“On Your Mark”
The Culture Cure? A Radical Ministry (Chapter 1 Verses 1-3)
These words originally spoken by Isaiah (Isaiah 40.3-5), referred in the first place to Israel’s return route from exile. Their disobedience to God had caused them to lose the promised land, exiled in Babylon. The way back was by no means smooth and straight. There is always a double edge to prophesy though, it had further reaching consequences than Isaiah understood in his day. Now some of its fuller implications were to be realized. God was coming to visit his people again, he wasn’t far away and his grace was about to be revealed in a new and powerful way. The culture in which John ministered? An Israelite society which had declined terribly, it was in a deplorable state. Politically? Rome ruled, and ruthlessly too. Socially? The age was modern, its habits and comforts were accompanied with vice and misery. Slavery was practised on a massive scale. Home life was degenerating, one parent families the order of the day. Nightly shows in the amphi-theatres provided the bloodiest entertainment you could lust for. Morally? Immoral and vicious. No conviction of sin (Ephesians 4.19). Prostitution was widespread amongst males and females, and abortion wholesale. Weariness had seized many, they were a people who needed a Saviour. The religious ethos? Annas and Caiaphas held office, and their will ruled in the house of God. Ruthless ecclesiastics who cared nothing about God and revival of true religion was the last thing on their mind.
In to this environment, John came preaching, with a God-given message (Luke 3.2). So John needed to know he had been sent by God, his ministry would enrage the politicians, and disgust the social workers, cut him off from the moralists, and ostracise him from the churchmen. He would need to remind himself often in the presence of God, “Lord, you sent me”. But now the stage is set for his ministry. John was a real radical in Israel, he needed to be, but a man who left his mark on their society. Many came out into the desert to hear him (3.5), he was a preacher, that’s what he did, nothing else (Luke 3.3). There aren’t many of them around these days? John lifted his voice and declared clearly and distinctly with great courage what God gave him to say. No alterations, no omissions, or additions. Nothing of his own eloquence, not what John thought best for Israel. But the good news which is folly to those on the road to destruction (1Corinthians 1.17-25; 1Corinthians 2.2). How is God revealed, communicated to people? Through preaching (Titus 1.3). How else are they to hear (Romans 10.14)? The Lord Jesus himself stated his own primary function was what? You’ve got it – preaching (Mark 1.14, 38). O whether you be a Christian or not, get with good preaching, there’s nothing better for your soul, how else can you live, I mean flourish, prosper, reach the mark God has set for you (Deuteronomy 8.3; Matthew 4.4)?
(© James R Hamilton, written September 1996)