Mark 1: 4-11, page 44
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Now john was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 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 just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens town apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
It’s possible also to feel like your finances are in order, then comes tax season, and there’s plenty more to worry about. Or feeling as though the house is finally clean after Christmas, that you can put your feet up and relax; then the dog runs away, the furnace goes out, or you make the mistake of going down to the basement and the feeling as though there is too much work to do and you’ll never get it all done rushes right back in.
If ever I’m feeling as though I have things under control all I need to do is take my two daughters to lunch and I am convinced otherwise.
Or should I feel too competent I need only remember that it took me two weeks to install a swing that Sara’s sister bought our daughters – she said it would be easy.
The feeling of inadequacy lurks around every corner, stars back from every mirror, and jumps out from every Christmas card sent from a family who managed to have all their children in clean clothes at the same time.
Baby books were the worst. After one chapter I was convinced that our baby would burst into flames if I didn’t find a way to purify our drinking water, filter our air, and sanitize every surface in the house.
Based on this experience of complete and utter inadequacy I have decided that if I were going to write a book for moms and dads expecting their first child it would start with some basic things right at the beginning – don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t do drugs, eat healthy. Then, instead of continuing on with what the experts think the new mother should or should not be doing, I would just write, “you are doing great and the baby is fine” over and over again, week after week, page after page.
That’s not the way these baby books work though – they fill you up with so much information you can’t help but feel inadequate – and now I know that there is plenty of time for feeling that way once that baby is born.
I know that you are supposed to want to know everything you can, but in our world of seemingly limitless knowledge and ever rising standards, I think every new parent deserves a book that will say the thing that they really need to hear and nothing more.
That’s one reason it’s nice to read the gospel of Mark, as in this book there isn’t a whole lot, so what is there takes on a new meaning when you consider what’s not.
Notice what isn’t there. We started our lesson in verse 4 and already Jesus is grown. In Mark’s gospel there is no Christmas story – Mary isn’t even mentioned much less Joseph, traveling kings, or shepherds. We don’t even really know who he is, where he came from, or what Jesus has been doing up until this point.
But what there is, is John. From Mark we know what John looked like, that he was wearing clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. We know what he ate even, that depending only on what the wilderness could provide he kept alive eating locusts and wild honey. And we know that he could preach and that people wanted to know what he had to say.
Mark doesn’t take the time to hold our hand through this story, doesn’t fill space with adjectives, adverbs, or side plots, but from these first sentences we know why John was such a compelling and controversial figure, we know why John the Baptist is beheaded in chapter 6 by King Herod, as some thing else that is missing from Mark’s gospel are the crowds at the Temple. “People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him.”
There are plenty of preachers who aren’t like John – they don’t wait for the people to come to them, they go to the people, and from a street corner preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. No one every stops though.
John on the other hand preached a message so compelling that the city of Jerusalem was rendered empty. Schools must have closed, marketplaces vacant, and pews went unfilled – everyone had gone out to hear what this John had to say.
But the synagogue – it easy to think that John couldn’t have been preaching something so different from what was heard in the synagogue, after all, John practically is living out the same book the priests and scribes were reading out of – he’s not someone so different, maybe not different at all from Elijah and Isaiah who he dresses just like. But if what John had to say was the same as what the priests at the Temple or the local synagogue had to say, if what John had to say was the same as what teachers in schools, storeowners on the street or managers in the work place had to say then why would the people travel so far into a desert wasteland to hear him if they could stay home and hear the same thing?
We know that John preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins – and I bet that everyone who went out there went to hear the same thing that we want to hear – something different from the voices we hear in the school telling us we could study harder and do better – something different from the voices we hear in the marketplace telling us that we should look better or dress better – something different from the voices we hear in the church – telling us that we aren’t quite good enough, that we are sinners, or we are inadequate and that we have fallen short.
So like Jesus, we go out to hear what John has to say.
In this passage from Mark, there’s nothing that makes us really different from him. Remember, the author of Mark doesn’t include Mary or Joseph, there’s no virgin birth here, there’s nothing here to tell us that Jesus is any different from you or me, and in fact, if he has gone out to the desert like everyone else he must be just as hungry to hear the same thing that we are – that you can repent – you can start again – God has not given up on you – your sins can be washed away.
Hearing these words Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. And as he was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
I think it’s easy to believe that these words are only for Jesus, only meant for his ears, but Mark, by virtue of what he leaves out, doesn’t give us any reason to make that conclusion.
It’s almost as though Mark knows there are already a million ways to feel inadequate. That there’s no reason to replicate that feeling of knowing that a baby is coming and that you will never be as ready as you might like to be – or of watching bills piling up and not having a job to pay for them – or of seeing all the groups at school and not feeling like your cool enough or smart enough – or of looking through magazines and not feeling beautiful – or of having a Mom who is never satisfied or a Dad who isn’t verbal enough to say he loves you – or of hearing from the church that you are all wrong and soon the wrath of a vengeful God will rip open the sky to crush you like a tin can because you aren’t good enough.
So Mark doesn’t spend time with the Virgin Birth, doesn’t tell the story about Jesus running off to the Temple at an early age entertaining the wise teachers there, we weren’t visited by kings or shepherds during our stay in the hospital – so Mark doesn’t dwell on such things.
What makes Jesus special in Mark is the same thing that makes you and I special today.
That way when God rips open the heavens you can put yourself in Jesus’ shoes and hear the words that he heard.
The standards that Jesus sets in Mark’s gospel are standards we are living up to right now – we wanted to hear some good news, so like Jesus we have come to a place where we might hear it. From Mark, that’s all that Jesus has done to deserve what he gets, so Mark won’t let us explain it away when we get the same thing.
You were baptized, and God has called you by name, saying, “You are mine, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
I think there are plenty of us who have been waiting our whole lives to hear words like these, and not hearing them makes just as much a difference as hearing them does.
So hear these words from God now – don’t wait until you feel like you’ve earned them because you never will, and don’t wait until you feel like your good enough because you already are. Words from God to you: “You are mine, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”