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TEXT: Mark 1:9-13
SUBJECT: Mark #2: The True Israel
The Old Testament is a Book of Promises. In its first eleven chapters, they are made to Adam and Eve, and to Noah, and through them, to the whole human race. But starting in Genesis 12, the Promises are narrowed to one people, Israel.
They come first to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; later they're confirmed and enlarged to Moses; then the Promises are widened and made even surer to David.
What are the Promises? Under the sun, God promises to give them a land in which they will prosper and be secure; He promises to give them long and healthy lives, and many children; He promises to give them good leaders, kings and others who will rule justly in the fear of God; He promises to make them useful, a force for good in the world-in them, all the families of the world will be blessed. These are the Promises He made for life under the sun.
This is not the only life, however; we know there's a life over the sun better than they did, but they had an inkling of it as well. When their lives on earth were done, the Lord would still be their God-they could count on it! Not even death would separate them from the love of God. It was the Old Testament saints who first sang the song we know better from Paul, Hosea 13:14-
I will ransom them from the power
Of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
O death, where is your punishment?
O grave, where is your sting?
These are the Promises God made to Israel, and many more could be added. Since the Lord cannot go back on His Word, the Promises will be kept. Deuteronomy 28:13 says Israel must be-
The head, not the tail,
Above only and not beneath.
This is not what happened. Except for fifty or sixty years in the days of David and Solomon, Israel was almost never safe or prosperous or influential, no less godly or bound for heaven. Our Lord, Stephen, Paul, and others did not see the history of Israel as a roller coaster ride, but more like a sky dive-without a parachute! Straight down. And fast.
How do we explain this?
It wasn't that God forsook them. It was they who forsook the Lord. You see, the Covenants He made with His people were conditional; not that their obedience or faith earned God's favor, but, still, they had to be responsible. They didn't have to be sinless or perfect, but they had to be loyal; they had to live by faith.
This is what they didn't do-what they (almost) never did. The high point of Israel's history is recorded in Exodus 15. The waters of the Red Sea part, Israel passes through on dry ground, but when Pharaoh's men follow them, the Lord confounds them, and when the last Israelite steps ashore, He bring the waters crashing down on them-as He did in the days of Noah.
The next morning, Israel looked at the Sea and saw dead soldiers and horses floating and washed ashore. The sight would probably make us sick; it made them sing! In the words of Martin Luther King, they were-
Free, free, thank God, we
Are free at last.
The rosy glow of redemption lasted all of three days. In the same chapter I just referred to-Exodus 15-we find, in vv.22 and 24-
And they went three days into the wilderness and found no water.and the people murmured.
We all have bad days, and the Lord is sympathetic. He knows our frames; He remembers that we are dust. But this quarrel they had with God at Lake Marah was not a bad day; it was a day like every other. It set the pattern of things to come.
For forty years Israel bellyached in the wilderness, and all their grumbling was traced to unbelief. When they finally got the Land God promised them, they kept it up. They lived well in the days of Joshua, but when he and his assistants died, they went after the gods of Canaan. With rare exceptions, they kept on worshiping their idols and living lives worthy of them.
Instead of obtaining the set of God's good promises, they got the other one; they got His curses. You can read of them in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, and you'll see they're the opposite of the blessings. Instead of living in the land, they'll be evicted; instead of living long and happy lives, their span will be nasty, brutish, and short. Worst of all, the Lord will divorce them as a bad wife and disown them as rotten children.
This is what happened to Israel, and the people who came to hear John in the wilderness knew the story and it covered them with shame.
But then something happened, something they couldn't have fully grasped at the time, but later, they did. They saw a Man walk into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized. When others came ashore, they praised God or hugged their friends or went home to their families to tell them what God had done for them. But not this Man. He went the other way. No sooner had He come out of the water than he ran off into the wilderness and stayed there forty days without food, surrounded by animals that could have eaten Him, and tempted by the devil.
The Man, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ, who is re-enacting the history of Israel.
First, His baptism recalls the crossing of the Red Sea. Paul himself makes the connection. In I Corinthians 10, he says, Israel was baptized in the Red Sea. Whatever else it signifies, baptism is a ceremonial bath. It assumes we're dirty and not qualified to meet a Clean God. This was true of Israel when they crossed the Red Sea; it is also true of them in the First Century when they're being washed by John's baptism of repentance.
But here's a man who is not dirty; a man who can stand in the presence of a Holy God unashamed, acting as though He, too, needed washing. Why? Because He won't be a distant Savior, rescuing us from on high; He's one of us, and if we're in the mud of shame and guilt, He gets down in there with us. Not by sinning Himself, of course, but by identifying with sinners,
His time in the wilderness connects to theirs. He could have stayed thirty-nine days or forty-one, but if He had, the connection would have been loosened. He also could have fasted at home or at the home of a friend, or at the Temple, perhaps, but this too, would have blurred the message. He goes into the wilderness because they did.
There, Jesus Christ faced the very same temptation Israel did. What was it? It was unbelief; it was not trusting God. There was no more presumption in what our Lord did than in what Israel did long before. Why would a people numbering in the hundreds of thousands go to a place without food? Either they were reckless or ignorant, or led there by God Himself! The Lord could have taken them by a way both shorter and better supplied than the Wilderness, but He didn't because He wanted them to know-
Man does not live by bread alone,
But by every word that proceeds from
The mouth of God.
In other words, He wanted them to trust Him: 'Don't trust your barns and bank accounts, He says, 'trust My Word, My Promise'. Israel did not do this. Jesus did.
Did God's character live up to His Promise? It did. God allowed Him to go hungry, to face the devil, and to hear the wolves howling for His blood. But He also sent angels to help Him, as they did when Israel was in the wilderness.
In the end, He survived the wilderness and came out of it with a deeper trust in God and His Promise. A verse that has always baffled me is Hebrews 5:8. Speaking of our Lord, it says-
Though He were a Son, yet He learned obedience through the things He suffered.
Not once did our Lord disobey God. The glimpses we have of Him as a boy show Him busy with His Father's business, and always respectful to His parents, and obedient so long as their wishes did not cross the will of Heaven. Yet, even He, a sinless child and young man must learn new depths of obedience.
It is no coincidence, then, that the terrible suffering He experienced in the Wilderness came hot on the heels of the Voice from Heaven-
You are my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
You may be wondering why I'm telling you all this. Up to now, I fear my sermon sounds more like a lecture in Redemptive History than something you can use tomorrow morning when the alarm clock goes off and you've got to put up with 'those people' again!
Is there a practical word in our story? Yes there is, the very thing you need to handle your problems at home or face the bad news you you'll get from the doctor this week. Here goes:
In Mark 1, our Lord re-enacts the history of Israel to the letter, except for one thing: Whereas they broke with God in the Wilderness, He clung to God, and this means Jesus Christ has become the True Israel, inheriting all the Divine Promises they missed, and.
Being the generous One He is, He shares the wealth of God's Promises with us. Connected to Christ by faith, this means, everything God promised Israel, we get.
The Lord has become our God and we have become His People. Our hearts have been circumcised. We have become a Kingdom of Priests, welcome in God's Presence, and contributing to His saving work in the world. We have become a Light to the Gentiles.
As for the earthly blessings? We've got them too, for the earth will not be destroyed, it will be renewed. With the Second Coming of Christ and the End of Things as They Are Now, Endless Life without sickness or sorrow or pain or disappointment will be ours. In that day, what was Promised to Israel will take on a meaning they never dreamed of-
The meek shall inherit the earth.
And all because Jesus is the True Israel, wining all the Promises of God and giving us a share in His victory.
This may not be as practical as the sermon, 'Ten Steps for Being a Perfect Person', but it's a lot more useful, for Ten Steps won't make you a Perfect Person-and ten million won't either.
What it will do for you is to make the disappointments in life bearable. What if your wife doesn't respect you? What if your husband ignores you? These are sins and they ought to repented of, but what if they aren't? Can you live with things the way they are? If you have all the Promises of God to fall back on, you can live, and live well.
It will also make you content. You have far more than what you don't have. Suppose you don't have a wife or a promising career or children or good health? You'd love to have these things, and you've prayed for them, but you don't have them, and perhaps you never will. Can you still be content? You can if you remember what you do have. A single Christian man has no wife, but he has all the promises of God! The unemployed man has the same, so does young wife who cannot have a baby, the middle-aged man who has cancer, and the old lady who has just lost her husband. The Lord sympathizes with you in your loneliness and loss and need. But He doesn't feel sorry for you because all His Promises are yours and cannot be taken away.
We are rich people living in rags. We ought to be content, and more than that, thankful, cheerful, full of praise and hope.
This is what Mark is trying to do for us. He's trying to make us see ľand feel-the greatness of God's victory in Christ, and the part we have in it.
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