Jesus - A New Hope 2
Passage: Mark 1:1–1:8
Who here has seen the first Star Wars movie? Raise your hand. And no, I don’t mean the first prequel, the Phantom Menace which is technically Star Wars 1, I mean the real first Star Wars movie, a New Hope that came out in 1972. Can you think back to the first time you saw it? What was it like? What were you expecting?
I remember seeing some sort of documentary on the making of the first Star Wars movie. And they had actors and actresses from the movie talking about being on the set and filming some of the iconic scenes. They talked about how they made the Star Destroyers out of legos and how those scenes of x-wings shooting at the Star Destroyers were just like these things flying over a table of mish-mashed legos. And the actors and actresses looked at themselves and thought, “This movie is going to be awful.”
Then they saw how it turned out. We all saw how it turned out.
But think back to that first time. The music starts, the horns come in, Star Wars flashes across the screen, and then this text flies through space. Episode IV. I first saw it years after it had come out and as a kid didn’t know what I️-V meant. But Episode 4. Wait, what? Iremember wondering if I’d gotten the right movie from Blockbuster. I wanted to watch the first one, why does it say episode 4? But anyways, we read the text of this long story that we are being dropped into the middle of.
When you first saw Star Wars, were you confused? Was it a little weird to start? But you thought, hey lets go along with it and see? Well, that’s how I was.
We are currently in the Christian season of Advent. This is a season where we spend four weeks waiting and preparing ourselves to hear the Christmas story anew. We remember that Israel waited generations for their Messiah and we are reminded that we ourselves are waiting for our Messiah Jesus to return. Advent is a time where we say the world needs a savior and that savior is Jesus.
We are talking about Advent this year through the lens of Star Wars. And not just because I wanted to wear Star Wars t-shirts to church. Although #jobperks. We are doing this because in Revelation, John the seer depicts the birth of Christ in galactic terms. As this cosmic war between the forces of good and God versus the forces of evil and wickedness. And that looking at an epic intergalactic story like Star Wars can help us see the cosmic implications of Christmas.
Last week we started at the end, literally, as we looked at Revelation, Christ’s second coming, and Return of the Jedi. This week we are going back to the beginning, at least the beginning of the new beginning, and are looking at the first eight verses of the first Gospel written, and A New Hope.
We are looking at Mark 1: 1-8. Here is the full reading and then we will take it in sections.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
So here’s something ironic for you, the quote “a voice crying out in the wilderness Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” is from Isaiah. But “I️ will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”…um, sorry Mark, not from Isaiah. From Malachi. So just remember to always check your sources.
But back to some serious talk.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
We begin with a bold claim: the beginning of the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. Right away we are told this is not a small story we are about to read. This is about the Messiah, the one prophesied about for generations. This is about the Son of God. Now this is a curious term. We associate the term with Jesus Christ, but originally this was a term used for the Roman emperor. After his death, Julius Caesar was dubbed divus Iulius or divine Julius. His adopted son and successor Octavian was then called filius divus Iulius, son of the divine Julius, which was then simplified to filius divus. Son of God. Subsequent Roman emperors took this title for themselves.
Mark says that Jesus is the Son of God. He is not making this term up nor is he using it unaware of the connotation. He is making a point.
Then Mark immediately begins to quote the prophets. After telling us this was the story of Jesus, the promised Messiah and Son of God, Mark pivots to people prophesying not about Jesus, but about the person who would prepare the way for Jesus. What this says is that even though we are just starting the story about Jesus, this is a story within a much larger story.
When Star Wars A New Hope begins, we are immediately clued into the larger story. We are told about an evil Galactic Empire that has plans and designs to build a horrific space station called a Death Star. We hear of a rebellion that is just starting to gain a foothold. The rebellion has the plans for the Death Star and Leia is bringing the plans back to rebel command. The movie is going to begin with soldiers from the Empire perusing her.
This is how Star Wars begins. In the midst of an epic war, with fully developed characters and roles. We are dropped into the middle of a fully formed plot. It’s not too soon before we meet the droids, one who can’t stop talking and the other that has the plans and a message from Leia. They are sent to a desert planet where we meet another group of people who have their own lives and stories.
Here’s why this is important, not just for Star Wars, but for Advent, Christmas, the Jesus story and our lives: what we are waiting for and what we celebrate at Christmas was not the beginning of God’s interaction with humanity. The Christian story is one that goes back to the beginning of time. Star Wars does not begin with Luke Skywalker nor is it true of fair to say that Star Wars is a story primarily about Luke Skywalker. It begins with this whole history and drama already set.
Similarly it’s important for us to see that Mark links the quote “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ” with quotes from the prophets. Because the story of Jesus isn’t just about the man Jesus, son of Joseph. It’s primarily a story about a God who created the heavens and the earth, made covenants with humanity through the people Israel and has been working with humanity from the very beginning to bring about a creation that is as perfect as God Himself is perfect.
There’s a fallacy in Christian thinking that sees a break from how God related to humanity prior to Jesus and how God relates to humanity in Jesus. While God is doing a new thing in Jesus, God is not doing something that negates all the other things God has done. The introduction of Jesus does not reduce all that came before Jesus to the ranks of unimportant. Instead, what Mark is saying here is that to get Jesus you have to get the prophets. You have to get the story of Israel. You have to get the story that God Himself is dropping into the middle of.
To get Star Wars is to get that there’s a grand story you’re starting in the middle. To get the Gospels is to get that there’s a grand story you’re starting in the middle.
As the plot of Star Wars continues we see that there’s somewhat of a narrative problem. We meet Luke Skywalker and its clear this story is going to involve him in a special way. But how do you connect the larger story that the first few minutes have hinted at to Luke, a guy living on a desert? How do you introduce Luke to the wider narrative? You need some sort of connector.
So who does Luke come into contact with in a cave in the middle of the desert planet? Obi Won. And Obi Won is the key to getting Luke within the wider story of the epic battle of Star Wars.
How do we get Jesus into the larger story of God’s relation to humanity?
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark says that this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. And the first things he does after saying that are to quote the prophets and then talk about John the Baptist. Which is a little weird. It’s the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ and we haven’t gotten to Jesus yet. But Mark believes its imperative to see how this story, how the good news of Jesus Christ, connects to the larger story. And the way it does is John the Baptist. We read of this man who appears in the wilderness talking about repenting from unrighteous action. John’s message was that if the people Israel would turn from their wicked ways, God would forgive their sins. And the sign of God’s blessing would be mediated through water.
John is not the first person in the Bible to talk about repentance. John is not the first person in the Bible to say that if the people would turn from sin, God would forgive. And this is not the first time that God’s blessing is signified through coming through waters. Instead, this is a symbolic synopsis of the entire Old Testament. All throughout the Old Testament prophets we see the prophets calling the leaders and the entire people of Israel to turn back to God. We see the prophets saying if you would turn away from foreign gods and serve the Lord your God a famine will end. God will bring rain. We see the prophets saying if you turn from foreign gods and remember the Lord your God, remember to follow Torah, God will end the exile. God will stop the threatening foreign army. God will save Israel. And all of this is based on how God first saved Israel through the Red Sea when they were slaves in Egypt.
John the Baptist serves as a reminder of the entire history of God with Israel.
What’s different is that in the Old Testament rarely were the prophets listened to. Instead the prophets were stoned. They were punished. They were scapegoated. Now the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were coming to him. Finally, all of Israel is listening to a prophet, Mark tells us. And because all of Judea and Jerusalem are finally listening to one of God’s prophets, the one who is to come can finally come. John announces that soon one will come who is greater than him, one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Similarly Obi Won invites Luke into the larger narrative. Obi Won tells Luke and us about the larger story, the larger history that Luke is about to step into. Obi Won talks about a noble order called the Jedi who served the Force and protected the galaxy. Obi Won himself embodies that order. He talks about an evil man named Darth Vader who cut down all of the Jedi. And then gives Luke a light saber showing that Luke himself will fit into this narrative. But there’s something else there, something left unsaid. There’s a hint that Luke might be different than all the other Jedi that Darth Vader hunted and killed. Maybe Luke himself could be the new hope that the title suggests is coming?
So beyond a treatise on why the Old Testament matters, what does this mean for our lives?
Christmas is about welcoming the Christ child into our world. But for us who celebrate Christmas thousands of years after the birth of Jesus, its about celebrating God’s presence in our world and in our lives. Because of the birth of Christ we know that God is with us, that’s what Emmanuel means. God is here, God is in the world, working with the world, God is with the world. The incarnation means that God became part of the world.
But what Advent teaches us is that God has been doing this for a long, long time.
And what this means for your life is that God has been there and God has been working and God has been doing before you ever realized that God was here. God was loving you, God was giving you grace, God was giving you life before you ever knew it. We all have a story about how God has impacted our lives. What Advent teaches us is that God’s impact on our lives and God’s involvement in our lives started way before we could possibly know.
And not just that. God is right now working in the life of someone you know, someone you love, someone you wish would know how much God loves her or God loves him. God is working in that person’s life. God is working in that person’s heart. God is already and has been part of that person’s story. This Christmas that person can have a new hope. That person can come to see Jesus for the first time. But that new hope is based on a same old God moving and working in ways we can only marvel at later.
And as you go consider this: maybe the way that God is working in that person’s life is you. Maybe the way that person is going to come to have a new hope is your invitation to come to Christmas Eve church or to check out this cd. Maybe you can be the Obi Won in that person’s life. Let’s pray for a few minutes and think about who in our lives needs a new hope this Christmas.