TITLE: Son of God SCRIPTURE: Mark 1:4-11
Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the first three books of the New Testament, are often called the Synoptic Gospels. The word Synoptic comes from two Greek words -- syn , S-Y-N, which means "with" -- and optic, which means "eye." Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the same story -- the story of Jesus' life. The word Synoptic suggests that they see Jesus' life through the same lens -- that they tell his story in the same way.
But Matthew, Mark and Luke are not the same -- not at all. The way that each of them begins Jesus' story gives an idea just how different they really are.
-- Matthew tells Jesus' birth story by focusing on Joseph. He gives Joseph's genealogy. He tells about Joseph's dreams. Matthew mentions Mary, but Joseph is the star of his show.
Matthew is the only one to tell us about the Wise Men's visit to Jesus. He also tells us about Joseph taking his little family to Egypt to escape murderous Herod.
-- Luke, on the other hand, tells Jesus' birth story by focusing on Mary. He mentions Joseph only twice -- both times in minor ways.
Luke is the only one to tell us about angels appearing to shepherds.
-- But Mark skips all of that. In Mark there is no stable -- no manger -- no shepherds -- no Wise Men. Mark starts by saying, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" -- and then moves right into the story of Jesus' baptism -- a story that tells of the heavens being "torn apart" -- ripped apart (v. 10) -- and a voice from heaven saying, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
So the first few verses of Mark's Gospel mention twice that Jesus is God's son. Listen to that again. Jesus is God's son. In his first few verses, Mark says that twice.
And then Mark tells us about unclean spirits calling Jesus Son of God (3:11; 5:7) -- and then God again proclaims Jesus as his son at the Transfiguration (9:7) -- and then near the end of his Gospel, Mark tells of the Roman centurion responsible for Jesus crucifixion. The centurion says, "Truly this man was God's Son!" (15:39).
So Mark begins by proclaiming Jesus Son of God -- and ends by proclaiming Jesus Son of God -- and then tells several stories where Jesus is proclaimed Son of God.
You don't have to be a literature teacher to figure out that Mark is trying to tell us something. Jesus is the Son of God at the beginning of this Gospel -- at the end of this Gospel -- and several times in the middle. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Mark is trying to emphasize that Jesus is the Son of God.
Today's Gospel reading is Mark's account of Jesus' baptism, but Mark hardly describes the baptism at all. He says simply that Jesus "was baptized by John in the Jordan." That's it! That's the story of Jesus' baptism as told by Mark.
But Mark goes on to tell of the heavens being ripped apart -- and the Holy Spirit descending onto Jesus like a dove -- and God's voice from heaven saying, "You are my Son, the beloved." My son -- God's son! Mark says it over and over and over, so it must be important.
What does it mean to be God's son? In the Old Testament, the people of Israel are said to be the sons of God (Exodus 4:22; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 3:22). That meant that God had called them into a special relationship -- a covenant. They were to be faithful to God and God would be faithful to them. They were to be like family. But Israel's faithfulness -- like our faithfulness -- was a sometime thing -- sometimes on and sometimes off. Sometimes they did the right thing, but many times they didn't. Israel was God's son, but not always a good son.
We needed stronger medicine -- so God decided to send his son down from heaven to dwell among us -- to show us what it means to be faithful -- to teach us things that nobody else could teach us -- and to die on the cross and to emerge from the tomb.
Jesus is the Son of God. So what does that mean for us? What effect does that have on our lives?
Let me tell you what it means to me that Jesus is the Son of God. Hopefully, that will give you an idea what it can mean for you.
First, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God means that God loves me. Why else would God send his son to live in an imperfect world? Why else would the son leave the palace to live among the paupers? The only answer is that God loves us. God loves all of us and God loves each one of us. God loves me, and God loves you.
That can be pretty hard to believe. Why should God love me, imperfect as I am? Why should God love you, imperfect as you are? The Bible explains it simply by saying that God is our Father. Just as fathers continue to love sons even when the sons do something wrong, God loves us even when we do something wrong.
That shouldn't be impossible to understand, because we see glimpses of that kind of love even here on earth. I have friends who are missionaries in Haiti -- a very difficult place. They have lived there most of their adult lives and have come to think of it as home. But they are living in fear now, because some Haitians have figured out that the easiest way to get money is to kidnap missionaries and their families for ransom. They shot one missionary as they kidnapped him. They kidnapped children of missionaries. My friends live with the knowledge that they could be kidnapped -- or that their children or grandchildren could be kidnapped. But my friends still love the people of that country and refuse to give up their efforts to help them. If they can do that, why can't I believe that God loves me? Why can't you believe that God loves you?
I came across another story that illustrates that Godly kind of love. It has to do with U.S. Army medics serving in Iraq. Iraq has been a divisive war for this country. Some people think it was absolutely the right thing to do and others think it was absolutely the wrong thing. But regardless of which side of the fence you are on, you have to respect people like Sergeant Joe Buhain, who works as a medic in the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad. Buhain tells how, after a battle, the wounded are brought into the hospital -- both U.S. soldiers and enemy insurgents. Buhain saw people from both sides receiving equal medical treatment. At first, he had a problem with that. Why should they work to save the lives of people who were trying to kill them? But then he said, "The chaplain and the combat stress team helped. I came to see that, at a certain level, the insurgents were like us. They are human beings. We medical personnel had to learn to control our emotions, in order to give them the best care we could."
That article also told about U.S. soldiers lining up to give blood, not knowing whether their blood would be used for a wounded U.S. soldier or a wounded insurgent.
(Katherine Kersten, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, "When the enemy is a patient, emotions held in check," Dec. 19, 2005 -- see the complete article at http://www.startribune.com/stories/191/5789679.html).
If we can see ordinary people exhibiting that kind of grace, why can't I believe that God loves me? Why can't you believe that God loves you?
So Jesus is the Son of God, and that means that he loves us. It also means that he has the power to help us -- to make our lives better. He has the power to save us.
Mark tells us that at his baptism, Jesus "saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him" (v. 10). The New Testament was written originally in Greek, and the Greek says, "He saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove INTO him." The spirit was the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit of God. Jesus had God living in him. He did his work day by day by the power of God. He healed the sick and raised the dead by the power of God. It was the Spirit of God dwelling in him that made his incredible life possible.
And God makes this same Spirit available to us at our baptism. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to a great crowd in Jerusalem. He told them that they had killed the Messiah. They were cut to the heart, and asked, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied:
"Repent, and be baptized every one of you
in the name of Jesus Christ
so that your sins may be forgiven;
AND you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
We received the gift of the Spirit at our baptism. Sometimes we might not look like people who have God dwelling within us, but the miracle has already started for us.
Mark tells us that Jesus is the Son of God. That is proof that he loves us. That is proof that he has the power to help us. And it is proof that the miracle has already begun in us when we received God's Spirit at our baptism.
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (BH #15, 18; CH #16; CO #446; CP # 354; LBW #499; PH #356; TH #686; UMH #400; VU #559; WR #68)
Spirit of the Living God (BH #244; CH #259; CP # 647; JS #330; PH #322; TNCH #283; UMH #393; VU #376; WR #492)