Christmas Wilderness – Mark 1:9-13

by Roger McCay
20 December 2020
Sermon Passage: Mark 1:9-13
Link to Audio Version

A troubling aspect in recent years of elections, particularly presidential elections, has been the sense that many people throw all their hopes in the future upon a political candidate, so that they are essentially voting for a savior. Yet, this is to set up oneself for inevitable disillusionment and frustration. No politician has ever lived up to the hype of savior, and no politician ever will. Politicians are only men and women—finite and fallible. They cannot bear such a burden. Who could?

There is only one who can bear the burden of the savior of mankind, the ultimate Savior—Jesus Christ: King of Kings, Lord of Lords. The one who is Lord and Savior by right, as the holy, all-powerful, creator God and in his victory on the cross. Wondrously, as awesome and powerful as the Lord Jesus is, he is not a savior who is at such a distance from us that he cannot relate with us.

The eternal Son of God, the Word, was made flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1). He humbled himself to be born of the virgin, Mary, in a stable in Bethlehem. Jesus was then raised, after a time in Egypt, in Nazareth of Galilee, as the oldest son in a carpenter’s family. He lived and worked among, later ministering among, regular folk, knowing the needs and struggles common to all men. And, like all men, he was tempted, yet uniquely, he never succumbed to temptation (Heb. 2:17-18).

As resurrected Lord, Jesus reigns over all. As Savior, Jesus comes to us personally in our wilderness, knowing us better than we know ourselves. He fully understands who we are and our life situation, and he loves us with a perfect love. Jesus Christ, the God-man, knows our wilderness struggles and hopes. And we all find ourselves in the wilderness at some point in our life, in need of a Savior.

Christmas itself can be quite a wilderness: people looking for joy (according to the culture’s message grounded in materialism) but not finding it; lots of talk about how Christmas is a magical time, with no real message, grounded in reality, as to what that even means. “Everybody get excited! It’s Christmas!” Why? “Don’t be a Scrooge.” Why? It’s a wilderness out there. Christmas is a time of despair for many, even on a normal year. I’ve had to go to the emergency room twice on Christmas for suicides, one successful, the other lived. And who from our congregation could forget what happened last Christmas with Jamaya’s murder? This year, across the nation even more people are struggling, especially due to all that’s happened in 2020. Wilderness.

Just prior to our passage today in Mark 1:1-8, Mark begins “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” not by relating the birth narrative, but by telling of John the Baptist’s coming and work, as the messenger in the wilderness, fulling prophecy by preparing the way for the Lord.

And oh, what an appropriate place (the wilderness) for the beginning of the good news, the gospel of Jesus. For it is in the wilderness that Jesus, the Savior, comes to us, bringing victory over sin and its fallout, bringing victory even over death! He is our foundation for true joy.

As Jesus comes to us in our wilderness, the question is raised, “How does he meet us there? To answer, we need to look at how Jesus first went to the wilderness, and what transpired there.

Verse 9:

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Why do you think Jesus, who was perfect, needed to be baptized for the repentance of sins? Well, do you think it was for himself? No, he had no sins needing repentance. Jesus accepted John’s baptism because Jesus, in his redemptive work, identified himself with sinners, therefore he took upon himself “the sign of repentance on behalf of the people of God.”[1] He identified with us in our sin, hearkening to Paul’s statement in 2 Cor. 5:21: For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Just as he was our representative when he took upon himself the sins of believers on the cross, so also he was our representative in his baptism. He became, as one man put it “The one great Sinner who repents.”[2]

Because Jesus was the one man who could perfectly repent and do so on behalf of all God’s people, his repentance was accepted by God. How do we know this? Verses 10-11:

10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The proof that Jesus’ repentance on behalf of sinners was accepted is found in the heavens being ripped open, the Holy Spirit descending on him, and the Father announcing his pleasure in his Son. With the Spirit upon him Jesus was specially endowed to be the one John said would baptize with the Spirit. It confirmed he was the vessel through whom God would pour out His Spirit, as prophesied in Isaiah and alluded to by Mark. Hence, Jesus was confirmed by the Father as being the one to fulfill the messianic task he had set out upon: to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and to save His people.