A God with God moment.
I was reading Mark 1:4-5 with some friends in church last Wednesday. Read them and then I’ll make just a few comments.
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins (NAS).
Our attention was drawn to the two small qualifying adjectives. All. John the Baptist was in the desert, baptizing; and Mark tells us that everyone left the city of Jerusalem and its surrounding countryside to find forgiveness through the washing of water. Now to us today, that would not sound irregular; but in the first century, it was unheard of. In the time of Jesus’ ministry; forgiveness was found in one place, the temple which rose high above all of Jerusalem. Your sacrifice was brought there, the priest accepted it, offered it to God and declared you forgiven.
But, Mark seems to be starting his Gospel with three introductory thoughts. First, whatever was transpiring at the temple thru the priests, it was not meeting the needs of the people of Jerusalem. And he tells us that all of Jerusalem left the confines of the City of David to journey to the desert to find true forgiveness. Second, Jews in the first century were almost never baptized. It was not a rite of passage for a Jew but for a gentile (called a proselyte) who was converting to Judaism. Third, notice the location, the desert. Other translations call this the wilderness. Listen to me say it this way, “the children of Israel wander out to the desert to meet God.” What does that remind you of? Sure, the Exodus. But in the history of Israel, that was their journey of utter disappointment. It was the place where they were tested, failed and then wandered for 40 years.
So, what do you think is Mark’s point for bringing the memory of the wilderness disaster front and center? Here are just a few implications.
- The very next scene in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ own baptism and then the Spirit leading (driving?) Him out into the wilderness for His own time of testing. And in this desert trial, the very place where Israel was weak and failed; Jesus came forth victorious with an even stronger faith in His calling and in His Father.
- In all the rest of the Book of Mark (with the exception of the beginning of Mark 6) Jesus is the central figure of every single episode. For Mark, there is no life without Jesus. Apparently, we learn nothing about God, ourselves, and our relationship with others UNLESS Christ is central in our lives.
May I make some simple applications? Some of you (or some of your fiends) are trying to make it through life with Jesus only on the periphery. You want to have just enough of Jesus to be called a Christian but not too much as to be labeled an extremist. Or maybe you are going thru the same “forgiveness pattern” and never getting yourself out of the Sin-cycles. (You know what I mean by sin-cycle, pleading with Jesus to “Forgive me of my ______ sin” but then never really allowing the Holy Spirit to transform your life. Read that as actually taking the sin away). Why not let God call you out to a desert place with Him and allow Him to perform a cleansing work in you?
Finally, the most troubling part of this story is that all of Jerusalem returns home with only a fond memory of their baptism (maybe a picture of them with John the Baptist) and their wet clothes that they hang out on the line to dry. For in short order, they quickly return to their “temple forgiveness” patterns. Worse yet, they seek the advice of the un-repentant priests on how to order their lives. In just a few short chapters all of Jerusalem will be crying out (at the persuasion of the religious leaders), “Crucify Him.” So in the end, whose voice has the most profound influence in your lives? Who is whispering in your ears? Who are you trusting?
We have ears and we want to listen.
Speak to us so You may be heard.
Thru Your Spirit, we lean into the still small voice.
Bring to us men and women of wisdom who will inspire us in Christ-honoring ways.
May we continually befriend folks who are not following You.
But may our voices impact them, not the reverse.
Now, Go with God.