In September 1998, in theatres all over the world the media reported a rather strange phenomenon people paid good money to see a movie and then two thirds of the audience stood up and walked out after the ads and movie trailers choosing to leave even before the feature began. They didn’t even demand their money back in fact many of them simply waited around paid some more good money and then repeated this bizarre behaviour. The reason was that the two minute trailer for episode one ‘the phantom menace’ had been released and a whole generation of Star wars fans flocked to get their first glimpse of the prequel to the much loved science fiction series that they had been waiting fifteen years to see.
At the heart of this two-minute preview were the words every generation has its legends and every story has a beginning and then a clip from the film where Obe-Wan-Kinobe is introduced to Anakin Skywalker; the epic story of the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker better known in the second series as Darth Vader had begun. Every story has its beginnings.
All four gospels chose to start telling the story of Jesus life and death at different places. It’s helpful because it enables us to view Jesus from different perspectives. Matthew starts with Jesus whakapapa, his genealogy, linking him back to King David and Abraham, focusing us on Jesus as the fulfilment of the covenants made with these people. Luke starts with Angelic foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus himself. There is a sense of continuity between the Old Testament and what is about to happen. The Holy Spirit works in the midst of human history continuing the work of God’s salvation. John starts by painting a picture of cosmic beginnings reminiscent of the first chapter of genesis, focusing on Jesus divine origins before the beginning with God and as God. Then he like Mark introduces Jesus to us at his baptism.
Mark like the other gospel writers chooses to start in a way that reveals to us information that for him is vital to understanding this person Jesus.
There is a contrast between the prelude to Mark and the rest of the gospel. Scholars have identified what they call the messianic secret in Mark. Just who Jesus is seems to be a secret and as people encounter Jesus they are left wondering who he is? We are supposed to gain an understanding of Jesus as God’s anointed one and Son through his actions and teaching. But here at the beginning it’s as if we are let in on the secret we get to see Jesus from a Heavenly perspective and we know who he is.
Mark’s account of Jesus baptism and temptation are so brief they feel like they could be part of a movie trailer. We don’t get the detail or explanations of these events that would help us understand them. We may be left wondering about why Jesus came to be baptised and about the details of his temptation in the wilderness. But Mark simply uses these events to tell us what he wants us to know about Jesus.
Mark’s prelude is full of witnesses to Jesus as the messiah and as God’s son. The scriptures call us to prepare the way of the LORD and point to the coming of the anointed one. John the Baptist the epitome of the Old Testament prophet in the wilderness, an Elijah figure announces the one who is coming and is far greater than he. The one who is coming will do what only God can, baptise people with the Holy Spirit. Then in Jesus Baptism we have a divine sign that is out of character with the everydayness of Jesus miracles in the rest of the gospel as the heavens are torn apart and the spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. We hear a voice from heaven say ‘this is my Son in Whom I am well pleased’ words from Psalm 2 that God speaks of the King he has placed on Zion his holy hill. These very same words are spoken in Isaiah 42 of the figure people call the suffering servant who through his suffering achieves God’s salvation for others. Here we have the ultimate witness to Jesus. In one of the most Trinitarian verses in the New Testament the Father and the Spirit testify to the identity of Jesus as God’s own Son. We are not left wondering. We see God revealing Jesus identity to us.
Then ‘right away’, words we will encounter again and again in Mark’s fast paced writing, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. All we are told is that for 40 days he was amidst the wild beast’s images that Jewish writers in their fear of the wild equated with demonic forces and that angels sustained him. Here we have a pattern that repeats itself in the Christian life. We have great spiritual experiences and then we are led into dry desert times where the reality of what we have experienced is tested. But this is not the focus of Mark. In Luke and Matthew’s account Jesus temptations are recorded and he uses scripture to defeat these temptations. But this is not the focus of Mark.
Rather Mark shows us that the Son of God, the messiah has come and that this leads him into conflict with the ruler of this world, Satan. Jesus has come to usher in God’s kingdom and to defeat Satan and the power of darkness, sin and death. In Mark Chapter 3 Jesus is accused of casting out demons by satanic power but he replies that you must first defeat and bind the strongman before you can plunder his house. You get the feeling that here in the desert Jesus has defeated the strongman and as he meets with people who are ill, maimed or afflicted by demons in the rest of his ministry he is simply plundering the strongman’s house, setting free those who have been held captive by the power of evil.
Yes there is some very solid Christology in these two events. We meet Jesus very much a human being and a servant of God willing to come and be baptised and who can be tempted. We also see the divine nature of Jesus attested to by the other two persons of the trinity. We see that in Jesus the kingdom of God has entered into the kingdom of man and of darkness. As Philip Yancy says ‘Jesus has come to lead the fight against evil in the world’.
But there is more. Being a follower of Jesus is more than just knowing about Jesus. It is knowing Jesus! It’s not just creed and confession. It is relationship.
It’s apt that Mark introduces us to Jesus at his Baptism because Baptism is the starting point of the Christian life. Or rather it is the outward sign or marker of the inward reality that we have come to know Jesus Christ and choose to follow him. In the case of infant baptism it is the mark that our parents commit to bringing us up knowing Jesus until such time as we own that relationship for ourselves.
All our stories have a starting place as well. We meet Jesus in as many diverse ways as the four gospels choose to introduce us to Jesus. Many of you have known Jesus all your lives. Others of you have meet Jesus in the wilderness and desert conditions of your life. Jesus has begun walking with you and brought water and new life in the dryness. For others of you it’s as if Jesus has walked on to the scene a complete surprise and unlooked for and you’ve come to see that he is the Son of God. For others it is as if you have been snatched from the very house of the strongman.
But you know it’s not how the story starts that’s the key thing its how it continues. Its how it grows and develops and ends that makes it a great story. With ‘Star wars’ what makes the prequel so interesting is that we know the outcome at the end. Any story and journey with Jesus needs to develop beyond the start and to grow. At weddings I say that the best metaphor for marriage that I know is that that marriage is work. Not very romantic but apt and the only better metaphor I know is that marriage is hard work. But what great work committing yourselves more and more to one another and seeing your love grow richer and deeper at life’s end than it is today at the beginning. And so it is with our relationship with Jesus. Jesus whose meeting is signified at baptism invites us to journey on with him. To know him more and more, to get to be closer to the one who loves us, that we the bride of Christ might grow in our love for him.
Secondly, that as we continue on that journey with Jesus it is a continuing process of the kingdom of God coming into our lives. It’s a continuation of the defeat of the kingdom of darkness that Jesus won for us. Both in our lives, a life long journey of becoming more like Jesus as we with his help over come the temptations of Satan and in the world in which we live as we are salt and light taking the Jesus we know into the darkest corner of the places and world in which we live.
I want to leave you with a couple of questions today that I hope will be doorways for you to have a close encounter with Jesus: The first is have you started your journey with Jesus, have you meet him? Has Jesus walked into your life and have you responded? Is the spirit calling you today.
Second question, Is what ways is Jesus inviting you to go beyond the start or to have a fresh start today? What way is Jesus calling you to meet him and know him in deeper ways? For some of you the dryness you are experiences in your souls at the moment is Jesus inviting you into the wilderness with him where he will walk with you.
Finally, are their areas that the Son of God is pointing to in our lives that are holding us back from continuing on our journey? Places where Satan has got a good foot hold. Allow the spirit the freedom to speak to you about such areas. They can be overcome through confession and turning back to God.
Close encounters of the Jesus kind invite us to continue on in our relationship with Jesus. AS Paul says in Philippians 1:6 ‘we have confidence that the one who started a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ’.