Good morning! He is risen! On Easter Sunday we learned there is far more to Jesus than we thought. Whether you are a new believer or have walked with him and studied the Bible for your whole life, we still have much to learn about Jesus.
The Sunday after Easter is sometime called Holy Hilarity Sunday. It’s the Sunday when we celebrate the fast one God pulled on the devil and the pompous human powers that stood against him. Following that first Easter morning, the disciples found themselves swept up in unbridled hilarious joy at the resurrection of Jesus and so should we!
This morning we begin a new sermon series through the Gospel of Mark. We are calling it, “In the Footsteps of the Master”. Let’s begin our study with a little background on its author.
His name is Mark or John Mark. His father was a Roman military officer, his mother a wealthy Jewish woman named Mary. She had opened her home in Jerusalem to Jesus and his disciples when they were in the city. Mark would have been a teenager at the time. Scholars believe the Last Supper and Pentecost took place in Mary’s home.
Mark was probably the young man in Mark’s Gospel who escaped being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane by shedding his robe and fleeing in only his birthday suit. That must have caused some holy hilarity as the disciples later retold the story.
Mark’s older cousin was Barnabas. Barnabas took Mark along on his first missionary journey with Paul. But Mark wasn’t mature enough to handle the trip. He had to be sent home when the going got tough. On the second missionary journey Paul refused to take him along. It split the team. Paul and Silas went one way, Barnabas and Mark went the other.
Not long after this Mark began traveling with Peter. Because of his education, Mark was able to use Peter’s sermons to compile a history of Jesus’ 3 years of ministry. His work was later used as an outline for Luke and Matthew as they wrote their Gospels.
Mark matured into a dependable helper for both Peter and Paul, especially in writing, recording, and managing the scrolls they produced. Following the death of Peter and Paul, Mark took the Gospel to Egypt where he started a church and was eventually martyred.
The focus of Mark’s Gospel is action! Whereas Matthew, Luke, John record a lot about what Jesus taught, Mark’s emphasis is what Jesus did. Makes sense for the son of a Roman military officer. Let’s pray: “Lord Jesus, help us to see and understand what you, the Holy Spirit, Mark and Peter want us to see and understand about who you really are. In your mighty name, AMEN”
“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mk 1:1 Mark doesn’t mean the beginning of Jesus or of God’s plan for our salvation, but the beginning of Jesus’ incarnation, earthly life, ministry, death, resurrection for the sake of our salvation. The Gentile Romans for whom Mark wrote had little knowledge of Jewish history or the OT. They were familiar with a whole pantheon of gods, Roman, Greek, Persian. Most thinking people knew these idols were simply projections of themselves. These gods were a buyer’s market, a commercial enterprise. You could take your pick. You could change your allegiance to fit your fancy. New gods were showing up all the time.
Mark wants his readers to know, Jesus is not the latest religious fad. He’s not just another son of one of the gods; he is The Son of the Most High God. It is fascinating as you read history, especially Biblical history, most people recognized there was something unique about Israel’s God. He was unlike other gods. He was holy, just. He was more than just a local yokel kind of god. You couldn’t buy him off to get what you wanted.
Even today, many people know there is something different about Jesus; but they are afraid to draw close to him, learn from him. They try to satisfy their needs by worshipping and serving lesser gods who are more controllable – idols like money, sex, power.
All four Gospels begin the story of Jesus with John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism. It must have been important. Why was that? All the Gospel writers point to the fact that John the Baptist fulfills the words of Isaiah the prophet from 700 years earlier. God would send a messenger, a prophet, to prepare the way for the promised Messiah.
He would be a man of the wilderness, reminiscent of Moses and Elijah. He would lead the people on a new pilgrimage, through the waters into the desert where they would learn to live by faith. It would be like Israel leaving Egypt, passing through the Red Sea, into the wilderness where the Lord would provide them with daily bread, he would protect them, and they would follow him and learn to live by faith.
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and anticipation of the salvation God would bring to them. But Jesus didn’t need to repent; he was sinless. So why was he baptized by John? He was baptized for the sake of fully identifying with our sinfulness.
I’ll never forget visiting the site in Israel where many believe Jesus’ baptism took place. The water was filthy. I remember thinking, Jesus wasn’t baptized for his own sin; he was baptized into our sin. In going down into that water, he immersed himself in our filthy water.
Following his baptism, “As Jesus 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, “This is my Son, whom I love, with you I am will pleased.” Mk 1:11
Just like we saw in Creation, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all three member of the Trinity are present for the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry and our redemption.
“And at once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels attended him.” Mk 1:12-13
The temptations Jesus faced didn’t start here. Satan was hounding him from the time of his birth, yet he never sinned. But now as he enters a new phase of life and ministry, the temptations change and deepen. Luke tells us Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry. All the Gospel writers except John include Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Why was this so important?
I think it has to do with Jesus being the new Adam and the representative of the new Israel. He is re-living Israel’s journey. He’s facing the same struggles, challenges, temptations, except he doesn’t sin. He remains faithful. He does for us what we could not do.
What is the wilderness? Once again we see multiple layers of meaning in the Jewish tradition. The wilderness isn’t just the Exodus. The wilderness is that place where we have been exiled outside the Gates of Eden. Instead of peace and abundance, there is danger and scarcity. God’s purpose in exiling us to the wilderness is to teach us to trust him day by day/night by night for our security and our supply.
We are like Daniel in the lion’s den. We are in the dark surrounded by man-eating beasts, but the Lord has sent his angels to close their mouths. Like Israel on the Exodus. We aren’t alone in this dangerous wilderness; his angels are all around us. Jesus endured that test.
Matthew and Luke tell us about three specific temptations Jesus faced. One was to satisfy his physical hunger by turning stones into bread. Another was to test his Father’s promise to care for him and impress people to accept him by throwing himself off the temple. The third was to avoid the cross and gain an earthly kingdom by pledging his allegiance to Satan rather than his Father. Jesus resisted them all and thereby became the perfect sinless sacrifice lamb that would later be slain for our salvation.
Luke concludes the story of these initial temptations of Jesus with the words, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” Lk 4:13
One of those more opportune times is recorded in Mk 8 when Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to talk him out of going to the cross. Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!” Mark 8:33
So what is Mark trying to teach us about Jesus in these opening few verses?
1. Jesus isn’t just one more option in the pantheon of so-called gods in the Roman culture.
2. Jesus is the Son of the Living God, the God that is above every other god. He is the Messiah foretold by the ancient Jewish prophets. He alone is the Savior of the world.
3. Jesus was foretold by the greatest of ancient prophets including Isaiah. He was validated by the greatest of contemporary prophets, John the Baptist.
4. Jesus was a true man and true God. In his baptism, he chose to fully identify himself with our sinfulness. He became one of us. He was tempted in every way like us, but he never sinned. In being baptized into our sinfulness, he brought his forgiveness and holiness to us.
5. Jesus’ person and ministry was confirmed at His baptism by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
6. In his ordeal with temptation, Jesus showed us what faith is to look like. It’s much more than just accepting a religious premise, it’s a relationship of trust, love, obedience, loyalty. Jesus lived this relationship with his Father out on our behalf. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.