The Road Opener

Mark 1:1-8

Last week we were talking about preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus Christ. It is a time of preparation. Hope, having the hope of God’s glory is one of the ways we prepare in this season of Advent. Today we have a new and unusual character: John the Baptist. He has the message of preparing ourselves to meet Jesus. He is the road opener.

What can we learn from John’s life?

1. John the Baptist prepared us to see Jesus by living a GODLY LIFE.
He lived what he preached. Do you remember? We spoke about this under the word HYPOCRISY. Well, John did fight against the hypocrisy. John lived a special life which was effective.

People came to him. He welcomed them and baptized them. But he also used strong words when he saw hypocrisy. When the religious people came to him, he told them: “O generation of vipers ….” He did not compromise the message depending on his audience.
John’s devotion to God was firm and complete. God honors such a way of life.
Voltaire was an atheist. Once someone asked him whether God has any place in his life at all.
Voltaire said: “Yes, because of one person, Fletcher.”
Fletcher? Who is John Fletcher? He was friend of John Wesley’s. John trusted him. He was a simple man of faith. Wesley wanted Fletcher to be in charge of the Methodist after his death. However, Fletcher died before John Wesley did, and in his funeral John Wesley said that this man was perfect. Historians said that John Fletcher had a strong impact because of his goodness. He was a MAN of GOD. His lifestyle did matter.

I know a man in Beirut who does not speak the Arabic language fluently. He is an elderly man who retired last year. Most of his neighbors at his are Arabs. Yet, all his neighbors in the car mechanic stores around him call him “the ANGEL.”
How? How he can be an angel without words? His lifestyle matters.

St. Francis of Assisi said: “Preach Christ at all times; if necessary, use words!

2. John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of the Jesus by going into the wilderness.
It is a time of joy, hope, love and peace. This is Christmas time. Who wants to talk about the wilderness?
Yes, it is a time of joy, hope, love and peace. Yet the definition of these words can be different than that of the world.

John went into the wilderness. He was away from noise and rush of those days especially from religious people. I feel already that the “Christmas rush” is behind us pushing us to think about everything except Jesus.

The latest fashion is what to call a Christmas tree.
Holiday tree? Season tree? Green tree? City tree? Municipality tree?
Sometimes, I am astonished by the diverse ideas about this tree. In any case, the tree does not have anything to do with the Biblical story of Christmas; it is just a tradition. People are offended of hearing the word “Christmas.” I am hearing that some powerful preachers and pastors are asking their congregation not to buy things from mega stores which are not using the word Christmas. And now some stores are changing the word back to Christmas. Some are apologizing that they printed the cards by using the word holiday. Next year they will correct.
The irony of all this mess is that the shoppers’ and business owners’ concern is economy.

John is calling us from the wilderness. In the Bay Area one can not feel the wilderness. You are surrounded by green trees. Some of you lived in Fresno and I lived in Syria; we know what the wilderness is. It is a tough area. But John is not talking about just the physical wilderness. He wants to tell us something else.

Let me quote Deuteronomy 8:2-3

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and test you … He humbles you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with Manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

You see it is a time to reflect and prepare. And I wonder if we have time for such a period of reflection and meditation. I wonder how many of us take time for daily quiet time and prayer.
You know sometimes we feel secure in this “busy-rush- Christmas” time. We hide in being busy. As if God does not see us. We don’t see God, but can you hide from GOD? God loves you. He wants you to go to the “wilderness” of silence and hunger, so that you will be fed by Manna, God’s food. This is God’s special recipe for “Christmas cake.” You can not find it in Safeway or any stores. John the Baptist is inviting us to be prepared from this perspective: the VOICE FROM WILDERNESS. It could be in your room, you do not have to go to the actual wilderness. But find time to spend ALONE with God.

3. John is prepared us to meet Jesus by asking us to repent.

Repentance means confronting sin. John the Baptist was someone who can not be silent when there is sin. He lost his life because he challenged even the KING. King Herod was in a wrong relationship. He was seduced by his brother’s wife. Religious leaders were silent about it. Not John the Baptist.

Apostle Paul writes about sin in Hebrews 12:1-2:
“Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” and “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Two parts:
Throw off things that HINDER. These could be good things in our lives. It is interesting that the writer starts not with sin which is very dangerous, but with things that HINDER. These things could be very positive things. But they hinder you from Jesus.
Let me tell you the pressure of the Christmas gifts. We all are victim of this.
The more we have, the more we are picky of what I want and what you want. We have everything but still we buy things. Can someone explain to me this trap?
Gifts, inviting people, cooking, buying more than your budget, Christmas concerts, traveling, watching TV, positive things. Please, look and examine your life. What is HINDERING you?

Next part is sin. John the Baptist’s main concern was repentance from SIN. “Sin that easily entangles..” Envy, selfishness, not forgiving others, hate, disobedience to God, undisciplined life. You can read about fruits of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21

You can not throw off these sins without Jesus. Even John the Baptist forwarded his mission to Jesus. He said: “After me will come one more powerful than I… I am baptizing you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:7-8)

There is no better way to be ready for Christmas than repentance. As long as we live in flesh, we all are vulnerable to sin. So come to God with repentance.

Let us summarize:
Let us be the voice from the wilderness calling for the coming of the KING Jesus Christ Our Lord. John was the ROAD Opener, we too should open our doors and hearts for the coming EVENT.
Let us live a GODLY LIFE,
Let us go to the “wilderness” for time of reflection and meditation.
Let us repent and throw off whatever is hindering us and
Let us throw off the sin which easily entangles us.


Rev. Nerses Balabanian,
Calvary Armenian Congregational Church, San Francisco