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Mark 9, 9-15 Lent

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The First Sunday in Lent

March 9, 2003

TITLE:     Repent and Believe!

SERMON IN A SENTENCE:   The redemption of Jesus is in and for the real world in which we live. 

SCRIPTURE:    Mark 1:9-15

EXEGESIS:      (Top of page)



Mark covers a great deal of territory in these few verses.  They pull together Jesus' baptism, his temptation, his announcement of the coming near of the kingdom, and his call to repentance and belief. 

Mark uses strong, jolting language.  The heavens were "torn apart" (v. 10).  The Spirit "drove him out" into the wilderness "immediately" following the baptism (v. 12).  He was tempted by Satan, dwelt with wild animals, and was attended to by angels (v. 13).  He calls his hearers to "repent and believe in the good news" (v. 15). 

In the Exodus, Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea into the dry air of the desert wilderness.  There they encountered many temptations during their forty-year journey.  Now Jesus passes through the baptismal waters of the Jordan and, "still wet from the Jordan, is plunged into the wilderness" (Craddock, 140).  We can almost feel the quick chill as the desert air quickly evaporates the water from his body.  There is an important difference between the experience of the ancient Israelites and Jesus' experience, however.  The Israelites often failed the test -- Jesus does not.


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 (Greek: eis -- into) him. 11And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Mark begins his Gospel with an account of John the Baptist "proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" in the wilderness (vv. 1-8).  The people of Judea and Jerusalem come en masse (v. 5) and Jesus of Galilee comes alone to be baptized by John in the Jordan (v. 9):

-- Jerusalem is the home of the temple and the center of Godly worship, but Jerusalem will also be the center of opposition to Jesus and the place where he will die. 

-- Galilee, by contrast, is located quite some distance from the temple and has a large Gentile population.  From a religious standpoint, it has little to commend it, but it is where Jesus initiates his ministry (v. 14) and enjoys his greatest popularity, and it is to Galilee that he will return to commission the disciples and to ascend into heaven (16:14-20).

Mark's description of the baptism is spare, as is most of his Gospel.  Jesus "was baptized" (Greek:  ebaptisthe) by John.  The passive voice of this verb serves to put Jesus in the forefront and John in the background.  It would be difficult for Mark to make less of John's action in this baptism except by not mentioning him at all.

The people from Judea and Jerusalem came for John's baptism, "confessing their sins" (v. 5).  Jesus has no sins to confess, but in his baptism he "associates himself with sinners and ranges himself in the ranks for the guilty, not to find salvation for himself, not on account of his own guilt in his flight from the approaching wrath, but because he is at one with the Church and the bearer of divine mercy" (A. Schlatter, quoted in Lane, 58).

As Jesus comes up out of the water, language that suggests immersion baptism, "he saw the heavens torn apart (Greek:  schizomenous -- ripped open), which answers Isaiah's prayer, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence" (Isaiah 64:1).  Mark will use this verb once again in this Gospel to describe the temple veil being "torn in two, from top to bottom," an event followed by the centurion confessing that Jesus is the Son of God (15:38-39).

The Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove.  The Spirit responds to Jesus' "coming up out of the water" by "coming down" into Jesus (the Greek says that the Spirit descends into [Greek: eis] Jesus rather than on him). The symbolism of the dove is not certain here.  Some scholars have suggested that it is reminiscent of the Spirit of God brooding over the waters (Gen. 1:2), but it is also reminiscent of the dove that comes bearing an olive branch following the flood, promising that salvation is near (Gen. 8).  "The key element in this text is the descent of the Spirit, not the dove simile" (Donahue & Harrington, 65). 

"And a voice came from heaven."  In this Gospel, the Godly voice speaks only at Jesus' baptism and at his transfiguration.  The words in both instances are nearly identical.  Here the voice speaks to Jesus, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."  At the transfiguration, the voice will speak to the three disciples, saying, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him" (9:7). 

-- "You are my Son" alludes to Psalm 2:7, where the son is the king of Israel.  In the OT, only Israel, the king of Israel, and angels are referred to as God's son. 

-- "My Son, the Beloved," makes us think of Abraham, who loved his son, Isaac, as dearly as any father has ever loved any son, and whom God called to sacrifice his son on the mountain (Gen. 22; see also Heb 11:17-19).  The angel stayed Abraham's hand and saved his beloved son, but there will be no angel to save God's beloved Son from death.

-- "…with you I am well pleased" alludes to Isaiah 42:1, where God speaks of "my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations."

Some scholars have proposed that, given the pronouncement of the voice from heaven, the baptism is an adoption rite at which Jesus becomes Son of God.  However, the voice will use nearly the same words at the transfiguration.  Jesus surely would not be adopted twice.  Instead, Jesus is the Son of God from the beginning, and the voice from heaven simply announces that which has long been true.  "In Mark the baptism of Jesus establishes his identity.  In Paul (Gal. 3:26-29; Rom. 6:3-11) he baptism of believers establishes our identity" (Williamson, 35).


12And the Spirit immediately drove him out (Greek:  ekballei) into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted (Greek:  peirazomenos) by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on (Greek:  diekonoun) him.

Jesus will be tempted (Greek:  peirazomenos -- to test or tempt) in the wilderness by Satan, but is driven (Greek:  ekballei -- driven -- cast out -- this is the word that will be used to speak of exorcizing demons) to the wilderness by the Spirit.  The abruptness surprises us.  We would think that, following the baptism, the angels would come to minister to Jesus -- or there would be some sort of celebration with the song of heavenly hosts.  In all of the Gospels, though, Jesus goes straight from his baptism into his temptation.  We might think of his baptism as a commissioning and his temptation as a strengthening, toughening, hardening experience.  Throughout Israel's history, the wilderness has been where the Israelites have been tested, often failing, but it is also where they have been deepened spiritually.  Unlike the Israelites, Jesus will not fail his testing.

Luccock notes that the life of a Christian is not characterized by a long series of high moments, but a rhythm of hills and valleys.  Jesus' baptism is a grand moment, but is followed immediately (Mark's favorite word) by the testing in the wilderness.  So it is for us.  We have our ups and downs.  "One fortification against such inevitables is to expect them; then we are not overwhelmed by the collapse of a romantic anticipation of roses all the way" (Luccock, 655).

Jesus was in the wilderness forty days.  Forty is a number oft associated with intense spiritual experiences.  God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth (Gen. 7:12). The Israelites were in the wilderness forty years.  Moses spent forty days and nights on Mount Sinai (Exod. 34:28), and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). 

"Jesus' encounter with Satan in the wilderness is probably related to the baptismal scene.  In the baptismal scene we hear clearly who Jesus is.  He is the Son of God.  In the wilderness is revealed to us a major task of the Son of God.  He will overthrow the rule of Satan and bring in the fulfilled time of salvation" (Jensen).

It seems odd that Mark would mention Jesus being with wild beasts.  While there are a number of species that make the desert their home, they tend to be reptilian rather than mammalian -- quiet, hidden, unobtrusive.  The desert seems barren -- empty.  Why would Mark mention wild animals?  A number of scholars have suggested that Mark intends to show Jesus living peaceably with wild animals.  Unlike the Israelites in their wilderness wandering, Jesus has no human companionship in the desert, but he experiences harmony with the wild things that seem frightening to us.

But Edwards notes that Mark's Gospel was probably written in the 60s when Nero was having Christians torn to pieces.  "Given the ravaging of Christians by ferocious animals during Nero's reign, it is not difficult to imagine Mark including the unusual phrase 'with the wild beasts' in order to remind his Roman readers that Christ, too, was thrown to wild beasts, and as the angels ministered to him, so, too, will they minister to Roman readers facing martyrdom" (Edwards, 41).  If this Gospel was, as seems likely, written during or soon after that period of persecution, we can be sure that the mention of wild animals did not bring to mind the peaceable kingdom to Mark's first readers.

Guelich says, " 'With the wild animals' (meta ton therion).  This phrase, distinctive to Mark's account, holds the key to his temptation narrative.  'Wild animals' intensify the foreboding character of the wilderness….  They frequently appear in league with the forces of evil….  Hostility marks their relationship with humanity after the fall"  (Guelich, 38).  Lane adds, "Mark's reference to the wild beasts… serves to stress the character of the wilderness.  Jesus confronts the horror, the loneliness and the danger with which the wilderness is fraught when he meets the wild beasts.  Their affinity in this context is not with paradise, but with the realm of Satan" (Lane, 61).

The angels that we anticipated following Jesus' baptism come now to wait on (Greek:  diekonoun) him.  diekonoun is the word from which we get the word "deacon," and it has to do with service.  What kinds of service might the angels render Jesus?  If their service comes at the end of Jesus' time in the wilderness, perhaps they provide Jesus with food, drink, clean clothing, and a bath.  However, v. 13 sounds as if the angels are with Jesus throughout his wilderness experience.  If that is the case, "the angels are there to support Jesus in his conflict with Satan, just as the wild beasts oppose him.  Ps. 91.11-13 couples service by the angels with a promise that lions and serpents will be trampled underfoot" (Hooker, 51).

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not report the outcome of the temptation.  There is no mention of specific temptations or Jesus' quick ripostes to counter Satan's proposals.


14Now after John was arrested (Greek:  paradothenai), Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, "The time (Greek: kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news (Greek:  euangelion)."

"Now after John was arrested" (Greek:  paradothenai -- from paradidomi -- to hand over -- to deliver up -- to betray -- arrested is a weak translation).  Paradidomi will be used in this Gospel not only of John the Baptist, but also of the disciples (13:9, 11-12) and of Jesus (9:31; 10:33; 14:21, 41, etc.).  "Mark does not specify an agent of this 'handing over… but in the famous 'suffering servant' passage (Isa 53:6, 12) and in the psalms of the righteous sufferer (Pss. 27:12; 41:2, etc.) it refers to God's action of delivering his chosen servants up to suffering and death" (Marcus, 171). 

Judas will betray Jesus and the priests will arrest and condemn him, but the hand of God is in this.  God's plan is being implemented.  John was the forerunner, the one who was to prepare the way for the one who was to come (vv. 1-8), and the paradidomi of John ushers in the beginning of Jesus' ministry.  "Each time someone is handed over, a new stage in the proclamation of the good news is reached.  The handing over of one leads directly into the ministry of another.  For Mark, this is the way; it is the way of the cross (8:34).  The passion (death) of a faithful messenger of God is never a defeat for the secret kingdom (4:11); it is always a doorway through which the kingdom advances and grows" (Geddert, 35).

At the very beginning of this Gospel, John was the preacher, and now Jesus takes his place, "proclaiming the good news (Greek:  euangelion -- Gospel or good news) of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." 

Mark began this Gospel with the words, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (v. 1).  Now Jesus comes proclaiming the good news of God.  Is this good news of God or good news about God?  Surely both! 

"Jesus proclaims 'the good news about God' (1:15), but after Easter the burden of the message becomes 'the good news about Jesus Christ' (1:1).  Mark shows an awareness here of the difference between the pre-Easter and post-Easter periods; in the interim 'the proclaimer has become the proclaimed,' in Bultmann's classic formulation" (Marcus, 172).  Jesus preaches the good news, but also he is the Good News.  He is more than John's successor, because he has been baptized with the Holy Spirit and so is able to baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8). 

The good news of God has two components -- "the time (Greek: kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near" (v. 15), and it requires two responses -- "repent, and believe in the good news." 

The Greeks have two words for time, chronos and kairos.  Chronos is chronological time -- the time of day or the time of year.  Kairos is decisive time -- critical time.  Jesus is saying that the Great Day has come, because the kingdom of God has come near.  The kingdom comes wherever people embrace God as king of their lives. 

Therefore, the proper response is to repent and to believe the good news.  The "truth is not self-evident.  To be seen, it must be believed" (Williamson, 42).  "If repentance denotes that which one turns from, belief denotes that which one turns to -- the gospel.  Both verbs in Greek are present imperatives, that is, they enjoin living in a condition of repentance and belief as opposed to momentary acts" (Edwards, 47). 





























SERMON:     (Top of page)

A study was published that showed that fewer suicides occur in gloomy weather than in bright weather.  The theory to explain this is that people who are sad and depressed feel more in touch with the world when the weather reflects their own condition, and more out of touch with the world when the weather contrasts with their own condition. 

During Christmas a significant number of people experience the "Christmas Blues."  They are saddened at a time focused on joy and celebration.  They are out of step with the season.  Christmas seems to be not about how the world is, but how we hope it to be.  It expresses our highest and best aspirations and, for some, highlights the fact that we have not reached those heights.

But Lent, the period we have now entered, puts us more in touch with our world as it is.  While Christmas points to "Joy to the World" and "Peace on Earth," Lent reminds us directly of the world's sorrows and earth's conflicts. Lent begins with ashes and ends in the crucifixion.

The text for today contains three reports: the baptism of Jesus, the temptation of Jesus and the first preaching of Jesus.  Although that is a great deal of information for one scripture lesson and one sermon, we must wonder why this text is the first Lenten text.  What does this text have to do with the journey to the cross?

The center of the text is the temptation of Jesus.  Here we are put in touch with the world as we know it.  When we consider Satan's temptation we are reminded of the original temptation of Adam and Eve.  Here we have a contrast.  They were tempted in a garden; Jesus was tempted in the wilderness.  The animals were brought to Adam to name; Jesus was with the wild beasts.  The image of wild beasts is an image of those that could not be domesticated or controlled.

Adam and Eve were tempted in a world we have never seen.  Jesus was tempted in a world we experience.  Evil is all around us, chaos is all around us, danger is all around us.  In Lent we pay particular attention to these things.

None of us clearly understands who the Devil is.  We have ideas and images about that.  Perhaps the clearest thing we could say is that the Devil is the personification of evil.  What we do know is that evil is real and that we are unable to control it either in a global or personal sense.  The period of Lent and this particular text about the Devil drive that reality home.

  The Bible says that no one can see God and live.  It is equally true that we are unable to look at evil directly.  We cannot look the Devil in the eye and come away whole.  But that is exactly what Jesus did; and he came away preaching good news: the Kingdom of God is at hand!  Evil met its match in Jesus and the power of the Evil One was broken in him.

When Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven said, "You are my Beloved Son, with you I am well pleased."  The term, "Beloved Son," carries some meaning.(1)  When we think of the "Beloved Son," we are brought back to the sagas of Genesis.

Isaac was the "Beloved Son" of  Sarah. What happened to Isaac?  He went on a journey to the mountaintop to be offered in sacrifice.  He looked into the face of death and returned to be the servant of God to his people.

Jacob was the "Beloved Son" of Rebekah. What happened to Jacob?  His life was in danger and he went on a long journey into exile until he returned to make peace with his brother and become the father of a great nation.  His name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with the angel of God.

Joseph was the "Beloved Son" of Rachel. What happened to Joseph?  He was thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, consigned to prison and considered by his father to be dead.  Yet he became the agent of life for Egypt and for his family, an agent of redemption.

It is no surprise that after being identified as God's "Beloved Son," Jesus began his journey to the cross.  In fact, that journey was signaled in his immediate journey into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.  The "Beloved Son" must take the long journey into death and must return as savior and redeemer.

Several years ago I knew a woman who was afflicted with cancer.  She was a person of long standing faith and an active practice of the Christian way of life.  Prior to her diagnosis she had faithfully and lovingly cared for another member of her church who succumbed to cancer after a long and trying struggle.  After she was diagnosed she asked, "Am I going to die in the way she died?"  She had, and acknowledged, a deep concern for her own self and her own future.

But later, she stopped talking about that.  Even after months of visits to clinics and brief hospital stays, she didn't talk about herself.  One day, not long before she entered the hospital for the last time, as it turned out, she spoke of her prayers.  She said that she prayed for others in the church who were in need.  She did not mention herself.  Of course many people were praying for her, and she knew about that.

We talked about that for a while.  We talked about of God's love for her and that she was precious in God's sight.  She came to see that it was O.K. to pray for herself as well as others.  Eventually there was a shift in her from coping with her suffering only by trying to be good to others, toward putting herself more directly in God's hands and relying on God's mercy and grace for herself. 

She continued to decline until, at last, she died peacefully and full of faith. 

Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and saying, "repent and believe."  So much of what we do, in coping with the world as it is, involves mustering more and more of our own efforts to bring things under control.  That is to say, to bring them under our own power.  We try to control more and more carefully what we say.  We try to suppress our angers and our anxieties.  Certainly we ought to do that.  But we are lost if we rely on our efforts alone.

We respond to our own suffering and trials by bearing up, keeping a positive attitude and appearance and doing all the right things.  We are right to do so, but we need God's grace as well. 

Most of us think carefully about the troubles of the world.  We inwardly devise scenarios that might lead to peace with Iraq, with North Korea, between Israel and the Palestinians and so forth.  We are prepared to vote for, pay for and otherwise support such policies.  It is good that we are.  But in the worst of times we need to call upon God.  If we were officially a religious nation, we might call for a national time of prayer and fasting.  It would not be a bad idea for us to do so as churches. 

The call to repentance is clearly a call to turn away from evil and toward God.  The text portrays for us the Son of God and the Devil in juxtaposition.  The contrast is clear and the choice is clear.  Jesus is the victor through his death and resurrection.  That is the message for the world.

There is another message for those who have come to Christ.  It is a call to another kind of repentance and a deeper faith.  "Repent and believe" means to get things in the right order.  That is, to get our good works and our trust in Jesus in the right order. 

The temptation we face is to put our good works first, as if they will bring us into a right relationship with God.  It is the ever-present tendency to try to earn our salvation or to prove our merit.  It is the desire to fix ourselves and others. 

A person I visited in the hospital was very uncomfortable when I arrived, and suffering in several ways.  The condition was chronic, and there was little expectation of improvement in the long term.  After hearing what was going on I offered to get a nurse to help.  But my parishioner looked at me and said something I needed to learn, "I don't want you to fix it, I just want you to listen."

 For those of us who have renounced evil and its power in the world, and who have turned to Christ our new repentance is to turn away from our own efforts to save ourselves and others, and turn toward Jesus.

Jesus died to save us, and to redeem the whole world.  He will accomplish it.  He will judge between the nations.  He will present us holy and blameless before God.  He is our mediator, our propitiation, the sacrifice on our behalf, the one through whom alone, we can be saved.  He calls us, in our text for today, and particularly during this season of Lent to believe in the Good News.

He was sent to save the world.  He confronted the evil one.  He came back from the wilderness with the message of good news.  Repent and believe.

Put your faith first.  Know that you cannot save yourself or others, Christ alone can do that.  Rest in that faith.  Hold to that belief.  Cling to Jesus.  Be secure in his unbounded grace.  Then, let your good works flow from that trust. 

You are a child of God.  The Kingdom of Heaven has come.  Repent.  Believe. 

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