Mark: the superhero gospel

My young son loves superheroes, none more than Batman. With a generous amount of fast forwarding through schmaltz, I have been watching the latest Batman movie. I keep thinking it is a star-studded bloated mess. I also think that there are few movies worth perishing for and that the disaster in Colorado is all the more tragic when the film is all soulless violence.

Mark, by contrast, is the superhero gospel. People often note how fast the narrative moves and how time and action drive the story.

Mark 1:13-15 (NIV)
and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. [14] After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. [15] “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

We are still in the first chapter and we ask these questions–
wild animals and angels?
John in chains?
And how near, exactly, this kingdom?

The King. The king is who you want to follow. All the way to the end of the only true superhero story that has ever mattered.

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Mark 1: the rough road

Mark 1:12-13 (NIV)
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, [13] and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Up too late. So what do I do? Resort to Bible study. It is legal, free, and happens to be at the heart of my search.

I don’t like to fast. I don’t like to talk about fasting (because I am not good at it). But here it is–Jesus, God, gets baptized by his cousin and pointed out as God and then spends 40 days fasting in the wilderness.

No fun.
For a long time…
No fun.

Why?

Jesus was baptized for the mirror opposite of my baptism. I was baptized to acknowledge my rightful deadliness, my death sentence, and the helplessness of my condition.

Jesus was baptized to be me through the stuff I can’t do or handle or be.

Sinless God becomes broken me.

It is like we change lives, coats, passports. His lets me into heaven and mine lets Him into hell.

Reason enough to fast. Reason enough to stay awake late at night, scanning the horizon for the face of my savior. My God. The Ransomer.

Memorial Stones

We live in a party culture. We buy things on time. We are more likely to joke about the grim reaper on Halloween than face the devastation of death–especially tragic, violent death.

This year some of my friends lost family members. At least one death was a homicide. Lives were changed forever and I know that my friends carry their grief. I carry it with them.

I posted the report for this blog because I have been thinking about a baby girl named Toryn Buckman. She was brutally tortured and murdered. Just a baby.

Someone out there mourns for this little one, but can any of us face the statistics? Several thousand children die each year as the result of child abuse in the US alone.

Any country that is so dangerous for children is…not safe for anyone.

Mark 1: signs and wonders

Mark 1:9-11 (NIV)
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. [10] As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. [11] And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Let’s face it. We are sheep. Easily led, gullible. Prone to follow the herd. We believe crazy stories.

How much more crazy does it get than God in the water, God in the shape of a dove, God speaking out loud?

Pretty crazy unless it really happened. Pretty crazy unless the God in question is omnipresent and omnipotent. Then it is just an ordinary day…

In the life of God with us.

If you comb the Bible looking for signs of Jesus you will find them everywhere–prophecy, songs, the histories all resonate with promises of a savior.

If you read just the early chapters of the gospels you get angels, miracle babies, special astronomers, and prophets all pointing to Jesus and saying, Hey! This kid is special.

It is impossible to believe this is a normal story. Either a great many people went to a great deal of trouble to lie (for nothing–there was no money or power in a dead carpenter).

Or the story is true.

And if it is true…

Jesus is a game changer. The God who saves.

Mark 1: After me

>Mark 1:7-8 (NIV)
And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. [8] I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We are an easily distracted bunch. what? Something about shoes? Something about baptism?

Most of us want to be the best at what we do and John was so sold out he looked like a lunatic. Yet his message is preparation for someone else.

He says

look at me, now wait for someone so much better that I don’t deserve to tie his shoes…

Wow.

Baptism with water is all symbol–a ring on a finger, a hose down in the backyard.

Baptism by the Spirit of God. That is resurrection, transformation–the breath of heaven. Life poured out for us.

And John is right. Jesus is amazing. The love of God walks in.

No one ever the same.

The John the Baptist Diet

Mark 1:4-8 (NIV)
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. [5] The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. [6] John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. [7] And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. [8] I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

So we Christians struggle with waistlines and our answers over the years have been biblical diets– the Daniel diet, the Eden diet…we scour the pages of the Good Book looking for guidelines for weight loss. But I have yet to see rise of the “John the Baptist” diet. I am pretty sure he was rail thin and that I would be too if it was all foraging in the desert for bugs and honey!

The wilderness, the loneliness, the uncomfortable crunchiness of exoskeleton. The meaningfulness of the way John lived is impossible to ignore. He was passionately sold out. He held nothing back.

People don’t cotton to the voices of prophets. They are often lonely folk. They do not tell us what we want to hear, they tell us the truth. The truth can drive a man to lonely places.

The truth is we are broken, messed up sheep. We are communal insects. We have laid our world bare to death, sin, and pain. The prophet shouts these things unsparingly in the loneliest of places.

Then God walks in…