December 10, 2017
Sunday Between December 4 and December 10 Inclusive
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 1:1-8, The Message or Mark 1:1-8, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Mark begins by quoting from Isaiah 40:1-11, and then immediately in Verse 4 introduces John the Baptizer appearing in the wilderness, thus making the link between John, the Isaiah prophecy, and the first wilderness experience with Moses.
In the ears of the people of Jesus' time, this set an air of great expectation of the fulfillment of God’s coming and the establishment of God's rule on earth as it already was in heaven.
And so the people came out in large numbers to hear John (Verse 5). John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was to cleanse people in preparation for meeting God.
The Holy Spirit (Verse 8) is referred to only in the Second Testament, and so we are introduced not only to Jesus as the Son of God, but also to the Holy Spirit.
Sermon Thoughts (Not the sermon)
I’m always struck by how the images in Isaiah 40 – straight roads, valleys filled in, mountains levelled, rough places smoothed out – remind me of Saskatchewan. Can Moose Jaw be the new Jerusalem? (And for all you non-Canadians out there - just pick any well-known small town that is in the middle of flat-land prairie.)
Isaiah speaks his words of comfort at a time of great calamity, loss and chaos. The way things had been were now changed and gone forever, and the future was bleak and unknown. He speaks words of comfort NOT because PEOPLE are resilient, strong, courageous, resourceful, hard-working, dedicated, etc. Indeed, Isaiah reminds us of an inescapable reality – people are like flowers and grass that wither and fade. And so too our resilience, strength, courage, resourcefulness, hard work, dedication, etc. also wither and fade with us. No. Isaiah finds comfort only in the one thing that does not wither and fade – the word of God.
In the Bible, the word of God is also God’s action. And so the word "Comfort" in Verse 1 becomes God’s action in verse 11.
It is crucial to note that the arm of God which "rules" in Verse 10 is not used to punish and smite, but to comfort. The strength of God is always used to restore relationships and make the whole earth harmonious.
Unlike us, John the Baptizer is a wild and woolly character. But like us, he lives to point people to one who is greater than himself. John is the first Christian in the sense that he is the first who gives witness to Jesus.
John baptizes with water, Jesus baptizers with the Holy Spirit. One washes the outside as a sign of an inner cleansing of our souls. But with Jesus, our souls ARE cleansed, and our outward behaviours are a sign of an inner reality.
- Where do we look for comfort? Do the things we look to for comfort endure or wither and fade? How would our life, attitudes and behaviours change if we looked to God for comfort?
- How do we imagine the "arm of God?" How do we see God’s power, God’s righteousness; and God’s mercy and love?
- How much do we personally, and does our church collectively, explicitly witness to Jesus?
- How much are we personally, and our church collectively, still having only received baptism in water (outer reality of a spiritual sign), and not also baptism in the Holy Spirit (inner reality which leads to outward signs)? Are our actions an outer facade that disguise an inner emptiness? Or do our actions reflect an inner truth?
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina, et. al. (see link below), pages 145-146.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'"
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 1:1-8 (The Message)
1 The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, 2 following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Watch closely: I'm sending my preacher ahead of you;
He'll make the road smooth for you.
3 Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God's arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
4 John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. 5 People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. 6 John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.
7 As he preached he said, "The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will change your life. 8 I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."