Lent 1 – February 21, 2021
Faith Lutheran Church
It is interesting that the gospel of mark, the oldest and earliest gospel, begins with our lesson for today. Since we have already engaged with this text twice this year, we all know that there is not Christmas story in mark, no shepherd in the field, no angelic messengers, no wise people from the east. Only John baptizing, and Jesus being baptized before heading out into the wilderness.
TO the writer of Mark, the beginning of the ministry of Jesus comes at his baptism, when the spirit descends as a dove and the voice of God proclaims “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Yet when we engage with this text, there seems to be one question posed and another answer given.
The question Mark answers is “Who is this Jesus?”
Remember that question that Jesus asked Peter, “Who do people say that I am?” That was the question asled over and over again by the people in the streets and by the political and religious leaders of the day. That is a question that is certainly not out of date today.
While I think we should be careful about how much stock we put into something like a Gallup poll, the results can often be interesting to consider. In a recent Gallup Poll, 26% of the population believed that Jesus is both fully god and fully human. The same poll says that 87% of clergy believe Jesus is fully God and fully human, and with Lutheran pastors it is 95%.
Beyond that Gallup poll, there is other testimony for the person of Jesus. It is in our gospel for today where we have the apostolic confession, the confession of the early church–Certain key words that are used to describe Jesus:
- “Christ”, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, the royal deliverer.
- “Son of God.”
- “Son of Man.”
It could be said that the entire gospel of Mark was written to confirm these as accurate titles for the person of Jesus.
It was left for later writers and the church fathers to hammer out a more complete doctrine of Jesus, and we know the results of this work in the creeds confessed by our church–especially the Nicene Creed. With each of the creeds we confess, you might wonder why we even confess all those words.
The Nicene Creed was first formed at a Church Council in Nicea in 324. It was reshaped a little at another council into the form we are used to saying in Church.
You might not know it, but there were many arguments about what to write in the early confessions of the church. Arguments about whether Jesus was “of the same substance as God” or if he was of a “similar substance” as God. And these arguments got really heated and even resulted in some people being named heretics! One of these “heretics,” named Arius said that Jesus was something like God, maybe even a god, but not God almighty.
It was to address this idea that the Creed was written, to state clearly that Jesus IS god. That Jesus is
“God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;”
That is the Christian Church’s declaration of the person of Jesus. Here and in our Sunday School classes and at home we are to declare him as more than a friend, more than a brother, for he is GOD! That is the answer that Mark gives in his Gospel!
But there is also a question!
The question that is raised, one that has long been on my mind is “Why was Jesus Baptized?” When Jesus was God, when Jesus is God, why would he have to be baptized?
- Was he a sinner who needed forgiveness?
- Was Jesus’ human aspect needing forgiveness?
- Was he trying to identify himself with the religious revival of the day?
Jesus immersed himself with the sins of humanity. We heard about this on Ash Wednesday in our reading from 2nd Corinthians where Paul wrote “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus was baptized, not as a confession of his own sin, but to demonstrate that he was taking our sins, our guilt, and our problems on his shoulders. In Jesus, Godself was taking on the punishment for our wrongs. And immediately following Jesus’ baptism, he entered the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. The first sign of his ministry (before all those healings and exorcisms), was struggle, lonliness, and battling with the devil. In Jesus, God enters into pain and suffering on account of humanity. Jesus could avoid it, could stay away, but doesn’t. He begins to carry the burden, to become the servant, and in the end to suffer and die. That’s the depth of God’s identification with us. That is the central theme of Mark’s gospel—the suffering Christ.
What message was there in Mark’s account, for the life of the church of his day? And is there something for our day? Perhaps this—that every baptized person in the church is baptized by the same spirit that was present at the baptism of Jesus. By our baptisms, we are identified with Christ. We are chosen for a new purpose, a mission, to proclaim the message of redemption and newness to the whole world. Like Jesus, we struggle every day with the tempter in the wilderness. We are called upon, too, to immerse ourselves in the sins and problems of other people. Baptism is not only freedom from our sin, but it is identifying with the role of the servant Jesus as we are called to not step away from pain and injury experienced by our fellow beings.
As we know, the God we worship is a god of Justice. Justice that concerns itself with the needs of the lonely, the widowed, the homebound, the immigrant. Following Jesus as a servant of God, we too are called to immerse ourselves in the causes of justice and liberation to all in need.
Martin Luther once wrote, “This is now the mark by which we shall know whether the birth of Christ is effective for us: if we take upon ourselves the need of our neighbor.”
Mark begins the Gospel with these opening words, “This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Nowhere does he say, “This is the end.” Do you know why? Because the gospel continues on today. It is continued on when we, who are the servants of god immerse ourselves in the lives of others, just as God immersed Godself into our lives in Jesus. Amen.