Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 18, 2024
Mark 1:9-15 Commentary
We’ve gotten snippets of this lectionary text in Epiphany, a bit of an echo as we enter the lenten journey. In fact, knowing that we’re starting Lent this Sunday may help you frame this week’s message built on these three snippets from Mark.
Among other things, Lent is a time of preparation; often it works as time to quite earnestly and somberly consider the call to follow after Jesus and the way of suffering and sacrifice to the cross. So, we might read this passage as answering the question, Why should we heed Jesus’s call to repent and believe that the Kingdom of God has come near? In other words, why should we follow him to the cross?
Mark gives us two reasons; one happened to Jesus and the other Jesus accomplished in the wilderness. Both proclaim something about Jesus and ought to help us say yes to following him.
As we talked about back in January, Jesus’s baptism was also a revelation as the heavens were torn apart, the Father declared that Jesus was his beloved, and the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus to be and stay with him. It’s a foundational message and informs the incarnate one’s core identity. Jesus is the Beloved of God. Jesus is not alone, God is with him. God will not let anything stop him from the purposes he has for and in Jesus. Everything that Jesus is, does, and will do stems from this core identity.
This core identity may not have been communicated to everyone present at Jesus’s baptism. Mark doesn’t make clear if it was just Jesus that saw the vision or if everyone else also got to witness it. But remembering what we witnessed just last week at the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John surely got that message as they heard God the Father say the same words about Jesus to them. The point then, as it is now for us, is to listen to Jesus! And listening means to follow, to repent, and to believe. Having seen a glimpse of his glory, the trio of disciples followed Jesus down the mountain and continued to follow Jesus into Jerusalem for his final week of suffering.
Knowing what we know, what we’ve been experiencing as epiphanies and conversions over the start of 2024, will we follow him too? (We’ll ignore for now how James, John and Peter actually do on that fateful Good Friday night…)
But Mark doesn’t stop there. He gives us another reason why Jesus is worth heeding, and this one returns us to the beginning of humanity. As Robert Guelich points out in his commentary (Word Biblical Commentary Series), Mark’s summary version of the temptation Jesus endured after his baptism has a Paradise motif. In details unique to the gospel of Mark, we’re told that Jesus “was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him.” The last time that humanity lived at peace with the wild animals was in the Garden of Eden. Truly, Jesus Christ is the Second—and last—Adam who, unlike the rest of us, does not succumb to the evil one’s lies and temptations.
What’s more, in this little scene we see Jesus connected to every plane of existence or reality. He is in the wilderness and among the wild beasts. This not only means he is in the spiritual place of wandering and hardship and uncertainty, it’s also a reminder that Jesus was very much a part of this physical world. God rolled up his sleeves and got his hands dirty in the creation he had made. The fact that the angels waited upon him and he was confronted by the devil marks Jesus’s keen awareness of the spiritual forces and realm that so many of us conveniently choose to claim ignorance about. And let us not forget that the angels are there because the triune God rendered the separation between the heavens and the earth. Because Jesus is not just Jesus, Jesus is not even just the beloved of God, Jesus is God himself. In him, the kingdom of God has come near!
So just like that, Mark makes his case for Jesus’s claims and commands. The good news is proven in who Jesus is, what is witnessed at his baptism, and the pattern he shows in the wilderness of standing in place of humanity and replacing our inability with his perfection. It’s a symbolic and literal representation of Jesus as the connection between the physical and spiritual realms, holding all things together, mediating between heaven and earth.
We have no reason to doubt, only to follow, come what may.
Mark’s style to move quickly between scenes and stories is perhaps most noticeable here in chapter one. Whereas Matthew and Luke give us the details about the devil’s three temptations, Mark lets the fact that Jesus was tempted suffice. Scholars call this style “summary statements.” In other words, we’re always meant to keep in mind that there was a lot more that could have been said, but here’s the heart of the matter…
[Note: In addition to our weekly sermon commentaries, we have a special resource page for Lent and Easter for you to explore!]
In words that date back to the second century, some baptismal forms include a series of renunciations and commitments in the form of questions:
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of evil that rebel against God?
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ?
Do you intend to be Christ’s faithful disciple, trusting his promises, obeying his word, honouring his church, and showing his love, as long as you live?
This traditional form captures our lectionary text as the lenten journey. We start with Jesus’s baptism, his renunciation of the evil one by not succumbing to temptation in the wilderness, and then his call to “repent and believe.”
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