Sunday, February 26, 2012

Getting on with His Job

 Texts:    Isaiah 50:4-11; Mark 1:9-15

    ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE OF this year's Super Bowl ads was the one where the young man thinks his parents are giving him a shiny yellow convertible Camaro as a graduation present, and responds accordingly.  We viewers understand right away that the real present is a mini-refrigerator for the cheapo apartment they figure he'll be getting, but he only has eyes for the fancy, expensive car.  One reason that ad works is because that's how a lot of young people feel about getting their college degrees: "I've worked hard these past four years, my parents are proud of me, I deserve a great job, a great car, a great life.  I'm great, I've arrived, it's all about me, me, me!  Yayyyy!!!"

    . . . Aren't you glad that Jesus the Son of God wasn't like that?  When Jesus of Nazareth was baptised by John in the River Jordan, He received the most wonderful gifts from His eternal Father.  As He was coming up out of the river, He saw the heavens being opened, and the Holy Spirit descending on Him in appearance like a dove.  For Jesus and those who had eyes to see, this was a sign that He indeed was the Anointed One, the Messiah.  This visible gift of the Spirit confirmed that all the virtues and powers that had always been His as the Son of God would also be His as the Son of Man.  The powers that belonged to His exalted office were His to use. 

    And with the anointing of the Spirit Jesus received His Father's approval: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

    We sinners cannot understand how beyond price it would be, to have God the Father's complete and unreserved approval. We're too focussed on the material things of this world.  And we could never in ourselves deserve God's approbation. Our sins prevent us from being pleasing to God.  Only Jesus Christ could receive such an overwhelming gift; being God's beloved Son is His right and His alone.

    If Jesus had been an ordinary human being like you and me, if as an ordinary human being He'd been able to appreciate the value of the gifts He was given at His baptism, it wouldn't be surprising if He'd react like the young man in the commercial.  "Wow!  I'm really special!  My Father loves me, He's given me these great gifts, and I deserve every bit of it!  Hey, everybody,  I'm the Messiah, worship me now!"

    But Jesus didn't react like that.  Jesus had a job to do on this earth, and it's God the Father's great gift and blessing to us that His beloved Son kept His eye on the job, He knew what He had to do, and He carried it out.

    That said, we might expect that Jesus would get straight to work preaching and healing, right after His baptism.  Maybe address the crowd of John's disciples and those who'd come to be baptised, right there on the banks of the river Jordan.  But even though He is God's beloved Son in whom there is no fault, in whom the Father is well pleased, He still has preparation to undergo.  St. Mark tells us that immediately after this the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, compelled Him to go there, to be tempted by Satan.

    Did you get that?  It wasn't as if Jesus was spending time in fasting and prayer, and the Devil showed up unexpectedly hoping to trip Him up in a weak moment.  No, God the Holy Spirit deliberately sent God the Son into a barren, isolated place  to encounter the accuser of man, so He might be fully ready to do His saving work, to the glory of God the Father.  The word the English versions translate as "being tempted" has several layers of meaning.  Yes, it does mean "to entice someone to sin."  But it also can mean "to make a trial of, to put to the test, to discover what kind of person someone is."  It's one of the greatest jokes of the cosmos that Satan thinks he's so big and powerful and in control, and here God the Holy Spirit was using him-- simply using him-- to prove that Jesus Christ was pure gold all the way through, and binding Him even closer to His Father in heaven. 

    In our passage from Isaiah the anointed Servant of the Lord speaks of His motivation, dedication, and mission.  This was a prophecy of the Christ who was to come.  The Servant says in verses 8,

        Who will contend with me?
                    Let us stand up together.
        Who is my adversary?
                    Let him come near to me.

    Satan the accuser came near to our Lord Jesus in the wilderness, and went away defeated, for

        Behold, the Lord God helps me;
                    who will declare me guilty?

    No one, because Jesus the Servant of God put Himself wholly into the hands of His Father to vindicate and sustain Him.  In the wilderness Satan hoped to break and corrupt the Son of Man, but Jesus came out stronger, more focussed, and with greater integrity than before.

    So now, as Mark tells us, after John the Baptist was arrested--when the herald and forerunner was off the stage-- "Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'"

    This was Jesus' work, to proclaim and bring in the rulership of God on this fallen earth.  Isaiah foretold how He went about it.  His word of hope sustained the weary.  He faithfully declared all His Father gave Him to say, and He didn't turn back or rebel against saying it.  Jesus did what would be impossible for us-- He revealed that He was the center, the focus, the embodiment of the kingdom of God, but at the same time, He didn't preach Himself for Himself.  He didn't say and do things for His own comfort or to boost His self-esteem or His position in the world.  Everything He did in His ministry was done in obedience to God the Father, so sinners like you and me could be reconciled to God through Him and God glorified in heaven and on earth.

    Jesus did not turn backward from what He came to do, even when it took Him to the cross.  No, He

    gave [His] back to those who strike,
                and [His] cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
    [He] hid not [His] face
        from disgrace and spitting.

And because Jesus was pleasing to God, because He got on with the holy task the Father sent Him to do, the cross did not end for Him in disgrace and shame, but in vindication and glory.

    And because Jesus was faithful in word and deed to the job He was given to do, we, too, can share His vindication and glory.  The Scripture is clear: Jesus did what He did because He was the only one who could do it.  His fast, His temptation, His ministry, His cross, His resurrection-- all this He was willing to do, He did it all for you, to reconcile you to the Father and restore you to His love.

    This is something we can hold onto.  It's inevitable:  We will have days, weeks, months, when we don't understand what God is doing, when, as Isaiah says, we have no light and we walk in the darkness.  But there is confidence and hope for you who fear the Lord and obey the voice of Jesus, His Servant.  For His Spirit has given you an open ear to repent and believe the gospel of God's kingship.  To you is given the light of God and for you Jesus completed His mighty work of salvation.  Even in the darkness, even in the midst of uncertainty and temptation, the name of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is strong, and on Him we can rely.

    But there are those who will not accept what Jesus has already done.  They do not trust Him or accept the light He gives.  They claim to believe in Jesus, but it is an idol, a Christ made in their own image.  They claim to have light, but it is light they have kindled themselves, and such a torch will lead them astray.  Satan was only the first of those who preached the bad news of their own greatness, of grabbing the good things they feel they deserve, and those who follow him will suffer his punishment.

    But this is not what God our Father has in mind for you, not if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, who was and is God's beloved Son.  He was tried and proven in His confrontation with Satan in the wilderness, He faithfully proclaimed the good news of God's kingdom, and when the time was right, Jesus opened up the door to the kingdom of heaven by the wounds He suffered in His own body on the cross.  He did the job you and I could never do.  You can trust and rely on Him, even in times of darkness, even when temptation seems too much to bear.  God has given you the greatest gift of His love any ordinary human being can ever receive, and that is the gift of His Son.  Believe the good news:  In Christ Himself you have the kingdom, and that gift will never be taken away from you, and in Him your joy will never end.

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