At the Jordan with Jesus

Mark 1:9-15 February 21, 2021  —  Lent 1 (Genesis 9:8-17, Ps 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22)

“May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen” ( Psalm 19:14).

The heavens being torn open.  Jonah’s ark and the covenant of the rainbow.  The Apostle Peter’s connecting the ark with A prayer of King David for guidance and direction.  Our readings for this first Sunday in Lent are filled with imagery!

Let’s start with Mark.  Mark’s gospel is like a modern television series.  His writing is fast moving and to the point.  He doesn’t waste time on unnecessary detail.  The Greek words “euthus” often translated immediately is one of his favorites.  

Note, this is early in Mark’s Gospel, still the first chapter.  Mark notes that Jesus is from Nazareth.  An important point because that ties Jesus into His human story—His place in our human geography and history.  

Next Mark simply states that Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River and that as Jesus comes up out of the water everything changes!  He uses the Greek word for torn, which can also be translated “separate, or split.”  The Greek is the basis for our English word “schizo,” schizophrenic—split personality.  Mark implies that only Jesus sees this, and that only Jesus hears the voice form heaven that affirms Him as God’s beloved Son.”  But maybe the attendant crowds and others saw and heard that too.  I doubt it though.

The same Greek word “schizo” is used by Mark in chapter 15:38 where the veil in the Temple that separated the Holy of Holies is torn in two.  

The voice from heaven—God the Father’s—is important for two reasons.  First, God is reaffirming Jesus’ mission and ministry at His baptism.  Jesus was not baptized for the forgiveness of sins, nor to set an example for us to follow.  He is being baptized by John, taking on our human mantle—our broken humanity with all its frailties and “stuff.”  He steps out of the water wearing the robe of human sinfulness and frailty, just as when we are baptized we are clothed with the robe of His righteousness.  Luther calls this the great exchange.  The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that God “made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The second reason this is important is it shows us Jesus knew who He was and what He was doing on this planet of ours as one of us—that He created! He had no confusion about His identity or purpose in life.  Jesus came to save us from the unholy three—sin, death and the devil.  This is the unfolding of the mystery, the plan God had in mind from the very beginning of our human story.  

The Holy Spirit then literally drives Jesus into the wilderness for the forty days of being tested by the devil also reaffirms that understanding.  The number forty is significant in Old Testament imagery.  Moses was on the mountain of God for forty days receiving instructions and the Ten Commandments.  Elijah also experienced forty days of hunger.  Remember the children of Israel were tested in the wilderness for forty years.  Jesus is stepping into the Israel’s (and our) story and deliberately working out a different ending.  An ending with good news and hope.

Why the Jordan River?  It is one of the smallest rivers on the planet.  Its entire length from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is only about 200 miles.  Certainly not very significant.  What is significant is Joshua and the children of Israel crossed it as they entered the Promised Land.  

What rich imagery!  In this little section of Scripture we have heaven and earth colliding with earth shaking imagery.  Heaven is torn open with the beginning of Jesus’ work of salvation on our behalf!  

African slaves captured this imagery when they sang about the Jordan River and crossing the Jordan River from the misery of slavery on this side to freedom and heaven on the other side.  Old Gospel hymns connect with that same theme in a very rich way.  The phrase “crossing Jordan” still has that imagery.  Crossing the Jordan means freedom.  

Remember the words of our Declaration of Independence from 1776:  

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  

February is Black History Month.  We need to make more of that than we have in previous years because we are playing catch up in a very real sense.  Consider the following:

The most famous episode in [Frederick Douglass’s autobiography] is Douglass’s fight with Edward Covey. Covey ran a business breaking slaves who were too headstrong, and Douglass’s master sent him to Covey in 1834 when Douglass was 17. Covey beat him every week, for any reason or for no reason. He would hide in the bushes and attack Douglass out of nowhere — all to instill in Douglass a sense of helpless terror and to destroy his capacity to dream of a better life.

Then, one hot August day, Douglass decided that he would not surrender. He had fainted from heat stroke that day, and Covey had beat him for it with a wooden club. Though Douglass had begged his owner to intervene, he had refused. So Douglass resolved to fight back. The next time Covey attacked him, he grabbed the man around the throat and held on. They struggled until Covey stumbled off mumbling. He never beat Douglass again. And Douglass learned from this incident a crucial principle: he who would be free must himself strike the blow.

Striking that blow rather than surrendering — believing in himself enough to stand up — that was the crucial lesson. Douglass refused to accept the hopeless, helpless, dreamless life of a brute. “Next to the dignity of being a freeman is the dignity of striving to be free,” he said years later. “I detest the slaveholder, and almost equally detest a contented slave. They are both enemies to freedom.”

Jesus, as He is baptized into the Jordan River, takes on the cloak of our humanity in order to bring us His righteousness, and with it liberty and freedom.  We were created for life and freedom.  It is a longing imbedded deep within our hearts.  A longing that finds its fulfillment through our faith in and relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.  

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