31 December 2015

Reflecting on eternity as the year ends...

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in December 2007. Dan urged us to view the year's end as an opportunity to reflect on our spiritual state and mortality.

As usual, the comments are closed.
The year draws to an end. And what else?

None of us knows what the next moment holds. "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring" (Proverbs 27:1). Whatever the next day brings, all the preceding days bring their mounting weight to bear on us.

We all stand before the Judge. We don't know the time on the summons, but we do know that we won't miss our court appearance date by so much as a second.

And what do we bring? In the best movie version of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge hears Marley's lament about the many and heavy chains he wears, and murmurs "You have my sympathy." Marley's response:
"Ahh — you do not know the weight and length of strong chain you bear yourself. It was full as heavy and as long as this seven Christmas eves ago and you have labored on it since. Ah! it is a ponderous chain!"
Whatever the theological shortcomings of A Christmas Carol (and they are many and serious), I appreciate this: Scrooge is vividly shown to be utterly unaware that he is judged, as he stands; that his life has already borne fruit, and that fruit is bitter, woeful, deadly.

This is the state of men today. We read, "whoever does not believe is condemned already" (John 3:18). Worse, and more ominously, John reveals that "whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36) — now, at this moment, as he draws this fleeting breath which, for all he knows, may be his last. What Daniel said to Belshazzar, he might well say to us: "the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored" (Daniel 5:23).

"Long live me!"poof! — gone. Gone to judgment.

Someone has just read those words, and they are for you. Your condition is just so. Whatever your pursuits and distractions over the past year, the reality is that you are a step away from a judgment that is absolute, final, inescapable, irrevocable, and incapable of appeal. Were you to die now, the ax would fall, and that would be that. Forever. You need to come to know God, now.

But lest my Christian readers (and self) feel too safe, consider that the same principle applies to us equally, and perhaps even more so. Never forget:
"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48)
Perhaps you read this blog daily, and other writings of men far better than the current one. Good, and God be praised. But never forget: as you and I read, our responsibility-index goes up. It is happening now, right now, to you, and to me.

The words of Hebrews 9:27 ("it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment") do not bring a message to unbelievers alone, but to us as well. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10). And how does this consideration affect the apostle who wrote it? Does Paul go on to say, "But never mind that, the blood covers all, I'm eternally secure, so I'm going for what I see to be my best life right now"?

Not so much. Paul's very next words are, "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:11). The apostle of free forensic justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone found the reality of God's judgment both sobering and motivating.

So I call us all, as the year draws to a close, to consider the judgment of God, and to consider our lives in that context. The statistics are pretty good that not all who read these words now will be here to read any similar post next year's end. Nor may I be here to write one.

"For man does not know his time.
Like fish that are taken in an evil net,
and like birds that are caught in a snare,
so the children of man are snared at an evil time,
when it suddenly falls upon them"
(Ecclesiastes 9:12)

29 December 2015

Small and static versus larger and growing: opening thoughts

by Dan Phillips

Is a small church inherently virtuous and godly? Is a large church intrinsically venomous and worldly?

I come from a bit of prejudice on the subject, I'll admit. All of my earliest church experiences were small (by which I mean not merely under 100, but under 50), and I liked it. But then I also was part of larger churches (over 200, over 500), and I liked that too. That said, I do tend to see the need to be as large as possible as evil...but also contentment with remaining comfortably small as comfortable no less evil.

Oops, I've given away the conclusion, without so much as a Spoiler Alert. Well, let's back-track. Let's lay some Biblical framework.

First, one definition: for the purpose of these posts, I'll define a "small" church as 100 or fewer, assuming a town of 25000 or more.

One the one hand: small can be glorious

The Bible is literally riddled with stories whose whole point is to glorify God precisely because of the smallness of the beginnings. "Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him" (Isaiah 51:2), for instance. He was one, he was old, and he was married to an infertile woman. All this served to glorify God all the more by what God made of this old believing man with his infertile wife.

Moses did not free Israel from Egypt by amassing a huge army. It was just two little old men, and one great big God. That was part of the point, and the glory, of the story.

Very famously, there's the story of Gideon, raised up to liberate Israel from Midian. Though Gideon surely did not agree, Yahweh thought 32000 troops were far too many (Judges 7:2-3). In fact, he thought 10000 troops was overkill (v. 4). But 300 was just right (v. 7). Just right to reassure Gideon, or the three hundred themselves? Surely not. But just right to glorify God by the deliverance He'd work.

Many other stories make the same point. King Saul's son Jonathan decides to take on a whole Philistine garrison, just by himself and his armor-carrier, explicitly reasoning "It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few" (1 Samuel 14:6b). Then l ater, in the name of the God of Israel, little punk shepherd-boy David knocks down the giant that had a whole king and army trembling (1 Samuel 17). In many ways, the OT warns against despising "the day of small things" (Zechariah 4:10).

The New Testament has many such stories and many such teachings as well. Jesus famously warns that the popular and crowded road is the one that leads to Hell, while its opposite is narrower and vastly less popular (Matthew 7:13-14). He warns his spokesmen to expect rejection and persecution (Matthew 10:21-22), and that whole towns might reject them and their preaching (v. 14).

Jesus was glorified by feeding huge masses by supplies that were paltry and cheap (John 6:9ff.). But he had no problem teaching things that sent people running away in droves (v. 60ff.). When that was their reason for leaving, attrition didn't bother Him a bit (v. 67).

Fast-forwarding, Paul warns that the church age will not be marked by gradual grown and development into a glorious golden age on earth. No, he says that the latter days will be marked by rejection and unpopularity of truth, and love of error (2 Timothy 4:3-4). The man who would be a man of God must be prepared to preach doggedly and persistently and consistently, when it looks like the very worst time for it (vv. 1-2, 5).

On the other hand: explosive can be good, too

First we have to remember the passion to see God glorified.

People who love God as they ought can't be content just to see Him glorified a little, if anything can be done with it. Their vision is God's vision: to see the earth "filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14). Their sigh is, "Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!" (Ps. 107:8 NKJV; cf. vv. 15, 21, 31). They long for God to be known and loved and marveled at and praised from pole to pole (Ps. 148:7, 13; Isaiah 42:10, etc.).

And people who love people as they should cannot be content to see their fellow-man living in darkness and despair, and skipping gaily off to a hopeless eternity under the relentless and endless wrath of God (cf. Matt. 7:12). They can't claim ignorance, and wouldn't dream of it (Proverbs 24:11-12).

So they're like Paul, who knew everything we know from the first section, and yet it was his ambition to preach Christ and His gospel everywhere, particularly where He was not yet known (Romans 15:20-24). You would search long, hard, and utterly fruitlessly to find in Paul any spirit of "Oh well, God's sovereign, I've done what I can, you can't save everyone."

So there are explosively big moments here and there in Scripture. The one that leaps to mind is the birthday of the church, on Pentecost. Growth from maybe the under-200 range to over three thousand, as a result of one sermon, is what most of us pastors would count a "really good day" (Acts 2:41; cf. 4:4 for another leap).

And something like this continues through Acts. There are persecutions and treacheries a-plenty, but there is also the constant refrain:
6:7 — And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
8:4 — Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
12:24 — But the word of God increased and multiplied 
13:44 — The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
13:48-49 — And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.
17:11 — Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
19:10 — This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
19:20 — So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
So, the combination: eager, inventive, tireless preachers + actual saving Gospel + lost men and woman + saving hand of God = spread of the Word among converts. 

Growth, in other words. Good, sound, holy, God-honoring, healthy, appropriate growth, built and based on the pure word of God. Faithfulness and fruitfulness.

The two problems we're left with

These facts of revelation leave us with two problems. The first is often insoluble.

First question: Why is this happening/not happening to me/him? You look at a work that is plastic, formulaic, and all-wrong. They don't preach the Gospel deeply, they don't teach the Bible very intensively; it's like toy-time for toddlers. But they grow explosively. You've heard the story a thousand times. "We started with three people, and in a year we had 1700." No big budget, just tons of quick and impressive growth. It's years later, and they're still going strong.

Or on the other hand, you're a preacher who preaches the whole counsel of God with everything you've got. Every prayerfully-formed-and-delivered sermon/lesson exalts God, edifies saints, points to Christ, to the best of your God-given ability. And your church has at least some people who evangelize, and show love. And you're in a target-rich location.

And you just. Don't. Grow.

Now, we can make guesses about both. About the former, we can prate on about "itching ears" and Zeitgeist and all — except it's not really a cult or a heresy. They do preach Jesus and gospel, if not very deeply. It's just not what we believe Biblically it should be.

Yet they multiply like bunnies, looking for all the world like a real work of God for explosiveness.

About the latter, we could say there's not enough evangelism, they're too young/too old, their style is too this or not enough that, and yadda yadda yadda.

But none of those items were factors in Acts. If someone's heart is touched by God, if he wants to know and serve God alongside genuine believers, this would be a perfectly fine home for him. In fact, a terrific home. And for such a work to grow would bring great glory to God.

Yet it just doesn't happen.


I have no idea. Worse, I know of no way to tell until the Judgment.

Well, that's a sucky answer, isn't it? Not what you come to Top Men to hear. Well, I'm not a top man, and I hate the answer too, but it's all I've got. How many followers did Isaiah have? Jeremiah? Ezekiel? What happened with Jonathan Edwards at his church? How wildly popular was he in his lifetime?


No clue, other than to say something like "because thus it pleased the Lord to deal with His servants."

Second question: Is what is happening to me as-should-be? Should I be happy, concerned, or...?

Ah, now, there I might have some help for you. Some help.

Friday, Lord willing.

UPDATE: this way to the Conclusion.

Dan Phillips's signature

27 December 2015

When new is old

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 18, sermon number 1,057, "Untrodden ways."
"Your present pathway is new to you, but it is not new to your God." 

Everything that happens to-day, or will happen to-morrow is new to us, because we can only live in the present moment; and even though we endeavour to project ourselves a little forward, yet it is generally in a wrong fashion, so that we do not see the truth of coming events, seeing not, but only imagining that we see.

But all things are present to the eye of God. To-morrow—there is no such thing with Jehovah! Yesterday—there is no such thing! Past, present, future—these are human words! “NOW” is God’s word, and it comprehends all.

He who should look upon a country from a star, taking a bird’s-eye view, would have all parts equally before him while he who traverses it with a slow step leaves a portion of the territory behind him, and another part is yet before him.

So is it with man. Creeping like an insect from leaf to leaf he leaves something behind, and has something yet before; but God looking down upon all things at once, serenely fills his own eternal “Now,” and sees our ages pass.

The peculiar troubles of to-day, which are exercising you, dear child of God, your heavenly Father was cognisant of ten thousand years ago, and nothing about them comes upon him by surprise. The Lord has no emergencies; he is never at the end of his resources.

O beloved, it makes my heart smile while I mention such a notion; It is a childish folly, indeed, to think that the infinite God who filleth all, and sustains all, can ever meet with anything that to him shall be hard.

Rest, then, O fellow pilgrim, in this confidence, that the new road to you is an old road to God.

20 December 2015

Unparalleled condescension

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Christ's Incarnation, Pilgrim Publications, pages 45-46.
"What amazing condescension is it that God, who made all things, should assume the nature of one of His own creatures, that the Self-existent should be united with the dependent and derived, and the Almighty linked with the feeble and mortal!"

In His Incarnation, our Lord Jesus Christ descended to the very depths of humiliation, by entering into alliance with a nature which did not occupy the chief place in the scale of existence. It would have been marvelous condescension for the infinite and incomprehensible Jehovah to have taken upon Himself the nature of some noble spiritual being, such as a seraph or a cherub. The union of the Divine Creator with any created spirit would have been an immeasurable stoop; but for God to become one with man, is far greater condescension.

Remember that, in the person of Christ, manhood was not merely an immortal spirit, but also suffering, hungering, dying, flesh and blood. There was taken to Himself, by our Lord, all that materialism which makes up a human body; and that body is, after all, formed out of the dust of the earth, a structure fashioned from the materials which lie all around us.

There is nothing in our bodily frame but what is to be found in the substance of the earth on which we live. We feed upon that which groweth out of the earth; and when we die, we go back to the dust from whence we were taken. Is it not a strange thing that this grosser part of creation, this meaner part, this dust of it, should nevertheless be taken into union with that pure, incomprehensible Divine Being, of whom we know so little, and of whom we can really comprehend nothing at all?

Oh, the condescension of it! I must leave it to the meditations of your quiet moments. Dwell on it with awe. I am persuaded that no man has any adequate idea how wonderful a stoop it was for God thus to dwell in human flesh, and to be “God with us.”

Yet, to realize in it something that is still more remarkable, remember that the creature whose nature Christ took was a being who had sinned against Him. I can more readily conceive of the Lord taking upon Himself the nature of a race which had never fallen; but, lo! man stood in rebellion against God, and yet a man did Christ become, that He might deliver us from the consequences of our rebellion, and lift us up to something higher than our pristine purity. “Oh, the depths!” is all that we can say, as we look on and marvel at this stoop of Divine love.

13 December 2015

The unending battle

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 62, sermon number 3,511, "The battle of life."
"Unless we deny ourselves and lay violent hands upon the impulses of our nature, we shall never come to the place where the crowns are distributed to the conquerors." 

Think not that this is an engagement to be quickly terminated. Unlike the laconic dispatch of the ancient Roman, “Veni, vidi, vici,” I came, saw, and conquered, this is a continuous fight. Wouldest thou fight thy way to heaven, not to-day, nor to-morrow; wilt thou win it with a deadly skirmish or a brilliant dash, like a knight at a tournament, thou cannot come back a conqueror!

In sober truth, every man and every woman who enlists for Christ will have to wrestle till their bones shall sleep in the tomb. There shall be no pause nor cessation for thee from this day until the laurel is upon thy brow. If you are defeated one day, thou must overcome the next; if a conqueror to-day, thou must fight to-morrow.

Like the old knights who slept in their armour, you must be prepared for reprisals—always watchful, always expecting temptation, and ready to resist it; never saying, “It is enough,” for he who saith, “It is finished,” until he breathes his last, has not yet truly begun. We must have our swords drawn, even to the very last.

I have sometimes thought that could we enter heaven by one sharp, quick, terrible encounter, such as the martyrs faced at the stake we might endure it heroically; but day after day of protracted martyrdom, and year after year of the wear and tear of pilgrimage and soldier-life is the more bitter trial of patience.

I do but tell you in order that you may be convinced that it is not in our power to fight this warfare at our own charge; that if we have to endure in our own strength and with our own resources, it is most certain that disaster will befall us, and defeat will humble us. To fight, and fight on, is our vocation.

But if thus you fight, you may hope to conquer, for others have done so before you. On the summit of the palace do you not see those robed in white, who walk in light, with faces bright, and sparkling o'er with joy? Can you not hear their song? They have overcome, and they tell you:—

“To him that overcometh
 A crown of life shall be; 
He with his Lord and Master 
Shall reign eternally.” 

They have overcome; then why should not you?

Jesus Christ, who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, has passed through the sternest part of the battle and he has overcome—a type and representative of all those who are cross-bearers, and who shall overcome as he has done.

10 December 2015

Mary: Mother of Jesus, Sinner saved by grace

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in December 2010. Dan offered his thought on the proper way to view Mary's role in history.

As usual, the comments are closed.
I've often had two thoughts about Mary:
  1. I dearly hope that her heavenly bliss has not been spoiled by the knowledge of how monstrously men came to pervert her significance and place in relation to her Son. And...
  2. In that view, I've thought that my article on Mary in a Bible dictionary might read, "The mother of Jesus. A pivotal yet minor figure in the New Testament, mentioned by name in only four books."
On the subject of Mary -- as on all other subjects -- the world divides into two kinds of people: those who affirm the binding sufficiency of Biblical revelation, and those who rebel against it. With the latter, their issue is spiritual in origin, and no amount of reasoning or Biblical evidence will suffice. With the former....

My semi-humorous summary above makes a point, but it is scarcely fair to the real woman, who was a truly remarkable individual. Few if any of us (and certainly no men) can do much of a job of imagining ourselves in her sandals. She was clearly a God-fearing young lady, as we shall see, who found a massive weight laid on her small, young shoulders.

We once dwelt on the difference between aged priest Zechariah and young Mary. The trained expert, faced with a word from God that would bring him blessing and cost him nothing, doubted and was judged. The rustic young girl, receiving a word that would also bring blessing but potentially cost her dearly, simply responded "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). For this, her cousin later said, "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1:45).

That tells us a great deal about Mary.  Also, when she went to see Elizabeth, Mary burst forth in a song of praise that could be described as a glorious patchwork of quotations from (and allusions to) previous written revelation (Luke 1:46-55). Given that this is presented as a spontaneous outburst of praise, we surmise that Mary had hidden God's word in her heart. This gives us a strong indication as to how she could embrace the angel's word with such believing grace.

Think of it: this is in all likelihood a young teenaged girl. No formal education, no Bible college, no conferences, no Christian blogging or bookstores. Probably not even a personal copy of the Torah -- just what she heard in synagogue and at home. But Mary received what she heard with such faith and eagerness that it prepared and enabled her for this absolutely and literally unparalleled place in history. It would be churlish at best to denigrate Mary as a believer solely because cultists deify her.

In fact, it is ironic that cultists themselves slander Mary by insinuating that she was in effect an ungodly, faithless wife in standing aloof from her wifely obligations to her husband (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Though any word of Scripture can be twisted to say anything when subjected to alien agendas, we do best to take the text in its most natural meaning, and affirm that Jesus was the first of a number of children (Matthew 1:25; 12:46; 13:55; Luke 2:7; 8:19; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; 1 Corinthians 9:5), sharing the same mother but separated from them by His virginal conception and birth, and His divine nature.

Yet (and all Christians will add "of course") Scripture portrays Mary as a flawed sinner, saved by grace alone just like every other believer. She knew and confessed that she personally needed a Savior (Luke 1:47). When she tried to hint to her adult Son what she thought he should do, she received a respectful reminder of how their relative roles had changed (John 2:4). We must note the grace with which she accepted that word (John 2:5).

So what would Mary say to us today, were she to speak? Would she bid our attention on her, summon the spotlight from her Son to herself to any degree, try to increase her place in the Christian's worshipful consciousness?

Or would she not rather reiterate what she had already said - "Whatever He tells you, do" (John 2:5)?

To ask the question is to answer it. We best honor Mary not by idolatrously focusing on her person, but by embracing her example of humble, devoted, Biblically-informed, self-disregarding, God-centered faith.

06 December 2015

No crop failure

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 62, sermon number 3,500, "Two coverings and two consequences." 
"Some people flatter themselves that their sin has already been hidden away by the lapse of time."

“It was so very long ago,” says one, “I had almost forgotten it; I was a lad at the time.” “Yes,” says another, “I am grey-headed now. It must have been twenty or thirty years ago. Surely you do not think that the sin of my far-off days will be brought out against me? The thing is gone by. Time must have obliterated it.”

Not so, my friend. It may be the lapse of time will only make the discovery the more clear. A boy once went into his father’s orchard and there in his rough play he broke a little tree which his father valued. But, rapidly putting it together again, he managed to conceal the fact, for the disunited parts of the tree took kindly to each other, and the tree stood as before.

It so happened that more than forty years afterwards he went into that garden after a storm had blown across it in the night, and he found that the tree had been split in two, and it had snapped precisely in the place where he had broken it when it was but a sapling.

So there may come a crash to your character precisely in that place where you sinned when yet a lad. Ah! how often the transgressions of our youth remain within our bosoms! There lie the eggs of our young sin, and they hatch when men come into riper years.

Don’t be so sure that the lapse of time will consign your faults and follies to oblivion. You sowed your wild oats, sir; you have got to reap them. The time that has intervened has only operated to make that evil seed spring up and you are so much the nearer to the harvest. Time does not change the hue of sin in the sight of God.

If a man could live a thousand years, the sins of his first year would be as fresh in the memory of the Almighty as those of the last. Eternity itself will never wash out a sin. Flow on, ye ages; but the scarlet spot is on the sand. Flow on still in mighty streams, but the damning spot is still there. Neither time nor eternity can cleanse it.

Only one thing can remove sin. The lapse of time cannot. Let not any of you be so foolish as to hope it will.

03 December 2015

"Make Straight His Path"

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by [first name] back in December 2008. Frank offered his thoughts on the "non-traditional Christmas account" of the coming of Christ in the Gospel of Mark.

As usual, the comments are closed.
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."

Jesus is the one whose sandal we are unfit to untie, and we ought to be preparing the way for Him -- through repentance, 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.