JESUS IS BAPTIZED
Here we are at the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. It is a time to reflect on our lives to determine how well we live them in God’s eyes. It is a time to celebrate the victories of faith and to consider where we need to make changes. We, of course, should be doing that all of the time but during Lent we do it on a more intentional basis.
Today we are going to be reading Mark 1:9-15. The Gospel of Mark is an interesting gospel. Biblical scholars believe that, of the four gospels in the New Testament, Mark was written first. It’s a very simple recollection of Jesus’ ministry. It contains none of the birth narratives that we find in Matthew and Luke and in also lacks the long passion narrative in the gospel of John that provides a detailed account of the last week of Jesus’ life. Mark is a simple telling of the story of Jesus ministry.
The first eight verses of Mark talk about how John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus. And then we get right into today’s reading which actually consists of three short stories. The first one is found in Mark 1:9-11 (NIV) which says this:
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Remember that this happens before Jesus begins his earthly ministry. Before he begins, he must be baptized. But why does Jesus need to be baptized by John? John’s baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. But if we believe that Jesus is sinless – that he never sinned – then what is the purpose in his baptism? There are a couple of reasons why it is important for Jesus to be baptized. The first one is that, in being baptized, Jesus is identifying with the other people around him. They are all sinful people who are in need of forgiveness. And remember that those are the very people for whom Jesus came. Isn’t that what Jesus meant in Luke 5:32 (NIV) when he said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” These sinners are the very people whom Jesus came to save and, to save them, he needs to identify with them.” And so Jesus agrees to be baptized not for his own sake but the sake of the other people around him so that he can identify with them.
The second reason for Jesus baptism is because of what happens after he is baptized. Verse 11 tells us that a voice comes from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This voice, again, is not for Jesus’ benefit but for the benefit of those around him. This is God’s voice that they all hear and this voice declares who Jesus is. He isn’t an ordinary person. There is something special about him. We know this because God is not in the habit of calling just anyone his son. That’s because in Hebrew philosophy the traits of the father are passed on to the son. So for God to declare Jesus to be his Son says that Jesus is unique. He alone, of all of the people of the earth, has the traits of God. That is his birthright as the Son of God.
Furthermore it sounds to me like God may be indulging in some praise of his Son. I’m sure that you’ve had occasion to be pleased as punch about something that your child has done. Maybe they topped the class at school in some project. Maybe they scored the winning goal at their hockey or soccer game. Maybe they got student of the month. Or maybe they did a great job in their role as a shepherd in the last Sunday School Christmas pageant. When those things happen, you as a parent, may feel like you’re going to pop the buttons off your shirt. You couldn’t be happier and, if you could, you’d stand up in the crowd and say, “That’s my kid! See what they did! They are amazing and I could not be prouder of them than I am today!” That’s how I picture God’s voice in this story. I don’t think of it as a deep baritone male voice talking very slowly and reverently. For me, it’s more like, “Do you see that man. That’s my Son and he is an awesome son and it makes me so happy to see what he has accomplished. He is the most amazing son ever. With him, I am very pleased!” That’s what God says and in saying it, he identifies Jesus as his unique son who will have a special place in the salvation of creation.
JESUS IS TEMPTED
The second short story is found in Mark 1:12-13 (NIV) which says this:
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 angels attended him.
If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’ll remember that this same story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness is also found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke but, in those two accounts, there is a lot more detail. Matthew and Luke say that Jesus fasted during those forty days. Mark does not mention this at all. Matthew and Luke talk about three specific temptations that Satan uses to tempt Jesus. They also provide Jesus’ response to these temptation. Mark provides none of that detail. He simply says that Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he is tempted for forty days and that animals and the angels attended him.
Clearly Mark did not think the details were all that important. The important things for Mark is that Jesus is tempted by Satan for forty days out in the wilderness. And when it says wilderness, we can take that to mean that he was all by himself with no other human companionship. Just Jesus, Satan, and the angels and animals.
Why is that important? It’s because if Jesus is going to be our saviour, he has to be a legitimate saviour. What I mean by that is that he has to know what we go through. It’s the same principle that we applied in the story of Jesus’ baptism. He was baptized in order to identify with those he was hoping to save. In the temptations, it’s the same thing. Jesus is identifying with those of us who need salvation.
The writer of Hebrews expressed this very well in Hebrews 4:15 (NIV) which says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Here, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as our high priest. That makes sense in the Jewish tradition in which Jesus lived because the high priest was responsible for the sacrifices in the Jewish temple that were required for forgiveness. The difference between Jesus and the other high priests, however, is that they sacrificed animals and birds whereas Jesus gave himself for the sacrifice.
Nonetheless, the point is that Jesus is able to empathize with us because he experienced life just as we do. He was born. He grew up. He played with the other children in Nazareth. He undoubtedly had childhood diseases just like everyone else. He went to the same schools and synagogues as everyone else. He ate the same foods and drank the same drinks. He went through puberty and began to notice girls. He learned to be carpenter in his father’s shop. He had hopes and dreams and aspirations of what his life could be like. In a nutshell, he experienced life just as we do.
One thing that we all have in common is that all of us also face temptation. In order for Jesus to empathize with us, he had to be tempted just like we are. Otherwise, he could not be our saviour. Otherwise, he could not give his life to pay for our sin. The only difference between us and Jesus is that we all fall to temptation whereas Jesus never did. But if Jesus was never tempted, he could not empathize with us and he would be a counterfeit Christ.
You know the expression that people should walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? That’s so that they can truly understand what someone else is going through. Don’t judge me until you walk a mile in my shoes.
As an army chaplain for thirty years, I learned very early in my career that my effectiveness as a padre was directly related to that amount of time that I spent with the soldiers doing what soldiers do. There are padres who don’t understand that. I knew padres who spent most of their time in their offices working on their computers, reading books and magazines and taking courses. I remember one time asking a soldier if he knew where I could locate the unit padre because I needed to talk with him. A puzzled look came over the soldier’s face because he was not aware that they even had a padre. They did. When I eventually found him, as his supervisor, we had a little talk about what a padre should do.
Most of my padres did not operate like that. Most of them sat with the soldiers through some of their classes. They went to the ranges with them and even fired the weapons – though we’d never admit that to the higher ups. Effective padres go on exercise with the soldiers. They train with them, the sit in trenches with them on picket duty late at night in the cold, dark rain. They set up tents with them, eat the same rations with them, get tired, dirty and hungry with them. They do whatever the soldiers do so that they can understand what they go through and empathize with them.
That is all done in the hope that, when the time comes and the soldier needs to talk to someone, they will know who the padre is and will be willing to seek out that padre for the help that they need.
As the writer of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Jesus is not counterfeit Christ. He did not sit in his office surfing the internet or reading books. He got out there with the real people, did the real things that they do, experienced the good things in life and the crappy things in life just like everyone else. Because he did that, because he was tempted in every way just like us, he is worthy to be our saviour. The only difference being that he was without sin.
Jesus had to walk a mile in our shoes. He had to live life just as we do. He is no counterfeit Christ. He is the real deal.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The first two stories – the ones of Jesus’ baptism and temptations – lay the groundwork for the third story which is found in Mark 1:14-15 (NIV):
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus’ baptism and temptations are the prelude to the main act which comes now. It is only after the two prelude stories that Jesus begins his ministry which is to proclaim the good news of God. And what is that good news? It is just as Jesus says: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”
Yes, the kingdom of God is near. It is near in Jesus because it is only through Jesus that the kingdom of God is even available to us. It is available to us because Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan just like John was baptizing everyone else. It is available to us because Jesus was tempted by Satan like everyone else and yet was without sin. Because he walked in our shoes, he could go the cross and give his life to pay the price of our sin so that we can be forgiven and made right with God.
So here’s a Lenten question for you? During Lent as we prepare for Easter, whose shoes do you need to walk in? To whom do you need to be reconciled? Where are your grudges? When you’re lying awake at night and sleep will not come because you’re upset by something, whose face comes to mind? We are great at seeking forgiveness when we have wronged others. But if Jesus has taught us anything, it is that it is even more important to forgive others who have wronged us.
To forgive those people, we sometimes need to walk in their shoes. We need to look at their lives and seek to understand why they do what they do, why they act like they act and why they say what they say. Maybe when we do that we will find someone with their own troubles and their own issues. Maybe we’ll find someone whose life is far from perfect and that, in lashing out, they are simply reflecting the intolerable circumstances in which they live.
But the truth is that no matter how much we might want to try to walk in someone else’s shoes, often it is the case that we can’t. We don’t know all that they are going through. We don’t know what they suffer in silence or what there is in their lives that embarrasses them. We may never know their struggle and their pain. But we can still forgive and we can still seek reconciliation. We can still do our part to walk the walk that Jesus wants us to walk.
Satan tempted Jesus for forty days in the wilderness and Jesus resisted every temptation. He did not fall. Satan continues to tempt us to live with resentments and grudges and to be separated from our neighbours. These are the temptations that can haunt us. Lent is time for us to come to grips with those things and rid them from our lives. As Jesus said in his famous prayer: “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Grace, your light fills the morning sky in radiance and wonder. Even in the night, the lights of heaven mark off the days and give direction to those who have lost their way. Shine upon us. Fill us and renew us. Make us conscious of your presence with us and within us. We call upon your name which is, for us, a sign of wholeness and salvation. Wash us in the blood of your wounds that we may be whiter than snow.
We enter the season of Lent and ask that you would enable us to discover within this time a deeper sense of who we are. Enable us to examine our lives and our lifestyles that we may draw close to your divine will and purpose. Touch us with your Spirit as we participate in honest personal reflection.
We are thankful for the role out of vaccines in this age of Covid-19. We pray for patience and continued diligence as we fight this pandemic together. We also pray for the front line workers in health care and transportation and the other services that we need. Give them strength in troubled times. Also bless those who are experiencing loneliness and isolation, those who live in fear. Fill then, O God, with your Spirit of hope and compassion.
Holy God, because you live, we too will live forever with you! Thank you for the gift of eternal life made possible by your death and resurrection! No one has to die in sin. All of us can live forever standing before your throne of glory. Help us to boldly share this message with those who do not know or understand.
We think about those who have been sick this week either at home or in hospital. Grant them your Healing Spirit and give them peaceful hearts. We also pray for those who care for them. Give them strength as they overflow with your love. God of all Creation, inspire us to live beyond ourselves. Enable us to be the Christian story to the people of this world. May we be faithful to your call and loving in our actions. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 21, 2021 / Lent 1
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; Mark 1:9-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22
CALL TO WORSHIP
The mercies of God are abundant and great;
To you, O God, we lift our souls.
The paths of God are true and trustworthy;
To you, O God, we lift our souls.
The ways of God are loving and sure;
To you, O God, we lift our souls.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Every part of Earth is sacred. Every life is precious. Every memory, every feeling, every hope and every tear are holy and belong to you for you are the One True Creator. We honour you with our worship, O God. We praise you for being with us when we would rather be somewhere else. And so we come to renew our relationship and our commitment to you. You are the one who gave us life and you have promised to walk with us no matter what the future may hold. We praise you God, the God of all. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
You, Merciful God, have shown us the pathway to true and everlasting life. You have offered us renewal and hope. Still, we are tempted by the things of this world and we turn away from you. We neglect to look after ourselves when we go through hard time, only making the tough time worse. We forget to reach out to those who love us and we forget that you have promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. We are grateful that even in the midst of our unfaithfulness your promises never fail. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Hatred lasts for a moment. Jealousy evaporates like morning dew. Covetousness lingers like a breath of air. But the mercy and compassion of God are eternal. They overcome the deepest recesses of our sin and give us the gift of life from above that is ours in Jesus Christ.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Accept our gifts, O God, as you accept everything else about us. They are probably as flawed as we are but you still receive them with grace. You make them worthy of your service. Use us and our gifts that the world may be changed and lives restored. Amen.
The time has come to leave this place and journey, once again, into our world and community. May we go with confidence, assured of the love of God and the Spirit in our midst. There is One who walks with us along every step of our journeys. May the presence of God continue to encourage and inspire us.