1st Sunday in Lent

February 21, 2021


Why does it have to be so violent? 

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you  I am well pleased.” 

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 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. 

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and  saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  (Mark 1:9-15 ESV) 

The topic of religion and violence is a tricky one especially if you don’t like religion and you don’t like violence! There’s a double whammy to start with! Sadly violence is known pretty much in every  aspect of living on Planet Earth so it is naïve to think it isn’t part of the religions of the world – especially if religions are extensions of us. Christianity makes the claim that it is not a human creation  – God is not made in our image, we are made in his image – and so one might think that violence  would not be associated with God, that he would be ‘above it’ somehow. And yet one of the biggest  hurdles that people can find reading the Old Testament and the New Testament is regarding God and  violence. 

God walked in the Garden to search for the rebellious man and woman and he doesn’t smite them  when the man accuses God of causing him to sin! There’s a judgement, a casting out, a promise of  salvation and a rescue has begun, but then there is violence when God is violent towards his creation  in making clothes for the woman and man. Sadly the human story gets increasingly violent with  murder and then violent retribution – think of Lamech’s justice where the punishment for wounding is  death and his revenge again those who attack him is not seven fold as for Cain but seventy-seven fold  (Genesis 4:23,24). 

Violence is here to stay and if God is interacting with the world then he is somehow interacting with  violence. The question to ask, I think, is to what purpose or to what end is God interacting with the  violence in the world? What is his goal and purpose? Welcome to interpretations and views such as  about Abraham’s almost sacrifice of Isaac. Welcome to the violence of today’s reading from the  Gospel according to Mark. Should I say ‘welcome’? 

Did you sense the violence in the Gospel today? 

Mark covers the baptism, the temptation in the wilderness, and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in a few verses. They describe 6 weeks minimum because Mark seems to be in a hurry to tell his  story. Jesus is at the Jordan River – a place associated with the Old Testament prophets and is  baptised by John and the heavens are torn open, split open – and the same word is used later to  describe the tearing of the temple curtain at Jesus’ crucifixion. The mystery is who is doing the  tearing? At Jesus’ baptism in the water he looks like a sinner, the heavens are torn open by the Spirit  who descends on Jesus as the voice declares Jesus to be the ‘beloved Son’. This rescue is involving  violence. 

At Jesus’ crucifixion, he definitely looks a sinner, the worst, and now it is the temple curtain that is  torn in two from top to bottom – God’s doing – and opening a way through Jesus’ suffering and death  to him – yet consider the violence – and it is the centurion who will describe Jesus as the ‘Son of  God’. 

The Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism but Jesus doesn’t descend (come down) from the cross – though the calls came – the temptations came and Jesus had the power to get down but he stays still  skewered it appears by nails, by violence, but we know it is because of his love for us. 

Back at the baptism, it is the Holy Spirit who drives Jesus into the wilderness and hunger and thirst  and wild animals and we have the tension between seeing things as both Divine actions and also  satanic actions. Temptations are hard – internally violent, disruptive, personal – and yet God never  tempts us to sin and Jesus wrestled the temptations not with his divinity but with the Word of God – as all people have access to. Satan didn’t give up after 40 days but was trying all the time – and  especially on the cross, ‘Come down!’ but Jesus thwarts the Devil in death – Jesus is innocent – and  that means, as James puts it, that God allows temptations but doesn’t tempt us. 

And when John is arrested – political violence used against him – Jesus begins his public ministry with his call to repent and believe the Gospel because the time is fulfilled – God has entered the world  stage to fulfil what was begun with the killing of creation in the Garden to be killed as one of us – to  take rebellion and violence on himself – and mysteriously to take it into the mystery of the Trinity and  to defeat its power and the power of death.  

To be involved in this world is to face and deal with violence – we all negotiate it – and that includes  God if he wants to interact with his creation which is in rebellion, groaning, suffering, violent – the consequence of sin – but where our violence is for power and control, God’s closeness with violence  – even use of it – has a different goal and purpose – that of help and rescue. The heavens are torn, the  curtain is torn, the Son of Man is torn, sacrificed, mutilated, killed – all violent actions – by which  God rescues us from conflict, jealousy, rage, the desire to control, pride, spite – the internal fuel of  violent actions. 

I have asked you before why does not God teleport us to heaven the moment we are saved? Why do  we live here? Today we might ask, why didn’t God just wave his magic wand and fix everything?  Why does his creation have to suffer? Why did he get his hands dirty? Why do we face our struggles  and temptations and the rages or whatever within that can result in destructive words and deeds?  Because this is the life we lead, we discover, in a world that we have a huge part in shaping and the  power and corrosiveness and mystery or perversity of sin has meant that God does not remotely press  the reset button but got involved with the world and its violence and finally paradoxically used our  violence to break the control of sin, the world, and the Devil.  

Yes, we can still be violent – even in our congregations sadly it can happen – but now we need not be  violent, raging, aggressive, or whatever else our temptations lead us to do because Jesus has given us  a new identity in our baptism, called us by our name, and said, ‘Follow me’. His Word can speak into  each day and each situation. Yes, we still live in a violent world and there may be violence around us  

and close to us but now we follow Jesus – listen to Jesus – in how we behave seeking to serve those  around us – and where we get it wrong, he forgives and restores us for the next day. 

Jesus understands temptation and violence and whatever you might be going through. His  understanding offers you consolation and support; and his Word can lead you and help you with  whatever you are facing. 

Bible References

  • Mark 1:9 - 15