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We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!

We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!

Pastor Paul's Blog

Mark My Word

Mark 1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

The beginning of the good news[a] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[b]

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,[c]

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[d]
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared[e] 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[f] water; but he will baptize you with[g] the Holy Spirit.”

The Baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[h] with you I am well pleased.”

The Temptation of Jesus

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[i] of God,[j]15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[k] repent, and believe in the good news.”[l]

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The old adage, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” apply as to how I wanted to start the new year with you in the study of God’s Word.  I wanted to start off strong on New Year’s Day in our study of the Gospel of Mark, looking at the first 11 verses.  I wanted to continue today and cover verses 12-20.  Alas, these plans have not worked out well so far, so let’s try Plan B!

My invitation for you is to join with me in studying Mark’s Gospel as we begin this year, and continue that study through Easter.  Every Sunday between now and then, I wanted us to focus our conversation and study around this ancient book that is still so very relevant for our lives today.  My invitation is for us to use N.T. Wright’s Mark for Everyone as our resource.  We have a number of hard copies available at the church.  You may purchase one of these for $10 any time at the church office or next Sunday.  Or, you may download the book on Amazon Kindle for about the same price.  I think this book is going to help in our study greatly.

For those who weren’t able to be with us on January 1, let me briefly re-state what I shared that morning.  If you look at the beginning of Mark, you notice something quite interesting.  First, there is a statement that functions as a title of sorts for the book, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  This is a statement that identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, at the very beginning of the story.  The irony is this: no one really gets what that means for Jesus to be the Christ for the rest of the book.  The disciples don’t correctly understand what that means.  The Pharisees don’t get it.  The Sadducees don’t get it.  None of the religious authorities, nor any of the people who were looking for the Christ, get it.  The people who follow Jesus around and see what he is able to do don’t get it.  Indeed, the demons are the ones who seem to get it right.  And Jesus consistently is telling them to keep quiet.  The next correct understanding of who Jesus really is doesn’t come until Chapter 15, as Jesus is dying. 

The second item of note to share is this: there isn’t a birth narrative in Mark’s Gospel.  Scholars have pondered why that is so.  Luke’s Gospel, which was probably written years after Mark’s Gospel, and used Mark as a source of material, is the one that gives us the familiar story of shepherds and angels and mangers.  Mark either didn’t know the story of Jesus’s birth or chose not to include it.  Instead, he begins first with the title statement and then quickly and abruptly moves to the introduction of John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus.  John is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, that one will come to pave the way for the Messiah, to call the people to a response of repentance and a ritual water cleansing called baptism.  Repentance means to re-orient one’s self away from the brokenness of life marked by sin and to a new life marked by the cleansing spirit of God found in Jesus.  John’s proclamation is that he can only cleanse with water, but in Jesus, God is going to bring the fire of the Holy Spirit and baptism will be understood differently.

Then Mark tells us that Jesus himself came to the river to be baptized by John.  Notice how little Mark tells us about the event.  Other Gospels tell us so much more.  But Mark simply relates that as Jesus comes out of the water, the skies are violently ripped open, and he hears the voice from God that says, “This is my Son, whom I love: with him I am well pleased.”  This simple statement is profoundly important to us though.  Our understanding is that as we identify with Jesus, God’s favor is with us.  In the Baptism we experience in churches today, Baptism is the initiation into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Whether that Baptism occurs in infancy or adulthood, we believe that identifying our life in Jesus is essential. 

One of the questions I asked on the first Sunday in January related to this.  Where do we find our identity?  Do we find it in our professions, our work?  Do we find it in our last names, through our family heritage?  Do we find our identity in our abilities or hobbies?  I suggested that all of those things, the work, the family, the abilities, are temporary.  The only way that we can stay grounded in our identity is to understand that in Baptism we are baptized into Jesus and there we find our true self.  In our Baptism, we can always find ways to connect to that voice that spoke to Jesus and then echoes in our ears.  Being baptized into Jesus says we too are the beloved of God and he is well pleased with us.

This morning we were going to then pick up at verse 12, with the story of the temptation of Jesus.  This is an odd story, isn’t it?  As soon as Jesus is baptized and hears the voice of affirmation from God, he is “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness.  I read in Wright’s book that this strong word “driven” is akin to compelled, in very strong terms.  Once in the wilderness, he is tempted by Satan and was “with the wild beasts.”  Mark doesn’t tell us the nature of the temptations.  Matthew and Luke give much more detail.  What sense are we to make of this temptation story?

The way I understand this story is from personal experience.  There have been a number of times in my life when I have had spiritual experiences.  These have come at retreats, on mission trips, and in other intentional places of worship.  You know about those as surely you have had your own experiences.  You come out of those experiences feeling so close to God, your spirit is rejoicing and you feel like you are on top of the world.  However, inevitably, the re-entry into the world is hard.  The “real” world means dealing with difficult people, fighting traffic, paying bills, among all of those things that suck the life out of us.  Like Jesus, we face the temptations of the Satan, finding that our only source of help and hope is in the God who affirms his love for us, the voice we hear in our Baptism.  Staying connected to the One who gives us our identity is the way we fight the temptations of the Satan.

This coming Sunday I am hoping to offer reflections on the next part of the scriptures.  Jesus steps onto the stage of human history and announces that he is inaugurating a new Kingdom.  As a matter of fact, study of the Gospels reveals that Jesus talks more about the nature of this Kingdom than any other subject.  It is quite worthy of our study.  I hope you will join us if you are able.  If you are not able to join us, maybe you will consider watching via our website.

My hope and prayer is that as we engage in this study together, God will bless us with renewed spirit and stronger faith.  May the Christ, the Son of God, be with us all.