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'God With Us'

January 11, 2015
“God with us.”

Dear Christian Friends:

            Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

            Before performing a baptism, the pastor approached the young father and said solemnly, "Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?"  "I think so," the man replied. "My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.""I don't mean that," the priest responded. "I mean, are you prepared spiritually?"  "Oh, sure," came the reply. "I've got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey."

            This morning the church has designated as “The Baptism of Jesus.”  The gospel of Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus as its opening story.  There are no stories about the birth of Jesus in Mark.  The gospel of Mark begins with Jesus as an adult, coming to the River Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist.  While Mark does not include the story of the birth of Jesus the way the gospels of Matthew and Luke do, the baptism of Jesus drives home the same basic message that the story of Jesus’ birth makes: Jesus is the very presence of God here with us in this world.

            In verse 10, Mark writes, “As just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”  The image of Jesus’ baptism is that God literally tears open the heavens, and his spirit now resides on and in Jesus.  I love that image.  God tears open the heavens and comes to be with us in this world.  God isn’t somewhere up in the heavens somewhere, God comes to earth in the person of Jesus.

The same Greek word used here in the first chapter of Mark to describe Jesus’ baptism is used in the 15th chapter of Mark at the time of Jesus’ death.  There in Mark 15:38, Mark writes that the curtain of the temple was torn apart when Jesus died.

            This time, Mark is telling us that God is no longer confined to the Holy of Holies in the temple.  Up until the time of Jesus, you could only encounter God in the Holy of Holies.  It was there that the high priest would go once a year, on Yom Kippur, to offer sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people.  When Jesus dies, the curtain to the Holy of Holies was torn in two.  Jesus had offered his life as a sacrifice for the sins of all people.  There was no longer a need to go into the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice of atonement. 

The tearing of the curtain also meant that God was no longer confined to the temple. God is present to us in the person of Jesus and is present to us through the Holy Spirit.  The baptism of Jesus is God’s sign to us that God is not distant and far off, but is near.  In fact, the first words that Jesus speaks after his baptism are: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

            God comes into our world in the person of Jesus, and he comes with good news.  God doesn’t not come into our world to condemn or punish us, but to offer to all who believe and follow him; life.

            In the baptism of Jesus, we see that God has entered our world.  The Kingdom of God has come near to us. 

At the baptism of Jesus, God tears apart the barrier between himself and humanity.  Jesus is now God in our midst.  We have a God who understands us.  We have a God who fulfilled all the requirements of the law: he was circumcised at 8 days old, dedicated as a child in the temple, baptized as an adult by John the Baptist and lived a sinless life.  Jesus experienced all the traumas of life as a human being: his family had to flee to Egypt to avoid slaughter at the hands of King Herod; he lived in a land occupied by foreign troops; he grieved over the death of his good friend Lazarus; he suffered unmercifully at the hands of Pilate and cried out upon the cross, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” God’s Son understands our pain by sharing with us all the agonies of this fallen world.  God truly understands our struggles, because he shared in them too.  God left the glory of heaven, tore open the heavens, and came to be with us in the person of Jesus.

            But Jesus’ baptism is not just about a God who understands us, it is about a God who brings good news to us.  Jesus lavishes those around him with the good news of God’s love.  He takes the time to heal those who are sick.  He reaches out to those who were rejected by others and offers them acceptance and love.  He feeds the hungry.  He teaches them of God’s love for all people as he teaches them the stories of The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and so many other stories.  As the ultimate expression of good news, Jesus dies on the cross to forgive the sins of the whole world.  Jesus encourages us to repent and believe in the good news he bears.  It is good news in our world today, and it is good news for eternity.

            Jesus says: Repent and Believe! 

            The kingdom of God comes into our world and into our lives when we repent and admit that our lives are accountable to God.  You and I will have to answer to God for our lives.  If we have lived for ourselves, our own pleasures, our own desires, and not lived for God: we will have to answer for that.  God has a claim on our lives.  We need to live in response to God’s desires for our lives.  Repentance begins by saying: I am accountable to you, O God.  It continues by seeking to know and understand, what does God want my life to be like?  The best way to answer that is to ask, what was Jesus’ life like.  Jesus loved being in God’s house, from the time of his youth.  Jesus regularly prayed to God for direction in his life.  Jesus lived a life of love and service to others.  When we live like Jesus lived, when we are “little Christs” in the world, then the kingdom of God is near.  Jesus took the time and energy to care for those in need, and he calls us to take up our crosses and follow him.

            Sometimes the church needs to act on the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  May we be the bearers of good news to people in our world today.

            The kingdom of God comes, not only when we repent and live God pleasing lives, it comes as we believe in God’s promises.   The God who tore open the heavens to come down into our midst is the same God who tears open the gates up to heaven.  He not only tore open the heavens so He could come down, he tore open the heavens so we could go up!  We have a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Heaven isn’t for those who are good enough, heaven isn’t for those who are pure enough; heaven isn’t for those who deserve it: it is for all those for whom Christ died.  It is for all those whose sins were forgiven upon the cross of Calvary.  

            The Kingdom of God has come near! Repent, live God-pleasing lives, believe in the promises of God: and the kingdom of God will come near to YOU. AMEN

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