Sermon Outlines


I like the story told in the Reader's Digest about Albert Einstein the famous scientist who was engaged on a nationwide lecturing tour of America. On the way to one of the venues his chauffeur said to him, "You know, Mr. Einstein, having heard your lecture ten times now I believe I could give it." "I'll tell you what," said Einstein, "No-one knows me in the next city. We'll change clothes and you can give my lecture." That's what they did and all went well. The chauffeur gave the lecture perfectly and received an ovation of applause. Then came the question time and one man stood up and asked the man whom he took to be Einstein, but who was in actual fact just his chauffeur, the most impossible question about nuclear physics in an attempt to show Einsten up. Without batting an eyelid, "Einstein" replied, "Sir, that is the most elementary question I have ever heard. In fact it is so easy I shall get my chauffeur to answer it for you!"

I tell that story for the benefit of those who thought they were coming to hear Einstein today but have ended up by getting the chauffeur. It will be however the same message, perhaps not as Spurgeon would have delivered it, but it will be about Jesus Christ, and I centre everything that I have to say round the first eight verses of Mark's gospel, so if later you want to go home and read the verses for yourself you can find them easily.

Mark's gospel is traditionally and I believe correctly held to be the earliest of the four gospels, piecing together for the first time the sayings and events of the life of Jesus Christ into a kind of autobiography. It was written by Mark, sometimes called John, or John Mark who lived in Jerusalem. It was put together around 65 A.D. and it reflects the words and witness of Simon Peter who was one of the first disciples of Jesus, so Mark's gospel is the nearest thing that we will ever get to an accurate account of the life of Jesus.

John Mark saw for himself the spread of Christianity for his mother Mary opened her house as a rallying point for the first church in Jerusalem. The believers met there in Acts 12:12 even in times of the greatest persecution. There is no mention of John Mark's father anywhere in the scriptures, it is therefore probable that he was dead and his mother was a widow.

It is almost certain however that it was through the witness of his mother and the believers that came through her home that John Mark came to faith himself as quite a young man. He stayed at home until his uncle Barnabas took him along with Paul to Antioch to be their travelling companion. All went well at first until they reached Perga where Paul proposed that they strike inland and John Mark left the expedition and went home (Acts 13:13).

Why did John Mark go home? There have been many speculations - some have said that he was probably scared of the dangerous roads; others say that the rift between Paul and Barnabas was widening and that John Mark was fed up with the two of them quarrelling, one early commentator with a flash of imagination suggests he went home because he wanted his mum! Whatever, John Mark left the expedition, went back to Jerusalem and Paul and Barnabas finally split up and went their own ways (Acts 15:37f).

What interests me here is that for some years John Mark vanishes from the pages of history. Whatever caused his decision it seems to have taken away from him his position of spiritual leadership. Tradition says that John Mark went to Egypt and founded the church there, but there is no real evidence for this. Later on however John Mark re-emerges in Colossians 4:10 where Paul says that John Mark is in prison with him in Rome. In Philemon 24 Paul mentions John Mark among his fellow labourers. Later when Paul is near death he writes to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:11 and praises Mark for his usefulness. It is a far cry from the days back with Barnabas where Paul accused Mark of being a quitter. Whatever happened back then Mark redeemed himself, he was the one man that Paul wanted at the end. Now I identify with some of that, in my case it was leaving the mission field in Brazil which took me from my position of spiritual leadership, now here I am poised on the verge of a new ministry. I hope that I can be as useful as John Mark was when he was found alive and well again in the scriptures.

What changes then Jesus Christ brought into the life of John Mark. He changed his life first of all when John Mark was saved in his mother's home as a young man, and he changed his life a second time when he restored him from being a quitter to being one of the most useful and valued of the early Christians, and indeed to being the first writer of the gospels. It may well be that Jesus would want to speak to quitters today, people who have given up on their faith.

People who know what it was once like to be with the Lord yet for some reason have given up - this sermon today may signal the end of the wasted years and may herald the time when the Lord wants to restore you to the very front line of usefulness again.

This may be a message to those who feel that for whatever reason they can not be of use to God, that because of what they have done, some failure perhaps, even that God does not want then.

The Jesus that John Mark met in his mother's house church can be met by you today.


John's gospel begins in the right place - the beginning. He says in v.1 "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." It is worth noting that he doesn't begin his story with any account of the Magi, the Shepherds, the angels, the manger, with Mary or Joseph. This is not because these things did not happen, but because Mark is seeking to make another point and that is the story of Jesus begins not at his birth but at a much earlier date - right at the beginning. Jesus is the son of God, he is indeed God himself in human flesh, and as such he existed before the creation of the world. The gospel or the good news about Jesus Christ is a long range plan that spans from before the creation of the world and will reach to the end of our world and beyond it. It is an eternal plan.

What is important for us to see is that the gospel, or good news, or message of the bible is about Jesus Christ and not about other things. It is tragic that many people know their bibles but don't know Jesus Christ. It is tragic that many people go to church but never meet Jesus. Jesus is alive and well today. Let me ask you this - "is Jesus Christ a real person to you?" You may not be able to explain it, but do you have a sense that he is alive and involved in your life?

Do you sense that when you read your bible that from time to time Jesus speaks to you personally through what you are reading? Do you sense when you pray that you are speaking to a real person, that is Jesus? The whole point of the gospel message is that we can have a personal relationship with God by meeting Jesus Christ. If we have not met Jesus, then we are not saved, and we need to be saved. We can know our bibles inside out, we can be faithful in church attendance, but unless we have met Jesus for ourselves then we have missed the whole point.

Mark then moves on to two old testament scriptures which he links together, the first is found in Malachi 3:1, the second in Isaiah 40:3. His point in linking them together is to prove that the OT scriptures foretold that before the Saviour or Messiah came there would come another who would prepare the way and set the scene for the Christ. That messenger turned out to be John the Baptist. Malachi was the last book of the OT, for hundreds of years God had not spoken to his people directly, now suddenly God began to speak through this man - the baptist was the messenger of the gospel.


Before we look at the message that he brought, it is worth considering the messenger himself. John the Baptist's parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth was related to Mary the mother of Jesus, it is probable that Jesus and John were either cousins or first cousins. Whatever, John was born just before Jesus and thereafter disappears from the scriptures until he reappears here in the wilderness or desert region. We must not labour the symbolism of the wilderness but we can say that John chose to live there to get out from sinful society and to give himself the chance to hear the voice of God.

We're told in v.4 that he preached - the word means to make a bold announcement - but he preached this message not just with words, but also with his choice of where to live and with the simplicity of his lifestyle. This forces me, and I hope forces you, to consider "how much do we preach the message of Jesus with our words and lifestyle" for just as much John was compelled to preach the one who was about to come, Christians are commanded to preach the one who is to come again. There are many of us I am sorry to say with the words, but without the lifestyle to match it. There are many of us with a Christian lifestyle but no words. It is a sign of being God's people when we have both the words, and the life in keeping with the words.

What then was the content of his message?

1. Man's need for repentance (v.4):

Man needs to repent because sin is real and is a deadly enemy. We can re-name our sin, disguise our sin, try to explain away our sin, but it is still sin. Sin spoils our lives and separates us from a holy and loving God. Sin is a terminal disease that ends with death and with death eternal separation from God. The bible says "all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23).

In the bottom of our hearts we know when we are doing wrong. We know that there is sin involved when we can not look someone straight in the face, whether it be a marriage partner, an employer or a friend. We know that there is sin involved when we don't like ourselves and the things that we do.

On the other hand sin can be enjoyable. There are many things that we know to be wrong, but they give us a thrill and we keep on doing them. In our hearts we know that it is wrong, but another part of us tells us that we'll get away with it.

Against all of this the message of the gospel is simple "repent!" "stop it!" But why stop it? Stop it because there is forgiveness from God.

2. There is forgiveness (v.4):

No matter what we have done there is forgiveness, if we are truly sorry for what we have done and are prepared to turn away from it there is an absolute forgiveness from God. We're right at the beginning of the gospel here, it is going to take a while before we see the cost of this forgiveness although the hint is there right from the first verse - the cost of forgiveness is that God gave his son, Jesus Christ. Forgiveness comes through Jesus Christ, he won it on the cross when he died for our sins, it is only he who can give it to us.

If you have not met Jesus then you are not forgiven. Christians are not better people than anybody else, but they know the forgiveness of God. You hear people say "He calls himself a Christian, I'm as good a person as he is." They may well be, but the Christian doesn't claim to be better, his only claim is that he is a sinner who knows the forgiveness of God because he has met Jesus Christ who has purified him from all his sin. There is forgiveness for those who turn to Christ. How then do you receive this forgiveness?

3. We need to confess (v.5):

The bible says "confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan river." In order to be forgiven we need to confess, and to confess in three ways. First of all we need to make the inward confession to ourselves that we have truly sinned. Unless we admit that we ourselves have done wrong, unless we accept that fact inside of ourselves we can not be saved or forgiven. Have you done this, have you taken the step of admitting that you are a sinner in need of God's forgiveness?

Secondly, we have to confess to those whom we have wronged. It is not much use saying to God that we are sorry until we say sorry to those whom we have hurt and grieved. Not only does the barrier between us and God need to come down, the human barriers caused by our sinful behaviour also needs to be removed. In coming to God for forgiveness you must be ready to puts your wrongs right.

Thirdly, you must make confession to God - when your pride comes to an end then God's forgiveness can begin. It is when a man says to God "I have sinned" that God gets the chance to say "I forgive you."

4. Baptism and power for living (vv 4 and 8):

Along with forgiveness comes two clear NT messages that start here and remain the same throughout the scriptures. That God calls his forgiven people to baptism as a public witness of repentance, of cleansing and of a willingness to lead a changed life following Christ, and that this baptism in water comes right at the beginning of the Christian life.

But there is a second baptism connected to the beginning of the Christian life and this is one that neither John the Baptist nor I can give you - this baptism is only Jesus Christ's to give and that is the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Not only does God want us immersed in water, he also wants us immersed in the Holy Spirit. Once the sin is out, once we have been purified and forgiven, once we have met Jesus Christ, at once he comes into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and starts to live inside of us. He comes in power ready to change our lives, to give us the power to resist temptation and to live the Christian life. He comes to give us the power to witness to him and to play our part in spreading the gospel throughout the world. The Holy Spirit is the power of God in us working to change our lives, it is only Jesus who sends the Spirit, so in order to have such a power in our lives we must turn to Jesus for it. How do I know that Jesus is alive and well? Because I have met him and he lives in me by his Holy Spirit, and that Holy Spirit has given me the power to make changes in my life that I could not make by myself.

The invitation today is to meet Jesus Christ. To turn from your sin and backsliding, to repent and confess and to have the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins, to be baptised and to know the power of God working in your life. That is the gospel, and the exciting thing is that all of this is not where it ends but only where it begins! If you haven't already done so are you ready to begin a new life today? Are you ready to meet Jesus? If you are then follow me in this simple prayer: