The Journey begins: the commissioning of Christ

Scripture: Mark 1:9-20

The Gospel of Mark is definitely the shortest Gospel. It is definitely the easiest to read. It was written kind of like a newspaper. Mark likes to use the word “immediately,” more often than anybody else. It’s trying to bring you into the “now.”

Mark was written for Greeks, rather than Jews. And the main question in Mark is “Who am I?” That is, Jesus Christ. Of course, he answers that question in the very first verse of the very first chapter: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That’s sort of a “Shh! Here’s the answer.”

We see at this point in Mark’s Gospel, in verses 9-20, a couple of events that are occurring in the life of Jesus. Jesus is already thirty years old. That’s important to know, but if you want to find out, you’ll have to ask me sometime in Bible study.

John the Baptizer has been preaching and baptizing people, and Jesus comes to see him. Jesus, up to this point, has pretty much been a nobody. He was known in Nazareth, but as we’ve noted before, that was a whopping town of 150 people or so. He’s a carpenter, but he’s not known in the region much at all beyond that.

He might have been, some people speculate, cousins with some of these fishermen in Galilee. Certainly they were cousins of each other. And Jesus goes from Nazareth to Galilee, to hear John.

Mark throws away a whole bunch of stuff in here. He just throws this off, that Jesus got baptized, and he relates this vision that Jesus, it seems like, it’s Jesus who had the vision of the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending.

Other Gospels saw that other people saw the Spirit descending. Other people heard the voices. But Mark just goes on. He says that at once, or immediately, the Spirit sent Jesus out into the desert. So he goes through all this stuff, and Mark just kind of tosses it off.

I always wonder about that, because there are a lot of questions that are raised by this particular event. The other Gospels go into it in much greater detail. Jesus coming to John, the baptism itself, what happens in the desert.

We know that, in the baptism, for instance, that John says, “I shouldn’t be baptizing you. You should be baptizing me.” And Jesus says, “Let it happen that it might fulfill all righteousness.”

After all, Jesus didn’t need a baptism of repentance. He had nothing to repent for. He was sinless. So why would he need to be baptized at all? Theologians through the centuries have speculated on all the different reasons, most of them working through Matthew with that little phrase there.

Part of it is an example for us to follow, I think. Part of it had to deal with the symbolism of baptism. With the Jews, baptism symbolized a new life. If you were a convert from being goyim, a foreigner, an unbeliever, then you were given a new name, at that point in time.

Your old debts were forgiven. Your family ties may have been cut off. You were basically a new person, through this baptism. And Jesus is about to enter a new stage of his life and his ministry.

But most important, I think, what we see in the baptism of Jesus, and what occurred afterwards, is the commissioning of Christ to his ministry. It is now actively begun.

We Presbyterians have a grand tradition of commissioners and things like that. So I decided I would look up the word “commission.” I found it incredibly difficult a definition that actually was what I was looking for.

Most of the time they seem to think it deals with building stuff, that you’re the one who checks it and makes sure it’s all up to snuff, and things like that, and manufacturing. Sometimes if you commission something it means you ask for it to be made.

But really, what I was looking for in terms of commission was as one of the dictionaries I finally found has it: “the act of granting certain powers or the authority to carry out a particular task or duty; the authority so granted; the matter or task so authorized.”

So you get this commissioning, and it goes through all different kinds of commissionings that occur, everything from a public board to a military commission. I remember with my dad – he enlisted first, then he went to officer training school, and the commissioning was given after he had trained and they deemed him worthy of the extra responsibility and authority that an officer would have.

But in the end, it deals with granting authority, for something to be made or done. So commissioning deals with that transfer, that granting of authority, to carry out a task.

I believe that in the baptism of Jesus, he was commissioned unto the work of his ministry by the Father Himself. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and in some Gospels it says rests on his shoulder, at his right shoulder, at the right ear. So we see a figure, a picture of authority that’s being given to him.

We see the heavens being split wide open, and this voice that comes down and says, “You are my Son whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.” God the Father is declaring that Christ is His Son.

Now, I have to say, every Jew called himself a son of God, in the sense that they were a nation founded by God. God was their sovereign Lord, and all authority that they had supposedly came through Him. So they referred to themselves as the people and the children of God, and therefore every Jewish male was a son of God.

But this is something different. This has the capital S to it. “You are my Son, whom I love.” God has said, “I love you, and in you I am well-pleased.”

Well, I only hope that someday I get to hear those kind of words: “with you I am well-pleased.” You know, in a lot of my prayers I say that, “well done, my good and faithful servant,” I like to include that phrase, because I really hope to hear that someday.

So God the Father commissions Christ at this point, to begin the work which he was born to do. The whole reason of Christmas. To show people the whole reason for salvation, and then to die on the cross to achieve that for us.

We have here the Father laying His stamp of approval. And I find it fascinating that the first thing that happens, the first thing that happens is that Jesus gets driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.

Now, everyone has their own wilderness. The wilderness is usually a place where you don’t want to be. It’s a place where things get rough. It’s times in your life when there’s struggle.

So Jesus goes out into the wilderness. And again, Mark passes over this entire thing, while the others go into it in more detail – forty days, the kind of temptations that occurred. I’m not going to go into anymore detail than Mark did, much, because, well, because he didn’t, and that’s because he had a purpose in what he was doing.

But let me just say that in his temptations, in Jesus’ time in the wilderness, he suffered temptations as we suffer them. He knew hunger. He knew thirst. He knew the temptation to power and ambition. He knew so many different temptations that we face each and every day, in our lives, and he overcame them all.

He overcame them all with the Word and by the Spirit. It says that he was with wild animals and the angels attended him. They strengthened him, it says in Matthew, once he had overcome those temptations.

The first thing that frequently happens, after you’re commissioned to do something, is you run into a bunch of roadblocks. Have you every noticed that? Somebody directs you to do something, and the first thing that happens is “Problem!” They just pop up.

Now maybe you guys have been luckier than me, but it seems to me that that’s just the way life is. Most of the struggle we have is not the actual creation of whatever it is we’re commissioned to do, but overcoming the roadblocks to get there.

Jesus overcame those roadblocks. Jesus overcame many of the temptations that would possibly have prevented him from following through on his commission.

Then, having done that, having conquered the wilderness, having conquered his own temptations, having proven himself to be worthy of being commissioned (and those of you who have been in the military, or married to military spouses, or the children of military officers, know that there’s a process that they go through before they are commissioned, they have to prove themselves worthy of this commissioning – it’s not enough to simply enlist and show up), having proved himself worthy of the commission, then he has the authority to begin to commission others.

So he goes wandering in Galilee, by the sea, and he sees Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. He says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” There’s the commission. So Jesus, having been commissioned at his baptism, begins to commission others.

He goes on and he finds James and John, the others who will be his inner circle, and he does the same thing. And they do the unthinkable. They walk out on their father, right then and there. They’re out there, on the lake, doing the fishing thing, helping their father with his business, his small business there of catching fish with his fleet.

And Jesus says [gestures “Come”], and they say, “Bye, Dad!” and leave him and his hired men, out there on the lake. I’m sure that went over like a lead pig. Although, eventually, I’m sure that he came to grips with it, as well, Zebedee.

James and John, Peter and Andrew. We see in these things the commissioning of them by Christ, to become something new and different. Now they haven’t hit their roadblock, they haven’t hit their wilderness yet. They’re still under the protection of the Teacher, the one who granted the authority. But their time will come.

So what we see here in Mark, then, is not so much looking at the detail, not so much looking at the theological questions, but looking at the overall whole of Christ’s life and mission. We see a declaration of who Christ is at his baptism, a commissioning of Christ to his ministry and his work, that he was born to do.

Then Christ begins his journey, and the first thing he does is commission others to go with him. I find that significant for us today. Because we all have our own commissioning. We’re going to have installation of officers in a few weeks. All of those officers are commissioned to a work for the church.

They’re commissioned to a particular role in an office in the church. They serve a particular purpose. They have been elected by you to help guide and lead. They have been ordained by God and hopefully filled with the Spirit to carry out that commission.

You see, God never intended for us to do our ministry alone. I like to say there’s no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian, though there’s lots of folks that would call themselves that. There’s also lots of folks that would say, “I don’t need the church to be saved.”

I have to admit, the first thing I say is “You’re right.” You only need faith in Jesus Christ. If you were to profess an honest faith in Jesus Christ and then walk out in the street and get hit by the bus by accident, you’d go to heaven.

But you do need the church to grow. You need the church to mature, and you need the church to answer the call of God in your life. Because you can’t do it alone.

When God commissions you to do something, when He gives you a command to do something, when He gives you the ministry, the gifts for your ministry, it requires others to recognize it, to recognize those gifts, to encourage those gifts and that ministry, and to support you as you carry it out.

Because you know what? There will be obstacles, and there will be a wilderness that you’re going to face. But you don’t have to face it alone, and you don’t have to be afraid. And you definitely never have to give up, as long as you have those around you, your brothers and sisters in Christ, who love you and support you.

So what should we take from this passage? Well, there are a lot of things that you can pull out of it. I like to say the Word of God, what’s amazing about it is that it’s so simple and yet so amazingly complex. You can never plumb the depths of His Word.

In this one, know that, like Christ, in your baptism you have been declared a child of God. He loves you, and in you He is well-pleased. You also have been commissioned by God. You have a gift, at least one. You have a ministry in this church, in this community, serving God. And you have the wherewithal, with the help of others to carry out this commission.

Christ’s journey began at this moment. May yours begin today. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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