Going Back to the Beginning – January 12, 2020
Exodus 19:16-25, Mark 1:1-11
January 12, 2020
Today we’re going back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And we took our reading today from Mark’s account. This is where Mark’s Gospel begins. He is the only one of the Gospel writers that says nothing about the birth of Jesus, or about Jesus being “in the beginning,” as John tells us. He gives us nothing. It starts right here!
Maybe he didn’t yet know of the other stories when he wrote his Gospel. According to most scholars, Mark’s was the first Gospel to be written – the earliest. It is also said to be written like an “eye witness account.” Like someone was writing a “news story” – as it happened! If that’s the case, those earlier parts of Jesus’ life might not be included.
It’s hard to know why Mark’s Gospel is so different. But I think it might also have something to do with the purpose behind Mark’s writing. All of the Gospel writers had a purpose for writing what they did, and everything they included in their accounts was there for a reason.
Matthew and Luke didn’t just give us the birth narratives of Jesus. They also include his genealogies! They wanted to establish his connection with all of Jewish history, but especially with David. They saw that as proof, or at least part of the proof, of his being the Messiah.
Luke gives us the most extensive birth narratives, connecting Jesus with Bethlehem, the prophetic birth place of the Messiah. Matthew gives the Old Testament connections. In everything Jesus did, Matthew gives us the words of the Old Testament prophets, proving he was the one they prophesied. And as we said last week, he also gives us the story of the Magi, giving us the Isaiah 60 connection. “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
Mark gives none of that! His Gospel begins with Jesus as a grown man. And so is his cousin John – whose birth we also read about in Luke’s Gospel. Mark begins with the quote from Isaiah, which actually begins with a quote from the prophet Malachi. “Behold I will send my messenger who shall prepare the way.” The second half is from Isaiah! “A voice crying in the wilderness…” And then he tells the story of “John the Baptizer,” who he saw as fulfilling that particular prophecy.
I believe that’s the Old Testament connection Mark wanted to make. He was telling about “the messenger.” The belief was that Elijah would return to herald the coming of the Messiah. He would be that messenger. And Mark believed that John was that messenger. And so did Jesus. In Matthew 11 he told the people that John “was Elijah who was to come!”
Think about it! That reference would not be lost on the Jews. Not on the people who were there, and not on the people who would read this Gospel later! They knew what he was talking about. They still believe Elijah will return before the Messiah. To this day they still set a place at the Passover Table for Elijah, and during the meal they ceremonially open the door to see if he has come.
So, Mark makes the Old Testament connection with Jesus in that way. That was his intention. And I think it’s an important connection. In fact, I think it’s even more important than we Gentiles might realize!
Mark does one more thing here. He is also the first to make what I think is an even more important connection or proof about Jesus. And this connection is not historical, or genealogical, or even prophetic. It’s not established by scripture or by visions or by the voices of angels. This connection, this proof of who Jesus is, is established by the voice of God himself! Mark sees that as the beginning of Jesus’s ministry – the approval of God. “Thou art my beloved Son. With thee I am well pleased!”
This is the Sunday that’s been designated “The Baptism of Our Lord.” And the story here is one of a “theophany.” A theophany is “an appearance of God.” Here in this story, when Jesus is baptized, there is a cloud and an overshadowing, and God’s own voice. This is not unlike the vision we read about in Exodus. And that wouldn’t have been lost on the people either! They knew their scriptures. They knew these stories. They knew the great “theophanies” – the great appearances of God, that took place in the critical parts of their history.
The other thing about the Hebrew people is that they were very diligent about remembering those parts of their history. They would have made that most important connection with this Jesus, and this story of what happened at his baptism! And they were very good at placing themselves into their stories! They made the ancient stories part of their stories! When they read and talked about the earliest days of the Hebrew people they said, “A wandering Aramean was my father!”
I’d like us to do some of that today. I’d like us to think about our connection to this story, the story of Jesus’ baptism. Because this is also the Sunday we have been using as a “Recommitment Sunday.” This is a time when we think about our redemption and our commitment to this Jesus as our Lord and Savior. I think the “Baptism of our Lord Sunday” is perfect for that. I think it can be for us a time when we remember that Jesus is who he said he is. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, attested to by the prophets, by the scriptures, and by the very voice of God himself!
Here we are at the beginning of a new year, and a new decade. Again, what better time to go “back to our beginning,” and to renew our commitment to him? What better way than to remember our Baptism and the Vows we took at that time, or the vows that were taken on our behalf, and we “confirmed” at our “confirmation.”
I’m going to ask you to do that in just a moment. And as you do, I invite you to think about this scene of Jesus being baptized by John, about this “theophany,” about the cloud, the dove, and the voice of God, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” Think about your own beginnings of faith. Prepare your hearts to receive anew, or even for the first time, Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Eternal God, we thank you that you sent your son into our world and into our lives. We thank you that through your Grace, we are called to be your people. Help us in the coming year to remember the joy of our salvation, and peace of being part of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, our Lord. For we pray in his name, Amen.