This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
I know someone who refused to look in a mirror. In
their bathroom the mirror had a sheet draped over it. They so very much did not
like to see what they saw.
Toadstools on the Family Place
and Some Pictures in the Country around Live Oak
I’m not a big fan of mirrors, myself; but a mirror is
almost a necessity of life. I wouldn’t want to shave without one. I’m not sure
I could properly knot my tie without one. If I get something stuck in my eye, I
need a mirror to see what it is. As I get older, I have more trouble with nose
hairs; and I need a mirror to help me get them.
If I could ask someone to take care of these things
for me then, maybe, I wouldn’t need a mirror. You might say that such a person
would actually become my mirror. Instead of seeing my reflection in a mirror, I
would see myself through them; through their eyes.
Maybe you have such a mirror as that.
My bathroom mirror serves a couple of other purposes.
When I look into my mirror, I find myself able to see a man who needs a lot of prayer,
and the mercy and strength of God. I don’t think I would know how to live
without seeing that.
I also look into my mirror and see many other people
who need prayer. They need grace, and faith, and transformation. They need
guidance, and healing, and courage, and peace.
Half my mirror is covered with sticky notes with the
names of people for whom I have been asked to pray; or I know to pray for them
without being asked. I see them when I look in my mirror. I see people there
whom I have never met. I may never meet them this side of heaven.
You are mirrors too. When I look at you, I admit
being tempted to think more about myself, but I know, from experience, that
there are much more important things to think about when I look into the mirror
that is you.
I should see in you so many other people that I will
never meet, and so many places and situations that I will never know. And I
should be able to look into you and see a person who needs prayer; prayers for
grace, and faith; prayers for transformation, and guidance; and prayers for
healing, and courage, and peace.
Jesus is the perfect mirror in which we can see the
face of God; and we can see the human face, as well. We can see our true face,
and the faces of the people of this world. Only we may look into this mirror
named Jesus and not see what we want to see. We may not see our reflected face
as we desire to see it. We may decide to avoid the mirror, or cover it up, or
pretend that it has shown us something that is not there. We may desire to smash
it to pieces.
There were a lot of people who wanted to smash Jesus,
the perfect mirror. There was a political party in Galilee
called the Herodians. They wanted the Herod family to rule the people of Israel as they
had once ruled, under Roman authority, through Herod the Great, the king who
was visited by the wise men and who tried to kill the baby Jesus. The Herod
family still ruled in Galilee, with the Romans’
Having the Herod family as rulers was a way to be the
people of Israel, but with
the benefits of the superior culture, and stability, and prosperity of the Roman Empire. And the Roman power, in the tradition of
the Herod family, would be used to keep the faith of Israel and the God of Israel under
control. The Herods would see to it that the faith of Israel and the
God of Israel would not interfere too much in their ordinary lives.
Jesus, to their eyes, brought God and the life of
faith even closer to them than the Jewish Law. Jesus would not only be telling
them what to do and how to do it, the way the Pharisees wanted to do. Jesus
would have them looking deeper, at their priorities in life. He would have them
looking at the integrity of their own hearts. Jesus would have them care about
the poor and the needy. Jesus showed them the essential emptiness of wealth and
power, and everything they valued, compared to truth, love, and compassion.
The followers of Herod loved the world as it was, and
they wanted to be a part of it. Jesus showed them the possibility of a new world,
and a new life, that held nothing of value for them.
They would cover up Jesus, and the God whom Jesus
reflected. They would hide from this God and this Jesus, if they could; and
they were more than willing to dispose of him.
The Pharisees were also learning to hate the
reflection they saw in the mirror named Jesus. Pharisee is a word that comes
from the meaning “to separate”. They were “the separated ones” in the sense
that they separated themselves from everything and everyone impure or unclean;
meaning everything and everyone that did not conform perfectly to the laws of
Moses in the Old Testament.
If a Pharisee touched a pagan Roman or Greek (which
is probably what you and I would be if we lived in that time and place) he
would have to go home and take a bath. The touch would be degrading to the
Pharisees, and the thought that the Pharisee would have to take a bath, from our
slightest touch, would be degrading to us. You can imagine what kind of world
the Pharisees made for themselves.
It was as if the Pharisees lived in a diseased world,
where they were the only ones who remained uncontaminated by some world
destroying plague. Leprosy was treated as the visible picture of the
contamination of sin; if sin could be considered as a contagious, and disfiguring,
and fatal infection.
Leprosy is a sickness that was common in Jesus’ day.
It was considered highly contagious. It was also considered unclean. If you
were a Pharisee and touched a leper, you would have to go home and take a bath.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, in the ancient world where no
really good disinfectants were available except, perhaps, for wine and salt.
Mark tells us, in his first chapter, that Jesus deliberately
touched a leper and that (afterwards) he couldn’t enter the towns. This may not
have been only because Jesus was surrounded by such big crowds that there was
no longer room for him in the streets of any town. The Pharisees may have tried
to keep him out of their towns because he had touched a leper and so he shared
a leper’s uncleanness. Lepers were not allowed in towns, and neither was the
Jesus who handled them.
Other people came to Jesus for healing besides
lepers. Even if they were not lepers, they often had wounds or illnesses that
oozed, and bled, and discharged, and leaked: and Jesus touched them all. He
brought them the message and the good news of a God who came into their towns,
their streets, their homes, their rooms, and touched them where they needed it
Jesus reflected a God for whom lepers, and the people
who leaked and oozed, were the very people you did touch; but that was unclean
and unacceptable. The Pharisees would not consider such a God. In Jesus, they
saw the world of such a God, and they saw where they would stand in such a
They saw it, reflected for them, in an uncompromisingly
honest mirror. They wanted, with all their heart, to smash that mirror. They
wanted to smash Jesus and make him stop.
Sabbath means “stopping”. On a Sabbath, almost
everything stops. Everything stops: all working; all carrying; all making.
There is no lighting of lights or fires, and no putting them out. There is plenty
of food, but no cooking. There is reading, but no writing. There is no tying of
knots, and no untying. There is no carrying of burdens. There is only what is
needed for life.
The Sabbath is a day for life in the presence of the
living God who does not need to work in order to live. To be holy as God is
holy means obeying the command, one day in seven, to radically stop in the
presence of God.
If a life is in danger, you may stop your holy
stopping in order to save that life. Only you can do nothing beyond saving it.
If a wall collapses on a person, you can dig through enough
of the wall to see if that person is still alive, and if he or she is still alive
you may save them, but if they are dead, you leave the body where it is until
the Sabbath is done. If a person is wounded, you may bandage the wound to stop
the bleeding, but you cannot put medicine on the wound, because that is not
needed to save a life.
The reason for this was the law. The law of Moses did
not say not to dig the body out of the rubble. The law did not say to put no
medicine on the wound. The law did not say to cook no food. But the law said to
stop and do no work.
How far can you go before you stop stopping? How far
can you go before anything you are doing becomes work? If you cannot answer
this, the safe thing to do, according to the Pharisees, in order to keep the
law to the letter, is to do nothing, because the law must be kept above all
Jesus did nothing but to speak, and to have the man
with the withered hand stand up and stretch out his hand. None of this broke
the holy stopping of the Sabbath. If Jesus did any more than this, it was
nothing they could see or hear; but how could they be sure that he had done
Perhaps Jesus had exerted great powers to achieve a
healing, when the life of the man did not hang in the balance. Jesus must have broken
the Sabbath. He must have made the day of blessing unholy and unclean when he
healed a human being created in God’s image, when that human didn’t need to be
The Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments, and
those commandments are found in two places: the twentieth chapter of Exodus and
the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. In Exodus the Sabbath rest is a mirror of
God’s blessing of the creation. In the early centuries after Christ came, the
Jewish rabbis wrote this about the day when God rested: “What was created on
the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose!” (third century, Genesis
Rabbah 10:9) The rabbis, themselves, knew that the Sabbath was about
perfecting, and blessing the creation.
In Deuteronomy, the Sabbath is holy because it is the
mirror of the day when God set his people free from slavery in Egypt. Deuteronomy
tells us that we are to give rest to others, because God has set us free.
This freedom from slavery is the Old Testament
picture of salvation and grace. The Sabbath is holy because it is a day for
giving blessing, bringing grace and deliverance into the world.
For the Pharisees, the law of stopping was more
important than the law of saving, and blessing, and giving grace to others.
They saw the stopping as the only blessing, and as an end in itself.
Even they should have known that it was a day for
giving Good to the man with the withered hand. They wanted to put a cap on the
blessing power of God. In that sense they were willing to do evil rather than
good, for the sake of the law of the Sabbath.
In this way they were more concerned about stopping
Jesus from working than they were about the blessing of the man with the
withered hand. The Sabbath became a weapon against Jesus and against goodness. On
that Sabbath day they thought more than ever about killing; killing Jesus.
When Jesus healed the man, he was giving him a new
life. He was giving goodness. So the question of Jesus was to the point, “Which
is lawful on the Sabbath: to do Good or to do Evil, to save life or to kill?”
They had already killed Jesus in their hearts. They had broken the Sabbath
themselves and made it unholy and unclean.
This warns us about taking what we think of as holy
and making it into a weapon against the Lord himself. Do we use our prayer, our
music, our worship, our church, as standards for judging others? Do we use what
we think of as our holy ways as an excuse to keep others from experiencing the
love and the power of God among us? Do take the good things that we claim come
from God, and make them into walls to shut others out; or into clubs for
smacking them into agreement with us?
Jesus worshiped on the Sabbath with all his people.
He was always found whenever and wherever they gathered to pray, and to study,
and to listen, and to learn, and to rest in the blessing of God.
Jesus was also always found with those who needed
healing and forgiveness and a new life. Jesus was to be found whenever and wherever
the unclean and the unforgiven gathered.
The Sabbath is not so much about a day in time (one
day in seven) as it is about the nature of God himself and his purpose to
complete us as his creations, and to save us and give us a new life. There is
no unit of time where seven days represent anything that happens in our world
of time and space. The Sabbath has nothing to do with the motion of the sun, or
the moon, or the earth, or the universe.
The Sabbath represents the grace of God working in
time. The Sabbath is the work of God who creates us and promises to set us
free, and to give us healing, and deliverance, and rest beyond this world of
time and space.
Jesus died on the cross to give us a better Sabbath
than any one day out of seven. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead
to bring us into a new world that is devoted to blessing, and to caring. When
we create blessing, we create the Sabbath; not as a twenty-four hour day (not
as one day in seven), but as a state of being and a way of life. Jesus died on
the cross and rose from the dead to give us a new world where there are only
beginnings, and never any endings, where there are no more things that come to
The man, who stopped having a withered hand, stopped
having a hand that stopped him. Now, no matter how hard he worked, and no
matter what day he worked, he would always be at rest, because he had been
blessed with the blessing of work. He could work and know the joy of work. He
could laugh at his ability to work.
Now he could work and he could play as much as he
could, because Jesus had refused to be told when to stop. Jesus had refused to
agree that stopping, in itself, was holy.
When we look into the mirror of Jesus, we can see who
we are and how we must let him change us in order to find our true rest. Our true
rest, in Jesus, is found in creating blessing, and in being a blessing to
About twelve years ago, my parents bought a Labrador
retriever from the county animal shelter, and they named her Jenny. My mom
claims that Jenny doesn’t know that she is a dog. My mom claims that Jenny
thinks of herself as a person. My counterclaim is that Jenny knows that she is
a dog; but that she thinks the rest of us are dogs too; only very strange, and
confused, and puzzling dogs.
One thing that Jenny definitely does not know is that
she is a retriever. Jenny doesn’t know how to fetch. She knows how to run. She
knows how to chase things, like the strange cats that shouldn’t be in her yard,
that are not extensions of the pack.
But if you throw a ball, or a Frisbee, or a stick, or
anything, Jenny is completely clueless. She looks at you and wonders why you
threw that thing away. She tilts her head, in that doggy way, and asks, “What
on earth is wrong with you?”
Jenny being manipulated by "Kit"
Jenny doesn’t know that she is a retriever. If the
instinct is there, she doesn’t recognize it or know what to do with it.
God is, by nature, a retriever. God shows us this all
the way through the story of the Bible, which is the story of God’s retrieval
of a fallen world.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah shows us God’s
instinct for faithfulness, which is part of his holiness; and the anger of God
which is God’s instinctive response to the betrayal of faithfulness, which is
also a part of his holiness. In both of these ways Jeremiah shows us God’s
instinctive love because, in the presence of both betrayal and anger, God is
faithful, still, and God can be trusted to remain a retriever.
God is a retriever. He responds to our betrayals (which
is what all of our sins are) and even to his own anger, through healing,
forgiving, transforming, and restoring. “Nevertheless I will bring health and
healing…. I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and
security…. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me
and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will
bring me renown, joy, praise, and honor before all nations on earth….”
God came in Jesus to bring healing, forgiveness,
transformation, and restoration to his people, and to all people so that they
might become his people. This is the new world of Jesus. This is the new world that
the good news of the gospel is about.
In the most powerful way, this new world has been
created by the life, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. But Jesus
lived his mission all through his life, just as we are to live his mission
through our own lives.
Jesus directed his life, his words, his action, and
his passion toward healing, forgiving, transforming, and restoring the world
around him, and the people in it. His instinct for doing this stank in the
minds of religious and self-righteous people. They detested the thought of
forgiving and healing others.
They had sought their own value in a God which they
had made in their own image, who did not require them to be healers and
forgivers. In that frame of mind, they could not approve of what Jesus did, or
what he stood for. They would never help him. They would try to stop him, and
they would do all that they could to undo his work.
They did believe in goodness. They even believed that
they loved goodness. But they made goodness itself unlovely. They were good
people in the very worst possible sense of the word. They had exchanged a love
of goodness for a love of status without changing its name.
They had lost their instinct for genuine goodness and
they didn’t know what they had lost. Their goodness was diseased, and they were
contagious, and they did not know it. Jesus insisted on rubbing the spiritual
noses of those people, who did not share his passion for the healing and
forgiving of others, in the smell of his unwelcomed faithfulness.
This was for the sake of their healing, and it was for
their own good. These times were Jesus’ own wars of judgment against the rebellious
people whom he loved; whom he had come to transform and restore. He laid siege
to the fortified cities of their self righteousness. And he chose his moments
carefully, as you must carefully choose the right moments to discipline a dog
who is not clear on the issues at stake.
Jesus chose his moments. He made the healing of a
paralyzed man into an x-ray of his critic’s brains. He did this so that the dye
of his forgiveness would appear on the monitor of their thoughts, and show the dangerous
blockage that had to be dissolved or surgically removed.
He could have healed the paralyzed man without saying
anything about forgiveness. Everyone who comes to Jesus, for any reason, needs
forgiveness. But here was an opportunity for a fresh teachable moment, and he
had to rub their noses in his mercy while it was fresh. Maybe this teaching
moment would reawaken their lost instinct to be retrievers like God: like Jesus.
The calling of Levi (who is also named Matthew, and
who gave us the Gospel of Matthew) is another case in point.
The land of Galilee, where Jesus and the disciples lived, was a
puppet kingdom within a province of the Roman Empire.
It was ruled by one of the members of the Herod family. The first king Herod
was the king who killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem when Jesus was a baby there,
because Herod had heard, from the wise men, about the birth of a rival king in
that little town.
Levi collected taxes to support the government of
that little kingdom approved by Rome.
Everyone knew that the little kingdom of the Herod family in Galilee
worked for the Roman invaders and occupiers. Anyone who worked for them was
considered a traitor.
The fact that Levi was willing to work for the Herod
family, and for the Romans, meant that he probably didn’t care much what other
people thought of him. His purpose in life was not getting the respect of
others, but getting money; getting his cut of the taxes he collected.
As long as his bosses could trust him to deliver the
goods, Levi could get away getting a lot for himself. There was no other reason
for doing what he did. Levi was not a good person. There is no reason to expect
that Levi was even a nice person, not even under the surface.
Just as Jesus could forgive and heal the paralyzed
man, he could do the same for Levi; and he did it. Jesus transformed and
restored Levi to a lost image and gave him a lost instinct.
Levi, or Matthew, was going to be a retriever sooner
than he thought. Jesus had a plan for a teachable moment. He set it in motion
by inviting himself to a party that Levi had not known he was going to give, in
his own house, for the work of retrieving others, whether they knew they needed
this or not.
We can speculate on what kind of prior knowledge and
preparation Levi had had for following Jesus, but Mark gives us none of that.
He only tells us that Jesus could walk up to a person and say, “Follow me.” And
that person would follow him. That is the point.
The critics of Jesus were right, that no one but God
could forgive sins. They would also have believed that only God could give a
person a new heart and mind. This tells us who Jesus is, because Jesus could do
The critics did not believe that Jesus could
inherently do what only God can do. They did not believe that Levi and his
friends could be truly changed by Jesus and become, through Jesus, anything but
sinners. But they were wrong.
Levi had definitely been a sinner, and Levi was still
a sinner, just as we all are. But Levi was no longer owned by his sins. They
were not his goal, and he was no longer led by them.
Levi was now owned by Jesus. Jesus became his goal,
and Jesus led him. And so, Levi was healed, forgiven, transformed, and restored
to the image of God through Jesus.
The heart of this new life would be in the cross and the
resurrection of Jesus. It is through the cross and the resurrection that we all
die to ourselves and are reborn in Jesus. But the cross and the resurrection,
just over the horizon, already lived in the heart of Jesus as he walked this
earth in Galilee. They were his essence and
this was his power to give to the paralyzed man, and to Levi and his friends,
new hearts and minds.
Jeremiah tells us, in the thirty-first chapter of his
book, what only God can do. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on
their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah
This is what Jesus was doing. This is what he still
does. God’s forgiveness is not a word, or a gesture, or an idea, it is a living,
powerful thing, a living power that changes minds and hearts. In the cross and
the resurrection there is a new life; a whole new world, that becomes ours when
we come into the world of Jesus by faith; when Jesus brings his new world into
our hearts and minds by faith.
We need to know that our faith is not the power that
makes this happen. It is the power of God. The Holy Spirit brings the
faithfulness of God, in Jesus, into us.
Our faith is trust in what the Lord offers us and
promises us. Our faith is a trust that is willing to open itself and consent to
his will and his work within us and through us.
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that God’s forgiveness
retrieves his people from their rebellion. There is a conflict when God’s own
people do not consent to God’s rule, God’s kingdom over them.
We see the same rebellion, and the same lack of willing
consent, in Mark’s telling of the story of the healing and forgiving of the
paralyzed man and the calling of Levi and his friends. There is a conflict
between even God’s own people and the instinct of God to be a retriever.
Mark puts us into the scene of this conflict to
create a teachable moment for us; to show us the real face of God in Christ,
and to hold a mirror to our own hearts and minds. Do we willingly consent to
join the kingdom
of God, which is a kingdom
of retrievers? Is there an obstacle within us, so that we see the sin in others
and yet we do not see the passion of God for the healing of their sins? Or do
we see the whole picture and give to God our consent?
The critics of Jesus were right, because no one but
God can forgive sins. Nor can anyone but God give to people a new mind and a
We would sometimes dearly love to have the power to
do this (to reach into someone’s mind and heart and make them new, and make
them over). But that is not in our power. Our real power is to pray for them;
to pray to the God we meet in Jesus; who faithfully loves us and who also
faithfully loves those for whom we pray.
Levi consented by giving the party that Jesus wanted
and inviting his friends to meet Jesus. Levi consented and cooperated with the
king of the retrievers, and so he became a retriever too. So should we.
You may not know this, but I have always enjoyed the
history of language and words. In teaching and preaching this helps because, as
followers of Jesus, we have inherited so many odd words.
The way of Jesus is a path that goes back thousands
of years. If you do any hiking, you know how you need to pay attention to
landmarks, and a lot of the landmarks in the way of Jesus seem to take the form
of words: odd words. One of those words is “gospel”.
In the Bible, we have gospels in the plural. We have
the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, and the Gospel
of John. These are written things that tell us about Jesus: where Jesus came
from, how Jesus started out, what he said and did, and what became of him.
But a gospel is not originally a written thing at
all. The Gospel of Mark, as far as we know, is the very first gospel to ever
have been written.
Mark began this written thing with these opening
words: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” But the idea behind his
writing of this written thing was not: “Hey, I’m going to invent a new kind of
written thing. What shall I call it? Shall I call it a microwave? Shall I call
it a zipper? No! I shall call it a gospel!
The gospel has become nothing more than a written
thing to most people; if most people have ever even heard the word at all. The
gospel is not a written thing. It is news. It is good news.
The word “gospel”, in Old English, clearly means
“good news”. But we don’t speak Old English any more, and so the word “gospel”
is often a very odd word to anyone who speaks English.
Mark wrote in Greek. The Greek word literally means
The New Testament world of the Greeks and Romans used
the word to describe things like the message of a decisive victory in a war
where the fate of the kingdom, or the empire, hung in the balance. Poets used
this word to celebrate the Emperor Augustus as the divine figure who was the
best thing that ever happened to Rome.
They considered his birth to be the greatest gospel in history. It was the good
news that had changed their world forever.
Mark knew that the word gospel was a revolutionary
word. He was writing about a source of good news that contradicted every other
good news that the world could throw against it.
Most of all, Mark used the word gospel because he
knew the Old Testament. He knew the prophets had spoken about the good news
that belonged to God. It would be the victory of God over our world; the
victory that all happiness depends on. It would be the best thing that had ever
happened to our world since the creation. It would be the achievement that will
change our world forever.
It would be shocking and surprising news beyond
anything that this world deserves. It would be news that came from the ancient
faithfulness that God has always shown for a fallen world that has tried with
all its might to shut him out. To a world that was blind to God, the news would
be, “Behold your God!”
Mark has the message of the prophet Isaiah in mind,
although he also inserts some words from the prophet Malachi. It goes like
this: “You, who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain. You, who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns
‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord God comes with power, and his arm rules for
him. Behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.”
You have to know that recompense means
“pay-back-time” and that this is more than a little scary. But we like scary
things, if we are sure that it really has nothing to do with us. In this case
we always think it is the other guy who needs to be scared; isn’t that right?
And then here is the really shocking part about the
Lord God of power and might and his payback time. “He tends his flock like a
shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:9-11)
Mark knew what the prophets in the Old Testament said
about the good news, and he tells us that Jesus is it. “The beginning of the
gospel of Jesus Christ” is Mark’s way of saying, “Here begins the good news
that the prophets promised to us. Here begins the good news that has changed
our world forever.” Behold your God!
In the classic movie version of “The Wizard of Oz”,
Dorothy’s house gets picked up by the tornado and then it’s dropped again in
another land. When Dorothy looks out her widow on a world filled with beauty
and color, she says, “We’re not in Kansas
anymore.” Mark is saying that we are in a new world that is not the world that
existed before Jesus came.
Some of us have memories of a day when our world was
changed. If you are married, your personal world changed with your wedding. If
you are parents, your personal world changed when you have held your new born
child in your arms. In your personal world, those are God’s gifts, not only of
good news, but of a new world based on that good news. You live in a world that
has changed forever.
The larger world is different. The days when the
world, as a whole, changes are not usually good news.
December 7, 1941 was described as a day that would
live in infamy, and it certainly did that for America. It drew America into the
Second World War that was already raging around the world without us. It was
one of those days that changed the American world.
May 8, 1945 was Victory in Europe Day, and September
2, 1945 was Victory over Japan Day. Those days brought the good news of the end
of a war that had affected everyone. Those days seemed to change the world, and
the lives of millions. And yet the nature of the world did not change.
In my life time, there have been plenty of wars, but
I don’t know if (in my life time) we have ever fought a war that we have truly
won. I don’t know if (in my time) we have ever fought a war that was ever truly
over and done with.
It is hard for many of us to know what it means to
live in a time of victory. For Mark, Jesus is the king of the kingdom of God
and Jesus is also the victory of the kingdom
Jesus is the sign of a world that has changed. Jesus is
the point at which our world is no longer a blind world that cannot see God. In
Jesus the world can see God and know God. “Behold, your God!”
Jesus is God reaching across centuries and centuries of
waiting, centuries of promises, centuries of hopes. The time of Isaiah and the
prophets came back to earth in John the Baptizer. John was the voice of the ancient
prophets preaching repentance and the complete turning around of life that
people need in order to have their hearts and lives open to whatever God is
ready to do next.
When we follow Jesus we may think that we don’t need
all those centuries of Abraham, and Moses, and David, and the prophets. We
don’t think we need the Old Testament, or the laws, or the ancient holy days,
or the prophecies. We think they are just the preliminaries to the things that
In the same way, in our own lives, when we begin to
follow Jesus, we think of the time we spent before we knew him, or before we
followed him, as only empty time. We think it was nothing more than the
preliminaries that preceded the important stuff. We may even think it wasted
Jesus is the faithfulness of God fulfilling the law
and the prophets. Jesus is the faithfulness of God waiting for you and planting
the seeds of his love for you even before you know him, even before you follow
him. Jesus is the faithfulness of God who has been weaving his promises of love
around you even before you were born, even before time began.
Jesus, coming to John, is God saying “yes” to all the
seemingly wasted time in the world, all the delays and postponements, all the
waywardness, all the failings, and the misunderstandings, and the false starts.
Jesus is God saying “yes” to you. Jesus, coming to John, is God saying, “I was
always there. I was always at work. I was always with you.”
There are no preliminaries. It all matters. It is all
part of the story of the good news of God.
Jesus, coming for baptism, and coming out to see the
heavens open and hear the voice say, “You are my son, whom I love,” is God
creating a new human race. Jesus is a new human life that can come to change.
Jesus is a new human life that can turn around and to have a new heart and
mind. Repentance means to change inside and out.
In a fallen world, it is human nature to always hold
something back. It is human nature to want to be in charge and to be a kind of
god to ourselves and to others.
In a fallen world it is human nature to rely on your
own strength, and to do your own will, and to own yourself; your thoughts and
your feelings. Even when you think you will turn one hundred and eighty degrees
from that, you don’t.
In Jesus, God creates a new human nature that does
turn and repent. In Jesus, we trust in a God of ancient faithfulness who does
for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In Jesus, God is faithful to us, and
gives us the beginning of a faithful life.
In Jesus, God creates a human being who can see what
only faith can see and hear a voice that says, “You are my son, you are my
daughter, whom I love. In you I am well pleased.” Jesus can go from seeing and
hearing his Father into a desert
where he has nothing but hunger, and thirst, and heat, and cold, and yet he can
remember what he saw and heard, once upon a time.
It is not so accurate to say, merely, that Jesus was
sent into the desert. It is better to translate it as Jesus being driven into
the desert by the Holy Spirit. Instead of being sent, the Greek very nearly
says that Jesus was tossed and thrown out into the desert.
Sometimes it seems that God has tossed us or thrown
us away, and that God has taken everything away from us so that we have
nothing. All the temptations that came to Jesus, in one way or another, were
temptations to think this. Jesus was tempted to forget that he was the Son who
was loved. He was tempt to live as though we was not loved and as if being
loved were not enough.
All sin is either a rebellion against love, or else
it is a way of replacing a love that we do not believe in with, or else it is a
way of filling the emptiness of a love we have never heard of, and yet a love
for which we were made. Sin may be a way of saying, “Since my life does not
matter, I will suit myself.”
God created each one of us in his image; not to be
his statue or his puppet, but to be his spitting image, his living child. God
does for us, in Jesus, what he designed and created us for, in the beginning:
to say, “You are my son. You are my daughter. I love you. I am pleased with
Following Jesus may seem to throw us into a desert
where we feel abandoned and alone; where this world seems no longer willing to
give us anything, because it does not understand what we are doing or why. When
we faithfully follow Jesus into this desert we are never separated from the God
who says, “I love you. In you I am well pleased.” Following Jesus by faith
means hearing these words and remembering them in our desert of temptation.
Half the good news of Mark will focus on the cross
and the resurrection of Jesus. On the cross and in the resurrection Jesus
finished the good news that began with his birth and his life.
To be in Jesus we have to die to ourselves in the
love of Jesus on the cross and be raised from the dead trusting in his
faithfulness. This is the good news of how we are saved from our sins and how
we are born into a new life.
The good news has its rehearsal in the Lord’s Supper.
We humbly live in Jesus by taking Jesus into us, just the way he humbly gives
himself to us: baptized for us and tempted for us, as well as dying and rising
for us. It is just as humbling for him to come to us in the form of bread and
wine. We are fed by his faithful humility.
When Jesus shows himself to us, it is as if the
heavens are torn open, and the Holy Spirit descends upon us, and we see what no
human eye can see. We see a different world. We see the world of victory that
Jesus has won for us, on the cross and in the resurrection. We can live in that
victory even when the path of Jesus takes us through the desert, because we
live in a new world filled with the ancient faithfulness of God.