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In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Mark 1: 9-15, NRSV

Preached Sunday, July 16, 2017 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman

Today, we’re looking at three distinct movements in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark—each one just a few verses long. But for those movements to make sense, we need to hear them in light of what comes before. So here it is, from the beginning—don’t worry, we won’t do this every week during our Year of Mark:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

[That’s where we started last Sunday, here’s today’s continuation]

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

Last week, we encountered John, the wild-man baptizer who echoed Isaiah’s prophecy with fiery passion. And today, we see Jesus being baptized. We should note, that there isn’t a moment in Mark, where John points to Jesus and says, “Hey! He’s the guy I’m talking about!” We don’t get that explicit clarity. Instead, we’re left to our own devices to connect the dots that Mark lays out, even if they do seem pretty obvious.

One thing I should point out about Jesus’ baptism in Mark is that this moment that fundamentally shifts the direction of Jesus’ life, of the future of the church, of our own lives is given three verses in total. Matthew and Luke and John give it much more attention, but for Mark, it seems like a plot device—a moment that must happen in order to set up the whole rest of the story. For Mark, the remarkable thing isn’t that Jesus is baptized, it’s that this nearly-apocalyptic moment happens—that Jesus “saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” And then, there’s the lynchpin of all of it. A voice, presumably God’s, says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It’s the moment that imbues the first Divine authority that Jesus has in Mark. One modern version of that verse puts it this way: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” I love that. I think I’m going to start saying that every time we baptize someone because that promise isn’t just to Jesus; It’s to each of us, too.

And yet, it’s not clear that Jesus is completely divine because in the very next verse, we’re told that “the Spirit immediately drove him out in to the wilderness.” Now, if Jesus was fully divine, if Jesus was God, then it stands to reason that Jesus could do whatever he wanted to do. But Mark indicates that it was the Spirit (what we think of as the Holy Spirit) that drove, not invited, not suggested, not encouraged—DROVE—Jesus into the wilderness.

Have you ever ended up in the wilderness and thought, “How’d I get here?” I’m not talking about the woods or the dessert. I’m talking about the wildernesses of life. The wilderness of addiction or wilderness of depression. The wilderness of debt or uncertainty or grief. It sneaks up on you and one day you realize that you’re there, that somehow you’ve been driven into the wilderness. Well, here’s some good news: Jesus has been there, too. And while he was there, while Satan tempted him, while he was with the wild beasts, angels waited on him. Or, as some translations put it, angels ministered to him. Do you think God would do any less for you? “You are God’s child, chosen and marked by God’s love, pride of God’s life.”

Here’s something odd: It’s only after those two things happens, it’s only after Jesus is baptized and driven into the wilderness, that he can begin to proclaim the Good News of God. Now, I’m not saying that terrible things happen so that you can share God’s Good News, and there’s millennia of theological interpretation of this passage that I’m blowing through in a few minutes, but there is truth here. IT’s true that the wilderness experiences we encounter in this journey of life empower us, in their own way, to speak of God’s goodness.

Throughout this entire fifteen verse prologue, Mark is setting the stage—he’s connecting Jesus to the Messianic prophecies of old. He’s given Jesus’ divine authority and told us that Jesus experienced the elation, vastness, and despair of the human experience. And it’s only then, Mark tells us, that Jesus is ready to begin. “The time is fulfilled,” Jesus proclaims, “and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

For years, scholars have debated whether that verse is a beginning or an end. Is it the end of Mark’s prologue, the final notes of his overture? Or is the curtain rising on the opening scene of Jesus’ ministry? When Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled” is he saying it’s already come to pass, and that’s why he’s here? Or is Jesus proclaiming what is at hand, what’s just beyond what we can see?

I can hear you thinking, “Okay, Jon. All that Bible history stuff is great. But what does it mean for me?” Well, it can mean everything or nothing. For me, it’s a reminder that when I felt most alone and lost in whatever wilderness, God was with, that angels were ministering to me—maybe they weren’t winged with halos. But, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, often we’ve entertained angels unawares.

But what moves me most is the question of verse 15—whether it’s an end or a beginning? So often, we think of endings as living up to their name: endings. A relationship, a hope, a dream ends and that’s it. It’s done. Story over. But God takes endings and makes them beginnings. And that’s the place where we hear God speaking to us: “You are my child, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” And that, it turns out, is where the story, Jesus’ story, our story, begins.

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