“Time Is of the Essence” (January 7, 2014; Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus, Youngsville, Louisiana)

For the Spring 2015 semester, during daily chapels at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana, there will be a special sermon series on the Gospel According to Saint Mark.  Below is the first of the several sermons i have been assigned to preach as part of the series.

“And a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’”–Mark 1.11[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Yesterday, Mr. [Peter] Johnston introduced a new sermon series that we are undertaking on the Gospel of Saint Mark, which is commonly accepted as being the first written of the four canonical New Testament Gospels. He began with an exposition on the pivotal first verse: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[2] I regret that I was not able to be present for Mr. Johnston’s sermon, but have no doubts that it was very well done and an insightful start to what, I feel, will be a wonderful series. Today, we will pick up where Mr. Johnston left off with a consideration of Mark 1.2-11

With the addition of verse 1, verses 2-11 of Mark 1 composes what is this Gospel’s Prologue, from which is presented the preaching of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. The Revised Standard Version begins verse 2 with the words “as it is written,” whereas the Good News Translation begins this same verse with different words: “It began.” With the combination of the Revised Standard Version’s translation of verse 1 as “the beginning of the Gospel…” with the Good News Translation’s beginning of verse 2 with the words “it began,” Mark sets up the Good News as being the start of a brand new age. The coming of Jesus was the beginning of this new age. Mark’s Gospel is very thorough, yet gets straight to the point, with its emphasis being more on what is happening than on what is being said (although what is being said is also important). For Mark, to use a term from American and British contract law, “time is of the essence.”

Mark proclaims the coming of this new age with the appearance of John the Baptist: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way: the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” In the Gospel According to Saint Luke, an angel of the Lord says this about John in foretelling his birth to his father Zechariah: “…He will be filled with the Holy Spirit…He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before them in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”[3] So here we have Mark presenting John the Baptist as both a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and performing an important function for the people of Israel. He is Jesus’ forerunner, proclaiming that He, who will come after him, “is mightier than I” and “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John’s water baptism is the visible sign of his calling of the people to repentance and preparation to receive Jesus and the Gospel that He will soon proclaim. The appearance of John the Baptist was a happening of the highest magnitude, for it signified that a new age in salvation history was very, very close at hand.

Jesus then appears in verse 9, having come “from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” The placement of verses 8 and 9 together is a transitional description of the differences between the kinds of baptism that one offers from the other. The appearance of Jesus occurs immediately after being told “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” in verse 8, with Him, likewise, submitting to John’s baptism “with water” in verse 9. As Jesus comes up from the water, Heaven opens up, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove, and, from Heaven, God says, “Thou art my beloved Son: with thee I am well pleased.”

What we see here are two things. First, we see the formal transition from the period of preparation to the age of salvation. With Jesus now having appeared and submitted Himself to John’s baptism, the way of the Lord has been prepared, His paths have been straightened, and the age of salvation has now come. By submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus takes on the form of a lowly penitent, passively receiving the sign of repentance on behalf of all God’s people. Jesus comes to John as the One willing to assume the brunt of the judgment from which a new Israel will emerge.[4] Second, in verses 9-11, we are given a picture of baptism as being “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” The outward and visible sign is water, symbolizing one’s choice to renounce evil, repent of his/her sins, and turn to Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior. The inward and spiritual grace is union with God, being “sealed by the Holy Spirit…and marked as Christ’s own forever.”[5] Through our own baptism, God’s word to Jesus becomes His word to us: “You are my own dear son [/daughter], and I am pleased with you.”[6]

From today’s appointed text, Mark 1.2-11, we are put in the context of a particular time—the beginning of a new age in salvation history. John the Baptist prepares us for it. By His appearance, Jesus officially begins it. “The time is now,” Mark is saying. “The age of salvation has now come!” This is “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952; New Testament Section, First Edition, Copyright 1946; Second Edition © 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Mark 1.1

[3] Luke 1.13-17

[4] Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 54.

[5] From the liturgy for Holy Baptism, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), p. 308.

[6] Mark 1.11 as translated in the Contemporary English Version®, Copyright © 1995 by the American Bible Society.

 

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