May 6 – A Beginning is Not Always Easy

Today we begin reading through the Gospel of Mark. I’ve been thinking and praying over the past couple of weeks trying to decide where to go after Philippians. During this pandemic, we need assurance that God is with us and that there is some purpose to this difficult time. I pray that Mark’s account of Jesus’ life will show us God in personal interaction with our broken world. God cares!

Mark 1: 1 – 13 (New Living Translation – NLT)

“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began 2 just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. (Malachi 3: 1)
3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” (Isaiah 40:3)

4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.

7 John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus

9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

12 The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, 13 where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.”

Mark begins with stating who Jesus is – “Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. He also says it is “the beginning of the gospel”. Gospel means good news. What is this good news? Jesus is God in the flesh, in a human body. Stop for a moment and think about that. God, Himself, came to this earth in a human body. How incredible is that!

Look at how Paul states the very same thing:

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.” (Colossians 1: 15 – 17)

Sometimes I wonder if we don’t take Jesus for granted. Over our lifetime, from Sunday School on up, we read and hear the stories of Jesus, and he becomes almost like the hero of a fairy tale. Yet this is God, Himself. I wonder what it felt like for John to stand face-to-face with God incarnate – or for any of those people in the gospels. How in the world did they reject him, even decide to kill him?

John’s message was interesting. The Lord was coming. The word LORD is also translated Jehovah. John told the people to be baptized as a public declaration of their repentance for sin. “All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John.” There were crowds going to hear John’s message, and many were baptized. It appears there was unrest among the Jewish people for so many to go and listen to John. And as we read through the gospels, we discover much of the unrest was caused by the domination of the Roman Empire. It looks like they had preconceived notions of who the LORD was and what he would do.

Jesus began his ministry by being baptized. Jesus’ baptism wasn’t a confession of sin. It was a meeting between John, the prophet announcing Jesus’ coming and God’s announcement of Jesus’ identity, that the LORD had come. “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” At this moment, all three persons of the Trinity were present – Jesus in human form, God the Father who announced who Jesus was, and the Holy Spirit who came to be with Jesus. I wonder what it would have been like to be there in person that day.

Then the Holy Spirit took Jesus into the wilderness – a lonely desert place for 40 days. Mark doesn’t tell us the details of that time; we get the details in Matthew and Luke. Satan was determined to destroy Jesus’ mission right at the beginning, but Jesus turned Satan away on every attempt. It would have been an extremely difficult time going without food or water for 40 days with Satan trying every attraction he could to stop Jesus right at the start. The Holy Spirit was present and at the end of the time, angels cared for him. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It started with a horrible 40 days.

Can you think of a tough time in your life that was the beginning of God using you in some way? We are going through a tough time right now with the pandemic. It’s hard being socially isolated. Many of us had hobbies or volunteer work that we can’t do now. We can’t meet with family and friends for just a fun night. We can’t meet on Sunday morning at church. If a wedding was planned, it’s now on hold. If a loved one dies, there is no funeral. It’s hard!

But this can be the beginning! Start praying and listening to what God wants you to do. Has it crossed your mind in the past that volunteering at the church in some way or volunteering in the community would be good, but you’ve ignored it because you thought you were too busy? Maybe this down-time will reorient your priorities. Is there a relationship that needs repairing? Maybe this isolation has made you rethink what is important and you need to get in touch with that person. Maybe you need to rethink your job. Maybe you need to rethink your daily schedule – maybe you now realize you’ve been way too busy in the past. Maybe you’ve had some dreams about things you’ve wanted to do and put them off.

Pray and listen! What does God want you to do? Start thinking and planning about how you will change things once freedom comes again. God knows that good can come from difficult times.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

Romans 5: 3 – 5

Start dreaming! Start thinking!

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