More Mighty Than I
Mark 1:1-8, Advent Week 2: Peace
An “infomercial” comes on right after the big game. Before you can locate the remote, the vigor of the pitchman draws you in. He is muscular, tan, and has a head full of hair. You don’t know what he is selling, but it must work if he uses it. “This product is like no other. It will change your life. It will bring you joy. It will fulfill your dreams!” Within a few minutes your rational mind takes over, and you realize that a battery pack and a few wires will not firm your abdomen, especially when it is “only four easy payments of $19.95!”
Like an infomercial pitchman, Mark seems to have a little bit of time, and a lot to say. While the other evangelists give a lot of time to John the Baptizer, Mark quickly describes him and then moves to the point. John comes to announce the One who is like no other—who will change your life, who will bring joy, who will fulfill your dreams.
John seems to arise from the desert floor, and everything he says and does is an effort to direct those who come to him to look to the One to come. John’s business strategy is simple: point everyone to Jesus Christ. He does this in the last two verses of the text by comparing the Lord with himself. In each instance, John shows that even though he is a profound prophet, he cannot compare to the One to come.
Christ is Greater. He is mightier. “After me will come one more powerful than I.”
John was a physically, mentally, and spiritually strong man. He lives, works, and preaches in the wilderness. He stands in the shoes of the prophets of old. He wears whatever he finds lying around. He eats bugs and fights off bees for supper.
John would have done well on the television series Survivor. He would eat whatever there was, not worry about his hair or clothing, and not care where he slept. He probably would have been the first one voted off the island, though. He didn’t have good people skills!
He challenged the political and religions powers of the time (Matthew 3; Luke 3). John was probably a little like an obnoxious, loud, forceful radio talk-show host. He spoke directly and clearly to the people. He was convinced of the importance of his message. He was unafraid of the political powers of the time. And he was not put off by challenges from his foes. He could have had his own call-in show.
But John’s message was necessary—We are in need of repentance. Daily we need to hear the words of John and live a life of repentance. Our Baptism reminds us that we are strong only by Christ’s power and promises, not our own.
Christ is greatest. He is holier than John. John calls Jesus the man whose “thongs [on his] sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”
All disciplines have a “greatest.” Michelangelo, Churchill, Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and John the Baptizer. Yes, John. Jesus himself says that there is none greater (Mt 11:11).
But Jesus is greater than John in his favor with God. John knows who Jesus is. Perhaps he heard his mother talk about Jesus’ mother and the circumstances of his birth. He certainly knew that an angel announced his own birth, but that a host of angels announced Jesus’ birth!
John offers witness that Jesus will be so great that it would not have been proper for him to even bend over and untie Jesus’ sandals. His corrupt hands should not have brushed against those holy feet.
Jesus is greater than John in his miracles. John did not do any miracles. He was a preacher, a prophet. John’s job was to prepare the way. Jesus begins to do miracles shortly after his baptism, and by his works proves that he is greater.
Jesus is greater than John in his teaching too. John’s message is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 3:1). John simply states that the kingdom is coming. Jesus’ message is “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15). Jesus proclaims that the kingdom is now here—believe it!
And Jesus’ baptism is greater too. John declares: “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John lets his hearers know that there is no comparison. To drive home this point, John compares the thing for which he is famous, baptism for repentance, to that which Christ will do when he comes, washing with the Holy Spirit. Both baptisms were similar. They required the use of water. They required repentance (Lk 3:3). They were for the forgiveness of sins (Lk 3:3). They were received by faith in the Messiah (who for John was to come).
And John’s wasn’t bad—Jesus received John’s baptism (Lk 1:9). But Jesus was the promised Messiah (Jn 1:29). The Holy Spirit came and remained on him (Jn 1:32). In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit would come and go. Jesus was baptized to take our sins upon himself (Mt 3:15).
Do you remember the commercials for Total breakfast cereal years ago when the narrator asks the unsuspecting breakfast eater if they like their chosen bowl of sugar-coated corn puffs? They respond, “Yes, it’s my favorite!” Then the narrator informs them that they will have to eat 6 or 8 or 10 bowls of their favorite cereal to equal the nutrition in one bowl of Total. The consumer is led to believe that there is no comparison.
In the same way, The Baptism of Jesus is greater than John’s because it is: It is commanded by God (Mt 28:19). It is a means of grace that takes away our sins (Acts 2:38). And it contains God’s Word—giving all who receive it resurrection power for new living (Rom 6:4).
Jesus is greater than John and is, in fact, the Greatest of all. To whom do we go when we are in need? The enemy offers us the counterfeits, but Christ offers us real hope and daily blessings for real problems and real forgiveness for real sin. John recognizes the inadequacy of his work, and points everyone to the Holy One of Israel. Christ Jesus bathes us in the waters of Baptism, cleansing us and comforting us with his Spirit. John the Baptizer’s ministry continues as still today he encourages all who read of him to look to Jesus.