The Voice Creates, Breaks and Tears Apart

Pastoral Prayer: O Lord our God, Presidents, Congressional Delegates and all forms of human rule come and go. We ourselves live and die. But You are forever. Your Kingdom and Your faithfulness, Your righteousness and Your mercy are without beginning and end. You are likewise the origin and destination of our lives. You are the judge of our thoughts, words and deeds.

We acknowledge with contrite hearts today that we have so often forgotten You, denied You, offended You. And yet we are comforted and enlightened anew by Your assurance that you are our Father and we are Your children, because your dear Son Jesus Christ was made man, died and rose for us, and is our brother.

We give You thanks that we may once more announce and hear the Good News. Make us free, O Lord, to say what is right and rightly to receive it, that this hour may further Your glory and the peace and salvation of us all. And all God’s people say, Amen.*

Psalm 29; Mark 1:4-11

To say what is right and to rightly receive it.

There isn’t a week goes by that your pastor does not calculate his words. Not one. In fact, on occasion I will run how I plan to say something by one of our other preachers here at Snow Hill. Other times I might send what I want to be clear about to another pastor friend. And, often I will ask Patty how this sounds. I never run my proposed words by an editor at any news outlet of any kind. Instead, those who mentored me and taught me described what we preachers do is trust the Spirit through the Scriptures to declare what God has already said.

That means, God does not need me to come up with something to say that God has not already said. Over the course of my life I have had a hard time standing to say, “This is what God told me to tell you.” Primarily because this tact has been abused in ways that make pastors come off more like grifters than Gospelers. Put another way, I have observed that this line is used to close off any questions. Even the saying, God said it, that settles it, comes through a human agent, often a frail one at that. 

But, today, I am standing to say God has already spoken. 

And God said, Let there be light.

The songwriter calls the people to give God praise and reminds that the Voice of God is able to make those things we think permanent and sure come crashing down.

The Voice of the Lord breaks the cedars.

And, the Voice tore open the heavens and took everyone’s eyes off the odd fellow preaching by the Jordan and fixed them on Jesus.

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

God has already spoken. The author of Hebrews makes this point more vivid,

But in these last days he has spoken to us in His Son.

God speaks. God speaks in the Scriptures – written and recognized as God’s words. God speaks in His Son. God calls preachers to speak what God has said.

For the days in which we live we might want to always remember what God speaks in the Proverbs, twice,

There is a way that seems right to a man. But its end is the way of death.

And if what we shockingly witnessed this week isn’t an illustration for us, we have gone so dark as to not be shocked. God shows us God’s way in Jesus. One reason the story of God in the Scriptures cannot just be made up is the way God’s love gets worked out is nothing like what we would do were we to engage our adversaries, our enemies, and the forces of evil. In Jesus God reveals Godself as a loving God, not a sentimental God. God calls us not to the past but to a future. Not to what was but what will be. God calls us to receive the Gift of Grace and out of his love at work in us to live the example the Gift calls out of us. 

So, When God set out to overthrow the kingdoms of this world, he did not storm Baal’s Temple. God revealed Godself to us in human birth, infancy, toddling, teen-aging and adulting never once charging Herod’s Palace. And that is exactly what Mark is doing as he tells the story of Jesus. Mark wants us to know that God’s invading love will challenge all powers but in a way so foreign to human beings as to be unrecognizable.

Think about it. Some of us grew up idolizing Sheriff Buford Pusser. If we could walk tall and carry a big stick we could prove that might makes right. What’s more, when we did not think we could wield a big stick, we latched on to someone who appeared capable.  In the current militarized understanding of problem solving, we have bought into the notion that arming ourselves is somehow godly. That is so Roman. Mark knew this and God before Mark. Jesus did not show up like William Wallace to take on all comers, he went out to John to be baptized. Nothing like a frontal assault on human confidence. We know Jesus had nothing for which to repent. Yet he came to identify with we who could use a catalog to keep track of our offenses. Jesus takes up John’s message and invites all of us to let go of our ways that lead to death and follow Him. Jesus gives us a vision of the missionary heart of God for us and others. When John wrote from Patmos he summarizes the mission of God,

Behold I am making all things new.

God revealed in Jesus came to make us new. He did not come to baptize our ways. And when we revert to achieving what we think to be righteous ends in unrighteous ways, we betray God’s grace and are anything but new. We have received the Gift and shunned the Example. The Good News? God remains faithful to the Gift, Godself given to us in Jesus Christ, even when we faithlessly exhibit his example. The consequences to us and our world are baked into our faithlessness. Rather than order we get disorder.

The Voice heard as Jesus came up out of the water is the same Voice that said,

Let there be light.

Before we hear the Voice we get the setting,

And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

What follows is God taking the formless void and calling something new into existence. God spoke his first words recorded and said,

Let there be light.

And for reasons that lie deep within us, we have been looking for the darkness ever since. When John describes the coming of Jesus in his Gospel, he knows what he is doing when he uses the imagery of light coming into the world and darkness was unable to overtake the light. Somehow we find more pleasure in news created in the dark chambers of viral technologies than meditate on the Light of the World that leads to life. And still God loves us.

We argue over the rights of private companies to dictate how we will conduct ourselves in the spaces they create. Jesus called out the hearts that want a place to traffic in ethnic superiority, class privilege and conspiracy nonsense. It is what comes out of a person that makes them unclean. Jesus gave no quarter to talk about rights, Jesus pointed the way to true freedom. Remember, 

There is a way that seems right to a man. But its end is the way of death.

Listen carefully, there is not a place where God speaks that Godself intends to baptize our ways and make them God’s own. Instead, He baptizes us into Jesus Christ and makes of us His better place in the world, the Church. Creating a more perfect Union is not God’s aim. Our union with Christ is God’s mission. We cannot confuse the two. When we do, we have missed God’s new creation work. 

Our trouble, what lies deep within us, is the seed of the lie that God is out to get us. Talk about conspiracy theories! It is the root of all conspiracy theories. We live with such a perverse understanding of God that we prefer paranoia to peace. Rather than God pursuing us in love, we align with the Enemy who whispered in that first couple’s ears as if to say, “Does God really want the best for you?”

When will we realize as the people of God that cynicism is not a virtue. Eventually it will bleed into how we view all other human beings. Rather than view them as people made in the image of God we will designate them as enemies and will approve of things we would never condone in our own children. We then wonder where we failed when they actually take up where we found our limits and press things even further.

Our penchant is then to long for some imagined bygone day. We sentimentalize the past with words like *Again*. We think the future uncertain so we relish the past. We fear what we do not know so we invest our histories with myths. Like the Siren’s Song it lures us to disaster. For it is not love that looks to the past but love that calls us forward. The Apostle Paul wrote,

Forgetting what lays behind and reaching forward to what is ahead.

The future with God is to be preferred to any past. Looking to the promises of God insist on seeing the New to Come that breaks our Wish Dream of the past. Do you hear The Voice? This message is given us by lyricists in the Psalms.

The Voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;

the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

Throughout the Scriptures, the cedars of Lebanon remind those who see them of things permanent, immovable and beautiful. Think of the evergreens that cover the majestic Rockies. The cedars and mountains respond to The Voice of the LORD. 

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

Sirion like a young wild fox.

The Voice is able to make the immovable mountains and its peak nimble and responsive.

Can you hear Jesus?

Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.

Here the lyricist wants we singers to understand that those things we think have permanence, staying power, that cannot be shaken are no match for The Voice of the LORD. Israel knows that the God who creates order out of chaos and has set them free by the words, 

Let my people go,

is more reliable than the mountains of Lebanon and the cedars that adorn them.

And, it is This Voice, The Voice, that tore open the heavens and took our eyes off everything that holds our attention. The Voice offers the words we long to hear for ourselves,

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Tearing through all the barriers and obstacles created by our Enemies Sin and Death, God tears through what separates us and in Christ calls us his children, the Beloved. And in Christ God is pleased.

The word Mark uses for tearing apart the heavens is the same word he uses to describe the tearing of the veil in the Temple from top to bottom. 

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

The obstacles that keep us from God have been removed by The Voice of God, a great cry!

There is a way that seems right to a man. But its end is the way of death.

And in Jesus’ death, God made a way for human beings to be made right, to be made new.

God speaks. The Voice of the LORD creates, breaks and tears apart those forces against us.

So in Baptism, God buries us with Christ and raises us to walk in a new way of life. Our Baptism identifies us with and in Christ. We are identified with Jesus in the way his baptism demonstrated that he came and identified with us for left to our own devices we cannot forget,

There is a way that seems right to a man. But its end is the way of death.

And so we exclaim again and again with Isaiah, 

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!

*Prayer adapted from the prayer offered by Karl Barth, December 29, 1957 for his sermon, Remember the Lord found in Deliverance to the Captives.

**I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here.  You may listen here.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

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