March 6, 2019 -Ash Wednesday, Marked With the Cross of Christ, the Promise of Baptism- Mark 1:1-13, Psalm 23:4

ashwednesday

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And 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.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:1-13 (ESV)

The Gospel of Mark omits the genealogy of Jesus and the Nativity narrative and goes straight to Isaiah’s prophesy of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was considered by scholars to be the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the one who prepared the way of the Lord and baptized his followers for the sake of repentance. Jesus gets baptized by John, was called beloved by God, and then He was plunked into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. There’s a whole lot of action packed into 13 verses, and it’s not even the end of the first chapter of Mark.

Jesus’ baptism is different from our baptism in an important way. He had no sins to be washed away, rather, for Him, in His baptism He took on the sins of humanity and the burden of the human condition. He showed solidarity and unity with those who would become part of His body, the church.

Our baptism serves as a tangible seal and constant assurance that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  As we are tempted by our own flesh, the world and the machinations of Satan, we can have confidence that Jesus not only has been tempted like we are and far worse, but we also know that He is with us no matter what temptation or trial we face.  We will face trials.  Jesus taught us in Matthew 10:24 -“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  The difference is those who trust in Christ have hope. All of humanity is subject to the consequences of sin, suffering and death.  But those things are not the end, and even through all of our suffering and trials we are not alone in them.

The liturgical season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days not counting Sundays. (Sundays are “in Lent” but are not counted as part of Lent.  Sundays in Lent are like mini-Easters spread out through Lent, so that we still get to celebrate and worship the risen Jesus, even in this penitential season.)  Many liturgical churches impose ashes on the foreheads of believers in the sign of the cross.  This symbolism reminds us that we are marked with the cross of Christ forever (the ashes just make it visible for a time) even as we are made of dust and will return to dust.  Mortality is the reality of life on earth, but there is life beyond this life in Christ.

These 40 days of Lent are an opportunity to remember our mortality, to consider that time Jesus spent in the wilderness, and to remember His Passion and His sacrifice to save us from the curse of sin. Jesus has done it all for us.  We can’t earn or deserve our salvation, as it is a gift given by faith alone. There is no circumstance too difficult for Him to resolve, no wound too great for Him to heal, no suffering too great for Him to bear.

Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.- Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

October 15, 2018 – Freedom for the Captives, Comfort for the Mourning, and a Crown of Beauty for Ashes- Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 4:16-21

Jesus reading IsaiahThe Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. – Isaiah 61:1-4 (NIV)

 

He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

Jesus caused a scandal in the synagogue in Nazareth. Imagine the incredulity we would experience if a sibling, a cousin or a classmate became a celebrity. Out in the world celebrity might be one thing, but being at home with people who knew that celebrity as the kid who always ended up pinned down getting wet willys, or was the nerd who got routinely pounded with a dodge ball, it’s a different perspective.  Are the kids from 4th grade who fried ants with a magnifying glass at recess together going to take a classmate seriously as an adult?

Perhaps Jesus was just “one of the boys” when he was growing up. Maybe the Savior of the world was once the class wisenheimer? We really don’t know much about Jesus as a child, other than the incident when He was twelve and was left behind teaching at the temple.

No matter what the people in Nazareth thought about Jesus’ claim to divinity, or what they remembered about Him, Jesus, as unlikely and humble and human as He was, speaks back the Word of God given to Isaiah about Him 700 years earlier. He speaks not just to his relatives and friends he grew up with in Nazareth, but He still speaks to us today.

Jesus proclaims the good news of freedom from bondage to sin, death and the torments of Satan. Jesus comes to us with good news of healing and restoration. He opens our eyes to see Him and his incredible love and compassion for us.

Jesus came to exchange our ashes (perhaps the condition of being dead in trespasses and sins?) and desolation and sorrow for His crown of beauty and joy. “Unholy” becomes “made holy” when Jesus in His grace and mercy, speaks His forgiveness. He brings us poor beggars salvation, peace and joy that we cannot earn or deserve.

This world of not yet, with its paradoxes and contradictions and disappointments is not the end of the story. In our baptism we are forever marked with the Cross. In Jesus’ blood our sins are covered, gone, removed. We share in Jesus’ death, especially as we suffer and are called to sacrifice on this earth, but we also share in Jesus’ resurrection.

He has come to be the death of death, the bringer of healing and of life forever. Jesus is the comfort for all mourning.  He is the beautiful joy beyond our understanding.  He takes away the curse once and for all.  He exchanges all of our ugliness and baggage for freedom, healing and peace, and this all by the gift of faith for those who will believe.

Good news indeed!