PREPARE TO LISTEN. Be silent for a moment then pray: Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)
READ: Mark 1:9-11 ‘No one followed’
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Mark introduced Jesus (1:1) in dramatic and attention-getting terms: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” We’re filled with expectations of meeting someone great. Yet, when Jesus finally appears on stage at the Jordan River, his entrance is described “in the most shocking anti-climactic fashion conceivable” (Meyers, Binding the Strong Man. 1991, p. 128). We’re introduced, not to a popular TV star or evangelical preacher or charismatic president, not to a well-known figure we’re anxious to nominate as our leader. No, Jesus is merely one of that anonymous crowd who came to John (another marginal character in the story) to be baptized in an unpopular place—the wilderness.
At the moment of his baptism, the drama returns. Read it again: as he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” This is precisely what the prophet Isaiah hoped for, praying, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…, to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1-2).
Mark leaves us guessing as to who else, if anyone, saw this dramatic act. However, it’s likely that all there heard the Voice from heaven. Mark doesn’t give a name to the Voice, but he expects his readers to recognize a long tradition of ‘the voice’ being identified as God’s. For instance, the Psalmist (Psalm 29) repeatedly (seven times) refers to “the voice of the LORD.” This means that God doesn’t live in wordless silence. He speaks, sometimes loudly and clearly, as at Jesus’ baptism, and sometimes softly and faintly, and we need to sit in our own wordless silence to hear God’s voice.
The question that we must ask ourselves today is this: Would we have followed Jesus on the basis of the dramatic baptism and the voice from heaven declaring this Galilean stranger was God’s beloved Son? No one did on that day, despite being witnesses to it. They couldn’t since, as v12 indicates, the Spirit immediately drove Jesus back into obscurity and solitude in the desert for 40 days. The story that follows is another anti-climactic one, described in few words—a fierce battle between Jesus and the satan. When Jesus returned from this to public life to begin ministry, he went back north to Galilee and, that region despised by so many. And no one followed him there
It’s easy for us to think we’d for sure follow Jesus after this. But would we? Think about it as you consider the preachers, politicians, mentors you follow and perhaps even idolize. What challenge do hear Jesus making you?
Notice here, and indeed throughout Mark, the places and people at the periphery, the margins of society. Jesus was driven by the Spirit ‘into the wilderness.’ Ponder on this as you go through Lent.
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Lord, I want to follow you today, but am aware that it’s not easy or even popular. Please show me the way and empower me through your Spirit to say ‘yes’ to your way. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST, following Jesus even into a while in the ‘wilderness’.