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Sermon for Sunday, February 21, 2021 First Week of Easter Preparation

Speaking of Life 3013 | Rainbow’s Promise

Do you recall the first time you saw the colorful rainbow?  The flash of color across the sky is a promise of hope.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 3013 | Rainbow’s Promise
Greg Williams

Do you remember the first time you saw a rainbow?

Rainbows are iconic, universal, showing up in legends and stories throughout history. Despite years of pollution and our increasingly busy lives, rainbows still make us stop…and look up.

The first recorded rainbow appears in Genesis 9, just after the flood recedes. Noah walks out into the steaming earth and hears the voice of God:

I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
Genesis 9:13-15 (NRSV)

This is what is called by theologians “The Noahic Covenant”—one of several agreements that God made with Israel—and by proxy all the world.

And here we see this strange imagery of the rainbow. “I have set my bow…” This word “bow” is the same Hebrew word as the bow of battle. To the original readers, the bow would have been a common sight in battle. It meant war and death.

But for God to “set his bow” meant that war was over, that the struggle was over. This is the sign of the rainbow in the clouds, turned away from us, a bow at rest.

That rest is what we remember when we see it. and it reminds us of all of life. As violent as the storm might be, the rainbow will be there—the power of the thunder and rain turns to beauty and color. That’s all that’s left standing.

The covenant reminds us that a devastation like a flood won’t destroy us again. God will not destroy us and start over; he will work with us and through us to accomplish redemption. He works through each storm in our lives to make beauty and light come through.

Instead of ending history, he works within it. And instead of starting over with humanity, he became one.

He set his bow in the sky. He set his covenant that he will always work with us and within us on our relationship with him. Let’s remember this promise when the storm comes.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life

Psalm 25:1-10 • Genesis 9:8-17 • 1 Peter 3:18-22 • Mark 1:9-15

The theme this week is the God who can be trusted. In the call to worship Psalm, the poet pleads with God for his help, appealing to his trustworthy character. Genesis 9 tells us about God’s promise to never destroy the world again—signified by the rainbow. 1 Peter 3 tells us about Jesus completing God’s epic, trustworthy plan of redemption. Our sermon is about Jesus’ temptation in Mark 1, where Jesus’ trust in the Father is tested in the wilderness.

Mark 1: Wild Animals and Angels

Mark 1:9-15 ESV

Read Mark 1:9-15 ESV

With Mark’s usual bullet-point brevity, Jesus appears, is baptized, starts his ministry, wrestles with the devil, and calls his first disciples all in the first half of the first chapter.

But in the middle of this bullet-point list, the author takes a moment to show us the disturbing image of Christ alone in the desert among the wild animals. Jesus is in that wilderness place where there is no shelter, where the harsh environment could devour him in a moment.

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:13 ESV)

Matthew and Luke write about Jesus’ wilderness interaction with Satan at length, taking nearly a dozen verses. Mark gives us a sentence and a half. Let’s break down the packed description of this verse into its parts and see what we can learn from this strangest of stories: Jesus meeting this old enemy on enemy turf—waste, loneliness, fatigue.

And he was in the wilderness…

Have you ever been to the desert? Or the heart of the jungle, or the sea after you lose sight of land?

These natural landscapes can be gorgeous, but they can also kill you in a moment. A wrong step and you disappear into the ocean; a short walk with a broken compass in the desert and no one hears from you again. There’s a fascinating power to places like this, where all our human ingenuity and technology and money can’t stand against nature. Nature reminds us how very old it is and that it doesn’t need us here, and sometimes doesn’t even seem to want us here.

Being in the wilderness alone can be one of the most frightening experiences. But before we start to feel sorry for Jesus, let’s focus on the first part of our passage for today. Jesus was preparing himself for this sojourn into the wilderness.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)

Jesus comes to the Jordan and asks John to be baptized. Other Gospel writers share more of this, which we will save for another day. I want to focus on what happened when Jesus rose from that baptism.

Immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mark 1:10 ESV)

Right away we realize this is no ordinary baptism, and this is no ordinary person being baptized. Jesus saw the Spirit descending on him. We can only speculate if any others saw this, or if Jesus just told the disciples what he saw. And this is only part of the experience…

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11 ESV)

What affirmation! “You are my beloved Son.” If there had been any doubt in Jesus’ mind (and I’m not saying there was), it would have disappeared at the sound of this voice from heaven giving this message of affirmation. “You are my beloved; I am delighted in you.” We can only imagine what this affirmation did to Jesus’ confidence. It was with these words ringing in his ears that he came out of that river – full of the knowledge of his identity, and confident in his Father’s love.

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12 ESV)

I find it interesting that we see the words “drove him out into the wilderness.” Other translations use words like the Spirit compelled, sent, impelled or led Jesus. The implication is not that the Spirit forced Jesus to go against his will, it is that the Spirit was leading Jesus to a divine appointment. Going to the wilderness and being tempted by Satan was no accident—it was part of the plan.

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:13 ESV)

Wow, that’s pretty brief. The other Gospel writers spend much more time on the methods Satan used to tempt Jesus, and many sermons have been given on those temptations, but Mark seems to have a different purpose and sums it all up in one sentence. But there is a lot in this sentence.

Jesus was in the wilderness. Such a common biblical term. Unlike modern days, most of their world was what they would describe as “wilderness”—untamed, dangerous, sometimes lethal even while being beautiful. Most of us would be scared to go into the wilderness for an extended period of time. But we cannot assume that of Jesus.

He went into the wilderness full of confidence. He had just heard the voice confirming his identity and affirming his Father’s love. We also know the Spirit led him to the wilderness and the Spirit never leaves or forsakes us. It is similar to us going into the “wilderness” of the world to fulfill the great commission. We go with the confidence that Jesus is the one to whom has been given all power and authority on heaven and earth, and we go in with the assurance that he will be with us always. (See Matthew 28:18-20). So what was Jesus doing in the wilderness? Spending time with his Abba, preparing for his ministry, and defeating the enemy.

…forty days…

Make sure you pay attention when the biblical writers include details like this, especially numbers. Do the numbers sound familiar?

Let’s take a step back and look at it. Jesus passes through waters and goes to the desert to wander. Jesus is replaying the story of Israel here, a nation that passed through the Red Sea and wandered in the desert for forty years before entering the promised land.

You will see this several times through the Gospels—Jesus replaying the story of Israel, only this time it ends in eternal victory. The story of Israel started with Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob, but the extended family became Israel in the desert. Their identity as God’s people was solidified in that difficult time in their tents in the middle of nowhere.

God’s sacred geometry was coming together—our inadequacy and need for him was proven in the desert once, and the need was fulfilled in the desert again. Jesus redeems the journey through the wilderness. Israel spent 40 years because of unbelief in who God was and what he was doing for them. Jesus spends 40 days knowing who he is and knowing God is for him. He rewrote the story of God’s beloved.

Have you seen that in your own life? Jesus steps into your story—he doesn’t destroy it and start over—he rewrites it. One example close at hand is the apostle Paul. After receiving the best training in writing and speaking and arguing, Saul found himself suddenly meeting Jesus. God rewrote Saul’s story. He then used all of Paul’s gifts for writing and speaking and arguing, for his glory and for the gospel. He is rewriting your story because you are his beloved.

…being tempted by Satan.

Jesus heard a familiar voice as he walked out there in the wilderness—the enemy. The enemy of God, God’s plan, God’s people, and of course, God’s Son. But Mark doesn’t spend any time detailing the temptations—he just makes a matter-of-fact statement—Jesus was tempted by the enemy. Some like to depict this as a battle between Jesus and the enemy; it wasn’t a battle. Jesus was in control from the very beginning. He was the beloved Son of God, Satan was the self-proclaimed enemy of God.

There was no ensuing battle, there was simply a matter of putting the enemy in his place. Mark is looking back on this event and simply states the obvious: Satan tried and failed, end of story.

And he was with the wild animals…

Here again, Mark uses just a few words to convey a powerful reality. The wilderness is full of wild animals. This might have included panthers, bears, wolves, hyenas, maybe even lions. Normally one would be terrified to spend 40 nights where there are wild animals. But Mark very likely had a different reason for mentioning these wild animals; he was showing that Jesus had been protected. Jesus went into the wilderness knowing who he was and how much his Father loved him. As a result, he trusted his Father for protection from all the elements of the wilderness.

When we know our true identity—beloved child of God—and we know that God has us in his hands, we can face our own wilderness experiences in full confidence that God is always in control. We can face temptation with the faith of Jesus.

and the angels were ministering to him.

And here’s the last of this brief description. Jesus is tended to by heavenly power through this ordeal. He is cared for and watched over; he is never out of the Father’s eye.

Note that he is also not taken out of the situation. The wild animals and the angels are both there with him in equal parts—like death and resurrection, like joy and pain, like life. Like Jesus, we are never alone in the desert We may be surrounded by wild animals at times, but we are also ministered by angels, letting us know God is always with us.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

Mark ends this bullet-point synopsis and gets to the point: Once John’s ministry ended, Jesus’ began. He started proclaiming the good news. He started sharing his love and life with others. He picked up the work of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. The Spirit led him into the ministry to prepare for ministry. He went in with full confidence and assurance; he came out with mission and purpose. It was time to get to work. It still is.

Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon:

  • Have you ever been to the desert? The jungle or the sea? Can you understand how such a dangerous environment underscores the drama of this story?
  • We talked about Jesus replaying the story of Israel’s journey in the wilderness. How does this help you make more sense of the gospel and the Bible in general?
  • The sermon claims the temptations of Satan wasn’t really a battle. Why do we make this claim? What does identity have to do with dealing with temptation and testing?
  • When have you struggled with trusting that God will take care of you?
  • What do we mean by “it’s time to get to work”?

Questions for Speaking of Life:

  • Did you know the biblical significance of the rainbow? Interesting that God’s second covenant with us was not simply to not destroy us again, but to work with us. Does that give you hope? What does that tell you about who God is?
  • Is there a struggle or a difficult relationship in your life where you need to “set your bow”? Just lay down arms and let go?

Quote to ponder:

“Teach us to care and not care. Teach us to sit still.”~~T.S. Eliot, in his poem, “Ash Wednesday”

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