On Recognition – Jesus and the Wilderness in Mark’s Gospel
(This talk was given in 3 parts at our All Age Service)
Introduction – Repentance
Later in our service today we will be looking at a passage from the gospel of Mark in which we encounter John the Baptist in the wilderness telling everyone to ‘repent of their sins’….
And each week in church we always say a confession – some words which help us repent of our sins.
But what does that word ‘repent’ mean? Any ideas?
- Saying sorry for wrong, admitting we’ve made mistakes, recognising that at times we hurt other people, we’re selfish, we do unkind things.
Now the Hebrew word that is used for repentance is the word ‘shub’(shoob). Now this word means turning…. To turn around and face a different direction.
And so, repenting isn’t just about saying sorry but it’s about us choosing to turn around, to deliberately turn our hearts and minds and lives so that we’re facing towards God his love and truth.
And so, in just a minute we’re going to share some words of confession – some words which help us to say sorry to God but also allow us to turn around, to leave behind the past, the wrong and instead face towards God to his mercy and love.
And so, I thought very simply – we could act this out….
If you’re able to, please stand and we’re all going to face this way….
And we begin by recognising that at times this week we’ve made mistakes, we’ve hurt other people, we’ve said unkind things, we’ve been selfish, we’ve not loved others as much as we should have, and we’ve not loved God with our whole hearts and minds.
Words of Confession…..
And then can I encourage you to turn and face this way…. To face again towards God and his love…. That in our hearts and lives we would be open and ready to follow him.
Words of Absolution
Ok – please be seated again.
Family Time 1 – Promises
Now who here has ever made a promise? Promised to do something for someone?
Or to give someone something special?
And I wonder how good are you at keeping promises?
Well in the Bible God makes, and keeps, the most amazing, incredible promises.
The book of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, ends with a promise from God that he would send a messenger before him to prepare the people to receive their God. This messenger, the new Elijah, would make them ready for when God came to his people as he had promised he would.
But for a long time, nothing much seemed to happen….the people waited and waited and waited for years, and years and years. Many people forgot God’s promise, others lost hope… for some the promise became like a distant story… maybe even a fairy-tale.
However, then comes the testimony of Mark… who immediately begins his account not as a whole new story, but rather the next chapter, the next page in the unfolding story of God’s love for his people.
We’re going to listen now to both our readings from Malachi and Mark.
Family Time 2 – Wilderness and Redemption
And so, Mark picks up just where Malachi had left off….
Mark begins by picking up not just on the promise of Malachi but also promises made in Isaiah and Exodus, promises from God, which promise a secure and glorious future for his people.
Putting them altogether Mark states as clearly as he could that the time of waiting was over.
The long-awaited moment had come…. God was on the move again. The promise was here…
Mark introduces us first to John the Baptist and then to Jesus.
John the Baptist appears as one in the wilderness, a messenger who cries out ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’
John calls out, urging the people to repent, to turn away from their sin, to turn towards God, to get ready for the arrival of Jesus.
John’s appearance in the wilderness, dressed in camels’ hair, eating locusts and wild honey, reminds us of Elijah.
And the wilderness John occupies isn’t any old wilderness, rather it is the wilderness around the Jordan, the place where God’s people had first entered the Promise Land hundreds of years earlier.
This is a hint that in this place, one again, God will birth a new freedom, a great escape, deliverance and healing.
And then Mark introduces Jesus. Jesus comes from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptised by John.
And as Jesus is baptised, the Spirit descends on him like a dove and a voice from heaven says, ‘this is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.’
But then, straight away, Jesus is driven out deeper into the wilderness… this place of danger and redemption, desolation and hope, despair and new life.
And here, in the wilderness Jesus is tempted.
Now Mark doesn’t give us any more detail…he simply says that for forty days Jesus was in the wilderness, he was tempted, and that the angels waited on him.
And so, Mark has taken us by the hand, showing us sign after sign of hope and redemption.
The backdrop of this narrative is the wilderness, the place Isaiah declared to be where people should prepare for God’s return;
Jesus coming had been announced by and Elijah-type figure as Malachi had stated it would be;
his identity and calling were proclaimed by God from heaven
and then Jesus was tempted by Satan and ministered to by the angels.
There is little more that Mark could have done to indicate that the long-awaited moment had come and that the world was about to change for ever.
Here in the midst of wilderness – a promise has arrived… a gift – the One who will bring redemption for everyone, freedom, healing and new life.
And so, for us today, we no longer wait quite like the people of God were waiting in Mark 1. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection changed the world for ever,
but it can often feel like we are still waiting.
Lent is a time to remind ourselves, now as then, that God is on the move…. God is at work, and even in the darkest times, there is hope… there is healing.
Sometimes in the busyness of life, the demands and pressures of family and friends, the stresses and strains within and without, we get lost, our vision is clouded.
Lent is a time for us to make space, to take time out, to find five minutes of quiet, to get out for a walk, to sit quietly in peace without putting the tele on, or looking at Facebook, to find a space that enables us to journey into the wide open places of wilderness, so that our senses can re-adjust and we can feel once more that gentle but insistent love of God.
Lent is a time to recognise God’s presence with us – to open our hearts and minds to his love, and his ways.
And so can I encourage each one of us this week, to take some time, to meet with God. Amen.