Baptism, Temptation, Ministry

Reflection on the Lectionary Gospel Text for February 22, 2015: Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,  15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

So ends Mark’s introduction to his Gospel (1:1–15). Since I have covered the basic flow of Mark’s introduction elsewhere (http://wp.me/pkPXF-oV), I will begin here by noting that the first half of the introduction dealt with John’s work of preparing the way of the Lord. Now, beginning with v. 9, Mark turns his attention to the hero of his story, Jesus.

The briefness of some of Mark’s stories is startling not only because as readers we want to know more but also because of how much each mini-story contains. These stories, if they be called stories, are more like terse summaries. Tense, packed summaries, to be sure.

I have outline the flow of the stories in our text today as: Baptism, Temptation, and Ministry. There is a certain rhythm or flow here that is true of all who dare follow Jesus. Jesus is the prototype (model, exemplar) of all those who would follow him. Baptism, temptation, and ministry outlines the process through which God’s Spirit remakes and reshapes us into the image of Christ. While there is reason to read them in this order, the experience of baptism, temptation and ministry will be revisited often in the life of a disciple of Jesus.

Baptism. While Mark has already made a connection between the forgiveness of our sins and baptism, here, in this text about Jesus’ baptism, the focus is more on appointment and identity. Jesus is the chosen anointed one. Instead of the oil that was pour on the head of kings and prophets to recognize their calling, Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit. John has already clued us that Jesus would also be the one who would baptize others in the Holy Spirit. So in the same way God had anointed Jesus, Jesus would anoint others.

Sometimes when I baptize people, I say something like this: “Based on your confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When you rise from these waters, you can be sure of two things: your sins are forgiven and God’s Holy Spirit has come to live within you.” The certainty of these words rest in the example of Jesus. All of us who accept the invitation to follow Jesus can be assured of God’s acceptance and God’s approval: “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Soon, as with Jesus, so with us, our resolve will be tested. Through temptation we prove how deeply we believe the Gospel.

Temptation. Mark’s temptation story is so brief, particularly when compared to Matthew’s and Luke’s. Still Mark give enough to evoke the story of the Israelites in the wilderness on their way to the promised land. The evocative words are wilderness (or desert), forty days, tempted, wild beasts, and angels.

Mark point to the divine role that temptation plays in the process: the Spirit of God “drove” or “cast” (ἐκβάλλω) Jesus into the wilderness. Interesting word choice on Mark’s part. This is the word that is often used in the stories about Jesus “casting out” demons. When Matthew and Luke retold this story (Matt 4:1; Luke 4:1), they softened the verb to “lead” instead of “cast.”

However, there are times in our lives as followers of Jesus, when we feel as if we have been thrown where we do not want to be. One should not minimize the reality of dark times those who chose to follow Jesus will experience but we, in time, learn how to embrace these as part of the journey. Each time we conquer temptation, our credibility increases as disciples of Jesus, and we learn to minister to other with greater depth.

Ministry. While the acts of ministry are many, the basic shape of Christian ministry is proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ message was simple and straightforward: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” However, woven into the very fabric of the proclamation is exactly what each of us need to hear to stay focused.

The center of the Good News is that the Kingdom of God has come near (see http://wp.me/pkPXF-pS). The Kingdom of God is the basis of our authority to do ministry in the name of Jesus. Or, said another way, we do ministry as representatives of the Kingdom of God.

However, also woven into the proclamation of the Kingdom is the humbling, lest we think to highly of ourselves as representatives of God’s kingdom. The proper response to hearing, really hearing, the message of the Kingdom is to repent and believe the Good News. Whether a beginner or a more mature disciple, the call is the same: repent and believe. And when we get off track as we will: repent, believe, repeat.

To repent is more than stop doing bad things. Rather it is a willingness to throw the whole of oneself before God and to submit to God’s will. It is an implicit confession that our ways are wrongs and that God’s ways are right. As we enter the season of Lent, we have a designated time to allow God’s Spirit to recalibrate our lives and bring them into alignment with the priorities of God’s kingdom. When we have repented, then we can truly believe (trust) in the Good News–which is nothing short of Jesus himself (cf. Mark 1:1).

So the movement of Christian discipleship involves baptism, temptation, and ministry. This was the model of Jesus. So as it was with Jesus, so let it be with us.

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Lectionary Gospel Text for Jan 25, 2015: Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,  15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The hand-off is made: with John’s arrest the ministry of Jesus begins in earnest.

In his Gospel, Mark often gives very short summaries of the ministry of Jesus and here he summarizes the preaching of Jesus in short snippets:

The time is fulfilled!

The kingdom of God is near!

Repent!

Believe in the Good News!

By this point in the story, Mark has made it clear that the story of Jesus belongs to a much older story. He has cited a few OT passages to root Jesus in that much older story. In the final two verses of Mark’s introduction (vv. 14 and 15 above), Jesus announces an climax in that old story. The Time is Now! The old story has come a turning point, something new, yet old, is at hand. The long awaited arrival of God’s kingdom is here in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, as Mark shows us later, only those with ears to hear and eyes to see will perceive the coming kingdom.

Most who heard this talk of the Kingdom of God would hear Jesus calling for revolt against the Romans and new period of prosperity for the Jewish nation, like under the Maccabees or, better yet, like under Solomon. In short, for  contemporary ears, announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God was nothing short of announcing the rise of a renewed independent and sovereign nation of Israel. However…

As the Gospel of Mark will play out, Jesus is up to a very different kind of revolution. This kind begins with the stinging call to “repent!” Normally we think of “believing” as coming before repenting, but I think Mark has his order right. One must repent before one can deeply believe the Gospel. When we remember that “believe” in the the NT is better translated “trust” sometimes, this order, repent first, and trust second, makes great sense. One must turn, or at least want to turn, before one can see or hear the Good News.

Mark next tells us the story about how Jesus called his first disciples. In a way, the story illustrates the type of response Jesus sought in announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God with its attendant call to repent and believe.

Whatever prior history Jesus had with these fishermen, Mark decided not to tell us that information. The impression made is that Jesus walks by, calls them to follow him, and they do … immediately! And this seems to be the perception  Mark is evoking. The call to discipleship is decisive, immediate, and costly.

The answer to the call requires a full body type of response to Jesus. One is either for him or against him, as Jesus will say in another place. But the call is not for the sake of self-improvement, self-aggrandizement, or self-promotion. Instead the call is to be of service to others. In the story of the call of the fishermen, fishers of fish become fishers of people. Disciples become conduits through which others become disciples.

But to become a disciple of Jesus is costly. It means leaving things behind–always–or it is not following Jesus. Simon and Andrew were casting a net into the sea when Jesus came upon them. They leave the net!

The other brothers, James and John, were mending their nets when Jesus came upon them. They leave their net-mending where they are. Yet they leave much more, they leave their father and his fishing business. In leaving, the disciples embody what Jesus will explain later:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? (Mark 8:34–37 NRSV)

So for us who resist leaving things behind for the sake of the Kingdom of God,  hear again the call of the Gospel

The time is fulfilled!

The kingdom of God is near!

Repent!

Believe in the Good News!

Follow me!