2006-02-08 / Religion

We can be a middle man for God

The Gospel Truth
Dr. Charles l. DeVane Jr. First Baptist Church

I want to share a sermon today in praise of the middle man. For years our society has put him down. Businesses air commercials promising to eliminate the middle man. Are they going to send the mafia to rub him out? We dine at a restaurant, thank and tip our waitress. But what about the guy who slaughtered the cow or plucked the chicken? Most people know the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. Name his center (only Garrett Bennett would know such an obscure detail!?). You see how we tend to forget the man in the middle?

But I want to praise the middle man today by pointing you to one of the most important middle men of all time. This middle man appears right in the middle of this mighty text, Mark 1:1-11.

Make no mistake. This passage of scripture begins and ends with the Lord Jesus Christ. This text, the whole Bible, and our entire lives should begin and end with Christ. Mark reflects this well by writing about “the gospel (not a gospel) of Jesus Christ, the (again, not a) Son of God.” Jesus is “the only begotten” (John 3:16), “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). There is no one else like Jesus, no one else who can save us, no one else who desires and deserves first place in our lives. Jesus is the main man.

But what about the middle man? His name, of course, is John. He stands in the middle between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, between the nation of Israel and the New Testament church, between Jerusalem and the uttermost parts of the earth, between God’s shepherd and God’s sheep. He may be a middle man, but John is the middle man.

Before we examine his role as the middle man, consider what he might have been. He was born of a notable, miraculous birth; then, six months later, his was upstaged by a more notable, more miraculous birth. Filled with the spirit from birth, there were great expectations for him; yet he grew up in the wilderness, out of sight and out of mind, wearing plain clothes instead of priestly robes. His preaching did draw unprecedented crowds (it is estimated he preached to a million and baptized a quarter million); but at the peak of his popularity he was upstaged once again by his younger, smarter, smoother second cousin. He championed the moral majority of his day by speaking out against the king’s divorce and adultery; but instead of being made the head of a vast evangelical empire, he had his head cut off in prison. At the point of this text he was the most important person in Israel; but when he died, he was a doubting, depressed, and despised man. Hooray for the middle man?

Yes, hooray for the middle man! For according to Jesus, this middle man was among the greatest men who ever lived (Matthew 11:11). So what made this middle man so great? Can you and I be this kind of middle man, or middle woman, today?

Consider what middle men do. They receive from one source and distribute to others. A bad middle man is one who gets an inferior product and sells it at an inflated price. A great middle man would be one who obtains something truly wonderful, then gives it away at no charge. This is what John did, and this is what followers of Christ are called to do.

We are the middle man! What we have received from God, and what we are to give to others, is grace. Jesus is full of grace. The gospel is a gospel of grace. Now with John as our guide, let us receive grace, give grace to one another, and take grace to our world.

The Grace of Scripture

John’s mind and heart had been soaked in Holy Scripture. He was raised in the community of Qumran, a religious sect dedicated to reading, memorizing, and copying the word of God. Eventually John learned that the Bible was about him and his world, that he was called to be God’s messenger to call the world to repentance and faith. It was grace that gave John this calling, and it was grace John called out to the world.

The Bible is about you and me, too. It tells of our sin and it tells of our Savior. It is the word of God that reveals the will of God for our lives. By grace we can grasp this book, and by grace we can read it, teach it, live it, and share it with others. Be a middle man. Read, live, and share God’s word with others. The Grace of Spiritual

Gifts

John discovered that his gift was preaching. Not everyone can do it, and no one did it like John. God chose John and God gifted John for his task. His flame went out fast, but I’d rather strike a match for Jesus than burn a candle for Satan any day.

When God saves people by grace, he also gives them grace gifts. All followers of Jesus have special aptitudes and abilities, given by God, which enable us to speak or serve God by speaking to or serving others. Be a middle man. Don’t let grace go sour in your life. Give it away. A grace gift is anything you can say or do for others that brings grace to bear upon their lives.

The Grace of

Repentance

You cannot teach what you do not know. Apparently John knew something deeply about sin and repentance. We do not know if he was a rebellious teenage son to Zachariah and Elizabeth. Maybe Qumran was John’s reform school. Maybe John just observed the utter sin and selfishness of his world. Even so, he no doubt knew that man needed grace to change and be forgiven. John received it and he offered it with all his heart.

In his song, “The Heart of the Matter,” Don Henley sings that the cure for our “graceless age” is nothing more or less than “forgiveness.” But the secret to forgiveness is not song or selfimprovement. Forgiveness flows from the grace gift of repentance. Those who repent are forgiven; those who do not are not. This is the gospel we receive and give as God’s middle men.

The Grace of

Community The other thing associated with John in this text is baptism. Baptism means immersion. It has little to do with water, much to do with symbolism, and everything to do with people. Ritual washing has long been a symbol of cleansing, especially cleansing from sin. But it has also always been a symbol of birth, into a family or community. John had been baptized into the Essene community of Qumran. When he realized his calling as the forerunner of the Messiah, he used baptism to initiate people into a new community for the coming Christ. Even Jesus himself was baptized, certainly not to wash away sin which he did not possess, but to identify with people, with family, with the community of Christians.

We independent Americans don’t like to think this way, but we desperately need other people. Life cannot be lived without family, friends, allies, colleagues, and co-laborers. We just cannot do it alone. This is especially true for Christians. God designed that we live our lives in the community of the church, and that we invite others i n .

Here is real middle man work. Take the grace of church membership seriously and responsibly, then bring others into the fold.

The Grace of Humility

Middle man work is actually pretty heady stuff. When done right, it can give you a feeling of selfimportance and pride. But John never let grace go to his head. Perhaps he, unlike the late John Lennon, could really have been more popular than Jesus. But he turned down offers to be the Christ and put himself far, far under the true Lord. Untied shoe laces drag the ground, and that is about as low as you can go.

Here is how grace works. Grace is amazing and amusing; in other words, when grace is great in our lives, we don’t tend to think of ourselves so importantly or seriously. Grace is costly and free; it cost the lifeblood of God’s only son, yet we know we have freely received it when we freely give it to others.

Grace is uplifting and down to earth; it makes you a member of the greatest community in all of creation, yet it sends you to places and people in order to be their servants, not their lords. There is only one Lord, and he gives grace to be given away.

So John received grace from God, then spent his short life giving it away. What a middle man! And at the end of this passage, he heard a rewarding voice from heaven. But wouldn’t you know it. It was not meant for him. All the recognition and glory went to someone else, Jesus Christ, God’s son, with whom the Father was well pleased.

But if you will hear this voice, and be God’s middle man, I promise you there is another voice you will get to hear. I am sure John heard it when his head left his body and his soul soared to heaven. It is a voice Christ quoted in a parable that says, “Well done good and faithful [middle man], enter in to the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21).

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