2 Timothy 4.5-8

Mark 1.1-8

On this the first Sunday after the Leavetaking of Christmas (which was last Friday on Dec 31), the Church sets before us the opening of St Mark: ‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Yesterday, for the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, we heard St Paul’s word to the Colossians: ‘In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,’ (Col 2.9) And we read in St John’s Gospel: ‘No one has ever seen God [the Father]; the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father, has made Him known.

With this we come to the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The word, Gospel denotes ‘Good News’ of a specific kind. It denotes the defeat of an alien government, which has consequences worldwide, resulting in the establishment of a new worldwide kingdom of benevolence and peace.

So, let’s hear again the opening words of St Mark in this light: ‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ On this Sunday after the Leavetaking of Christmas and on the Sunday before Theophany—when Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan and manifested to be the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh by the descent of the Holy Spirit resting upon Him in the form of a dove, and by the voice of the Father from the opened heavens—the Church is proclaiming to us that the overthrow of an evil tyranny has begun. The Gospel of great joy proclaimed by the angel to the shepherds on Christmas Day that will be to all people now ‘takes the field’ and shows Himself at the banks of the Jordan. Having grown in wisdom and stature to maturity as a man of thirty years (Lk 3.23), He is ready to begin His campaign against the prince of the power of the air that works in all the sons of disobedience (Eph 2.2).

He is not arrayed in any military gear and, in fact, when He steps onto the field of battle—or rather, into the field of battle, the River Jordan—He takes His clothes off. As the Church’s hymns tell us, He descends into the deep of the battle naked, as was the first-formed Adam. And John the Baptist, His chief ‘military’ general, himself is dressed only in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; he lives in the wilderness, and his food is locusts and wild honey, exactly like the prophet, Elijah.

This military campaign of the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly is of an altogether different nature than any other battle in this world. This battle of the Gospel is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Eph 6:12]. What man is mighty enough to take on the dark lord who holds all men to lifelong bondage in the fear of death? Only the God-Man born of the woman, the Son of God incarnate, the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.

This is the same Son of God who revealed Himself as ‘He Who Is’ in the Burning Bush to Moses (Ex 3.14). Then, He delivered Israel from bondage to the Pharaoh, using winds and waves, and different elements of nature. But now, ‘He Who Is’ the only-begotten God takes the ancient battle all the way down into the unseen and His weapon is our own flesh and blood with which He has clothed Himself as with a garment.

He takes off His outer garments at the banks of the Jordan and lays them aside. In the Tomb, He will take off His garment of flesh and blood as He descends into the dark world of hell and death, allowing the fullness of the Godhead that dwells in Him bodily to shine forth in all its uncreated brilliance, filling even the nethermost regions of hell with His life-giving Light, scattering the hosts of demons, routing hell utterly, shattering its brass bars and destroying its iron gates, sending the devil groaning in agony as He Who Is the only-begotten God breathes life into those in the tombs and leads them forth from the grave like a Bridegroom in procession. And then, as He put on His outer garments again when He rose from the Jordan, so He puts on His garment of flesh and blood when He rises from the dead—but now the garments have been made new, like new wine-skins replacing the old wine-skin that burst when the New Wine of the God-Man was poured into it, new wine-skins that are now radiant with resurrection and life, incorruptible, immortal, godlike, the Temple of God filled with the Glory of God, the Body of Christ its chief cornerstone laid in the depths of hell, so that the New Temple of God, the risen Body of Christ, extends from the nethermost depths to the uppermost heights, and it fills the earth, it fills the heavenly places with the power and the grace of the Holy Trinity!

But this victory of the God-Man over the prince of the power of the air, the Gospel of Jesus Christ that proclaims the utter defeat of the devil who held us in lifelong bondage by the fear of death, this Gospel begins at the Jordan; for already, when the Savior rises from the depths of the Jordan, John the Baptist sees the heavens opening—or rather, he sees them being torn open, just as the curtain of the temple would be torn from top to bottom the moment that Jesus Christ breathed out His Spirit on the Cross so that the whole of creation was renewed!

And in the power of the Holy Spirit, resting now once again in the man whom God fashioned from the earth, as He, the Spirit, had rested in Adam when Adam was first fashioned from the earth, this Jesus, now manifested as the Christ, the Son of God, by the anointing not of oil but of the Spirit Himself, and as testified not by a prophet but by the Father Himself, this Jesus Christ is now led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tested, it says, by the devil; but I submit that we can say just as appropriately, that He was led into the wilderness in order to begin His defeat of the devil! And that defeat, begun at the Jordan, would continue all the way to the Cross and the Tomb, when He would destroy death by His death and give life to those in the tombs!

The heavens were opened, and Jesus is led into the wilderness, the Arabah (Eze 47.9). Where do you think the Savior is being led to when He goes from there into Galilee and finally to Jerusalem, to the Cross and to His Tomb? Is He not showing us the Path, which He is Himself, that takes us back to Eden and into the Heavens now opened at the top of the Edenic mountain? He is leading us on the Path to Heaven in His own body of flesh and blood, spun from the pure blood of the Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos, this body that was not made by hands, this body in which He destroyed our death by His death, this body which is now, in His Holy Resurrection, the very body those who love Him and hope in Him long to be clothed with.

This is the body that is growing in us; this is the temple not made by hands that the LORD God Himself is building within us. He began building it, it began growing in us, as soon as we were raised from the baptismal font and we, dear faithful, were incorporated into the Body of God in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ was begun and in which that Gospel has been consummated and perfected.

If Christ is in you, dear faithful, then the Gospel is within you! The God-Man’s victory over sin and death is in you, and it is growing in you, increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man, to the degree that the eyes of our soul are fixed on the heavens that were opened at the Jordan when the Gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ began, and to the degree that are souls cling to the LORD Jesus Christ as we follow Him into the wilderness of our own souls, to be tested by the devil, but if we cling to Christ, then we are led into the wilderness in order to defeat the devil, and now the Gospel of Jesus Christ is beginning in us! To the LORD Jesus Christ be all glory forever, together with His Father who is from everlasting and His all-holy good and life-creating Spirit. Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!