Timing is everything, and if the last year of Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we must value our time. In my own context (UK), we have never really suffered events that have caused us to realise how short our time can be, to reflect on life. We have booked holidays in the years passed, safe in the knowledge that we would travel and enjoy them. Then came the wretched Covid-19! It has impacted everything, how we live day to day in our world and how we can interact with it. Timing is everything, and this year has both felt like time is dragging its heels and moving quicker than ever before.
Time is the one thing that seems to lack in our passage today. Mark writes in a way that expresses the urgency of his message and the finality of time. He wastes no words on detail as he constantly shifts from one event to another, teaching about God and his coming Kingdom. Time is of the essence because Mark lived in an era that understood this world’s fragility; he wanted people to get the point – Jesus. The emphasis of our passage today and all of Marks Gospel is that there is no time to waste: now is the time to turn to Jesus.
Passage (Mark 1:9-15 NIV)
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The Baptism of Jesus (9-11)
Verse nine give us the imagery of a significant beginning. The NIV phrases it as “At that time,” language that misses some of the implication of Marks opening here, The KJV better captures the grandness of the occasion and importance of what is occurring as it translates: “It came to pass in those days.” Verse 9 marks the beginning of a significant event, the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus and with it the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven. John the Baptist has been preparing the (spiritual) ground, and now the time has come for the Ground to receive what it was being prepared for. Now is the time that will change all time, and now is the time to which we must look to know security than will last us all time.
A Baptism of Identification
Why was Jesus baptised? Firstly, It was a baptism of identification, in partaking of such an act, and by being baptised by John in the Jordan, he was identified with the way of John’s Baptism, his message, work and ethic. John’s ministry was one of preparation and beginning. He prepared the hearts of people to receive the message of the Kingdom of God. Additionally, he proclaimed about the one who was to come and the message (of repentance) of the good news of God that he would proclaim. Thus, Jesus is not beginning something new. He is continuing what has been, albeit in a new way! The ministry of Jesus is a continuation of what has been the way and words of God’s messengers from all the ages past.
Moreover, this moment is made all the more significant because of how it unfolds; it demonstrates to us (and all who read) how of the Kingdom of God. A place that conforms not to worldly notions of power and authority but transforms them as it confronts them. Jesus, the all-powerful one, makes his first public appearance in the most insignificant place. Thus, we have the one who would make possible the fruit of repentance for all who might believe by bearing the cost of repentance entering into the waters to identify with the sinners he came to save. No sooner has he entered the waters is he rising out of them, and the insignificance of the moment dissipates as the heavens open. Mark wastes little time on detail, but he wants us to know what happened. The Word that marks uses to describe the opening is more like a lighting bolt breaking forth than a door lightly opened; thus, the point is clear. In Jesus rising out of the water, the heavens have broken loose into the brokenness of this world, and it is an outpouring that cannot be stopped. Yet, this kingdom humility remains, as it is clear that the only person aware of this heavenly display is Jesus himself.
A New Creation
Then, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in a form that represents a dove. The prophets of the old foretold of the Messiah of God who would possess God’s spirit – here he is. As the power of God comes down from on high to empower the work of God in the world, a power that is still at work today. The Spirit that once hovered over the earth at creation now hovers again, not over emptiness but over the Son of God, a human being: A sign that the new creation has begun and that it would be wrought through the transformation of humanity.
The new creation would be a redeemed people. The final detail Mark gives us is the voice speaking from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” Yet with all the majesty of this moment, the sense of Marks writings is that only Jesus (at that point) and the readers are aware of all that is going on. The Kingdom of Heaven may be about to advance through the person of Jesus, but his context is not yet ready to see and hear it. It is an announcement that teaches several points: In the Old Testament, God was pleased when Israel was obedient to his way; Jesus is obedient where Israel was never, and thus God is delighted in Him (a delighted tested and proved in the wilderness). The Divine announcements remind us that all three persons of the trinity are at work in the redemption of the world, and that which God starts, God will see-through.
Holding on to the Significance
many things shake the fabric of our world and the time we spend in it. Events, people or choice that shake our perception of time, and the way we chose to spend it. The event that perhaps move us to make bold promises of change, and plan to better ourselves and our impact on the world. Yet, soon we fall back into the rhythms of life and the normality of the world. Covid-19 may be impacting all that we are and all that we do – even church! – yet, it will pass, and normal will return, and it will fade from our memories as we try to move on and make up for a lost time. While this baptism in a river in a faraway land some two thousand years ago may seem insignificant, that which is rendered is still moving forward today as Jesus builds his Kingdom and continues to prove that he is the one we can trust, that we can rest in his obedience and know the wonder of life with God. The time is now to turn to Jesus; the question is have we?
The Wilderness Experience (12-13)
The Spirit that hovered over the earth at creation and then descended like a dove upon Christ at his baptism now acts (as he always did in the world) with the urgency that runs through Marks Gospel as Jesus is driven from the water to the wilderness. Marks treatment of the wilderness is a brief overview when compared to the accounts in Luke and Matthew. Yet, there is reason and lesson to his choice. He wants to survey a different purpose to the encounter. The voice of God spoke blessing and praise over the faithful Son, now the Spirit of God moves Jesus into the wilderness to show that such words were not for his comfort, but words of preparation for all that is ahead on the road that leads to the cross and his ultimate work.
Journeys in the wilderness
If we are anyway familiar with the scriptures, when we read these two verses, we should immediately be drawn to the image of the Exodus. When the people of God where lead out of captivity to freedom via a period in the wilderness. It was a period that was meant to prepare them for their time in the promised land and their time as the messengers of God into the wider world. It was to be a time of learning and refining as all the things of the world where
stripped away from them as a nation, and they learned to trust God as they walked with God. They were to be the people of God in the world and a people dependant on God (rather than the world). Yet, as the Exodus narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that they are not capable of what they are called to! As time and time again, they stumble and fall into the old patterns of sin, and time and time again, God shows that he is a patient and merciful God.
The Way of the Wilderness
In the wilderness, God’s chosen people where tested, and they failed miserably. Yet, God persevered with them, not because he had to: but because doing the show displayed more of His goodness that anything about the people. It is the same with us; often, we find ourselves in wilderness moments, wondering what is happening and where God is. He is right there with us! Shaping us, and through his Holy Spirit, making us more into His image and likeness. You see, where we fail in the wilderness, Jesus passes with supremacy. His Baptism identified him with his forerunner and the message of Repentance that John was proclaiming, now as he is driven into the wilderness to prove his worthiness of the call.
The image of movement given in verse 12 is one of strength; it is not that Jesus got up and went for a walk into the wilderness; he was compelled there by the Holy Spirit to be tested and tempted. Mark mentioning the wild beasts as he writes gives us a sense of how hostile this space is. The lesson, where Israel (the people of God) failed in the wilderness, the Son of God has succeeded. Thus, in his success, he demonstrates his worth to the task he has been called and can be trusted! In our wilderness moments, there is one who can relate and one we can look to for strength and dependence – his name is Jesus. Satan tempted him, and he overcame, as he would overcome evil and the curse of Sin via the cross. The image of Angels ministering to him parallels the account of Elijah, who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:1-8). Jesus is the new Elijah, through whom God would call a people to himself and by whom God would make possible the forgiveness of sins.
Finding direction in a Covid-Wilderness
The wilderness is a place that can seem disorientating; when you think of a Desert, it is a place of desolation and disorientation. You have no reference points to know if you are moving in the right direction or simply moving around in a circle. Often life can feel like that, and, if we are honest – this last year of covid has felt like a collective wilderness. We are lost! We have no point of which to reference and no ability to know what direction we are moving. Then we have the barrenness of our own wilderness experiences as we try to survive all that is going on, unsure of where we are and perhaps wondering where God is?
God is at Work in the Wilderness
From Mark’s brief description, we see two reasons to be hopeful: Firstly, we have reminded of the reality of the wilderness for those who are in Christ; Secondly, we are reminded that in the person of Jesus we have on who knows the pains of human experience, and on whom we can depend. As the people of God, we are those who hold to the truth that the wilderness is not a barren place, but a place where often God is most at work as he stripes away those things holding us back, and he moulds us into the Image of the Son by the Spirit to prepare us for the work of his Kingdom. In those wilderness places, we must more seek the face of God and hold to the hope that he is doing something. Perhaps even today, as we collectively wander through this covid-wilderness, or as we individually wait and wade through the mire, we need to take a moment and ask what God working at in us is. Additionally, we must wrestle with and seek to join in what God wants to do in our churches and communities to ready and equip us for the work of his Kingdom in the days to come.
Secondly, amid all the hopelessness and uncertainty we face, we can and should renew our trust in the one who has wandered the same wilderness – Jesus. We have a God who knows all our experiences; who has walked the difficult roads, who has fought temptation in the dark place; who has been brought to his knees; yet, where we fail, he stood firm! And, because he stands, we can lean on him. Moreover, we can stand on his strength during every season of life; because, through him and in him, we have the source of all hope, joy and strength. In our wilderness experiences’ as we seek God’s work, as we wonder what he is doing and trust what he is doing, let us remember that where we are, he has been, and where he is leading us, He will go. Then by the power of the Spirit at work in us, let us also get to the work that he has called us to. Now is the time to turn to Jesus, and perhaps now it is our time to take our turn for Jesus and step out into his work. The wilderness that we might find ourselves in may prepare us for Kingdom work, make known the hope of Christ, and the coming of Gods Kingdom – Just like it was for Jesus.
The Way and The Work (14-15)
The Way of the Kingdom
The Passage finishes with the same urgency as are we told that John the Baptist has been put into Prison, and Jesus entered into Galilee got stuck into his work. Literally, Jesus picked up where John left off – proclaiming the message of ” Good news of God.” Jesus began and demonstrates the motion of the Kingdom: When one generation has finished the work, another picks it up and continues to advance the Kingdom by proclamation and deed. We have nothing else, and we need nothing else because as followers of Jesus, we are those who have grasped that our all is in him. Nothing the world can do to us, offer us, take from us that is not ours in Christ. Thus, we are bold and confident in his mission and work. The work of proclaiming the good news of God that is the gospel of repentance made know through the cross of Christ. Where the messenger would become the offering that would bear the weight of our sin. All so that we could enjoy-eternally in the Glory of God and live in a full relationship with him. Now, and for all that is to come. This is the Kingdom’s way – proclamation and advancement – God is always at work in the world through his church and willing disciples to bring people to himself.
The Way into The Kingdom
The way of the Kingdom is also the way into the Kingdom: the people of God are those who proclaim a message of repentance, and the people of God are those who have heard, believed and responded to the message. The way into the Kingdom is to respond to the Good News! How? we repent, literally to turn about, to turn from the things of the world towards Jesus and trust Him as Lord and saviour. To believe, meaning literally to have faith, is to take Jesus at his word and trust in his work on the cross; it is to accept that before God, there is nothing we can do to deal with our sin and only through faith can we be saved and no the wonder of a relationship with God:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
The Work of the Kingdom
We know the way of the Kingdom, we know the way – by faith – into the kingdom, and our challenge is now to the work of the Kingdom. Jesus picked up where John finished as he carried forth the message of the good news of God in word and deed, and in so doing, advanced the Kingdom of God. Then Jesus consummated and made it all possible by his work on the Cross. Yet, our challenge does not finish there! To trust Jesus and take him at his word means to choose to live with him, and for him – we become his disciples. It means more than trusting his saving work. It means becoming his disciple: Being people who live with him and as for him. Thus we apply his teaching and way to our living today and every day until he comes again. Regardless of who we are, our position, culture, context, influence, possessions or wealth – if we trust Jesus as Lord and saviour, then we live for him and carry on his work. It is why Mark finished his Gospel with the wonderful images of the disciples doing what Jesus did today in response to John the baptist going into prison, they carried on the work:
“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:19-20 NIV)
They carried on the work of the great commission, and it has been happening for over two thousand years since. The Church of Jesus Christ has advanced the cause of the Kingdom across the world and cultures in word and deed as it proclaimed the good news of God. Today it is our turn. Covid may be a wilderness experience, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to help others to turn to Jesus and find their hope in him as we take our turn to make him known in the world around us.
Conclusion: The Kingdom of God has Come Near
“The Kingdom of God has come near,” it was good news some two thousand years ago and is it better news today. It was what the world needed to hear then, and it is what we desperately need to hear now. This passage has revealed to us the wonder of the Kingdoms King, that he is called by God, who pleased God and, when tested in the hostile wilderness, proved himself worthy of the call. Then wasted no time in getting on with the work of the Kingdom of God as he proclaimed the message of repentance and called people to believe.
The Kingdom of God has come near because Christ came, and it continues to draw ever closer as the Holy Spirit works in the world through the body of Jesus (his church). Now is the time to turn to Jesus, amid the hopelessness of Covid and all the worries and strains of life, and now is the time for the disciples of this generation to make Jesus know anew in his world. Today, let us pause and consider what is God doing in this season? What is God doing in us? Finally, how can we, in our own contexts and as our own churches, get on with the work of making him known. Timing is everything, and let us be confident that now is the time to turn to Jesus, and now is our time to take our turn, making him known.