“Thou art My beloved”

Advent B2

December 4th, 2005

Mark 1:1-11

1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,

Who will prepare Your way;

3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness,

‘Make ready the way of the Lord,

Make His paths straight.’”

4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 And John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. 7 And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8 “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.”

Mark 1:1-8

1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,

Who will prepare Your way;

3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness,

‘Make ready the way of the Lord,

Make His paths straight.’”

[4] John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. [5] And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. [6] And John was clothed with camel’s hair and {wore} a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. [7] And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. [8] “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The “No-Frills” Gospel

Mark begins the Gospel without the birth narrative of Mary. It is as though he cannot wait to get to the point of his story; directly to Jesus. It should not confuse us that Mark starts in this manner—we just need to remember that the greatest influence on Mark’s faith was the man who called him “my son”. That man, of course, was Peter [1 Peter 5:13]; at whose feet Mark spent many hours. Compare the beginning of this Gospel with the first sermon of Peter at the house of Cornelius:

Acts 10:37-38

[37] You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. [38] “{You know of} Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and {how} He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. (NAS)

Peter was in the house of Gentiles; indeed, in the house of the Jews worst “enemy of the day.” For Peter to be seen in the house of a Gentile would set tongues wagging (in a church that could ill-afford bad media). Yet, for Peter to be seen in the house of a Roman would offend not only the sensibilities of the Orthodox Jews and Priests—it would also offend many of the earlier followers in the infant church. This was an act of courage and faith that even transcended the decision of Peter to call the High Priests, “murderers of the Prince of Life [Acts 3:15].”

Peter didn’t need to carry into this house a persuasive argument about Jesus’ Jewish right to the messianic claim. He simply needed to tell the family and friends of this spiritually-hungry Roman centurion the story of a God who became man in order to free us from the grip of the Evil.

Later on we will discuss how good and evil were considered living spiritual forces to the Hebrew people. We would be wise to think in this fashion too. When Jesus prays the Lord’s Prayer, he asks God to deliver us from Evil. The Hebrew word for evil, HSN7451, ra`, is a noun, it is considered a living entity which makes things wretched and unusable. This is the living evil that Peter tells us; “prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour [1 Peter 5:8].”

You can constantly see the hand of Peter on the heart of Mark. It was in Mark’s boyhood home that the Church of Jerusalem spread its roots. Peter’s preaching was the raw voice of one who had been cursed with pride, then blessed by humility. It was the voice of a fisherman who proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God; of one who sinned gravely and had been forgiven greatly. Mark’s writings sets this passion to papyrus.

The Baptizer

There was no doubt that the Baptizer distinguished himself; in his message, in his behavior, in his very lifestyle. In all ways, John was born and raised to be “set apart” (the word for holy and saint means “set apart,” even “horrible” [hagios, GSN40]). John had every right to be among the highest ranking priests of Jerusalem—simply by birth and surely by insight. He was of the patriarchal line of Aaron, the priest of Moses and his message drew an overwhelming response from throughout Israel. Yet, he shuns the ritualism of Jerusalem. The religious elite worshipped in comfort in the midst of the poverty of their people. They had chosen political correctness and position over service to God and justice for his people.

In direct contrast, John chose to separate himself from his contemporaries by:

1.        His dwelling;

The Chief Priests of John’s day were “set apart” by luxury and comfort not by their commitment to justice. They had the choicest houses in Jerusalem and lived fatly off the skin of their people. In direct contrast, John chose to live in austerity. In a desert of baked limestone that the Jews often referred to as “the desolation” [Yeshiymown, HSN3452]; John’s solo voice cried out. I have always felt that John did not cry out to be heard—he cried out to be faithful. The response of man made no difference to him; fidelity to God was all that mattered.

To remain focused and tough, John lived in a land that allowed no room for error or frivolity. He chose not a castle to impress and rule; but a base camp at the foot of the mountain assault. While the world was lost in an avalanche John would not leave the front line of the rescue effort.

2.        His clothing;

The robes of the priests were among the treasures of Jerusalem and were, in fact, under the protected custody of Rome herself. The robe of one priest was said to have cost the equivalent of an average workers wages for three years. Like the prophet Haggai, John lived in a time where the elite dressed not for comfort but for show. Their lives were not guided by simplicity and necessity but by extravagance and grandiosity.

The faithful person has no one to impress but God. I am convinced that it is the call of the Christian to dress so that the least among us feels “at home.” Yet, I do not equate this to be sloppy and dirty. One of the fastest ways to die in the wilderness is to be slovenly and filthy. Infection is a silent, but rapid killer; whether it is of the body or the soul. John may well have been a product of the Essene priests, given to austere living and ritual bathing. His choice of clothing was simple, but not dirty. He didn’t wear rags, he intentionally wore the garment of the Jewish prophets; camel hair; the toughest and coarsest animal hide that one could find. It was obvious that John didn’t want to be known among the priests but among the prophets. He had little time for maintaining ritual for he was busy proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.

3.        His food;

In most cultures of the world, insects are not an abhorrent part of the menu. They are, instead, a source of high protein and energy. Some might even call them “the poor man’s meat.” I myself have eaten grasshopper (as well as a variety of other insects) in survival training  and find them somewhat like crispy chicken poppers.

John was not like Renfro from Dracula; he wasn’t snatching spiders and flies from the air and gobbling them down. He was eating what was simple, available and sustaining. He was rejecting what was elaborate, fashionable and elite.

4.        His message;

One can preach anything they want but if they’re lifestyle does not match their words their message will be recognized as hypocrisy. John’s word spoke loudly not because of the force of his voice; but because of the force of his nature. Personally, my observation has been that the more authentic a person is; the quieter they speak. In addition, one who is raised in silence would seemingly not be given to shouting matches with opponents. John strikes me as someone who knew; “If you are right, no argument is necessary.” Even his discourse with the Pharisees [Matt 3:7] is marked by the forcefulness of words that could only be accented by the forcefulness of John’s unswerving simplicity.

When read in the original Greek; the words of repentance that flow from John’s lips are neither angry nor fiery. They are incredibly invitational and gentle. When he preaches the forgiveness of sins, the word that Mark uses is aphesis [GSN859]. By itself the word means not only forgiveness and remission; but also freedom, deliverance, pardon and liberation. It is the word used for a hostage who was bought back from a kidnapper. Broken down, the root words of aphesis are deeply touching. There are two root words; apo [GSN575] and hiemi [GSN863]. Hiemi means to cry or suffer in loneliness, to be laid aside or forsaken. Apo denotes separation or to be “put off.”

Combined the words speak of the compassion of our Lord to embrace the captive, seek the lost, and search for those who cry out in abandonment. These words are the base colors of the portrait of the coming Messiah. The poor and lost didn’t go seeking a reproachful and hateful ascetic in the wilderness by the river Jordan. They went to John, rejected by a priesthood given to comfort and ritual. They went hungering for a God they could understand—but even more—a God who understood them.

They went, crying as captives, to the wilderness, responding to a voice that came from the wilderness crying liberation.

5.        His actions;

Baptism is an accepted part of our faith tradition. The New Testament affirms its position in the Christian life through the actions of Jesus in this verse and the gospels of Matthew [3:13-17] and Luke [3:21-22]. There is further affirmation that the early church continued to baptize initiates:

Romans 6:3-4

[3] Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? [4] Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (NAS)

1 Peter 3:21

[21] And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you— not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience— through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, [22] who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. (NAS)

However, baptism in John’s day would have been an affront to the Chief Priests. Baptisms were performed, but predominantly on Jewish converts—those who desired to become Jewish. Baptizing an existing Jew would imply that being born Jewish was not enough. This would certainly have been an insult to the religious Jew. They were no doubt muttering to each other; “Why do we need to be baptized if we are already the Chosen People? What is he implying?”

They didn’t have to guess long for John tells them; “Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham [Luke 3:8].”

By calling people to baptism, John was proclaiming that birthright wasn’t enough. Ritual and religiosity were not enough. To receive the Messiah, a complete change of life was demanded. We must repent, or, ‘turn completely around.’

I cannot read about John without wondering if I would be shunned by him or welcomed by him. The answer, I suppose would lie in my religiosity: Am I radical or ritual? Am I counting on ritual, position, tradition or family history to get into heaven? Do I have an expectation of salvation because I say all the words and you can find me at all the religious functions (potlucks, Christmas parties, yard sales)? Am I worshipping in comfort while anyone around me cries out in a wilderness of rejection?

Or, do I seek a deeper faith, a radical faith. In the New Testament, that type of faith is called rhizo [GSN4491]. It is the type of core faith for which John the Baptist cries. It is as if John were inciting the people; “Don’t you dare respond halfway to the Jealous God of Abraham.”

Let us look at the usage of this intense New Testament principal; rhizo [GSN4491].

Matt 3:10-11

[10] “And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [11] “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (NAS)

Matt 13:5-6

[5] “And others fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. [6] “But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. (NAS)

Luke 3:9

[9] “And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (NAS)

Rom 11:18

[18] Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, {remember that} it is not you who supports the root, but the root {supports} you. (NAS)

1 Tim 6:10

[10] For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. (NAS)

Heb 12:15

[15] See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. (NAS)

Rom 15:12

[12] And again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.” (NAS)

Rev 5:5

[5] And one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” (NAS)

Rev 22:16

[16] “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.” (NAS)

To stand in the presence of John is to respond radically; to move my dwelling from the safe valleys and up to his base camp at the edge of desolation. For John the Baptist, whom our culture would view as radical and irrational, is the one whom our Lord saw as the true sign pointing to him.

Luke 7:22-30

[22] And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: {the} blind receive sight, {the} lame walk, {the} lepers are cleansed, and {the} deaf hear, {the} dead are raised up, {the} poor have the gospel preached to them.

[23] “And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.”

[24] And when the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the multitudes about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?

[25] “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are {found} in royal palaces.

[26] “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet.

[27] “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

[28] “I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

[29] And when all the people and the tax-gatherers heard {this,} they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.

[30] But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. (NAS)

Would I define my fellowship as “radical” or as “comfortable?” Would others look upon us as a “voice in the desolation?” If we want to rub shoulders with the prophets—which we are called to do—that is the commitment we must make.

The cause and result of Baptism by water

The cause of baptism by water is sin. Not “sin” as an identifiable, individual act—that is merely a consequence of sin as a way of life. Just as Evil is a living and breathing shadow seeking to destroy my soul, sin is a shadow of the life that we are supposed to live as children of God. Baptism by water symbolizes washing off the grit of the desert sand. It was sand so pervasive that it would find its way into eyes, nose, teeth, ears, clothing. It would cake my hair like a false scalp and sand blast exposed skin while sucking valuable moisture from the body. Evil is that insidious and sin is that invasive.

Baptism is a fire hose in the face of sin’s grime. It is publicly admitting you are enveloped by sin and are unable to cleanse yourself. It is asking a community of believers to stand beside, in front of, and behind the initiate and “guard them with your life.” No one witnessing a baptism should take it lightly. The decision to be baptized is the decision to be reborn. A Christian witnessing that decision is saying; “You are now my family—I will devote myself to you as if you were my own blood.”

It is the rebirth of a new life, into a new family, but with a heavenly father.

The result of baptism is just as awesome. Look at what happened to Paul after his baptism:

Acts 22:12-21

[12] “And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, {and} well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, [13] came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him.

[14] “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. [15] ‘For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. [16] ‘And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

[17] “And it came about when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, [18] and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’

[19] “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in Thee. [20] ‘And when the blood of Thy witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying him.’

[21] “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” (NAS)

Paul’s life was not slightly changed—it was radically changed, totally changed. The scourge of the church became scourged for the church. The man who officiated at Stephen’s stoning was stoned, flogged and attacked more than any of the other disciples:

2 Cor 11:22-30

[22] Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.

[23] Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.

[24] Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine {lashes.}

[25] Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.

[26] {I have been} on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from {my} countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;

[27] {I have been} in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

[28] Apart from {such} external things, there is the daily pressure upon me {of} concern for all the churches.

[29] Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?

[30] If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. (NAS)

Yet, with his baptism came a new mission. The Holy Spirit poured out upon him in abundance giving him strength for his journey and passion for his savior. The baptism of the water and the Spirit are not always joined but they are always connected. One makes the other possible. We cannot receive the Holy Spirit until we have sought repentance. We cannot be healed if we deny we are sick; we cannot be taught if we believe we already know it all.

Mark 1:9

[9] And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

1.        As with the totality of Jesus’ life—he did not live for his sake—but for ours. He was not baptized because he needed to repent—but because we needed to see that even the Son of God bowed before his Father.

Jesus certainly did not have reason to repent for his own sin. Yet, he came as the perfect example of the obedient servant. The sin he bore was ours and he showed us that repentance was the first step to an honest relationship with God (and there is no other kind of relationship with him).

Baptism is a choice of humility before God and community. Jesus was baptized to show us humility and to lead us into personal repentance.

2.        It was the public beginning of his ministry;

Why did Jesus wait so long before beginning his public ministry?

Primarily, Jesus was on God’s timing. He could not begin until he was called. Before Jesus’ star would rise, he had to be preceded by a “voice crying in the wilderness.” As a friend of mine said to me yesterday; “John had to be born first, preach first and die first.”

There are many scholars who believe that Jesus had an earthly, personal task needing attention prior to his public ministry; the responsibility of his mother and family. Some theologians believe that Jesus had older step-siblings through a previous marriage by Joseph. Other scholars suggest that Jesus had younger siblings by Mary and Joseph. Whatever the case, we know that Jesus did have siblings; “Behold, your mother and your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to you [Matt 12:47].”

I find fault with the concept that Jesus had to remain home until his family was financially stable. That would imply that he asked of others what he would not do himself. For frequently, Jesus tells followers to leave everything and follow him “NOW!”

Luke 9:58-62

58      And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air {have} nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

59      And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Permit me first to go and bury my father.”

60      But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”

61      And another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”

62      But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Would Jesus command us to do what he would not do himself? Yet, even more, although following Jesus is difficult—the Lord always provides for his people. I have mentioned this before in our studies. God’s provision is always “strength for the journey”—but he also transforms us so that we desire only “enough for the journey.” Our needs are met—but our needs are simplified and focused on his service.

Finally, there is an overarching joy which accompanies reliance upon the Lord. Until recently, I have never been able to name this occurrence accurately. Only in becoming a missionary who is completely reliant upon him have I understood the fullness of complete reliance. Every meal I take is provided by his hand. I suspect that—in the back of my mind—I used to somehow think that I brought home my salary and the Lord did the “stuff on the side.”

Now, I realize that he is the provider of all my needs and he can even be the source of all my desires. “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart [Psalm 37:4].” The Lord doesn’t necessarily give us the “things” we desire; but he actually gives us the desires themselves! And, the closer we venture into him—the more we desire only him! Until we find ourselves desiring only to want his will.

3.        It affirmed John’s work; “Tradition is not salvation!”

Another reason that Jesus chose to be baptized by John was to affirm John’s mission. Remember, by baptizing Jews and not just converts, John was virtually saying: “The law is perfect—but you are not. You cannot count on tradition, ritual or heredity—you need the Messiah.”

Through John’s baptism, Jesus was affirming John’s message and receiving the baton for his portion of the race. It was Christ’s turn to run his leg. Let me make an additional comment here so that no one thinks that Christ ran the final leg. We need to remember that Jesus passed the baton on to us. It is now time for the church to do her lap. Are we sprinting at our portion? Are we running as compelled by Paul? Are we focused on the prize or sidelined by encumbrances and distractions?

1 Cor 9:24

24    Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but {only} one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. (NAS)

Heb 12:1

58      Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (NAS)

We cannot run while sitting in a pew. If that is where we think the race is; then we are horribly wrong. That is supposed to be more like the trainer’s table where we go to have our muscles repaired and our focus refined. Our prize lies ahead and is available to all who leave behind this world’s encumbrances for the next world’s glory:

Mark 10:28-30

28    Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.”

29    Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,

30    but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. (NAS)

Mark 1:10-11

[10] And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; [11] and a voice came out of the heavens: “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.”

Heaven to the Hebrew

The word Heaven [HSN8064, shamayim and GSN3772, ouranos], could almost be summed up as “transcendence.” Heaven to the Hebrew was literally the lofty sky above them [Gen 1:8] where the stars were located [Gen 1:14] and from where the dew emanated [Gen 27:28]. To the Hebrew, there were three realms: the heavens, the earth and the deep. God dwells in heaven above [Gen 28:17], man toils on earth [Gen 1:26] that was corrupted by man:

Gen 6:11-12

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Below earth is Sheol [Job 11:8], the place of sorrow and permanent distance from God.

The Greek translation of heaven is ouranos [GSN3772], which is less a place than an occurrence. It still involves the concept of “up”, but it means being lifted up. In fact, the root words of ouranos [GSN3772] are airo [GSN142] and ornis [GSN3733]. Airo [GSN142] is a term that means to lift up or carry away, but it was also used for “to weigh anchor” (to get started on a voyage). Ornis [GSN3733], was used for a bird that was lifting into the air.

There is significant biblical evidence that heaven is a place that exists, but also the presence of God in our existence. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament tell us that Heaven is the manifestation of God.

Jacob names the place where he experiences God, Beyth-’El [HSN1008]. This word is a combination of terms which means both the “House of God’s might” and, even more, the “People of God’s might” (remember, originally the House of God, meant the People or Tribe of God). Heaven is, in fact, the place where the gate between God and his people is opened.

Gen 28:16-17

16                  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”

17                  And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

John (the writer of Revelation) similarly experiences God as the place/event where the “bride” (the church) is ready to receive her husband (Jesus)—that place becomes the New Jerusalem, a place where God and his people coexist in perfect unity. It is where the “tabernacle (Jesus) is among men” and sorrow is abolished.

Rev 21:2-4

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be {any} death; there shall no longer be {any} mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Jesus tells us that heaven is available to us because of his work on the cross:

John 14:2-4

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, {there} you may be also. “And you know the way where I am going.”

The secret of heaven can be found in the statement of verse 3; “That where I am, you may be also.” Twice, Jesus tells us that Heaven is the very Name of God (it is God’s character):

Luke 15:18

I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.’”

John 3:27

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.


Finally, Jesus himself declares that he is the Kingdom and the Kingdom is at hand.

Matt 4:17

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”


Mark 1:15

And saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”


To ask; “Where is heaven?” Is to respond; “Where is Jesus?”

What we can begin to understand is that we don’t just “go to heaven” (or hell); heaven (or hell) is willing to come to us. Heaven is the presence of God; hell is the absence. The Kingdom is available to us “on earth as it is in heaven”—joy or sorrow is willing to come to us! However, we should not diminish the “Kingdom of Heaven” which will only be available to us in its fullness at the end of this life. In that Kingdom, delusion and sorrow will be cast away from us—we will know the Kingdom without earthly confusion—unmitigated. At that time, it will be both place and presence. God dwelling within and without; in and around; heaven revealed.

However, we must always remember that we won’t see that Kingdom someday—if our eyes are not attuned to it today. Our greatest question must be; “Does the Kingdom flow from within me today?”

The heaven that was revealed

Jesus saw heaven revealed. The verb “to see” [GSN1492, eido] was not limited to sight. To truly see was to know; which is the primary use of this verb. King James sometimes translates this word as “behold! [another form is GSN2400, idou]” It is used when something of great significance is revealed to the receiver(s).

It is as if John was telling us in this sentence; “Heaven (God’s purpose) was opened (clearly revealed) to his Son!”

There are three schools of thought regarding the foreknowledge of Jesus and his mission.

1.        He knew his call from birth;

In this school of thought, Jesus knew from birth that the cross and resurrection lay ahead of him.

2.        His call was revealed to him at baptism.

Scholars of this view purport that Jesus did not know he was the Son of God until it was revealed to him at baptism.

3.        He was aware of his special closeness to God but his mission unfolded to him as he grew;

This school of thought believes that Jesus knew that he had a significant relationship with God—but did not understand the totality of the call until halfway into his public ministry.

The “hidden years” of Jesus (following his Bar Mitzvah to age 30) are auspiciously missing from all of the Gospels. Those of us who work with troubled youth would love to know a little bit more about the teenage Jesus. Luke gives us more information than anyone in this story of Jesus’ youth:

Luke 2:48-52

And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.”

And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be in My father’s {house?”}

And they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all {these} things in her heart. And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

There is a hint of adolescent anti-dependence to this reading. Clearly, Joseph and Mary are less than pleased that Jesus stayed behind without telling anyone. Joseph and Mary (who would be traveling in a large group) did not notice his absence until they were probably a night’s travel from Jerusalem. Scurrying back, they ask Jesus directly; “Why have you treated us this way?”

Jesus doesn’t apologize; he merely states that he is exactly where he is supposed to be. The tone of his statement almost suggests that he is reminding his earthly parents of his true identity; “Didn’t you know?”

Why Jesus left the temple and went back with his parents to carpentry and obscurity in Nazareth is only evident in the statement; “He continued in subjection to them.”

“Honor thy father and thy mother [Deut 5:16].” Jesus lived honorably in subjection to his earthly parents until he heard the call of his heavenly Father through the voice of John. Yet, there is a quiet sub-story here that we must follow. The best schools were in Jerusalem, so were the best teachers, it was the most obvious route to religious and political advancement. Why didn’t Joseph and Mary leave him? Certainly there was someone among those in the temple that would recognize Jesus’ potential and become his mentor.

There can really only be one response; children are the social security of the poor in developing countries. Joseph and Mary needed Jesus in the family business. Would Jesus have rather stayed? That seems obvious. Still, this is another mark of the richness of our God’s blessing. Raised with calloused hands, in the hotbed of Galilee, God taught Jesus in the school of the common man. In Jerusalem, Jesus would learn exclusivity. In his father’s workshop, he would learn humility and hard labor. Jesus knew the meaning of a day’s hard labor. He knew sacrifice for family. He was not raised on pillows and bon bons. Jesus was a hard-working, highly-respected working man, educated by God in the hardships of life.

Blessing the choice; not the works

Galilee was a hotbed. Her roads looked out upon the “Way of the Kings,” where most of the major battles in Israel’s history were fought. Galilee was always the first into battle and the last out of slavery. Geographic positioning made it stand out like a prominent nose on a first-time boxer. When Israel became belligerent—Galilee got punched.

This is where the character of Jesus was fashioned. From the hills near Nazareth, Jesus would be able to see the Roman Galleys making their way around the Mediterranean (without compasses—no one would go across the sea). He would see the caravans coming from the eastern tip of the world to trade for the exotic goods of deep Africa and mysterious Egypt. God picked a home for Jesus where all cultures would cross and a time when all roads, east and west, north and south would intersect near a speck of spit and dust called Galilee. God’s place and timing were perfect.

Yet, Galilee was also known for its hotheads. This is where the Zealots hid. When things got hot in Judea, Jesus would also circle north through this area to buy more time to teach his disciples. Even Galileans looked down on Galileans. Notice that when Jesus establishes his call—his fellow Nazarenes declare him blasphemous; “After all, he’s one of us!”

Jesus knew the core of the trials which were faced by the “Chosen People.” He was tempered at the tip of Israel’s sword. Yet, if Galilee was the tip of the sword, Jerusalem was the seat of her castigation. Jesus would have gone there on multiple occasions. He would have seen what Rome had done. The main road into Jerusalem was often lined with Jewish patriots who had tested Rome’s authority.

All of this to say; Jesus knew exactly what he was stepping into when he chose to be baptized by John.

What makes someone leave an established, though obscure, life to invite the hatred of this world upon himself? Why would Francis choose to leave his wealthy father’s business and enter a life of complete poverty? What made Martin Luther King, Jr. walk out from behind his pulpit to instead pastor a nation through racism when death would so obviously be his companion? What would entice Oscar Romero to step outside of the comfort of the fold and become the people’s bishop instead of a political pawn?

Like Jesus, each of these people knew that a violent death was a present reality. At some point in time, each of them would have realized that martyrdom was more a matter of time then a matter of chance. Yet, they each took one more halting step towards the brink.

For Francis; it was handing his clothes to the Bishop of Assisi and setting out to live among lepers. For King; it was the first time his house was bombed. For Romero; it was choosing to lead the liturgy when he had been warned that he was a target of a Nicaraguan death squad.

Jesus himself would have known (when he stepped into the Jordan) that he was placing himself squarely in the path of death. It was more than the looming warship of Rome bearing down upon him or the entrenched politics of Jerusalem festering like a leprous wound. Jesus knew that he had stepped in between man and his determined march towards the hypnotic enticement of pure evil.

On that day, when the Glory of God split the sky; Jesus was not blessed for what he had done—for he had just begun his ministry. He was blessed for the decision he made; for what he left behind; for what lay ahead. He was blessed for his decision to be faithful. This is a critical concept to understanding the Way of The Cross!

God does not bless us for our accomplishments—he blesses us for our choices. After all, what earthly accomplishments were known by Francis, King, Romero or even Jesus? One could have been a wealthy businessman, another might have been a respected pastor, Romero might have made Cardinal—if they had just played it safe. And Jesus… well, he could have been a respected and comfortable craftsman. If they had just stayed out of harm’s way…

God blesses the decision; for God is not about results—he is about salvation.

The blessing we live for and die without

There is no greater blessing than the words that were heard upon that day; “This is my beloved son; in whom I am well-pleased.”

With passion, I tell you that I have never met a person who is struggling with life that is not truly struggling with this statement; the lack of this blessing. We each desperately hunger to be dearly loved for who we are—not for our position or our possessions.

All the hatred that I have seen, all the crimes, all the anger, all the sorrow in life seems to come back to a lack of this blessing; “You are my beloved child—in whom I am well-pleased.”

My dearest friends, there is no greater core to the Gospel than this; God loves you already—he is standing at the fence waiting for you to come home:

Luke 15:20

20      And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion {for him,} and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.

Psychologists tell us that we always seek the approval of the parent who loves us the least. I have seen that palpable suffering on the face of thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers—but also executives, attorneys, and clergy. All of us have felt this hunger—and all of us have sought to satiate that hunger in places where it cannot be filled.

God can fill it. He is hungry to quench our greatest thirst. With his hand to his lips, he bends to our ear. He is longing to whisper; “You are my beloved child—in you I am well-pleased.”

Yet, we must bend our will to his in response. We must make the choice that Jesus made as he left behind the tools of a carpenter in Nazareth and took up the nails of an outcast in Jerusalem.

Can you hear the cry of John; “Repent and be saved.” If you have been testing the waters of life with your toe—it is time to stop. Let us dive into the frigid stream—let it awaken us from the stupor of this tepid world. Let’s dive in at the feet of repentance. “I want to re-open, Lord!”

Let him fill you with a love that will not be found in this world because it is not of this world. Bathe in the abundant knowledge that “You are God’s beloved!”

Copyright Notice

Copyright © 2005 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved.  This study may be freely distributed, as long as it bears the following attribution: Source: Jerry Goebel: 2005 © http://onefamilyoutreach.com.

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988.  Used by permission.”