Baptized, Commissioned, Driven, Tested, & Looked After
“Baptized, Commissioned, Driven, Tested, & Looked After”
A Sermon for March 9th, 2003, Year B, Lent 1
By The Rev. Philip R. Taylor, Deacon
Free Episcopal Church
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22;
9 It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. 10 And at once, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
/ 12 And at once the Spirit drove him into the desert 13 and he remained there for forty days, and was put to the test by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels looked after him.  /
Really! How much more can happen to Jesus in five verses? Isn’t Mark wonderful? Never wastes a single word. One of my New Testament mentors, The Rev. Dr. Fred Horton, onetime New Testament Chair at Wake Forest University, explained Mark’s Gospel this way. He said that the Gospel of Mark often seemed like a 35 mm slide show, click-click, click-click. And nothing seemed to stay on the screen long enough for anyone to see what was really happening.
In this lesson for the 1st Sunday of Lent, following Dr. Horton’s metaphor, we have more slides and click-clicks than verses.
· Jesus leaves Nazareth
· Jesus is baptized by his cousin John
· The heavens are torn apart
· The Spirit appears as a dove
· Jesus is commissioned by God’s voice
· Jesus is driven into the desert by the Spirit
· Satan puts Jesus to the test
· Jesus is accompanied by wild animals
· Angles look after Jesus
By my count that’s nine slides and nine click-clicks in just five verses. For many of us the passage becomes almost a blur. Let’s return to the text in order to look and listen for the good news and for what God may want of us.
Mark tells us a few verses prior to our lesson for this Sunday that John is preaching a baptism of forgiveness from sins. So why is Jesus involved? Perhaps this is the first example of Our Lord identifying with those whom He has come to save. Not that Jesus needed forgiveness but rather that He wanted to be identified completely with the rest of us who do need it.
Baptism was normally practiced by 1st century Jews as a rite to bring non-Jews into the covenant. It denoted change. John’s baptism was about a change of heart and a change of life. And in verse 8 just prior to our lesson, he speaks of an even more radical baptism to come, a baptism by God’s Spirit.
Jesus, it seems, is receiving both John’s baptism and the baptism by God’s Spirit. Certainly Jesus’ life changes after this event, from carpenter to radical rabbi. And Mark has God’s Spirit and God’s voice completing the baptism of Jesus by descending on him, commissioning him, and driving him into the desert.
Now that’s a baptism! Been to a lot of baptisms, done a few myself, never heard or saw anything like that. The truth is, however, we may have never heard or seen anything like what Mark reports, not because it didn’t happen but because we weren’t paying attention, and we weren’t open to the possibility of radical change and the mystery of God’s presence.
Apparently Jesus was paying attention and was open to radical change, to the fluttering like a dove of God’s Spirit, to the voice of a proud Father, and the power of a very pushy Holy Spirit.
If Jesus is our model for what God wants of us, then how are we to be that open? It’s hard; it’s real hard beloved. As Scott Peck says in his severely understated opening to The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.” As Christians, however, I think we are called to believe that it can happen.
We can acknowledge our need for openness, we can pray for God’s help in our struggle to listen and respond to God’s Spirit, and we can believe that in our brokenness and in our openness that God will come to even us as a fluttering dove, a proud father, and a pushy Spirit.
Mark gives us no evidence that anyone other than Jesus saw the heavens torn apart, doves descending, or voices from the Father. Indeed, Luke and Matthew both report in their accounts that John just prior to his own death is totally unaware of the messiahship of Jesus.
It is Jesus who has this religious experience, no doubt encouraged and even precipitated by John’s preaching and baptizing, but Jesus alone who is fluttered upon, commissioned by the Father, and tossed into the desert. Perhaps there is a lesson there too for us.
That baptism need not be about the Bishop, Priest, or Deacon who will pour the water, not about the beautifully adorned church, nor the list of godparents, but about God and the baptized. It’s about how God will change the life of the baptized, it’s about how God has changed the life of us who will witness the baptism, and it’s about our hopes and prayers for the future of the one who is baptized.
And now we go with Jesus to the desert, to the wild-er-ness. The translation I have used here says, …the Spirit drove him into the desert… The Greek word ekballo is also translated as impelled or cast out, implying if not a violent motion at least a stern and strong motion, as one might throw a javelin.
Mark may not be telling us that Jesus didn’t want to follow the push of the Spirit but he clearly wants us to understand that this movement by Jesus to the desert was both done quickly and with some force by God’s Spirit.
Jesus will stay a long time, forty days, in the desert or wild-er-ness, Satan will test him, wild animals will surround him, but He will be cared for by angles. Sounds a lot like my life, how about yours? Jesus again is identifying with those whom He came to save; us, you and me; you know, the folks with whom God wants relationship.
Mark reports no conversation with the evil one like Matthew and Luke. It’s not necessary for the click-click slide show. It’s enough to say that Jesus was tested. We all know what that means, we all know, and all too well do we know. And that’s the point too, isn’t it?
My long time friend, Father Bob Pierce, would tell those of us who studied at his knee that it was crucial for us to understand what we were being saved from and that although confrontation with the evil one is common ground for all humanity, knowing what evil is and how it can ‘corrupt and destroy the creatures of God’ (BCP, page 302) is not a universal understanding.
Having Mark tell us that our Lord and Savior has been there and done that is a comfort and a beginning for us in our own journey to understand and overcome the evil in our lives. Again Jesus reminds us that all of this is difficult, even He requires the ministration of angels, but not impossible. We remember also that at the end of his ministry as well as at the beginning, Jesus requires help, as Simon of Cyrene helps him carry the object of his execution.
May the God of grace and glory baptize us into a new life of hope and forgiveness. May we pause to look and listen for the voice of God in life’s journey through desert and wild-er-ness. May we have the discernment to understand evil and the will to resist it. May we surrender to the care and love of God and the angels, even to the stranger from Cyrene who will help us endure the desert and carry our cross.
Peace to You and Yours throughout this Holy Lent and beyond.
The New Jerusalem Bible. 1995, c1985. Includes indexes. Doubleday: Garden City, N.Y.