Lent has begun, even though it feels as if Christmas and New Year’s is barely over. Lent is a seven-week period in the church year leading into Easter when the church focuses on repentance. Repentance is about making changes in how we live, refocusing on following Jesus and on how we live with others. The desire for change comes as we gain an awareness of how our sin separates us from God and what it cost God to be reconciled with us and that God’s grace to us comes at a huge cost to Jesus. During Lent, we will be moving through the Gospel of Mark. Mark is often described as the “Wow” gospel. His whole reason for writing his gospel is to get us to sit up and go “Wow” as we discover who Jesus really is.
Right from the get go, Mark tells us who Jesus is, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” There’s no guessing about who Jesus is in Mark’s gospel; it’s clear right from the start, from beginning to end. Scott Hoeze and Carrie Steenwyk write, “All through the gospel of Mark people wonder who Jesus is. A few people hit on the right answer but are repeatedly told to keep it quiet. Only when Jesus dies on the cross is someone allowed to say publicly, “Surely, this was the Son of God!” Once Jesus has given the last full measure of his life, it’s safe to identify him.”
Mark begins his gospel by introducing us to John the Baptist whose role is to point the way to the coming Messiah, the coming Christ. As part of John’s preparing the way for the coming of Jesus, he focuses on calling the people to repentance for the forgiveness of sins; calling the people to turn back towards God and righteousness and right living. John sounds a lot like the Old Testament prophets who kept calling the people to turn their lives and hearts back to God and not rely on simply following religious practices and empty words of faith. John points to Jesus, “And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Only God can baptize with the Holy Spirit, that means God is coming!
In Luke’s gospel, we discovered that John and Jesus are cousins, but there’s no mention that they really knew each other, but when Jesus begins his ministry, the first thing he does is seek John out to be baptized by John. You may be asking, “Why would Jesus feel the need to be baptized since he has nothing to repent about, and especially since John’s baptism is with water while Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit?” By being baptized by John, it identifies Jesus with the people he’s come to save; we call this vicarious sin-bearing. We get an image of this in Isaiah 53, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance for forgiveness. With John’s baptism, we change to receive forgiveness, but John points ahead to Jesus’ baptism where we receive that forgiveness because Jesus takes on himself our punishment for sin to the cross so we can have peace with God. John’s baptism points to turning our lives back to God through Jesus. Jesus’ message is, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus calls us to change the direction of our lives and believe the good news that he is the Son of God, the promised Messiah; that he is the good news. Jesus is all about restoring people, offering them a new identity rooted in the kingdom of God. Right after baptizing Jesus, John’s put in jail. His role is over and Mark’s focus in now completely on Jesus.
During Jesus’ baptism, heaven’s torn open; the Jordan River has become a meeting place for heaven and earth. We hear echoes of Jacob’s dream of a ladder between heaven and earth where angels travel up and down on heaven’s business. As Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit comes down from heaven and descends on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” What a wonderful image of being baptized with the Holy Spirit! We see a picture here of the inter-connectedness of God with the Father declaring his love for the Son and the Spirit anointing the Son for the father’s business on earth. You don’t get one person of the Trinity without the others. It’s also important to remember that when God speaks, we listen. So often we talk expecting God to listen, but when God does speak, we need to listen.
No matter how other people in Mark’s gospel respond to Jesus, Mark clearly lets us know that Jesus is God’s Son. Those of us reading or hearing Mark’s story of Jesus’ life are never in doubt about who Jesus is. At Jesus’ death, after the temple curtain splits wide open and the Holy Spirit flows out into the world, using the same word as the heavens opening here with Jesus’ baptism, that we hear a Roman centurion confess, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” In Mark 3, Mark even records an evil spirit falling before Jesus and confessing, “You are the Son of God.” Both heaven and hell acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God; it’s those of us on earth that have the hardest time confessing Jesus as the Son of God. This is why there are so many off shoots of the Christian faith, most of them seeing Jesus as a good man, even as a demi-god, but having a hard time with the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, fully God. If we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, then we have no excuse for not following him and everything he taught.
Faith is all about relationships, our relationship with Jesus and our relationships with each other. The main image is that of family; family is a key image in the Bible of our relationship with God. Here we have the God the Father and Jesus the Son shown in a close relationship filled with blessing and love. Through Jesus we are adopted as daughters and sons into God’s family where we experience God’s love and blessings. Families can be funny things, but they are held together by bonds of love and commitment to each other, by sacrificial love, wanting the best for each other and being there for each other. Cain and Abel are the first brothers in the Bible. Cain kills Abel in a fit of rage and God asks Cain where Abel is and Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God doesn’t reply because the answer is obvious, “Yes, you are supposed to care for, protect, and act in love towards your brother.” Jesus, our older brother, God our Father commit completely to us, they’re so committed to us that Jesus dies for us. Jesus tells us that people will know we belong to him by our love for each other, our commitment to us, an echo of Jesus’ commitment to us.
Right after Jesus’ baptism, Mark’s story takes a surprising turn, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels attended him.” Pastor Scott Hoeze writes, “When the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God expresses his love for him, the first order of business is a blunt, brutal engagement with evil. Why was Jesus baptized and, furthermore, anointed by God? It certainly wasn’t step 1 to a comfortable life of fame and glory. “He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” The animals in question here aren’t squirrels and raccoons—they’re threats to life and to human flourishing: lions, jackals, and other predators. In the Bible the wilderness is shorthand for chaos, the precise opposite of the cosmos God created “in the beginning.” Israel saw the wilderness as a place to seek God and be shaped by God spiritually, learning trust and dependency on God. Jesus seeks out the Father to prepare for his ministry. We see God providing for Jesus, even in testing by being attended by angels.
Jesus comes as the Son of God to bring shalom. Shalom is peace, it’s blessing; living well with God and each other, looking to bless each other and be a blessing. Satan brought chaos into the world through sin and he continues to stir up chaos and brokenness. The Son of God has come to restore shalom: shalom between the Father and us, shalom into our world again. Jesus calls us and equips us, his brothers and sisters, with his Spirit to be shalom bringers and creators in our community. As we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to each other in beauty and harmony, we turn and look into our own community here in Lacombe and ask ourselves, “How can we be agents of healing and shalom, where is God already working so we can join him, how can we bring beauty and harmony into Lacombe as followers of the Son of God?”