Monthly Archives: November 2011

Mark 1.9-11

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”  Mark 1.9-11

Today a friend of mine was hit by a car.  After looking both ways, Ed walked in the crosswalk only to be unexpectedly struck by a vehicle that never saw him.  Fortunately, he’s going to be fine (the car was turning, and therefore not going very fast).  But on top of going through chemo for the last six weeks, this seemed overwhelming for Ed.  It’s amazing how things can come out of the blue when we least expect it, and mark us for the rest of our lives.

We don’t know how long John had been baptizing, but one day he had a surprise guest from out of the blue that would blindside the entire course of human history.  Jesus shows up to be baptized.  Though he’s not repenting of any sin, Jesus chooses to be baptized along with those who needed a second chance with God.  But the question we must answer is why?  If Jesus was truly sinless, why would he need to be baptized?  And for what purpose?  Are we missing something?

Perhaps it’s helpful to view this story through the lens of history.  One of the landmark moments that forged the identity of Israel was when God delivered them from their tyrant-driven oppressors, the ancient Egyptians.  Pressed with their backs to the Red Sea, God parted the waters, enabling them to walk through to the other side.  And when the Egyptians tried to follow, the water closed upon them causing them to perish as the trembling Israelites watched.  In a very real sense, this was a group-like baptism for the Israelites—they went through the waters united as God’s special people upon the earth.

Many years later when it was time to inherit the Promised Land, there was another parting of the waters.  The Jordan River marked a natural barrier that they needed to cross.  As they waded into the water, it also parted for them—allowing them to begin their conquest starting with the city of Jericho.  Again, we see the same thing:  just before God dawns a huge, new chapter for His people, He “baptizes” them.

And now we come to this new episode in the life of God’s people:  the arrival of the promised Messiah (deliverer) who undergoes a baptism along with others who are humbly submitted in faith and repentance.  As if to show this as a “super-chapter” that exceeds the other ones, God does more than split the waters.  He splits the heavens, the source of all waters.

So how does this apply to me and you?  What’s the tagline?

First, Jesus’ baptism assures us that he will never ask of us something that he wouldn’t do.  He leads us as the Good Shepherd—and this means that he goes before us.  Over and over again in the Gospel of Mark, he leads his disciples (see Mark 10.32, 52; 14.28; 16.7).  When they try to lead the way, it leads to frustration and failure (Mark 6.45-52).  Your job, no matter how low and menial it may be, is not below him.  Your circumstances, no matter how depressing are not below his humiliation on the cross for you.  He understands and really cares about the daily events in your life—preceding you in each and every one.

It also reminds us that God is doing something new, and it’s reflected in the lives of people who are trusting in Christ.  Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the formless void of Genesis 1.2, now God’s Spirit hovers over the life of the person who embraces Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  Just as God’s seal of approval is over Christ—that same approval is upon every human soul who places his/her trust in Jesus.

Finally, remember that when the waters of life overwhelm you—and you feel like you’re drowning in circumstances beyond your choosing—know that Jesus is breaking in a new chapter in your faith-journey.  Each chapter builds on the last—and the key to moving forward is faith.  Jesus is worthy of your faith—even when the waters of chaos surround you.  Jesus is worthy of your trust, even when all hope seems invisible.  Jesus is worthy—because ultimately he was baptized with the waters of death upon the cross—paving the way to new life for those who follow.  He allowed the comprehensive evil of the universe to “drown” him upon the cross—so you never would.

In summary, can you see now why Jesus was baptized?  Much more than ritual—it’s an object lesson showcasing his promise to you that a better life is in store and it’s centered in him.  Your path to a brighter future is not found in something that can be washed away (money, success, career advancement, material possessions, etc).  Instead, it is centered in Christ who washes away your sins by his blood upon the cross.  Jesus was baptized so you could cross your Jordan to a new Promised Land of faith and hope in him.

Application Questions:

1.  Do you remember when you were baptized?  Was it a special moment in your spiritual walk with Christ?  If not, have you considered getting rebaptized so you can experience it in a deeper and more personal way?

2.  Notice what didn’t happen in this story.  The crowd didn’t seem to notice Jesus at all.  Keep in mind that sometimes the crowds around you (friends, coworkers, even family) may not take much notice of your devotion to Christ.  Why do you think this is so?

3.  If Jesus had not been baptized, would it have changed any aspects of his ministry?  Would it change your understanding of how deep his love is for you?

Mark 1.4-8

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”  Mark 1.4-8

Sir Thomas Beecham, the British conductor, once saw a distinguished-looking woman in a hotel foyer.  Believing he knew her, but unable to remember her name, he paused to talk with her.  As the two chatted, he vaguely recollected that she had a brother.  Hoping for a clue, he asked how her brother was and whether he was still working at the same job.  “Oh, he’s very well,” she said, “And still king.”

No one likes embarrassment.  We’ve all experienced it—and will experience it again…  Maybe it’s part of being human, or simply God’s way of reminding us of how little we really are.  Either way, it happens to all of us because we spend so much time (and money) caring about what others think.

Not so for John the Baptist.  He was so radically committed to his role of being God’s special messenger that his dress, diet, and directives were different.  No more ordinary.  No room for the status quo.  No space for filler.  John’s message was simple:  Get ready—God’s Messiah is coming!

John’s life is like a travel magazine.  Each page takes you to a different place with its own unique sights, smells, and savors.  Should we talk about his choice of clothing?  What about his diet?  What about his practice—and in the wilderness of all places?

Let’s start with his pedigree.  From reading Luke’s account, we know that John had a very spiritual pedigree.  Both parents were God-fearing and were even commended for their devotion.  His father even served as a priest in the Jerusalem Temple.  By all accounts, he was part of the ‘in-crowd’ and in many ways ‘had it made.’  But his actions spoke otherwise.

Why does Mark leave out his pedigree?  Why not explain to us why John’s background is so vast, so prominent, so….big?

Several thoughts come to mind.  But maybe the biggest one is this:  his pedigree doesn’t matter.  Just as his call for everyone to come to a dry, deserted place is uncomfortable—so too is this call.  And there’s no easy way to heed it.  There’s no room for “saving face” or avoiding embarrassment.  Repentance undresses us of our pride—our achievements—our own pedigree…It leaves us standing naked before God and Man—for who we really are in the hopes of becoming something that we cannot attain in our own strength or ability.

John reminds us that no matter what you’ve done on the positive side of the ledger or on the negative side—it doesn’t matter anymore.  Repentance frees you from the bondage of both.  It frees you from guilt and it frees you from trying to outdo all the expectations that are upon you.  Either way, it sets you free to be the person God wants you to be.

And that’s the freedom in which John lived.  He was free to be all that God wanted him to be.  John shows us how we can live in that same kind of freedom.

First, John’s dress was different.  He definitely made a fashion statement!  How are you dressed every day?  And I’m not talking about your wardrobe…  The real question is, how do you clothe your nakedness?  Do you allow achievement, money, good grades to define you?  Do you allow your performance to clothe you?

For John, he was clothed with his relationship with the living God.  For us as followers of Jesus Christ, we are clothed with his love and grace for our lives.  His forgiveness is real, his power to live a changed life is available, and his character is daily taking greater root in our lives.  At the center core of our being is a simple but life-changing truth:  God’s love for you in Christ Jesus.  It is this truth, this new reality, that clothes us.

Also notice that John’s diet was different.  He ate bugs and wild honey.  Sounds like a Bear Grylls survival episode to me.  He was deliberately and exclusively unique in his diet.  And so must we if we are to live in this new freedom like John.

Our diet is God’s Word to us, the Bible.  Our diet is worship and praise.  Our diet is fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters.  Our diet is seeking and doing God’s will on a daily basis.  Our diet is found in saying No to ourselves and saying Yes to the Holy Spirit.  And so I ask you, how’s your diet?  Are you eating as a healthy Christian?  What junk food have you been eating instead?

Finally, notice that John’s directive was different.  His modus operandi was in being a radio—a stereo broadcasting one message:  everyone needs the Lord.  Rich and poor.  Big and little.  Great and homeless.  Everyone needs the Lord, for every moment, for every day.

What message are you broadcasting?  Are you all about worldly success?  “I’ll be happy if….”  “I’ll feel better when…”  “If only I had…”  You get the drill.  What are you broadcasting?  Is it that you are a person who has received the Holy Spirit?  Or is it that you are person still looking for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?  May you realize today that in coming to Christ in full, honest truth of how much you need him be the priceless pot of gold that sets you free.

Application Questions:

1.  Would you have been embarrassed to have been baptized by John?

2.  What’s the biggest thing you need help with?  Start your repentance there…

3.  Notice this took place in the “wilderness”.   What role does the suffering in your life play in becoming all that God wants you to be?

Mark 1.2-3

“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”  Mark 1.2-3

Construction zones can be messy places.  Hard hats and hardened tools are common place as workers scramble in different directions with various tasks and assignments.  Walking by you hear a symphony of random noises like steel clanging on steel, the thud of concrete being broken by a sledge hammer, or the drone-like sound of a pile-driver punching new beams of support deep into the ground.   Somehow, the entire project magically seems to come together.  At least, this is what’s going on down the street from my apartment near the Dempster Street bridge for the daily commute trains of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).

In many ways, life is like a constant construction zone.  God, the Master-Builder, is constantly at work in our lives as we daily seek to follow Him.  There are things that need replacement and/or strengthening, some things that are new, and some things that frankly need to be torn down.  The funny thing is that sometimes God lets you put on your hardhat and join Him, and other times you must simply wait on the sidelines as He does what only He can do.

In this part of Mark’s gospel, we encounter a construction zone.  God is doing something new, but it’s not entirely new.  It’s like the Dempster Street bridge—it’s not being torn down, but it’s being renovated and being built upon.  It’s going to be a stronger bridge for decades to come, but much work is required that needs to be carefully planned and put into motion.

Think of this section in Mark (1:2-3) as a new act in an on-going play.  God, again the Master-Builder, carefully pulls the reader aside to show how He has been preparing this renovation of the Kingdom all along—it’s new but not really.  Following God has always been by faith—but now it’s faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

You, the reader, are being given “inside information” so you can do some “inside trading” in the spiritual realm.  In other words, put all your chips on this one stock and make a fortune — the stock of Jesus Christ.

There is a double-meaning to this passage.  First, let’s examine the obvious.

The quotation is a combination of three different pieces of Scripture: Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and Isaiah 40:3.  Mark combines these three (before unrelated) parts of Scripture to point to the advent of John the Baptist who in turn introduces the main actor on the stage of God’s history for humankind, Jesus Christ.   These quotations combine the Torah (Exodus), the Minor Prophets (Malachi), and the Major Prophets (Isaiah) as if to say they all point to fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

But there’s another subtle movement being suggested in this passage that should hit home for you.  The Gospel of Mark is about Jesus leading his disciples.  He leads them to Jerusalem and death (see Mark 10:30), and he goes before them to Galilee (see Mark 14:28 and 16:7).  In other words, while God has prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus is now preparing the way for you.

There is no place you can go, where Jesus has not already been.  There is no hell-hole you can find yourself in where God’s love for you is not deeper still.  There is no place of darkness beyond his grip.  One of the ways in which God manifested Himself to His people was in absolute darkness (see Exodus 20.21)–as if to assure us that when we find ourselves in such places we can know that He is with us still.  Jesus died on the cross—was forsaken by God the Father—so you would never be forsaken by him.  That’s the beauty of the good news we call the Gospel.  God is paving the way for you—will you follow Jesus to get there?  Faith lights the way where reason, money or even safety cannot shine bright enough.

Application Questions:

1.  How are you preparing the way for Jesus with the people you know who don’t have a relationship with Christ?

2.  Describe the depth of comfort you get from knowing that no matter where you are as a follower of Christ, that yes, he has already gone before you and prepared the way for you…

3.  God likes to manifest His presence to His people in the wilderness.  Why?  What wilderness are you currently in, and how can you begin to recognize God’s presence with you?

Mark 1.1

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  (Mark 1.1)

My first job here in Chicago was as a seasonal supervisor at the famous Walnut Room restaurant inside Macy’s on State Street.  The holidays are especially busy for the restaurant since it has the famous 45 foot tall “Great Tree” in it every year with thousands of lights and ornaments.  It’s an amazing site, filling your eyes with sparkles and colors making you feel like a goldfish suddenly dropped into Lake Michigan unsure of which way to go and overwhelmed by the vastness of it all.

The crowds and stress were just as overwhelming.  And I quickly found myself feeling like a boxer who was staggering in the ring just trying to stay on my feet while unexpected blows kept coming from all directions.  As I found myself surrounded by a sea of 600 customers, I needed something to stabilize me, and I needed it fast.  Several verses popped into my mind like Isaiah 40:31 or Philippians 4:13.  But God had other plans.

The Lord gave me Mark 1.1 as my anchor.  It would help me get through the rush of the holiday season and to keep cool under all circumstances, even when the customer was furious over a cold cup of soup or a steak that was a bit too red inside.  Mark 1.1 was the answer, and let me share with you how.

God told me, “Brian, for many of your coworkers, and for many of these customers, you are the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  In other words, your love and grace to them introduces them to a taste, an appetizer, of the main course–which is God’s love for them in Christ Jesus.  And every customer in that room IS related to Jesus Christ.  Perhaps not in a spiritual sense (if they aren’t Christians yet), but in a very DNA-distant cousin sense.  Therefore they each need my utmost love and attention, and for the sake and honor of Christ I will give it to them.

Application Questions:

1.  There is somebody in your life, right now, for whom YOU are the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ask the Lord to give you a greater awareness of this truth.

2.  Every beginning introduces a process.  Remember that your faith needs time to grow, and that yes, it can grow in any and every circumstance (even in a crowded restaurant waiting on tables!).

3.  Finally, every beginning has an end.  Be encouraged that yes, God has started a new work in you that He will see through to completion.  There are no people in the Bible nor people in the pages of human history who are forgotten by God.  He is actively and responsibly involved in every project He has started–and YOU are one of His most complex and beautiful projects!

-Brian

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