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PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS
“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
Good morning, my name is Matt, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, I am super excited to be getting into the gospel of Mark this morning. My mind has been blown as we have been preparing and studying for this series over last few months, in preparation for it. I am just amazed every time, coming back to the gospel of Mark, the new depths and riches that are found here about who Jesus is, and what God has done on our behalf. And so, I’m excited to be starting. Today, I actually feel like one of those really excited puppies that run up to you in an alleyway. And so, I’m trying to calm myself down as I get started, because there’s so much here in today’s text. And, my prayer is for you as we go through this series, that you will find and discover the same depths and the same riches of what we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, in fact, today there’s just so much as we jump into the gospel of Mark, especially here at the beginning, that I know going into it there’s no way we can even begin to unpack everything.
Another thing that will be coming up in the middle of the summer as we are going through the gospel of Mark, you might be saying, hey, I would love to read the gospel of Mark. I’m glad you gave me a journal, this is great, this is beautiful, but when I get into the Bible, I don’t really feel like I have handlebars on how to read it. I feel like I get in, I get a little excited, and then I get into it and I don’t really know what to do. Well, on July 20th and July 27th - the sign ups for this are not live yet, so those will be up in about a week, but you can mark your calendar - we will be doing two Saturdays of Bible Workshops on working through the gospels. And, most likely, we’ll be choosing a passage from Mark like this passage today, that we’ll be digging into during our time together. And so, as we’re starting in a gospel, if you’re saying, I would like to learn how to read the genre of the gospels, then I would encourage you. July 20th and 27th it will be here, on campus.
But, last week, Max did a great job in the sermon of reminding us that scripture, again and again, the main focus is to remember Jesus. Again and again, scripture calls us to remember Jesus. And, this summer, as we go through this gospel of mark, we are going to be focusing on remembering Jesus, and remembering the good news of what God has done through the gospel. And so, one of the ways to jump into the gospel of Mark, I think is to do this … We are 2,000 years removed from the gospel of Mark when it was originally written, and its original audience. And so, it can be difficult as we begin, to really get our minds into the shoes of the original hearers, to receive the gospel as they received it.
And, this is what I mean … When they received the gospels, if you can imagine for a moment, pretend that you haven’t grown up or been around churches, or just - you grew up in America, so you know about these gospels, you know about Christianity, you know about Jesus, you know all these facts. And, we come to the gospel with all these categories, kind of, filled in. And, we bring assumptions we don’t even realize we’re bringing. But, when they received the gospel, they maybe had heard stories of Jesus, they maybe even had originally encountered Jesus in his time on earth. But, when they received the gospel, the only way to explain why this Jesus that’s being unpacked is good news, is by using the story that they were already familiar with.
In other words, most of the gospel of Mark, it begins assuming you don’t know Jesus yet. And, therefore, if we just start saying, hey, here’s Jesus Christ - that’s not his last name, that’s actually a title, and you’re like, woah, okay, I’m filling in all the data here, and we start building from there. The thing is, for them, the concepts and the ways in which they would understand that he’s good news, it wouldn’t connect in the same way it might with us. So, what happens here is Mark starts his gospel by using three themes from the Old Testament to unpack why the arrival of Jesus Christ is such good news. And so, in other words, in order to know the good news, you have to know the old news, and the old news - in fact - will unpack the good news, and just how good it is.
And so, today what we’re going to be looking at, is these three themes. We’re going to walk through the scriptures with these three themes, which are the exile, a new exodus, and then lastly, the wilderness. And so, let’s jump in and pray, and ask the Lord to open our eyes and to help us to grasp his word and the good news of Jesus.
We thank you this morning for an opportunity to gather and hear the gospel proclaimed, to take part in the rehearsing of the gospel throughout this morning. But, Father, as we start the gospel of Mark, I ask that you would help us grasp just how good of news this is, that the Son of God has entered the world to take the sin of the world upon himself so that we might know you and have salvation, be reconciled to you and walk in newness of life. Father, we get so used to just repeating words like that, but Father, today help us understand how if you had not acted, none of those truths would be true, none of those realities would be ours, none of those things would be anything more than sentimental ideas. And so, Father, it’s because of these truths that we cling to these great realities, and these promises. And so, we ask that you would bring them home, Spirit, help us to grasp them. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
I. THE EXILE (vv1-8)
Well, the Exile. Well, I’m from Ohio, and being from Ohio growing up, I learned when I got older and I’d meet people from other parts of the country, that you have a term for Ohio. It’s called flyover country. And so, when I heard that, I learned it was like, you go from LA, and then you land in New York City, and what’s in between, it’s like some carnivals, and beef or something, and corn, and then we fly over it and we get to the next party. And, there’s an idea that there’s kind of, sometimes we come to scripture with this idea that somewhere, kind of in the middle, there are these parts of scripture that are these highlights, and then we come to these passages that we kind of think is “flyover country”. That, you’re not really sure what’s down there, there’s some data, that’s nice, okay, on to the night highlight. And, we get that in verses 2-8 of this passage.
But here’s the thing that’s interesting, is what we’re going to see, is Mark is saying, do not miss what I unpack here in these first few verses. Because, it’s going to set the stage for when Jesus walks onto the stage, so you understand the good news. And, without it, you can’t actually understand the depths of the good news. It says if you have the ESV translation, it says … The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet … One other way the Greek of this could be translated to English, which I think draws out some of the syntax that I think is underneath what Mark is saying here, is done by a scholar named R.T. France, and he translates this first verse like this …
“This is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It began as the prophet Isaiah had written:”
—R.T. France Translation of v1
Did you catch the dynamic there? Now, this is a little bit more of a dynamic translation of what’s there in the Greek. But, it captures what the syntax does in its structure in the Greek, which is that Mark is saying - catch the significance - if you want to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, here’s kind of the intro sentence. It began in the prophecy of Isaiah. In other words, you have to know something about Isaiah before you can really know the depths of something about Jesus.
So, why Isaiah? Some of you may be aware, or some of you might not know - who’s this Isaiah? He’s from the Old Testament, and he’s a prophet. And see, in general, prophets in the Old Testament were those who would call God’s people back into right relationship with him. In fact, Sinclair Ferguson, who’s a pastor, he writes this …
“Prophecy is ultimately, the declaration, exposition, and application of God’s covenant word.”
—Sinclair Ferguson, From the Mouth of God
Let me break that down for you. What he’s saying there, is that God - in order to be in relationship with his people - he makes a covenant, and commitment to them, a relationship, like I make a covenant to my wife. There’s certain things that that covenant means about our relationship when we live in accordance with that. And, if we walk away from that covenant and start to deviate from it, then the relationship will fall apart. And, what God says, is I’ve made a covenant with you, I’ve given you terms for what that relationship will look like, and whenever Israel throughout their history started to deviate from that covenant, God would send a prophet. And, the prophet would kind of push them back into that covenant and say, woah, woah, woah, go back, you’re going too far astray. Or, the prophets would just come and help unpack what the covenant means, the implications of it, maybe you’re not really living this out. That’s why a lot of times the prophets will address things like mercy, and justice, or taking care of those who are being overlooked and not taken care of. And so, again and again, they point them back to God’s heart in the covenant, and say, if you want to be in right relationship with God, you need to listen to what I’ve said. And, God gives words to prophets to speak to his people, to drive them back into right relationship with him.
Now, Isaiah specifically as a prophet, came at a very pivotal time in Israel’s history. And, the people of God up until the time of Isaiah, it’s about 750 B.C. The beginning of the time of Abraham is about 200 B.C., so you kind of get this idea from Abraham, to these prophets, there’s this time where Israel is slowly but surely kind of falling apart as a nation and going off the bath, breaking with the relationship with God, and it’s causing all kind of turmoil. And, what happens is Isaiah can be broken down like this. It’s usually called 1 Isaiah, 2 Isaiah. And, it’s the first half of Isaiah that is chapters 1-39. And, in chapters 1-39, it’s a lot of “woe”. It’s a lot of … things are going to get burnt down, things are going to get refined, people are going to get beat up, I’m going to use nations to come in, there’s going to be fishhooks in your mouth, dragging across the floor. It’s going to be ugly. This is judgement because of your sin, because you have broken covenant, this is now going to happen.
This is called an exile. It means that when God’s people are now spiritually dead, they’ve turned away from God, what he says is, I’m now going to physically manifest that and make it clear to you by removing you from my presence, out of the land, into exile, away from my presence. Exile means you are spiritually dead. It is an indictment. Isaiah 1-39 unpacks how God’s going to take his people into exile. In fact, Isaiah 1-39 captures the pinnacle of Israel’s sin, which leads to exile.
Then, in chapters 40-66, the good news comes in. This is the part where you can see why they say there is a first and a second Isaiah. Because, all of a sudden, it pivots and the rest of Isaiah is now looking into the future and it says, there is going to be a way that God is going to remedy that problem, and he’s going to bring one who will save you. And so, it foretells the pinnacle of God’s grace in the coming Messiah. This is why some folks will actually call Isaiah the fifth gospel, because it captures so much of what sets up what the gospel is built on.
Now, this is Isaiah, and he quotes it because it’s capturing the fact that Israel has reached the pinnacle of sin, and in response God foretold the pinnacle of his grace. And, here’s the key. Mark, in verse 3, quotes from Isaiah … The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” … that comes from the very first few verses of chapter 40. And so, what he’s saying is, you are coming out of a place of exile, you’re in this place of darkness, and you’re wondering where the light will come from, your sin has put you in this place of exile, and you’ve been wondering, how will we ultimately be saved and brought out of this exile? And, God says, remember, I’m sending one who is going to finish this once and for all. And so, Mark quotes specifically from that section to, in some ways, important all of Isaiah 40-66, and say, understand the one who is coming is the one who Isaiah is pointing to. You’re in exile, but he is coming.
Now, Mark does something here that baffles scholars. If you caught, I quoted from verse 3, I didn’t quote from the second half of verse 2, right? I skipped over it. He does something that baffles folks, which is that he quotes, actually, from the prophet Malachi. Malachi’s the last book in your Old Testament, and he quotes from Malachi the part that says … Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way … That’s from Malachi. Now, Malachi comes at 450 B.C.. Isaiah was 750 … it’s like 300 years between the two of them. It’s not kind of like, oh, well, you know, the next year somebody said this, and so let’s put them together. For us, this is like before George Washington was born, just to put it in context. It’s like saying, let’s talk about politics today … or not. And then, you say, let’s start with George Washington. You’re not sure how those go together.
So, why does he cram these two together? Well, Mark is importing the context, as well, from Malachi, when he does this. See, Isaiah, they knew that the savior was coming. There was a promise of that. That was already in the prophecy of Isaiah and the other prophets as well. But, then, Israel continues after they come out of exile, into sin. They fall back into sin. And, what happens at this point in their sin, right before this quote from Malachi - Malachi 3:1 - this is the context that God is saying these words into …
“You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?””
—Malachi 2:17 ESV
So, do you see what he’s saying? The problem is, they have rejected God, the problem is, they have moved away from that covenant and turned from him. And, some said, eh … you’re good. As the prophet Jeremiah says, peace, peace, a false pace. And then, while others, they saw it and they were like … agh … we need justice! Smite them, O Lord! Right? And, they came on the other side … they’re foamating with rage. And this, Mark says, is a timeless problem that needs a solution. And Mark, via Malachi, is quoting from it saying … do you catch how the Lord in the next verse response?
So, what’s it going to be, God? Is it going to be grace, or is it going to be your justice? Which is it going to be? Because, I can’t see how it can be both. And, what he says here is … Behold, I send my messenger before your face, he will prepare your way for the one, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness … In other words, what he’s saying is, I get it. We’ve gone through the cycles. You’ve tried again and again to fix this, and you’re not finding a remedy. And, he says, remember the prophecy, that there is going to be one who is going to come, and he’s going to bring grace and mercy and justice together, and they are going to embrace on a cross.
In other words, it is only in the one who Malachi and Isaiah point to, where you will find the remedy, ultimately, for that sense, deep down, that I can’t just sweep it under the rug and say, everything’s good. And, on the other extreme, I can’t beat myself up or others up enough to get rid of the stain. Because, the Messiah is coming and he is going to address the deepest problem that we all share. And, the question then, is how? How?
This is why Mark goes into this interesting section, then, about John the Baptist. Now, some of you - I know when John the Baptist comes up - you’re like me. I had a friend whose dad was a Nazarene pastor. And, I said to him one day, you know, I think I might be more like a Baptist. And, he looks at me and he goes, you know, Matt, John was a Baptist, but Jesus was a Nazarene, right? And, I was like, oh, that’s so good! And, that’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone even try to use John the Baptist in any kind of weird, theological way. Like, no one ever knows what to do with this. So, is John just some kind of punchline? Is he just some kind of character who’s here? Why is John here?
Well, first I should say, in Jesus’ day, what they would do, is when a new king would come to power in the ancient near east, what they would do is they would actually send out messengers into all the colonies that they had just taken over. And, they would run ahead of the king and they would say, behold, here is the gospel of the coming king. That’s where the word was used in the original context. So, a new king would be coming, and they would say, this is the king, this is what it means, he’s coming, here are the rules, here’s what it’s going to mean to be a part of his kingdom.
And so, what God is doing here, is he is a messenger going before the coming king. He’s saying, let me tell you what it looks like to live in his kingdom and know him, and be reconciled to him. But see, John wasn’t just any messenger. If you read verse 6, you get this weird kind of Lady Gaga-ish attire that he’s wearing. And, it says … now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a belt of leather around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey … And, you’re like … thanks Marks. I don’t know what to really do with that, right? That’s great. He’s like the original foodie. Why does he include this? Well, because he’s actually comparing him to a previous prophet, another prophet. There are a lot of prophets here in this first chapter.
Elijah. Listen to how Elijah is described in 2 Kings 1:8 … He wore a garment of hair … You ever heard that before? One place. The gospels. John the Baptist … with a belt of leather around his waist. And he said, “It is Elijah, the Tishbite” … So, John - Mark is saying - is like Elijah. Now, listen to how Malachi ends his book. You turn to the end of your Old Testament, this is what you’re going to read. This is the cliffhanger for 400 years until the Messiah comes …
““Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.”
—Malachi 4:5 ESV
See, what Mark is saying here, is that you’ve been waiting for this savior to come. From Isaiah, and then it also carried over into Malachi, wondering how will this actually come about? We’ve tried it all in our own power, from justice to grace, and we can’t solve this. And, he says, it comes with a prophet who originally was sent to proclaim the coming kingdom, and he will come again, one like him. And, when John the Baptist enters the stage, he says, this one is just like him. See, he’s fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, he’s fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy, by embodying the prophetic ministry of Elijah.
And so, he’s coming to confirm this. And, just like the prophets of old, he is proclaiming how you can be in right relationship with God. Just like the prophets of old, and they said, this is how you get in the covenant relationship with God. He comes in, and he says, listen … this is how you get into right relationship, verse 4 … by repenting for the forgiveness of sins … That’s how. Now, I know immediately you’re again, like me 10 years ago, when I’m going … repentance? It’s kind of like, hey, things are kind of rough, you want to get right with God, things are kind of vanilla, and you’re like, let’s add some spice to that. Right? And, you come in with repentance? How is that going to fix anything?
Well, I used to think that way. But, the turnaround came when I realized this is exactly what repentance is. Repentance is not just the turning away from death, it is turning to life. This is what 6th century church father, John Climacus, says …
“Repentance is the daughter of hope, the refusal to despair.”
—John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
That, when there’s hope, and you go, I see that there’s a better outcome here, that I can find better life in Jesus Christ, that as soon as you see that, that give birth to hope and repentance, that hope gives birth to repentance. And then, saying, whatever it takes, I’ll do that. I want to know Christ. And, he says, then turn from anything that is a apart from Christ, and turn to Christ. Repentance. See, the counterintuitive nature of the good news is this … it’s about dying to yourself to find life in Christ. It isn’t just trying to pretend the ugly isn’t there. As Isaiah says, it’s not just grace, grace, peace, peace … God is not here just saying, let’s just call sin cute. Let’s just kind of overlook it, sweep it under the rug.
Listen, sin is not cute. God is not easily dealing with sin. Unicorns and babies and My Little Pony are cute. Sin is not cute. Exile, that sense of spiritual death, that inner anguish, that lack of peace and that tension in your body when you sense this abyss and you can’t overcome it, it’s not cute. God does not call it cute. But, it also isn’t blame shifting and pointing out other’s ugly. It’s not just beating ourselves up. In fact, the Son of God takes upon our sin, takes upon the wrath, takes upon the justice, in order that grace might be extended.
Our exile ends in the one who is coming, the one who is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who brings you out of exile, and he does so through a new exodus. That’s point number two, a new exodus.
II. A NEW EXODUS (vv9-11)
Next, Mark recounts the baptism of Jesus, starting in verse 9. Often, we see the baptism of Jesus either as one of two things: one, usually it’s like, oh, this is proof that you should be baptised, which, it is, that’s a good argument for the fact that you should be baptised. Or, we then go, well, this is just the start of Jesus’ ministry. It’s kind of, here’s the start line, and we’ve got to tell this story, and then after this the ministry begins. Which, it is that as well. It’s the inauguration of his public ministry. But, we can miss - if we just stop there - the depths and the beauty of what the baptism of Jesus captures. And, this is, throughout scripture, where there is sin, there is water soon after.
So, baptism again, is when they’ve taken Jesus, and they bring him into the river Jordan, and they baptise him, immersing him in the water, and then bring him up. Baptism just means to immerse, in the Greek. So, they immerse him in the water, they bring him up, and what does this have to do with anything in scripture? Well, again, throughout scripture whenever there’s sin, there’s immediately water. And, this is what I mean, because water is used to describe how God cleanses the world of sin throughout scripture. After the world is filled with sin, what does God do in Noah’s day? He has them build an ark, and then he floods the world with waters of judgement that cleanse the world of sin. To free his people from slavery in Egypt, God brings his people through what? Water. If you’re covered with the blood of the lamb you pass through, if not, you’re in Pharaoh’s army, and you come in, now the waters come down on you in judgement, while cleansing the world of sin. When God’s people finally enter the promised land, the river Jordan - hint, which river is Jesus getting baptised in? Just saying, don’t have time to go into that, but just make a note there - they cross the river Jordan into the promised land. God parts the sea again, so his people can enter into his presence. When everything is made new in Revelation, it tells us that the sea will be no more. It’s not because you’re like, oh my gosh, they’re out water, it’s a drought in the new heavens and new earth! No, it’s because it’s saying, there’s no more evil.
Sin, water, sin, water. We need an ark, we need blood, we need a promised land to enter. We need sin to be no more. And, in the baptism of Jesus, we see the one who provides all of these. Instead of like Noah’s flood, the heavens don’t break open to pour down wrath. Instead, the dove - like the one Noah sent out - comes down declaring peace, in verse 10. And, when they came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him, like a dove. In verse 11 … and a voice came from heaven, you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased … instead of a dove going off to look for a new creation after the flood as he did in Noah’s day, instead, the dove descends on Jesus. The Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and Jesus, in other words, is the promised one, the promised lamb that we’ve been seeking.
This is the one in whom the new creation will be found. This is the one who comes through the judgement, and comes to the other side. He is the ark in which we’ve come through to the other side by faith. It is by his blood that we are covered, and we walk through the waters. This is why when we become believers, we are baptised. Not merely just because Jesus was baptised, but because if we were to be baptised before Jesus is baptised, then we would go under the waters, and we would drown and be judged in our sin. But now, because Jesus Christ - the righteous one - has gone into the judgement waters, and then the heavens open up on in wrath but in peace, and saying, this is the one. Now, if you go into the grave in Christ, you rise like Christ. It is the power of an indestructible life, and if we are one with him, then we rise again. And, the whole Godhead is here, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. It’s like the whole band’s back together doing their song. This is the one! Him! He is your hope. In Jesus, we have the final exodus. We have the new exodus. He is our ark, he is the blood, he is the promised one in whom we have life. This is why the father delights in the son.
In fact, look at the imagery again, with Isaiah, two chapters later in his prophecy …
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
This is the son in whom he delights. Now, do you see … you can start to see here, some of you are like, I’m trying to track, and we’re all over in scripture here. Do you see what I’m saying? As you dig in here and you start to see how all of scripture, God’s bringing everything together, all of his promises as God says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, find their yes and amen in him, in Jesus. All the threads of scripture come together when Jesus enters the stage. All the imagery, all the locations, all the themes, all the happenings, all the promises. When Jesus enters, they all start to come together.
And now, you can see why I say this will blow your mind as you study it. But, I can also imagine how you might be thinking … that’s nice theology, but why does this matter? Like, okay, I’ve connected all the dots … why does this really matter? It matters, because if you are one with Jesus Christ, this is how the Father looks at you in Jesus, in Christ. If you have repented of your sin, turning from yourself to find life in Christ, to exit that exile, this is how God looks at you. And, this is important because so often we live our lives not knowing how to evaluate ourselves or others rightly.
Think about it. How much of our calling through life is seeking affirmation? Think about how much of our life, and the things, the problems, and the sins that we get into are just kind of calling, oh maybe here, maybe there, maybe that person … seeking affirmation, seeking someone to say, you are my delight. With you I am well pleased. That sense of, yes, I am well pleasing. How many of your most regrettable decisions have been because you were seeking affirmation? It could be in a lover compromising, in a test, cutting corners, social approval, spinning the truth. Let’s take a minute to turn to our neighbors and share, right? Of course not. But, even more, how much of what burdens us is what others think of us? Rightly or wrongly.
And, we know there’s always a little bit of an element of the truth deep down, which is why we try to then respond when somebody says something bad about us, versus being able to just kind of emotionally be able to deal with that. Well, what we have to do is go all nuclear on them. Because, we know there’s a little thread of the truth, so we just … anyways. We’re unable to even deal with interpersonal conflict, because this just overwhelms us so much. We desperately need an evaluation of ourselves that isn’t from ourselves, or from the mistaken evaluation of others. And, you have it in Jesus Christ if you are one with Christ. The Father says, with you I am well pleased.
This is not, again, a flippant … peace, peace. This is not going back to Malachi, where they just say … Oh, they’re your delight, and they are peace, peace. Do you see how this is coming full circle? Malachi said, the problem is that they are all just saying, oh, you’re just his delight, it’s okay. And then, the others are saying, no, no! We need justice! See, this is not just a flippant, you can just go about your life and have peace, and it doesn’t matter, God’s just … you’re his delight. What this is saying, is that Christ died on the cross to secure that. Christianity is not just a better moral code or sentimental sweet nothings. It is a new identity as a beloved child of God. Brothers and sisters, united with Jesus Christ is the very son of God, and now in Him, he views us as he views Christ, as one with Christ. This is important, because you’ll need it for the last theme Mark uses.
Jesus leads you through a new exodus and into … here we have the wilderness.
III. THE WILDERNESS JOURNEY (vv12-13)
Now, what’s interesting, is the Father and Spirit delight in the Son. And, it’s almost as if, then there’s this party like, he’s here! This is the one! This is the one whom I delight! And, your prize behind door number one is … journey in the wilderness! Right? This is kind of one those, like … is he being punished here? What happened here? It’s kind of like, if you’re in sales you might understand this. It’s kind of like when you meet your benchmarks for the quarter, and they’re like … you did such a good job. Next quarter, we’re going to raise your benchmarks, and you’re going to do more. You’re like, wait … was that a prize or am I being disciplined? Like, he’s God’s delight. Why is he now sent into the wilderness?
When we read wilderness and temptation, we tend to think of punishment. We tend to think of abandonment, right? And, how often in our lives when a difficult season, a wilderness season comes, do we immediately assume it is because God is displeased with us. Well, what if it is a sign, instead, that perhaps God is most pleased, and he is at work?
I’ve pondered this for some time, because here is an interesting thing. The gospels, especially as we’ll see in mark, are ordered for a specific reason, how biographies were written, a specific gospel genre in the first century, they’re not concerned about putting things in, like, some linear historical order at all times. And so, the gospels will tell things in different orders for a specific theme. If you want more on that, come to the Bible workshop, we’ll talk about that. But, one of the things that’s interesting in all the gospels that record the three synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke - that record the baptism of Jesus - is immediately the next event afterwards is this. They all connect the baptism of Jesus with then, immediately, going into the wilderness and being tempted.
That has long made me wonder, I immediately assume wilderness is bad. But, Jesus here is the delight. And so, what is going on? Now, most theologians will agree that one of the main things that’s happening when Jesus goes into the wilderness and he’s tempted there, is that it’s actually now saying, see, Israel in the wilderness in the Old Testament grumbled, and complained, and they sinned against God. Whereas now, Jesus has entered the wilderness and unlike disobedient Israel, now Jesus is actually obedient to the father. That’s one major way of understanding it. And, that’s especially - if you read Matthew’s account - which is much longer, that is where Matthew goes in his account, and what he’s trying to draw out.
But, there’s a second thread to theme of wilderness that is in scripture, that I think Mark is choosing to highlight here and emphasize, and that’s this. That, throughout Israel’s history, wilderness was a place of rich intimacy with God. Listen to how Jeremiah describes it, that Old Testament prophet …
““Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.”
—Jeremiah 2:2 ESV
Then in Hosea, another prophet …
““Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, … [talking about Israel] ... and speak tenderly to her … [This is how God is wooing Israel back to himself] … And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.”
—Hosea 2:14–15 ESV
He will bring her into the wilderness … It’s not normally where I thought, my wife was like, let’s go on a honeymoon, after we got married. I wasn’t like … I’m going to lure you and take you into the wilderness, right? It’s not someone you marry. But, there’s something that God is doing in the wilderness, and what is that? It is a place where God’s people are stripped of their strength, their dependencies, and their idols, turning their hearts to God, where God wins their hearts to himself.
Therefore, one way the Spirit refines us is by dragging us into the wilderness as he does with Jesus. And, we often mistake these seasons if life as signs of God’s disapproval of us, as if God is motivated by spite towards us, perhaps even punishing us. But, surely God was not displeased with Jesus. He just proclaimed that he is pleased with Jesus. The same is often true in our wilderness seasons. Now, I obviously have to add a caveat here. There are wildernesses that we can create in our own sin. If you rob a bank, you will go into a wilderness that they call prison. Okay? That’s your fault, that’s on you.
What I’m talking about here, is on the whole, when we go through season of life or health, we wonder, will we make it? When we launch out of our parent’s home will we finally find that job or get that degree, or we will get that … how seasons of life, wondering about our grown children, wondering about our health, our things, our finances, all these things, seasons of difficulty, difficult relationships. We should not immediately interpret these times as a sign of God’s displease. But, rather, God’s refining us so we would come to find our pleasure in him. In the wilderness, God’s Spirit is freeing us as he did with Israel.
And, it’s different because God’s presence doesn’t just go before us anymore, but God’s presence is burning within us, and present with us. This is why, now that we are seen as one with Jesus, and we are like the son that he is delighting in, this is why Hebrews says in chapter 12, it says that earthly fathers will discipline you and you respect them, but they don’t do it perfectly. But, do you see that your Heavenly Father …
“he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”
—Hebrews 12:10 ESV
That we might know him, that we might have life in him. As Christians, therefore, we are always in one of three phases. Just capture this. You are either entering a season of wilderness, you are either in a season of wilderness, or you are exiting a season of wilderness. Those are the three phases that we’ll find ourselves in. But, take heart. Be encouraged. Because, what it means is that your Heavenly Father is refining you and making you a child who is ready and worthy to spend eternity in his presence in his kingdom, serving this king, and knowing him well.
See, the wilderness isn’t a downer. The wilderness is a reminder that this world is not our home, and this world is the wilderness that we journey through. It’s lots of good things, lots of enjoyable things, exciting things. But, this world is meant to point our hearts back to God. This world teams with God’s glory. All the goodness is not saying, wilderness, so don’t be … as H.L. Menken once said about the Puritans, you know, the Puritans are those who walk around wondering, anxious, that somebody somewhere is having fun. You know, it’s like, we’re not saying that this is a way you go about your life. What this is saying, is that the world is not everything. That, this is a wilderness.
Yes, you’re going to be in the wilderness, and they’re going to be, I don’t know … I didn’t think through this before I said this, but berries and good things in the wilderness that fill your life with joy. But, as C.S. Lewis said, when the world is reflecting God’s glory, filled with God’s glory, learn to read back up the sunbeam back up to the Son. Learn with everything around you that reflects God’s glory, learn to see it as something that points back up to God, not just go to it for that affirmation, not just go to it as the thing that’s going to finally satisfy you and save you, but go to it and say, what is beautiful here just points me to the fact that I have a God who is infinitely more glorious and good than this. This is just a foretaste. Don’t give your heart to it. Let it point your heart to the Lord, and then life is full of beauty. It teems with meaning and purpose and everything is put there for a reason. It comes alive.
Together, in Christ, we are journeying through the wilderness, out of exile, and into a promised land. And, what Mark is telling us, is this is the one who is coming to lead us there, in Jesus Christ. Do you see what an immense privilege this is to have a place where you can fight temptation? Brothers and sisters … I should just say for a second, if you’re wondering if the church is a place where all of the things that we talk about today, all of the sins that we think are things that you just can’t talk about that in church, it’s not safe in church, the things that deep down you’re wondering, is there anywhere where I can really find healing? If this is not the place where you can find it, then nowhere is.
I’m not saying that the gospel and God’s presence is just going to be safe, because it isn’t safe in the way we think of it, but it is good. And, it will transform us, and it will save us. And so, whatever it is, don’t think to yourself that this is the last place where you can bring that out, and have brothers and sisters around you - in the midst of that wilderness - walking with you. This is the place, and I encourage you to open up and walk with one another. But, do you see what an immense privilege it also is to learn how to remind one another of what is true of us in Jesus Christ? To learn the aspects of what is going on here, when God is looking at us, what does it mean to be one with Jesus? How is it that God can say these things, looking at us as he looks at Christ? Those are all riches to plumb and learn to say to one another, so, you don’t feel like on one hand, am I just doing this grace, grace thing, and on the other hand am I just kind of doing this whalloping people all the time? The balance comes in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and together we learn how to articulate that and give that good news. And then, also, what an immense responsibility we have to go before our King, proclaiming he is coming. This is the one. This is the good news.
That is what God will work into us through Mark’s gospel, if we allow it this summer. I would encourage you to read Mark. One thing, too, with reading through the journals, we also have a devotional that you can download electronically. We also have printed versions of that devotional at the connect cart out there. You can pick those up as well, but I encourage you to be reading Mark. I also encourage you to, maybe, do it together. Mark is one of the best books in the Bible to open up to if you have friends, family, coworkers who are saying … the Jesus thing, I don’t know about that. You know what is the best thing to do? Put aside all of the side debates. Don’t get into all the, well, right now, this and that in politics and, you know, and then people think this, and people do that in the past, and all these things. It’s like, okay, let’s put those things aside, not because they’re not important, but because we can’t really come to common ground on thinking about it if Jesus isn’t king.
But, if he’s the kind of king who is worthy, who laid down his life, just make sure that Jesus is seen clearly. The best way to do that is let God’s word speak. If you have a non-believer or somebody in your life, I invite you, grab an extra journal and say, I will give you this as a gift, let’s sit down together, let’s mark it up, let’s go through it together, and let’s look at who Jesus is. I invite you to do that, and sit down with someone this summer. Listen. Jesus is with you in the wilderness. He’s brought you out of exile and is leading you into the promised land. Look to him. Walk with him. Because, in him, you are the Father’s delight. Let’s pray
O Lord God,
You have been at work since before the foundations of the world, to bring about our redemption in Jesus. Open our eyes to how profound the life offered us in Jesus truly is. Jesus, you are the way, you are the truth, you are the life. And, because of you, we are no longer in exile. Because of you, we have been given the new, and the final exodus out of enslavement to sin. And, because of you, we walk through this wilderness in hope of a better land. Spirit, guide us in the way of righteousness, so we might walk in fullness of life offered us in Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.