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Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:9-15 Part 2

With the account of Jesus' baptism in Mark 1, we encounter the classic epiphany, or manifestation of Christ to the world. However, Mark's account is not entirely clear about how manifest this event really was. The text reports that Jesus, as he was coming up out of the water, saw the heavens open and heard the voice addressing him directly, "You are my Son, the Beloved..." It is not clear whether anyone else saw and heard this event. So, perhaps we would do well to avoid presuming the event to have been so magnificent for others and address ourselves to what Jesus' experience that day may have to teach us about the nature of our very human lives.
Times of epiphany, as we discussed in last week's text, deserve reflective responses. Yet, Jesus was given little time for such contemplation. If we can take the pace of Mark's story at all seriously, there is a quality of both extravagant power and speed. The heavens are, literally, "ripped open" as the revelation occurs. The Spirit then "immediately" drives Jesus out into the wilderness, where he is greeted by Satan for the forty days of temptation in the company of both wild animals and angels in waiting.
The pastoral implications here are several. First, the passage is indeed reflective of human life. Moments of decision and awareness do come upon us with suddenness. Strategic plans and introspection don't seem to head off such occasions. Then, often with little time to catch our breath, we are thrust from one powerful moment into all sorts of varied and competing claims for our loyalties and our actions. If anyone has doubts about Jesus being able to understand what life is like for us, this story teaches us that he knows very well the unpredictability of our own human existence.
But, second, the story not only provides us with an empathy for Jesus and an awareness of his empathy for us, Jesus' experience also reminds us that we are not alone. Surely, there are powerful forces with which we must contend. But there is also the presence of the Spirit, and angels in many forms unknown to us may well be present and available if we will only emerge from our self-preoccupation with "taking care of things ourselves."
Third, the outcome of the story for Jesus seems to have been, at least in part, clarity on his own identity. The tough moments in life, and the unexpected mercies in the midst of our pain and struggle, often become defining experiences for us. How often have you heard a person speak of discovering things about himself or herself as the result of a catastrophic illness or a lifechanging tragedy. The epiphanies in our lives bring change. Our opportunity is to somehow participate in the outcome, rather than capitulating to it. We can only do that by taking advantage of the compassion, sustenance, and resources that surround us if we will only look.
Lest you, the reader, become nervous at this point about this writer's seeming willingness to say that the story of Jesus' baptism is no more than a metaphorical description of human life in times of unexpected clarification, let me say a few more things, also pastoral. As has been mentioned in the two earlier passages, these Marcan texts continually point us back to the "secret" that not everyone seemed to understand. The secret, more fully exposed to us than to Jesus' audiences, is that Jesus is the Christ. He has come to preach, and his sermon is twofold:
(1) the kingdom of God has come near, a bold announcement;
(2) hearers are to repent and believe, an appeal to respond to the announcement.
The message is unapologetic and crystal clear. Good preaching should be the same. Such clarity is good news to human beings who feel all too befuddled in much of life. But, the good news has implications for our lives. We must change! The appeal comes from the fact that it is "issued" by one who has gone through surprise revelations and intense suffering on an order beyond our comprehension. And that one who issues the announcement and the appeal carries ultimate power and authority. The knowledge that he has both authority and identification with us frees us to identify with him as well.
William V. Arnold