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)

March 4, 2019 – What God Plans for Good-John 11:45-57, Genesis 50:19-21, Romans 8:28

suffering-jesus

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all.  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.  So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?”  Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. John 11:45-57 (ESV)

The Romans did succeed in destroying Herod’s Temple in AD 70, and it has never been rebuilt. The Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the Temple.  The Jewish people, even today, are scattered throughout the world.  So it could be said that the religious rulers weren’t entirely correct.  The Romans did take over “their” place, though they did not succeed in destroying God’s people. We remember that the true descendants of Abraham are God’s children by faith, not by genetic lineage.

Caiaphas’ words were prophetic, though not in the ways he may have meant them. One man did die for the sins of all people, and for the unity of God’s people.

The evil that the chief priests and the Pharisees had plotted against Jesus was actually according to God’s plan for the salvation of the world. God can see beyond what looks rational to us. His plans defy our logic. Some things that can appear to be a grievous evil or injustice may end up being used to good purpose.

Joseph was his father’s favorite son who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Even though his father was led to believe Joseph was killed by wild animals, Joseph was preserved by God for the sake of his family and ultimately for the sake of the bloodline of Jesus- even though along the way he endured slavery and prison.  When his brothers came to Egypt needing help, Joseph forgave them. The trials they had sold Joseph into into ultimately put Joseph in a position to save his family.  We read in Genesis 50:19-21 of Joseph’s gracious forgiveness and good treatment of his brothers who had sold him into slavery: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

At this point in the story it would be difficult for Jesus’ followers to see anything good in the intent of the chief priests or the Pharisees, but God had plans to bring good out of their evil plotting.

Jesus knew of the chief priests and Pharisees’ plans to put Him to death. He knew that He came to live on earth as a man precisely so He could become the perfect, holy sacrifice to redeem His people.

As the Jewish nation was preparing for Passover, unbeknownst to them, the true Passover Lamb was being brought to the slaughter.

The curse of death was brought about by the sin of Adam, the sin of one man that each of us inherits. But through the new Adam, Jesus, the curse of death is broken.  One man – one perfect and holy man, whose blood was shed to redeem all of God’s children….

As we approach the season of Lent and consider our own mortality, we consider Jesus as the Lamb of God, who willingly gave His life so that we can live forever with Him. What one group of men meant for evil, God planned for our good.