Red Letter Year: 3/11

Matthew 3:1-17

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”

John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

Comments

Two things stand out to me in this passage. First (and fitting our red letter focus), v.15 marks the first time Jesus speaks in Matthew’s Gospel, and the statement here tells a lot about how Matthew is going to approach his telling of the story: Jesus is the one who comes to carry out all that God requires. In doing so he both secures salvation for us and shows us what it looks like and what exactly it means to live life in such a manner. Jesus was not the only one who needed to carry out all that God requires. Each of us bears the same responsibility, though the specifics will look somewhat different for each of us.

Speaking of looking different: John the Baptist. I didn’t mention this when we read Mark 1, though the two descriptions are nearly identical, and convey to us that John was outlandish in his dress, diet, and demeanor. Bear in mind that John was a prophet, he came in the spirit of Elijah, so these were not merely eccentric choices, they prophetic examples (Elijah, Jeremiah, and other prophets often did the same sort of things – demonstrating as well as speaking the message of God). The message here is one of non-participation in the prevailing economic system. John won’t eat the food or wear the clothes produced in such an oppressive economic climate, where both are the product of slave labor. Much like our own day. Where do our clothes come from? Where does our food come from? Do you suppose we can live off the suffering of others with no consequence? John didn’t think so. And I’m afraid he was right. If we ask honestly, we will find that what God requires of us involves ameliorating – not exacerbating – the suffering of others.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 3/5

Mark 16:1-20

16 Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. Then they briefly reported all this to Peter and his companions. Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen.

After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went to the disciples, who were grieving and weeping, and told them what had happened. 11 But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her. 12 Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. 13 They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them.

14 Still later he appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating together. He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead. 15 And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. 17 These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. 18 They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

19 When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 20 And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.

Comments

This is one of those places where it seems most obvious that Mark was the first Gospel written. Verse 8 sounds like the end, but then there is the longer ending, and even with that Mark only reports Jesus appearing one time. As we will see later, the other three Gospels develop this crucial part of the Good News quite a bit more than this earliest account. What really strikes me here is the specificity of what Jesus calls his followers to. We are to: go everywhere, preach, baptize, cast out demons, speak in tongues, heal the sick, and we will also find that we are impervious to poisons. Matthew will condense all this into “make disciples” but Mark maintains his focus on action to the very end, explaining in detail what sort of actions disciples should regularly be engaged in. I think it would be good for us to give more attention to doing these things.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.