospel of Jesus, he says first of all that this three thousand year old story is where the story of Jesus begins: the story of Jesus begins in the Prophets.

And in that, what the Prophets were saying about Jesus was not something like, "well: your view of God is evolving, Israel, and one day someone will help you to come to a more human way of relating to and thinking about God other than this sacrificial system you are bloodying the place up with today."

In fact, the Prophets were saying, "God Himself is coming, and you should 'make straight his path'."

What a thing to say, right? "Make straight His path".

Listen: I think it's ironic that Newsweek took a week out of the Advent season to say exactly the opposite in making an editorial case for a religious view of Gay "marriage". In doing so, they have done exactly the opposite of making straight a path for this Jesus.

Don't make the same mistake they are making. Jesus is the one whose sandal we are unfit to untie, and we ought to be preparing the way for Him -- through repentence, through connecting to the Old Testament, and through the tutor of the Law which God gave us so that it will go good for us.

There's a voice crying out in the wilderness: make a straight path, for God is coming to dwell among us. Don't change the channel. Listen to this voice because it is good news -- even if it means that you have to admit that it is not the good news you were thinking you wanted to hear.


David Regier said...

That was exactly the theme of our Christmas program this year. The Word, promised to humanity from Eden, testified to by faith, Law, poets and prophets, became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

donsands said...

"Jesus is the one whose sandal we are unfit to untie"

The same feet that were driven through with a spike for the sins of the world. Psalm 22:16b

Good Christmas thoughts Frank. 8 days to go!

James Scott Bell said...


May he strengthen our hearts so that we will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (cf. 1 Thess. 3:13)

jeff said...

It reminds me of the talk Jesus had with the guys on the road to Emmaus, showing from Moses and the prophets exactly how Christ fulfilled everything and who He was. The idea that only Paul has a clue is utter blasphemy to the God-inspired Scriptures.

jeff said...

OH yeah, especially since Paul tells Timothy that he knew from a child the Holy Scriptures (OT) that were able to make him wise unto salvation. Revelation calls it "the everlasting Gospel." Beautiful stuff.

FX Turk said...

Just to leap off of what David said in the first comment, people who want to read down to Scripture always miss the point broadly.

And before we think it only happens on the Newsweek end of the spectrum, re-read Phil's post from yesterday about the use of the word "all" and ask if the "conservative" side doesn't also have its underpants on its head sometimes when it comes to inerrancy and hermeneutics.

Both commit the same error: trying to make Scripture something we want it to be, rather than letting it be what God has already made it.

Indeed: testimony, Law, poetry and prophecy are (some of) the ways God has told us about Himself. And He has also spoken by His Son -- which brings us back to Christmas.

James Scott Bell said...

"...trying to make Scripture something we want it to be, rather than letting it be what God has already made it."

Indeed. Was listening to JMc's teaching on the "theology of Creation" yesterday, and he talked of some "pastors" who do not think Gen. 1 & 2 contain actual facts. At what chapter does belief in the Bible actually "kick in" he wanted to know.

Let's listen, for "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

Jeremy Weaver said...

It's like your in my head, dude. What am I thinking now?

Seriously, I preached this last Sunday. I'll send you audio when I get it.

Bro. Jeff Hallmark said...

You wrote -

At any rate, Mark has other fish to fry in telling the Good News of Jesus Christ, starting here:

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

"Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:

I ask -
Where did Isaiah write this?????

Jeremy Weaver said...


Malachi wrote that. Verse three is from Isaiah. Malachi 3:1 is given to offer context to the quote from Isaiah 40:3.

Strong Tower said...

Focal Point.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the prologue to this story we have what is like the panoramic camera view that starts with the widest possible angle narrows and resolves with God creating man.

History has moved along from that widest angle and the book of Hebrews gives us the same theme that God in past times spoke in the most diverse way and narrows that focus to one man.

Now people are trying to make the end of this story like an hour glass widening its focus and more broadly defining, or rather taking out of focus, the end of history. From a biblical perspective it really isn't that way. For Christ was manifest in the flesh as the Omega, the reason, reconciling all things in himself, past and future.

When people diffuse the focus they are displacing Christ. The final scene in this story was and is one man. To Him John pointed saying: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

A simple prophecy of the removal of all that obscured, mountains and valleys and crooked paths around whose corners things cannot be seen, the simple song says the hopes and fears of all the years are met in the joy that John said was now complete.

The story begins and ends with Christ and John's call to repentance was to tell us the story is not about us. Our story is one of sin and his a story of the only Good. As John, our purpose it to set the record straight.

Isaiah 40:3 "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God"

This is the voice of the prophets; the voice of all those called to testify of Christ

Solameanie said...

In our chapel this morning, one of our people asked for prayer for pastors during the Christmas season. He's encountered several who have privately told him that they're "tired of preaching about Christmas" to jaded congregations. They seem to find it more rewarding to preach about Easter.

That saddens me even though I understand why they're discouraged. I agree that Resurrection Day inspires a whole host of potential messages, but the miracle of the Incarnation should never cease to amaze us. And we should never tire of hearing about it.

Without the Incarnation, the Resurrection would not have happened. The miracle of Immanuel - God with us - includes all of it, His birth, His life, His death, burial and resurrection. It's all a wonder.

FX Turk said...

I just want to point out that Bro. Jeff Hallmark is laying a trap for those who want to open the door for him to unleash some KJVO fury.

Such as it would be "furious" anyway.

jeff said...

Thanks Frank,

Christmas is a time to celebrate and ponder in awe the manifestation of God in the flesh. What a wonderful story it is. Indeed, the Greatest Story Ever Told. The Father, giving His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Who could have ever thought up such a wonderful plan of salvation. Thanks be to God!

Don't get me started on that KJVO controversy. I'm a different Jeff by the way. The church I go to here in Dayton Ohio is KJVO, and I have to bite my tongue a lot.

God bless.

FX Turk said...

Sola --

May I say, with humility and a little fear, that the feeling of being "tired of" preaching about Christmas comes from this: wanting more theology than wanting Jesus.

It's an easy mistake to make, but it is a mistake. We could easily preach 10,000 sermons on the atonement -- we calvinists -- and on justification because you know what? We love that. Let me be clear that I love that.

But Christmas is about something else which we lose sight of in our systematics: what has been done is not as precious as who has done it.

I was listening to contemporized Christmas carols today on the way to work, and whilst listening to "Joy to the World" I was struck by one phrase only: "Let Earth receive Her King".

There are 10,000 sermons in that expression of the message of Revelation, which is in fact a restatement of the whole Old Testament. It is Him we rejoice in -- what He has done is only great because He has done it. If I had done it -- pheh! It means nothing. But He has done it.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Let Earth receive Her King, my friends! This is the message of Christmas: He is with us -- He comes to us.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Good Heavens -- oh for a thousand tounges to sing! Christmas ought to make us feel like Spurgeon for the first time at the pulpit, not like a newscaster reading yesterday's news.

And no offense to anyone meant here: this is meant as an encouragement to love Jesus enough to talk about Him.

FX Turk said...

For the KJVO's roiling up a response, let me say this, btw:

Your translation is a marvel and a precious gift of the church to the world. It is not by any means the last word on the translation of the texts in question, and we (you and me) should have the humility to say so.

jeff said...

Amen Frank! Amen!

Speaking of Christmas Carols, Does anyone know what the term "En Excellsus Deo" means? Just asking. Thanks.

Strong Tower said...

God in the highest or God the most high. And I think you meant en excellsis deo. The phrase gloria en excellsis deo then is glory to God in the highest. Or another way, God in highest glory. Either way it means that there is no higher glory than God.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Sorry Frank. I thought he asked a real question.

Solameanie said...


Amen and then some. There is so much for which to rejoice, our salvation included. If we're hungry for theology, the Incarnation contains plenty of it. And it starts with the Person of Christ Himself.

On another note, here's hoping that this meta does NOT get derailed by a KJVO dispute. For starters, I can't think of an old song that fits the occasion. Maybe "The Lord's Prayer" hit single version by Sister Janet Mead? And that only because it says "who art in Heaven."

Man, I hope Kent B. doesn't see this. We'll be dead meat.

Mark B. Hanson said...


Sister Janet Mead's version also departs from the KJV in the last phrase, "but save us from evil, and the kingdom, the power and the glory forever will be yours."

W. Ian Hall said...

I am a KJV user and have been from the start of my Christian life. I love the KJV and I prefer it to other translations. That said it aint perfect, it certainly isnt better than the Hebrew/Greek texts, and I don't think those who use other versions are necessarily screaming heretics. Moreover I regularly in my study of the Original texts make my own translation and then consult a range of versions for comparison.
I am appalled by some of the nuttier versions of scripture but I'm also hugely irritated by some of the wilder fringes of KJVOism who give the KJV a bad name. Thats a tragedy.
Having said all that I enjoyed your post Frank. Keep up the good work.

FX Turk said...

I can take a vow to ignore Kent. I just wanted everyone to know for certain where Bro. Jeff was headed.

FX Turk said...


One Phil Johnson also prefers the KJV, but he doesn't idolize it. There is nothing wrong with the KJV which isn't a function of the problem of translation in general.

I appreciate your comment here. Thanks.

Rachael Starke said...

I've had the privilege of being, ahem, "great with child" three separate times over the Christmas season. It always prompts me to consider the condescension of God to not just suddenly show up one day, oh, say, at the "age of accountability", but to be with us from day 1, in Mary's womb, and subject Himself to all the indignities that birth and babyhood offer up.

All of it for us.

Thanks for the great reminder Frank.

FX Turk said...


into a feeding trough.

This was God Almighty who could have ordained to come forth from Solomon's temple. Born in a dirty feeding trough.

jeff said...

Thanks for the explantion of "en excellsis deo". I've been wondering about that again this Christmas season. I love that hymn by the way.

Speaking of KJVonlyism, is anyone hear familiar with Peter Ruckman and his ministry, and what are your thoughts on it, if you have any opinions. Just curious.

God bless

Aaron Snell said...

The latin is actually "Gloria in excelsis Deo" but Strong Tower was right on with the translation.

Aaron Snell said...

Back on topic:

My pastor is actually doing a series of Christmas messages out of the book of Ruth of all things (one chapter a Sunday for the month of December), and it's incredible. God bless him for it. The Great Story, the drama of the gospel, is as much in the OT as it is in the NT, and more people in the pews need to see that.

Carl said...

I'm praying for Ashley, her family and all the folks written about on that blog. Thank you for allowing me the priviledge to pray for them.

Carl said...

jeff, my opinion of Peter Ruckman? Probably the most extreme of the KJV-Only extremists out there. So far that even KJV-Onlyists disavow him. I would stay as far away from him and his teachings as you can.

Carl said...

Frank, would you update us on Ashley's condition?

FX Turk said...

I expect you can find updates to Ashley's condition here.

Stefan Ewing said...

Frank, this was a wonderful post. Thank you.

It's hard to nail down Mark's Gospel sometimes. There's definitely more depth to his Gospel than at first appears, in contrast to its shortness.

We think of it as being brief and action-oriented, but then—for example—he fleshes out some stories more than the other Gospels (like the death of John the Baptist), quotes more of the Shema than the other Evangelists do, and actually has a significant number of parables and teachings amidst all the action.

I'll definitely never read 1:1 quite the same way again after your post. I thought of "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" as referring to Mark's Gospel, but could it with justice be taken to be referring to the following verses?

In other words, could it be that that Mark was explicitly stating that the Gospel—or rather, the proclamation of the Gospel—began in the Prophets, such as Isaiah and Malachi?

And it must be significant that he quotes from Isaiah 40, the first glimmmer of light after 39 chapters of bristling divine judgement, in the first of the books of the "Latter Prophets."

ezekiel said...


"In other words, could it be that that Mark was explicitly stating that the Gospel—or rather, the proclamation of the Gospel—began in the Prophets, such as Isaiah and Malachi?"

The Gospel has been preached longer than that. And The Word was preaching it way back in Genesis.

Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, In you shall all the nations be blessed.

Stefan Ewing said...


True enough. I've read that verse several times, but forgot about it.