Repent and Believe the Good News

Lent 1B

Mark 1: 9 15

(The First Sunday in Lent)

Introduction

We rejoice at the opportunity to meditate on the Baptism of the Lord. Of all the people who did not need to have sin washed away it was Jesus. However, as we all know, he chose to be born into this world and to take on the burdens of human life. He also chose to identify fully with humanity. His baptism is therefore all the more powerful for us to meditate on when we behold the Most Holy, for our sakes, "throwing in his lot" with us and signalling to every evil force that would trouble us that from this moment on, their days are numbered!

Some Notes On The Text

Baptism of Jesus (one of the great Trinitarian passages.)

Verse 9

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Jesus is now introduced. Recall, it was in the wilderness that Israel was first designated as Son by God. Hosea especially pointed forward to a time when God would renew Israel's sonship in the wilderness. Jesus now fulfils this, and identifies with transgressors. He submits to baptism and so dedicates himself to his task, and declares he is ready to serve.

Verse 10

As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

In Judaism, the decisive moment in baptism is the coming up. Here it is Jesus' coming up which is the decisive moment. Jesus sees the heavens open (an open vision of heavenly things) and sees the Spirit descending.

The dove hovers like the brooding of the Spirit over the waters at Creation (Gen.1: 2). This is the start of God's new work of re-creation — it is the beginning of a new entry into the true Promised Land.

Verse 11

And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

This verse combines Ps. 2: 7 and Isaiah 42: 1. Can we sense Heaven's excitement! Jesus' ritual preparation is now completed. His ascetic preparation follows at once.

Verse 12 & 13

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 angels attended him.

While Israel, God's child, had failed in the desert, Jesus, God's Son, would succeed. This is to be a foretaste of the conditions of Jesus' ministry and a preparation to meet these conditions. But while the wilderness is a place of testing and danger, it is also a place of special graces.

Note: Jesus was, at his baptism, already in the desert or wilderness. Immediately after he was thrust forth even more deeply into a place of still further desolation and loneliness. Jesus remained submissive and did not abandon the wilderness.

The forty days are in the tradition of Moses on Sinai and Elijah in the wilderness as he went to Horeb.

Note:

  • The significance of the 40 days continued right through Jesus' public ministry and was the dominant note. Nor did he cease being tempted. No victory was cited. The battle was left open ended!
  • It will be obvious to readers why this text has been chosen for our attention during the forty days of Lent: a time of penance and preparation to engage in the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The loneliness of the struggle is reflected in the mention of wild animals: the severity in that the angels ministered to him. (There is no reference to this stopping either). Jesus is with 4 different orders of being (verses 12 — 13): the Spirit, Satan, wild animals and angels. In his ministry Jesus is to be empowered by the Spirit, opposed by Satan, Lord of all creatures, attended by angels. Who could resist wanting to find out all about such a person!

Opening of Jesus' Ministry

Verse 14

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

Literally, verse 14 begins, "After John had been taken into custody….". The theme of being arrested and handed over is a key idea in this Gospel account, emphasising that the fates of John the Baptist, Jesus, the disciples (then and now) will be one and the same.

Verse 15

"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

Jesus presents himself to the nation as a preacher, not first of all as a worker of miracles, but a bearer of a message, "the Gospel of God". But only after John has completed his divinely appointed task.

The call to repent and believe is not new but Jesus sharpens it and gives it urgency: The Kingdom has come near: there is no time for delay. Jesus confronts his listeners with a vital decision:

  • either a person submits to the summons of God; or
  • they choose this world and its riches and honour.

When Jesus said, "The time has come" we need to understand the three dimensional meaning of the phrase. "In one sense the kingdom had already come in the person of Jesus, who was fulfilling God's will perfectly. In another sense it was gradually coming in lives surrendered to God. In a third sense, God would introduce it universally at the 'last day'." (R.A. Cole).

Conclusion

"What all had yet to learn and what proved to be the hardest lesson for the disciples of Jesus to learn, was that the reign of God was not to be a cataclysmic external triumph in the here and now by an earthly Messiah, but a peaceful rule over the hearts of those who responded to the message."

R. Cole in "MARK" Tyndal N.T. Commentaries, published by Inter-Varsity Press 1989 (U.K.).

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