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Tony's Reflection 26
14th century English history has always felt tedious. I still remember school days, sitting at Victorian style, backbreaking, bum numbing, solid wooden bench-desks, squirming with discomfort and boredom, as the teacher wrote a never-ending sequence of dates and events on the whiteboard, for us to copy down into our notebooks. Tales of Poitiers, Bannockburn and Black Death all left me cold.
There was one story that did capture my attention. The tale of Ye Black Book of Mysterie, secreted away in the depths and shadows of a 14th century monastery. This book, written 700 years ago, reveals in amazing detail the events of our day, from the financial collapse of 2008, to the pandemic of today and Brexit.
I am only joking about that book. There isn't really any Black Book of Mysterie. But what if there were … wouldn't it be a fascinating read?
Back when Mark wrote his biography, there was a real "Black Book of Mysterie", so to speak. It had been written 700 years earlier, yet it described the events of Mark's day in remarkable detail.
It's focus, though, wasn't on world history or even national politics. Its spotlight was on God's unique representative. Isaiah, who wrote the book, had an extraordinary relationship with God. God talked to him and showed him things like you or I might take a best friend into our confidence. God put his hand on Isaiah, whispered into his ear and opened up to him visions of the future. Isaiah then wrote down those predictions for the day when they would come true.
Last week, we saw that Jesus’ arrival on the scene is explosive good news. These predictions from Isaiah (and others like him), almost 1000 years before the event, are God's way of pointing to Jesus and saying, "He really is the one you have been waiting for.”
The trail of predictions had been laid down across history and this trail leads straight to the arrival of Jesus.
God showed Isaiah glimpses of the timetable for when the unique representative was going to come. Not in terms of a date, but who was going to arrive before him and what that person would do. He would prepare the way and get people ready to receive God's unique representative. Who would do this making ready? John the Baptist.
If we are going to experience for ourselves this good news about Jesus, then we, too, need John the Baptist to get us ready. He will tell us, says Isaiah, how to "prepare the way for the Lord" and "make straight paths for him".
We are going on a journey together, through Mark's biography of Jesus. But there is another journey going on. As you engage with Mark's book and ask God to speak to you through it, then Jesus is on a journey to you.
We saw last week that Jesus is God's unique representative. When he speaks God speaks. When he acts God acts. He comes with full authority of God.
He is making a journey towards you. He is coming to show you, first hand, why he is such good news. Even though he comes with the full authority of God, he is not going to steamroller his way into your life.
He does not comes crashing through any barriers you might have to him. That would be acting like an invader, giving you no choice at all.
There are barriers between you and him. There are things in you and in your attitudes which are like no entry signs to God. He is not going to smash through them, so he can show himself to you. He gives you a choice in the matter. He asks you to take down the barriers yourself.
To use the words Mark picks up from Isaiah, you need to get ready a straight pathway for Jesus into your life, by taking those barriers down. John the Baptist will help you do that…
You might be just beginning your faith journey, you might have been on it for many years. We all have these barriers. John the Baptist shows us how to take those barriers down.
Mark summarises John’s message for us. It was about “repenting for the forgiveness of your sins”.
Sins … what are they? God only has two expectations of us. That we love him with all we’ve got. That we love our neighbour as ourselves. Every time we fail to do either of those things, that’s a sin. An act of disobedience, maybe even rebellion against God, a falling short of the mark. A barrier to Jesus coming into your life. A sin.
John tells us we take those barriers down, as we "repent" of our sins. That means I turn away from them and set my heart on walking in the opposite direction. If I know I am grumpy, I turn away from my sullenness and look to be positive instead. If I treat other things as more important than God, I put them in their place and him in his.
Where do you fall down, in the light of God's two expectations? Take a look at your thought-life as well as what you do.
Are you willing to turn away from these things? Will you take down your barriers, so you can receive more of Jesus in you?
That's what it takes to get yourself ready for Jesus. Ready to receive him, or more of him, into your life. Ready to experience the best good news, ever.