Spark of Affirmation
Topic: Affirmation Scripture: Mark 1:9–1:13
Friends, this morning we are beginning a new journey. One that I am very excited to go on with you. Part of the reason for that is because I have not had the opportunity to preach before all of you since Easter Sunday. Opening God's word and exploring it with all of you, is one of my favorite aspects of my call here. I'm also excited because we're going to be doing something that we don't do very often and that's to journey through one book of the Bible together. We are in full summer mode, and we all know that summer offers unique and special opportunities: family vacations, days at the community pool, bbq's and cookouts, camping trips, and more. From the time we are kids and hit summer vacation, we're encouraged to enjoy and make the most of summer. Well, I also want you to Mark Your Summer. From now until Labor Day, we will be journeying through the Gospel of Mark together. Mark is one of the four Gospel narratives we have that open us up to the life of Jesus. Each one is different, highlighting different aspects and nuances of Christ's life.
Have you ever noticed that people describing the same event or story will often-times recount it in very different ways? It could be describing a car accident they witnessed or sharing an old memory, or even talking about a book or movie. If there are three people who witness or experience something like that, you will get three different accounts of what happened. It generally falls on a range, right? Take the example of a car accident. One person who saw the accident will start off telling you it was a sunny day and they were late for an appointment, but then they saw the big silver SUV barrel their way through the intersection right into a poor little red sedan. They'll tell you about the terrible sound it made and maybe even about the smell of the rubber and the fumes from the accident. They'll recount how they were so concerned for the drivers and how they were so nervous. They'll go into detail about the angry face and voice of the sedan driver and the tears streaming down the face of the owner of the SUV. And then you'll talk to another person who saw the accident, and all they'll say is, "Yeah the SUV slammed into the red car." Same event, totally different accounts. Mark's Gospel is the most like that of the second, simple explanation.
It's not that Mark isn't concerned with the details. Quite the opposite. It's just that Mark's Gospel seems to value and emphasize certain aspects or elements of Christ's life while the other gospel writers (Matthew, Luke, and John) emphasize different aspects. Luke can be described as a historian. That gospel has the richest and most lengthy description of the genealogy or lineage of Jesus as well as his conception and birth, more so than any of the other three gospels. John's account is maybe the most spiritual. It highlights and proclaims the divine nature of Jesus in a way that is often inspiring and moving; this might be why John is one of the first books of the Bible recommended to first-time readers of Scripture. Matthew's Gospel is a structured, and what I'll call a more user-friendly account in that it flows from one significant event or discourse to the next with an almost instructive, tutoring sort of quality. Mark? Well, when I think of the Gospel of Mark, I think of a comic book. It tells a story, but it does so with action sequences and short, emphatic dialogue. The folks who put together the NIV Study Bible describe Mark this way: "Mark's Gospel is a simple, succinct, unadorned, yet vivid account of Jesus' ministry, emphasizing more what Jesus did than what He said. Mark moves quickly from one episode in Jesus' life and ministry to another."
And so we begin our journey through Mark's Gospel by witnessing a significantly impactful moment in the life of our Savior. In fact, it's the first moment with Jesus in Mark. Mark doesn't have a long list of Jesus' descendants or the story of how He was born. Our introduction to Jesus starts at the beginning of His ministry to this world. We're in Mark 1:9-13.
In Mark's Gospel, the first glimpse we're given of Jesus is the scene of His baptism. There's an intentionality behind that. Remember, Mark's Gospel is focused on revealing the work and purpose of Christ's life. This baptismal scene sets the stage for a life that would literally change everything. Lamar Williamson Jr., a Bible professor from Union Theological Seminary, describes how critical and meaningful this event is for opening our exposure to the life and heart of Jesus Christ. Williamson says, "The entire story which will follow is above all the story of Jesus and of what God did through him. That is why the baptism of Jesus matters. As a secret epiphany, it tells the reader the true identity of Jesus."
Jesus is taken into the waters of baptism. Mark provides us with very little prior information about Jesus, other than calling Him the Messiah and the Son of God in the opening introduction to his gospel. So we are told nothing about Jesus' life prior to His plunge into the Jordan river. But when Jesus comes up out of the water…that is when it is revealed who this person truly is. We're told that heaven was torn open. This language, this image, is important for a few reasons. First, it connects us past and future to the full picture of who Jesus is. In Isaiah 64, the prophet cries out to God and says, "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down." Isaiah goes on to make this plea to God because he wants the whole world to know and see who God truly is. And later on, in Mark 15, in the account of Christ's death on the cross, the same exact word that is used here at Jesus' baptism is used to describe how the curtain in the temple is torn from top to bottom when Christ died, and the soldier who was present declared, "Truly, this man was the Son of God." The baptism of Jesus links us to the promise and goodness of God…past, present, and future.
This moment in Mark 1 is also one of the few scenes in scripture where we have all three persons of the Trinity represented. The Son being baptized, the Spirit descending upon the Son, and the Father proclaiming affection and affirmation for the Son. This reality alone offers enough for its own sermon, but there's one aspect I want to bring to the center of our attention, and it's the words God speaks to Jesus as His Father. As Jesus rises out of the waters of His baptism and takes His first steps into a ministry of healing, hope, and sacrifice the voice of His Father fills the air: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
These words are so full with the necessary truths we still need to hear today. They affirm who Jesus truly is. In a day and age where the identity and reality of Jesus is hotly debated, we can rest in the words of our Creator that declare Christ is the beloved Son of God. These words also show us the incredible value of affirmation. I mean, truly, it is these words that provided the Spark of Affirmation from which Jesus would walk into, not only a ministry of world-altering proportions but first into a time of bitter temptation and trial. Christ is anointed in His call to change the world and the first thing He hears is affirmation from His Father.
Now, I wish I could tell you that I meticulously planned it out to have this text preached on Father's Day because of the obvious tie-in. I'll have to chalk that one up to the Holy Spirit though. But it does provide the perfect opportunity to highlight the incredible mark and impact dads can have on our lives. Perhaps many of you can think of how your own father spoke to you on an occasion and gave you that Spark of Affirmation that spurred you on into a significant moment or chapter of your life. Personally, being a dad has been one of the richest and weirdest blessings I've ever been afforded. It's an incredible gift, and I try every day to affirm my sons, to build them up, to show them who Jesus is, and to let them know that always and no matter what - that I love them.
But I also know, personally, what it feels like to have that voice of affirmation missing from your life. A friend of mine in the church and I talked about it this week, how we both grew up with fathers who didn't build us up, who rarely offered us that Spark of Affirmation. I loved my father, and I am grateful for the warmth of this church when you supported me when he passed away not that long ago. I know my dad tried hard, and that he had a very difficult journey of his own, but, if I'm honest, it wasn't my father's voice that offered me that Spark of Affirmation that I needed, in order to know that I was loved, to know that God had great plans for me, and to instill in me the confidence to be a great husband and father myself. No, those words came from others who filled that role, mentors, pastors, friends, and professors. So, this is my voicing of appreciation for all the dads in this room who have instilled worth, confidence, and joy into the lives of others. Whether you have a connection through blood or not, thank you.
And I'll finish with this. This moment in Jesus' life, really the moment that precipitated every powerful miracle and marvel of His life began with a Spark of Affirmation. It tells me this: If Jesus was served and blessed by words of affirmation, then that is true for all of us. But I don't have to tell you that it is beneficial to hear affirming words. What I want to charge you with is to be the voice that speaks those words, that provides that Spark of Affirmation for another person.
Often it is so easy to be cynical, negative, or even just silent and neutral. We might work harder to affirm our children or our spouses, but our ability to be an agent for inspiration and affirmation is not limited only to those who live under our roof. Proverbs, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Hebrews…these are only some of the books of the Bible that tell us to encourage others, to lift people up with our words. So do that, my friends! Be a voice of encouragement in a world saturated with sarcasm and cynicism. Be the one who inspires another person. Be the one who offers that rare but life-changing Spark of Affirmation.