Being Radical.

Mark 1:9-15 – ‘At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days,being tempted[a] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

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So we are now in autumn. Have you enjoyed the cooler weather of autumn this past week? For some it is their favourite season. Leaves go through various rich shades; the heat is almost over, the chills of winter are not yet here.

We are also in a spiritual autumn. It is Lent.  Lent is kind of autumnal. It is a time of quiet beauty, and preparation for the time ahead.

It prepares us for Good Friday, then Easter. It was once the time when new Christians fasted to prepare for baptism.

It is sometimes thought of as a time of self-denial, as a French Priest once found out when being robbed in Paris by a bandit.

He took his wallet, and spare change. The priest said would you like my cigarettes as well?”. “No father”, said the thief, “I gave up smoking for Lent”.

Do you make some sacrifice for Lent? It is not a legalism but a time to show some extra discipline in your life. I have decided to give up going to movie theatres for this period, but with the current releases of Big Momma’s House 2 and Brokeback Mountain there is not much sacrifice involved, so you can hold back your waves of sympathy.

At this time in our church we also have the Lenten appeal. Although we as a congregational are generous normally, such as to the little Philippino baby Angel, but it is still there as an opportunity for us to give.

Lent is there to help us. In Scripture for Lent 1 we are back in the waters we were in in Advent. This begins as Jesus leaves his home in Nazareth. This town was so insignificant, it is not even mentioned in the Old Testament, amidst the thousands of places that are, yet God chose to dwell there amongst its poor people in the home of Mary and Joseph. No pomp or glory, just God dwelling amongst the mud-brick houses through his Son.

It’s like the parable of Soren Kierkegaard where the king seeking a bride espies a beautiful young woman. He knows if he turns up in a chariot with courtiers she will be overwhelmed.    So he goes to live in disguise in the humble rural community. He wins the heart of the maiden and then discloses who he is.

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Who would have thought that Jesus in Nazareth was God dwelling among them?

Always be looking out for the surprises of God, he is nearer to us than we ever know; often anonymous.

On Wednesday a car drove through a red light when mine was green. The van stopped within a meter of my door. The God of Nazareth was the God of the intersection.

I was lost in Sydney Monday morning but the Lord showed me a small piece of colored paper left on an out of the way door telling people how to get to the Reforming Alliance (RA) and Evangelical Members of the Uniting Church (EMU) summit.

Did he come to you in any special way this week? He is quietly, and easily overlooked like the neighbour of Nazareth.

Mark’s Scripture says that his anonymity is now over. Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized.

This is a great surprise as baptism was for Jewish converts; Gentile sinners. But John the Baptist is treating the Jews like pagans and telling them to be baptized. He does this because they are sinners who have hidden behind laws and priests instead of obeying the Lord.

So why does Jesus do this? His task is to take upon himself the sins of the world.

John 1: 29 says, ‘The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ – and this happened on the cross.

By being baptized Jesus is symbolically taking those sins upon himself already. The sins were through baptism symbolically washed into the water, he goes down into it and symbolically begins to bear them.

Often we dash past this Scripture to seemingly more profound parts. Our eyes run over something like Jesus baptism like the words of a newspaper advertisement. But what he did was terribly radical. John the Baptist was offended by it.

Though the rest did not have a clue, in Matthew 3: 14 we are told ‘John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”’ Then John consented.

When God does a new thing there is radical action.

Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral and the 16th Century Reformation began.

John Knox rebuked Queen Mary and the Scottish Reformation took shape.

New eras of spiritual life have radical moments.

I talked to a woman at Synod who did something radical. She decided that she wanted to start a friendship group at the church for non-church people. So she made up a flier and letterboxed them. Her three year old group now meets weekly at her church. For $5 she provides a lunch for up to 17 people who then play word and other games. She has built a bridge into the hearts of these people by doing something radical.

At Newtown Mission where I was Monday and Tuesday in Sydney they have started a drop-in centre, mainly for alcoholics. Are we prepared for radical actions like these?

I feel we are on the crest of a whole new era that will be as radical as Jesus baptism.

Yvonne and I heard a radical speaker at Presbytery/Synod. He advocated radical approaches that would dramatically affect our comfort zones in the service of evangelism and mission. We’ll share more of that another time, but the need is urgent.

Don’t you get excited sometimes to think that you are involved in something from the Lord that is good for all people!

Just before Christmas our Prime Minister said in Parliament: “The greatest force for good in our modern world, is the Christian faith”.

Wouldn’t it have been good to hear our own two state politicians say something like that in their debate on Friday night?

Isn’t it wonderful to know that you are involved in something that can convert people, bless hearts, homes, marriages, children and change anger, lust, greed, racism. Jesus Christ changes it all.

Have you ever noticed that the countries where multiculturalism works best are those where there is a Christian background and history? It builds tolerance and welcome into a culture. Try to open a church in Saudi Arabia or Iran and you’ll be in trouble.

It is an honour to be a part of the Gospel, that has been and still is a power for good.

Baptism has always been significant in the Christian church. It is always the rite of entry that identifies someone as beginning a Christian life, joining with a church family local and universal. And it is an action in which the Holy Spirit works as he does in this Scripture.

Jesus walks up the bank after baptism. He sees the heavens torn open.

The Jews had believed they had been closed off for some centuries since no prophets had arisen. And then the gentle dove the Holy Spirit comes upon him. He is anointed for ministry. Nazareth has been preparation, now ministry begins. So he is equipped for all that is ahead.

Baptism is also linked to the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is a one off sacrament, the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist is repeated. Baptism is a beginning while the Lord’s Supper sustains us in the meaning and power of our baptism. Baptism is not a saving act but the beginning of life in Christ, that the Lord’s Supper renews with the people of God.

God gives baptism, Spirit, Church and Scripture, all we need for loving God and neighbour.

I felt I needed all these resources on Wed when I went to have an  MRI on my brain. The good news is they discovered nothing was there. When I arrived at the doctor, the receptionist did not put my notes out, so people were going in ahead of me who arrived later. And it was a big day. I had to give the commencement address for the beginning of the academic year at Parkin Wesley College. I was running way behind. I was anxious about speaking at the College, where I have locked horns from time to time.

But God drew me back to today’s Scripture and v.10. He equips you for whatever you are called to and no threats of martyrdom took place.

Then I jumped to the next anxiety: two days in Sydney, three days at Synod, and the  Sunday. The Lord again said relax, it will happen and remember how patient and gracious your people are.

So too, you give your anxieties to the Lord. Remember the Holy Dove.

But note also in verse 13 where it says that whenever you have special times with the Lord tough times will follow.

Elijah plunged into depression after beating up the pagan prophets. Paul became depressed after going to Asia and finding little success or encouragement.

Here Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert to find just how much the Lord helps those who go where he wants to do what he says. Wild animals were around him but so were ministering angels.

That is a Word for us as well when we contemplate the future of our church.

As the Father gave the Spirit to the Son for ministry so too we can expect to be led and equipped. He will say, “You are my people whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

Lent says we are sinners in need of a Saviour.

This Saviour came from Nazareth to be baptized and empowered.

We are his saved who may be baptized.

We are the baptized who need to be radical to reach an indifferent world.

By George Robert Iles

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