Years ago, I was attending a church that hosted a Friendship Sunday. Do you remember those? On Friendship Sunday, each member was asked to bring an unchurched friend to church. Based on the principles of relational evangelism, Friendship Sunday was an opportunity to share your faith with your friends.
So, I brought an unchurched friend with me to church on Friendship Sunday. But, instead of a friendly witness, it ended up in a heated argument.
During the service, we confessed our sins. When we did that, I heard my friend gasp. It happened right after I said I deserved God’s, “…temporal and eternal punishment.” Though my eyes were closed, I know my friend’s eyes were wide-open, staring in shock at what she was seeing and hearing. After church, she looked at me and asked why I went there… to that church. Why would I go to a church which asked me to say such horrible things… about God and about myself?
One thing that was offensive to her (and there were many!) was the idea God would punish sin. After all, are we not just all doing the best we can? Should God not be supporting and encouraging us rather than punishing us? For her, it was precisely this vision of a hateful God which fueled the hateful religious conflicts of the world. Suddenly, I was somehow implicated in 9/11. Who knew going to church could be so bad?
As we talked, I discovered something about my friend. She was comfortable with the idea that, “God is love,” but she was not comfortable with the reality. She could not see what that love looked like in the world.
We both agreed God was all-loving. But when it came time for that love to be put into action, we were worlds apart.
For her, love was equated with toleration and acceptance. For God to be all-loving meant God tolerates our sinful moments, that He accepts us in our weaknesses, and does whatever He can to help us get better. God was eternally on our side, working through toleration and acceptance to help us improve.
Yet, this morning, Mark’s gospel takes us into a radically different kind of world. It is a world where God is not tolerating sin but calling people to repentance and a world where God is not accepting people but forgiving them.
Mark’s is a world where God is not tolerating sin but calling people to repentance and a world where God is not accepting people but forgiving them.
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not begin his gospel with a genealogy. No, Mark begins his gospel with a prophecy. “A voice crying in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord.” In Mark, John the Baptizer suddenly and surprisingly appears on the scene.
John is out in the wilderness preaching and practicing a baptism of repentance. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And John’s message reached people. People were gathering. Not to gawk, not to stare in horrified shock, but to repent. Mark tells us, “All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Then, Jesus comes, and the question is now put into real life: “What will an all-loving God do when He encounters this kind of a situation?” John has been preaching a radical vision of God, where God holds people accountable for their sin and calls them to repent. What will Jesus do?
When Jesus comes, He does not stand on the bank and call everyone to come out of the water. Jesus does not stand there and say, “Hey, you’ve got it all wrong. There isn’t temporal and eternal punishment for sin. No, God is all-loving. So come, follow me. I can teach you to accept one another and we will try to turn this world into a happier, more tolerant, place.”
No, Jesus lets God’s judgment stand. Jesus lets people get into the water. But then, Jesus does something more. He gets into the water with them. Why? Because that is the nature of God’s love. It does not delight in the death of sinners but rather they turn from their sin and be saved. So, Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan because He loves and because He knows He alone can bear God’s punishment for sin and He alone can rise from death and lead God’s people into a kingdom where this kind of love never ends.
Jesus lets God’s judgment stand. Jesus lets people get into the water. But then, Jesus does something more. He gets into the water with them.
When we gather today, to celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, we do so in a way our culture finds strange and frightening. We confess our sins. We acknowledge God is all powerful and holy; that God is just and punishes sin. Yet, as we make this confession, Mark calls us to see Jesus, the sinless Son of God, who takes our place in the waters of God’s judgment. Jesus willingly identifies with us sinners and, by doing that, leads us through the waters of God’s judgment to the life of God’s grace. Jesus bears God’s wrath so He might bring God’s grace to you and to me and to all who have sinned.
Jesus opens the Kingdom of Heaven for sinners. When He does that, Mark asks us, for a moment, to look up into sky. There, the windows of Heaven are open and God, the Father, looks down upon His Son, Jesus, and says, “…with Him I am well-pleased.”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 1:4-11.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 1:4-11.
Lectionary Podcast- The one and only Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 1:4-11.