Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mark 24

The Gospel of Mark: 
Part 24

16 November 2014         The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost         
Year A  Color: Green  

First Reading: Judges 4:1-7; Psalter UMH 797; 
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; *Gospel: Mark 10:1-16(Alt Rd.)

First Light Reading: Mark 10:1-16

The Pharisees posed a challenge to Jesus, by asking him to give them his interpretation of a particular portion of the Old Testament.  Specifically, they want him to weigh-in on the matter of divorce.  The Torah made a provision for divorce, while not directly encouraging it.  In the first century AD, scholars debated about when it was permissible for man to divorce a woman.   Some scholars said that a man was permitted to divorce his wife for anything at all, or even without a reason; while others argued that there had to be a good cause.   The Pharisees wanted to know on which side of the issue Jesus came down .

I want you to see the fatal-flaw in the Pharisees’  whole approach to reading the Bible.  What they were really asking is, what can I get away with?  What is the minimum I have to do to be in compliance with God?  Later, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus will identify the key to understanding the entire Bible, by saying that two commands summarize the whole message.  Love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.  

Where in the question raised by the Pharisees is the question of love?  Where is there concern for women and children?  The answer is, it’s not there. So, Jesus asked the Pharisees, what does Moses say in the Torah?

Moses, of course, had given a provision for divorce; but, this was only a concession.  Far from being God’s will, divorce is a messy process, by which families and individuals are harmed emotional and otherwise.  God is not against divorced people, but he hates what divorce does to us.  

Jesus says that Moses made this concession in order to reduce the fall out and damage caused by men with calloused hearts.  The certificate of divorce protected women from the worst kind of abandonment.  If cleared her of accusations of adultery, when she remarried, and kept the ex-husband from wrecking her next marriage by trying to reclaim her as his wife.  It also prevented men from swapping wives like some kind of property.  In short, the concession was meant to reduce the social fallout caused by the divorce.  

This means that Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the passage being discussed, is not about God condoning divorce.  It also exposes just how far these men were from understanding the intent of God, as expressed in the Law.  If the heart of the Law is love for God and others, one is not going to look for loopholes to get out of marriage, but is going to work to preserve and strengthen their marriage.  

The same is true today.  Marriages sometimes end.  Some people are not emotionally or spiritually healthy.  Some people are abusive or have destructive habits and behaviors.  Sometimes it is necessary for marriage to end to preserve one of the people in it.  But, this does not mean that we enter marriage with hopes of only doing the minimum and having plenty of loopholes to jump out of it, if being married becomes inconvenient to us.  

The passage then follows with the story of a little child being set before them.  Now, here is the connection.  When the Pharisees were arguing about divorce with Jesus, they completely left women and children out of their discussion.  It was a man’s world and, in their view, how divorce impacted men was all that was important.  

In in ancient world, children were powerless, had not rights, and were regarded as being completely insignificant.  Those who are part of Jesus’ Kingdom, who read the Bible through the lens of love will not disregard or ignore marginalized, powerless, or insignificant people.  In fact, such will find a place of welcome and honor in a community where Jesus is Lord.  

Both of these passages challenge how we read the Bible.  We can read it like the Pharisees were reading it, by asking, “What are the minimum requirements by which I have to live?”  What is the least I can do and still be a Christian.  But this way of reading the Bible falls a long ways short of realizing the intentions of God.

Or, we can read the Bible with these questions in mind, “What would it mean for the love of God to guide my life in this area?”  What would it look like if God’s love shaped my attitude, opinion, way of acting, and choices?  What is God’s desire and intent for this area of my life.  And, how does this part of the Bible inform that?  These questions will work for any part of the Bible. 

Now, there are lots of ways of misreading the Bible.  Almost all of them have to do with trying to make the Bible suite our own particular tastes.  One particularly dangerous way of reading the Bible is to say that some part of it are God’s word, while other parts are not.  
When I was serving in another church, we had a retired pastor who was a part of our congregation.  I genuinely liked him and his wife; however, I had a rather strange encounter with him in a Bible study.  We were looking at a text in the Old Testament where God had sent his people into battle.  

During our discussion he said, “The God I worship and serve would never send troops into battle.  Not wanting to dishonor him, I grid to carefully point out that Jesus had always honored the Old Testament as God’s word, and that he never repudiated any part of it.  Further, he made the radical claim that the God of the Old Testament, the God of Israel, was his Father, and that he was God’s only Son.  
Yes, there are some very difficult texts in the Old Testament.  Some of these texts require a lot of work to understand; but I we do not worship the God of the Old Testament, then we do not worship the One Jesus called Father, and the One Jesus came to embody.  

Where the old pastor knew it or not, he was beginning to step outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity, by creating a god that seemed more suitable to him, which is idolatry.  

There are authors, pastors, and theologians who will say that it’s okay to do this.  They even encourage people to decide for themselves which parts of the Bible to accept and which parts to reject.  But, if we are so good at knowing what God is like that we can stand judge over the Bible, why then do we even need the Bible, if we are the standard by which we measure claims about God?

But, Jesus, the Prophets, and the rest of the Bible tell us that we are not good at knowing what God is like.  Instead, they teach us that the human heart is good at creating false gods, called idols.  

A more sophisticated argument says that we will accept Jesus and his teachings, but that we will not receive the teachings of Paul and other New Testament authors.  But friends, to do this is to disobey Jesus. Jesus hand-selected 500 eye witnesses to give the authorized version of his story to the world.  These people were called apostles. We have their version of the Jesus story in the form of the four canonical Gospels and Acts.  
Jesus also authorized the apostles to teach God’s people how to live and serve Jesus.  We have a selection of their writings in the rest of what we call the New Testament.  Jesus said that those who accept their teachings would be accepting Jesus; while those who were rejecting the teachings of the apostles were, in fact, rejecting Jesus.  In Luke chapter ten, we read:

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

As a former atheist, I am perplexed by Christians who reject large portions of the Church’s teachings and Scripture because they do not want to live by them.  As a former atheist, I just wan to say to you, that if you find God so hard to live with & the teachings of the Faith so uncomfortable, why not just become an unbeliever?  Why not just stay home on Sundays, sleep in and watch football?  Then, you can live any way you choose. 

Jesus says, those who love him will keep his commands.  He also says that his yoke is easy and his burden light.  In the name of Jesus, stop trying to re-form God in your image.  Quite trying to be his lord.  Surrender.  Lay down your arms and call him Lord.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Podcast

Mark 9:2-16

The Gospel of Mark: 
Part 23
“Right Before Our Very Eyes”

9 November 2014         The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost          
Year A Color: Green

First Reading: Josh. 24:1-3, 14-25; Psalter UMH 799 Psalm 78; 
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; *Gospel: Mark 9:2-13 (alt. rd.)

First Light Reading:  Mark 9:2-13

Also look at 9:14-29

The previous chapters of Mark tell of the long, slow, and arduous process by which the disciples came to understand who Jesus was and what he had come to do.  At long-last, they realized that Jesus was the Messiah.  

Upon realizing that Jesus the Christ, Anointed One of God, and upon confessing it, Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone.  He gave them this command because what the crowds expected Messiah to be & what Jesus actually came to do were markedly different. 

Jesus had not come to defeat evil by means of a military victory over Israel’s human enemies.  He had come to defeat evil by meeting hit head on, in his own sacrificial death.  He would give his life as ransom for the world, as the only way of bringing God’s victory over sin and death.

After all of this, Jesus took three of his closest disciples high upon a mountain, where his full glory could be displayed for them to see.  There, on the mountain, the disciples discovered that even the title Messiah, while being correct, was not a big enough category to describe all that Jesus is and had come to do.  

But, perhaps we may ask, why didn’t Jesus just do this from the very beginning.  Why didn’t Jesus just show everyone who he is and then say something like, “There you have it.  I’m God.  Now, shut-up and do what I say?”  There seems to be two answers to this question. 

  1. Just as Jesus’ definition and description of Messiah different greatly from the ideas of Messiah held by the masses, so too does Jesus’ description and definition of God different from what many of us understand by the word God.  We toss the word For around very casually, as if we all know and agree about what we are talking about when we say it, when nothing could be farther from the truth. 
  2. God desires for us to make a meaningful choice for God, one that is not forced.

Let’s talk about each of these answers in more detail.  First, many of us have a different definition of God than Jesus has.  When some people say the word God, they mean nature.  They mean the trees and animals, the ocean and the sky above.  

Others mean something like the force in Star Wars.  When they say God they mean the life giving energy that animates the universe and the things in it. 

Others use the term God to mean a personal being;  but, one who is very different from the God described by the Bible.  Some picture a god who is so nice that they are really a composite picture of their grandma, Santa Clause, and Tom Hanks.  

For others, this personal god is something like a combination between the worst teacher they have ever had and the mafia enforcer.   Still, for others this personal god is an absent minded watch-maker who dreamily stares at his work from afar, or who as actually wandered off to work on other projects.  

When Christians pray, we do not direct our prayers to whom it may concern.  Nor are we simply placing a message in a bottle, hoping someone will receive it.  Instead, we are speaking to the One Jesus called Father; the same God who crated this world, fashioned us in his image, and chose Abraham’s family as the human instrument through which to bring about his plan of salvation for the world.  

But, our understanding of God has been made even clearer because Jesus has brought God into focus.  Jesus came to embody the life of God, so that we could not only know about God, but more importantly, come to know God.  God is best known by looking at Jesus.  Jesus is what we mean when we are talking to and about God.  

We are not New Testament Christians.  We are Bible Christians.  We worship the same God Abraham and Sarah worshiped.  We worship the same God Moses and Miriam worshiped.  We worship the God of the priests and the prophets.   But, Jesus brings the rich, complex, and nuanced picture we find of God in the Bible and brings it into focus through his own life, death, and Resurrection.  
But, that is why it is important to study whole books of the Bible without always jumping around from place to place.  If all we ever do is jump around from one text to another, instead of talking whole books of the Bible in whole, it tends to encourage us to create our own picture of God, by taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that from the Bible, in order to create a god to our liking.  But, this is idolatry.  And if we are going to do that, we might as well dispense with the Bible and the church and just create our own pagan-religion to suite us.  

Instead, we take the picture of God presented by the Bible, made crystal clear in Jesus, who is both holy and love.

He is holy, not shrugging sin off or acting with indifference about how we live.  Yet, he is loving and kind, not going around whacking sinners’ hands with a ruler.  Instead, his supreme answer to sin, hold’s both the holiness and love of God together perfectly.  His supreme answer to is to give his life for the sake of redeeming us from sin.  

He is the Lion who rules in righteousness, and the Lamb of God who dies to take away the sin of the world. 

Lastly, the reason Jesus does not just overwhelm us with his divinity, is that we have a real part to play.  Our response is important to him.  He does not want puppets or automatons.  He wants friends.  And so, he waits to reveal His divinity to us as we become able, by his grace, to make a response of love.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mark 3:13-19

The Gospel of Mark: 
Part 11
“Expanding the Scope of His Ministry”

3 August 2014         The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost         
Year A: Color: Green  

First Reading: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalter UMH 749 Psalm 17; 
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5 *Gospel Mark 3:13-19 (alt. rd.) 

First Light Reading Mark 3:13-19

Originally preached at Pleasant Hill Parish 23 December 2004


According to the writings of the New Testament, by the time of his death and resurrection, Jesus had about 500 followers.  Out of these 500 followers, Jesus choose 12 of them to be a part of inner circle, to be his closest disciples.  These 12 were invited to share life with the Master and to be with him as his constant companions.  

The number 12 was a historically meaningful number for Jesus people and for their nation.  Israel was comprised of 12 tribes of closely related people, who all shared a common ancestry and heritage.  Twelve was the number of Israel.  It symbolically reminded the Hebrew people who they were.  By choosing 12 disciples to be his core followers, Jesus was communicating that Israel was being restored.

The calling of the twelve disciples had yet another meaning.  Jesus purpose in calling the twelve was to expand his ministry, so that not only would Israel be restored; so would all of creation.  Jesus’ own ministry was about expanding the Kingdom or Reign of God throughout creation.  The 12 disciples were being invited to become a part of that plan, to multiply the work of Christ.  

The value for us, of looking closely at the work and lives of the twelve followers of Jesus, is that we, as part of God’s people, are called to carry on their work.  We take up were they and others who have gone before us left off.  We too have been invited to be a part of Christ’s work of expanding the Reign of God and thus multiplying the work of Jesus.  We too are called to be disciples.  So, this morning, I want us to look at what that means by looking carefully at the work and lives of Jesus’ original 12 disciples.  

I.  The unique task of the disciples is to be with Jesus.  

Their ministry flowed out of their identity and their identity flowed out of their relationship with God.  If we want to really understand both our purpose and our true identity we must spend time with God.  Our point of reference must stay constant and all of life must revolve around the person of Jesus.   

Now I want to be really careful here.  The twelve original disciples were not super saints who floated about 2 inches off the ground. Neither were people of privilege, who had the luxury of following Jesus, because they had not a care in the world.  Most of these men came from very humble backgrounds.  A few of them were business owners, most were hired hands.   They were regular people who were following Jesus the best they could, in spite of not having the luxury to do so. 

Let me say it another way, be telling you a story.  My father grew up in the sixties.  When I was a kid, I became fascinated by hippies and the counter-culture.  One day I asked my father if he had been a hippie.  His answer surprised me.  “No,” he said.  “My family was far to poor for me to be a hippie.  I had to work.”  He went on to say that every hippie he knew was someone who had rich parents, who paid for their college tuition, bought them a car, and paid for their living expenses, so that thy could go around singing, “All you need is love.”  

I’m afraid that my father’s view of the counter-culture is who many of us view being a disciple of Jesus.  It’s a fine thing to do for people who have no worries and responsibilities.  And perhaps you even imagine yourself being a disciple someday when the kids are grown and the house is paid for and you no longer have so many responsibilities to oversee.  When you finally get enough time and financial security, whenever life finally settles down and you get enough time to think and breath, then you will finally have the luxury to consider getting serious about spiritual matters, like following Jesus.

If this is how we think about discipleship, we have it all wrong.  The real dangers to our spiritual-life is not hardship but comfort.  In his book The Comfort Trap: Spiritual Dangers in the Convenience Culture, Tim Bascom writes, 

We're too comfortable to be spiritual…. We think we will be able to pursue God better without danger or hardship. And yet it works in just the opposite way. Nothing is more difficult than to grow spiritually when [we are] comfortable.
That's why … Alexander Solzhenitsyn's reaction to his exile to the Soviet labor camp was to bless it, because it was there that he discovered that "the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.” In the worst possible circumstances of hardship, deprivation, brutality, and inhuman treatment, Solzhenitsyn learned what it meant to follow Christ. 

Citation: Tim Bascom, The Comfort Trap: Spiritual Dangers in the Convenience Culture (Intervarsity, 1993); submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California

II.  The symbol of discipleship is not a throne and crown, but a towel and basin.
Whatever else being the right hand men of Jesus meant, it did not mean a life of worldly privilege as miniature kings of God’s kingdom.   
One person who really understood this was Basil of Ceasarea. In 370 A. D., Basil of Caesarea, one of the "church fathers," became the archbishop of Caesarea, which brought him into conflict with the Arian emperor Valens. In an attempt to intimidate the stubborn bishop, Valens sent the prefect of the imperial guard, Modestus, to threaten him with punishment. Basil answered that he was ready and eager to die for Christ, and that he had so few possessions that banishment, confiscation, or imprisonment would mean nothing to him.
When Modestus complained that no one ever talked to him like that, Basil answered that perhaps he had never met a bishop before: "When the interests of God are at stake, we care for nothing else."
Citation: Edwin Woodruff Tait, "Three Wise Men from the East," Christian History, Issue 80

Following Jesus does not give us an exemption from troubles, sorrow, and inconveniences.  We have been called to the trenches.  We are soldiers in the Lord’s army and our fight is against oppression and suffering, sorrow and death, and all the forces of evil that seek to dehumanize and enslave the people of this world.

One morning, near the turn of the 20th century, Bramwell Booth visited his elderly father, William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. The elder Booth didn't even say "good morning" to his son.
"Bramwell!" he cried, when he caught sight of me, "did you know that men slept out all night on the bridges?" He had arrived in London very late the night before from some town in the south of England and had to cross the city to reach his home. What he had seen on that midnight return accounted for this morning tornado of emotions. Did I know that men slept out all night on the bridges?
"Well, yes," I replied, "a lot of poor fellows, I suppose, do that."
"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself to have known it and to have done nothing for them," he went on, vehemently.
I began to speak of the difficulties, burdened, as we were already, of taking up all sorts of Poor Law work, and so forth. My father stopped me….
"Go and do something!" he said. "We must do something."
"What can we do?"
"Get them shelter."
"That will cost money."
"Well, that is your affair. Something must be done. Get hold of a warehouse and warm it, and find something to cover them. But mind, Bramwell, no coddling!" 
That was the beginning of The Salvation Army Shelters."

Citation: "Did You Know Men Slept on the Bridges?" Christian History & Biography, issue 82; submitted by Kevin Miller, Carol Stream, Illinois

The members of the Salvation Army Church, laity and clergy alike have been in the trenches fighting the good fight, following in the footsteps of the original twelve, helping the poor, rescuing the perishing, nursing the sick, and fighting addiction.  

II.  Expanding the Reign of God is not an assignment for the weak-of-heart.

Fighting the forces of evil meant taking hits and acquiring scars.  The Apostle Paul knew this. 

2corinthians 4:7-11 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh

Our enemy is the great satan is a defeated enemy but not one that has yet conceded the battle.  

David Garland writes that this idea might be compared to the Battle of the Bulge, when Hitler made one last desperate gamble and three all of his forces into battle to try to halt the Allie’s advance after the successful invasion of Europe-The arrival of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus is only the beginning of the end for evil powers.

The fact that evil is still at work in the world means we will have to be very persistent in the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  

In standardized math tests, Japanese children consistently score higher than their American counterparts. While some assume that a natural proclivity toward mathematics is the primary difference, researchers have discovered that it may have more to do with effort than ability. In one study involving first graders, students were given a difficult puzzle to solve. The researchers weren't interested in whether or not the children could solve the puzzle; they simply wanted to see how long they would try before giving up. The American children lasted, on average, 9.47 minutes. The Japanese children lasted 13.93 minutes. In other words, the Japanese children tried 47 percent longer. Is it any wonder that they score higher on math exams? Researchers concluded that the difference in math scores might have less to do with intelligence quotient and more to do with persistence quotient. The Japanese first graders simply tried harder.

That study not only explains the difference in standardized math scores; the implications are true no matter where you turn. It doesn't matter whether it's athletics or academics, music or math. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutes. Success is a derivative of persistence.

Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker (Zondervan, 2011), pp. 134-135
Luke 18 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
The parable of the persistent widow
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”
‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’
And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’
Galatians 6:9New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Mark 3:13-19 Podcast

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mark - A New Exodus

The Gospel of Mark:
 An Invitation to Follow Jesus
Part 2

“The New Exodus”

Malachi was one of the Old Testament prophets.  His message was about the returning of the Lord; his mission was to prepare the people for the day of that return, when God would again dwell among his people as their rightful King.  The prophet Malachi foretold that just before the return of Yahweh, a prophet like Elijah would come to call the people to repentance. Mark tells us that this prophet’s name was John the baptizer.  He proclaimed a message of baptism for the repentance of sins.   

A good summary of John’s message would be: God is coming, and you’re not ready.  The people of God are going in the wrong direction.  In order to be ready for the return of the Lord, each man, women, and child must do an about-face, so that they are moving in the right direction.  There are certain kinds of behaviors that will blind us to the Lord’s arrival.  There are certain kinds of behaviors that will keep us unprepared for Yahweh’s return. 

But, there are other kinds of behavior that are suitable to repentance.  They force us to open our eyes and heart to things of God.  Among the things that John called on the people to do, in order to get ready, was to receive baptism as a sign of their willingness to turn from sin and turn to God.  

Jesus’ message was the same as John's message.  The Scriptures continue say,  “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” - Mark 1:14-15

So closely tied to John’s ministry was Jesus’ ministry that not only were both messages nearly identical, but both featured baptism as a key part of their prophetic ministry.  In fact, Jesus’ ministry properly begins with Jesus’ baptism by John the baptizer.
The fourth century Church Father, Gregory Nazianzen said: “He had no need to be purified by baptism-his purpose was to hallow it.”  That is to show publicly how important he thought it was.”   (Page 11 ACC, NT Volume II)

The third century Church Father, Cyprian said: “The Lord was baptized by his servant  The holy One who was destined to grant remission of sins did not himself disdain to submit his body to be cleansed with the water of regeneration.” (page 5 ACC, NT Volume II)

In other words, Jesus agreed with John.  There were some things God’s people had to do if they wanted to be ready for the Lord’s return.  But this raises the question: Why did Jesus need to be baptized?  If he was sinless and nothing to repent of, why did he need to be baptized?  Surely, there has to be more to it than Jesus simply endorsing John’s ministry. Jesus would not need to be baptized in order to simply put his stamp of approval upon John's ministry and message.  He would not have had to have been baptized in order to that.  The Apostle Paul gives us a fuller explanation.  

He tells us that the key to understanding Jesus’ baptism and our own is the story found in the Old Testament book of Exodus.  The book of Exodus tells us the story of how God set his people free from slavery in Egypt, so that they might free to serve the Lord.  Only this time, the slavery was to sin and death, not the human rulers of some foreign country.  

The cost of freedom would not be innocent lambs, whose blood would mark out God’s people for redemption.  The cost of our freedom was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The price of freedom from Egypt was the firstborn of every house of Egypt.  The price for our freedom was God’s firstborn and only Son, Jesus.  

This story, the one told in the book of Exodus is the key to understanding the story of Jesus’ baptism and our own.  Those who do not like the Old Testament, who want to stick only with New Testament, leave themselves without the interpretive key for understanding it.  So Paul provides the key to understanding why it was that Jesus allowed himself to be baptized.  

In 1 Corinthians 10, we read:  “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”

This passage takes a little unpacking.  Paul says, “Our ancestors,” speaking of the Hebrew people who were set free from slavery in Egypt.  “They were all under the cloud.”  You might remember that God appeared to the people as a pillar of fire by night, and a great pillar of cloud by day.  That is, God himself led his people.  He then says, “and..they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

Again, you may remember that after the people had been set free from slavery, they began to make their way to the Promised Land.  But, just as they were on the border of Egypt, Pharaoh decided that he would not let them go, after all.  He trapped them at the edge of the Red Sea.  But, God parted the waters and Moses led them through on dry ground.  God provided a way where there was no way.  

Paul then goes on to remind his readers of how God stayed with the people, providing for their needs and caring for them.  Still, many of these people, though outwardly liberated, were still in bondage in their hearts.  They had been set free from slavery, yet their hearts were still in Egypt.  Evil darkened their minds and hearts, and God judged many of them, because loved wickedness and darkness rather than light. 

So here is how that relates to today’s passage.  According to John the Baptist and Jesus, the world and its people are under the heavy hand of slave-master far crueler than Pharaoh.  Sin and death have made slaves of every one of us.  And, Jesus is the new Moses, who has come to set the people free.  Baptism is to us what crossing the Red Sea was to the ancient Hebrews.  It is the way out of slavery.  

And so, Jesus had to be baptized; not because he had sin.  He had to be baptized for the same reason that Moses had to cross the Red Sea; because he could not lead his people anywhere he himself was not willing to go.   

If you ever flip through the back of the United Methodist Hymnal, you will find that there are other affirmations of faith, besides the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.  Many of them are pretty good.  My main reason for not using them is that they don’t carry the same weight and authority as the three Ecumenical Creeds.  But, many of them are helpful because they give us a fresh articulation of the faith.  

One of these modern affirmations is The Statement of Faith the United Church of Canada.  Toward the end of that statement of faith it says, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God.”

That’s why the book of Hebrews calls Jesus the Pioneer of our faith.  Jesus never ask us to go anywhere or to face anything that he himself was not willing to face.  

Hebrews 2:9-11 says
New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it fitted that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”

Jesus message was essentially the same as John’s.  He came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God had drawn near and that people needed to ready themselves for God’s approach.  The Lord has returned to set his people free from sin and death.  He has come to lead us into the Promised Land.  That is why Jesus was baptized.  

Like so much of Mark’s Gospel, Mark does not tell us that Jesus’ message was like John’s message just for the sake of noting something curious.  He is telling us that Jesus’ message was the same as John’s because both require a response.  Will we hear what God says to us, or will we turn a deaf ear?

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "turn a blind eye," which means to ignore undesirable information. The saying comes from a 19th century British naval battle. On April 2, 1801, during the Battle of Copenhagen, the British fleet was attacking the combined navies of Denmark and Norway. Three British ships ran aground, so the admiral, Hyde Parker, decided that the fire of battle was "too hot for Nelson to oppose." So Parker sent an order, through signal flags that the younger admiral Horatio Nelson should "Discontinue Action" and withdraw.

When Nelson heard his signalman relay the order, he pretended not to hear him. Mesmerized by the thrill of battle, Nelson had no intention of obeying the order. He turned to his captain and said, "This day may be the last for us at any moment," even as a Danish cannonball struck his ship's mainmast, scattering splinters all around him. This reaction was typical of Nelson's stubborn and aggressive approach to war. In fact, he'd already lost sight in his right eye in a previous battle. So  the when he pressed again to respond to Parker's order, Nelson told his flag captain Thomas Foley, "You know, Foley, I only have one eye—I have the right to be blind sometimes," and then Nelson held up his telescope to his right eye and said, "I really do not see the signal!"

Sometimes we are all like Nelson, with one good eye and one blind eye, and when an order comes through from God, we hold up the telescope to the blind eye. As a result, we willfully ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois; source: Christopher Hibbert, Nelson: A Personal History (Basic Books, 1994), pp. 260-261

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