“There is a time for everything... a time to stay silent and a time to speak.” (Ecc. 3:1-8)
As we begin to look at Mark’s Gospel, I want to draw your attention to the silence preceding the heralding voices and flurry of divine activity that Mark so urgently presents in his opening pages. (Mark 1)
For 400 years no one in Israel had heard a word from the Lord, neither priest nor prophet. No men of God, no messengers, no message. Only Silence! The last person to hear from God was Malachi, his message was not very encouraging, in fact, it was an open rebuke. Through Malachi, God thoroughly condemned the priesthood and the people, calling them out for their slack attitude toward the things of God. Their love and devotion to God betrayed by half-hearted religious observance and wanton carelessness in their personal relationships.
If God was speaking today, he may have said: “Your church services disgust me, you treat your wives disgracefully and your offerings are insincere. You’re not honouring me with your time, treasure or talent. Nothing you do honours me or edifies others. It would be better for everyone if you closed the church altogether.” (Mal 1:6-2:17) This, God’s final word to his people, was the very last thing they heard. A deafening silence punctuates the prophets last words! It appeared from then on, as though God had turned his back on Israel, as if he was no longer working all things together for their good. No divine voice, no divine activity. Stillness... Silence, or so it seemed!
Yet, for those who had studied Malachi carefully, for those who had payed attention when he was read, there was a glimmer of hope. A promise within that last message that God would break his silence, would show his might once more; that God would visit his people to reward the righteous and deal with the wicked, his arrival heralded by the coming of one in the Spirit and power of Elijah. (Mal 3:1-5, 4:1-6) Mark presents John the Baptist, the long-awaited messenger who will prepare God’s people for the arrival of the Lord. (Mark 1:1-6)
Right up until the day John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, Israel had lived in the silent gap between the times. That’s the place between the time God speaks and the time God fulfils.[i] As Christians today, we can find ourselves in this place too, waiting on God to fulfil his promises, to break his silence, to flex his muscles on our behalf again. As we wait for him, we may feel as though God has abandoned us, gone on vacation or is no longer present in a tangible way. These are the times when the word of God tests us.[ii]
There is often a delay between God’s promise and God’s provision. In the waiting, our faith is tested and perfected, God uses this time to prepare us for the things He has prepared for us. Just because we cannot hear God speaking, just because our circumstances look nothing like the promises God has spoken, doesn’t mean he has stopped working all things together for our good.[iii] After all, throughout out those 400 years of silence, God was quietly working, bringing men and women together in marriage, bringing forth child after child, shaping the nation of Israel until the days John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were born. (Matt 1:1-17)… He is still at work today! In silence the potter sits at his wheel turning the clay, shaping the vessel. He is silent still as the kiln fire roars and the vessel is baked. Only after the turning and the burning, the shaping and the glaze, does the potter speak “it is finished, the time has come, a vessel fit for honourable use.”[iv] In the waiting do not despair, he’ll never leave you or forsake you! One only has to look at the lives of Old Testament characters like Moses, Joseph or David to see how long it can take for God to work his word out in the lives of his people, and how sorely they were tested in the waiting! But, in every case he fulfilled his promise, and brought them forth as gold. (Job 23:8-14, 42:10)
Our response, how we position ourselves in these times of delay, in the days, perhaps years, of agonising silence, is of great importance if we want to be suitably prepared for when God says: “The time has come.” Throughout these seasons we should adopt a faith filled attitude, believing that God can and will do all that he has purposed, in his own good time. Are we full of faith, hope and expectation, or do we doubt God’s faithfulness, grumbling and complaining, testing his patience as the Israelites did many years before?[v] Do we cry out as they did, “it would be better if we had never left Egypt?” Or will we sing as David did “I believe that I will look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living?”[vi]
Remember, without faith it is impossible to please God. Those who believe in him will never be put to shame, he richly rewards all who diligently seek him.[vii]
As we read Mark’s opening chapter it’s easy to miss the hope and expectation existent in Israel at that time. All that noise from all those voices, all that power on display overshadowing a tremendous miracle, the miracle of faith that existed in the face of a seemingly endless silence. Faith founded upon promises more than 400 years old.
As I read the response of the people “coming from all over Judea and Jerusalem to be baptised by John” (Mark1:5), I see a people who were waiting expectantly for God to break his silence. Israel was waiting for God to show up, waiting for a messenger to come announcing the arrival of the King of Heaven. I see a people who believed they would see the goodness of God in the land of the living, a people who hadn’t given up hope. Despite their past mistakes, regardless of the time and the generations that had passed without seeing the fulfilment of God’s word, they believed, more than ever, that God would move powerfully in their land again, in their time, amongst their people! And so, when the time came, they were ready to respond to John’s preaching, showing their faith by their obedience to his words: “Repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of your sin, prepare yourself for the day of God’s visitation.”
Do you have this same hope? Are you expecting God to speak to you today? Do you believe you will see God’s goodness on display in your home, or workplace, your neighbourhood, school or college? Do you believe that God could/would move in power in the communities you belong to? Do you believe he’ll break his silence, reveal his hand, show himself mighty in the circumstances and situations that affect you today? If so, what are you doing whilst you wait to ensure that you are ready for when he says to you, “The time has come... to repent, to believe and to follow?” (Mark 1:15, 17 & 38) How are you preparing yourself to respond when the Kingdom of God comes near and Jesus flexes his muscles on your behalf to deliver you from sin, from sickness and from Satan, so that he can lead you into the fullness of the life he has for you? “I will make you fishers of men!”
Will you grumble and complain at the apparent absence of God in your season of waiting? Or will you sing with David “I believe I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living?”
As you wait patiently for God to break his silence, saying “The time has come,” remember this…
The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks... our God comes and will not remain silent. (Ps 50:1-3)
[i] Wayne Stiles, Waiting on God. Chapter 1, Living in the Gaps with God
[ii] Psalm 105:17-19 ESV
[iii] Rom 8:28 ESV
[iv] 2 Tim 2:20-21 ESV
[v] Exodus 14:11-14, 15:22-26, 16:2-4 & v11-12. Numbers 14:20-24
[vi] Psalm 27:13 ESV
[vii] 1 Pet 2:6, Heb 11:6 ESV