January 10, 2021 Baptism of Our Lord The text is Mark 1:4-11
4 John the Baptizer was in the desert telling people about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 All Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
6 John was dressed in clothes made from camel’s hair. He wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
7 He announced, “The one who comes after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to bend down and untie his sandal straps. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove. 11 A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The last time we were together we encountered John the Baptist in St. John’s Gospel, at the River Jordan baptizing all who came to him in repentance. This morning once again we find Baptizer John at the river, this time his story is being told by St. Mark. Many of the details are the same; someone is coming after him who is more powerful than he and John tells the people that he is unworthy to untie his sandals.
In his gospel Mark gives us a bit more detail about John the Baptist himself, his clothes and diet; the whole description of the camel hair cloak and eating the locusts and wild honey. That, and that he was living by himself in the desert; these are the details that Mark feels are important. Last month, John, ever the more mystical of the gospel writers took great pains to let us know who the Baptizer was not. He reports that John set his questioners straight; that his job was to set the stage for the Christ who was to come after him. This morning, Mark, on the other hand is a bit more concerned with letting us know who John is, and that his action regarding Jesus’ baptism is a seminal one in the story of the redemption of God’s people. This is less about the authorities attempting to find out what John the Baptist was all about, but rather gets right down to the act of his baptism of Jesus. And, to add heavenly authority to the baptism itself, we read that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and the voice of God proclaimed Christ’s identity as the Messiah.
And this proclamation serves to announce that Jesus is now getting down to the business of his ministry. The Bible tends to move very quickly as details of Jesus’ life on earth are recounted. Matthew and Luke begin with Jesus’ birth at Christmas, while John and Mark skip the Nativity story and begin with this morning’s account of his baptism. Jesus is now about thirty years old and has just been baptized by John in the Jordan River, and his identity as God’s Son is confirmed. This leaves us with quite the gap in the biography of the life of Christ. We’re left to wonder; other than teaching in the temple when he was about twelve, what was the rest of Jesus’ childhood, youth, and adolescence like? While the time preceding the start of his ministry likely doesn’t include anything that would impact what he was sent to earth to do, I admit that it would be interesting to know a bit more about our Savior’s first three decades walking the world in flesh.
Was he a colicky baby? How was the teething period? Did Mary and Joseph have a hard time getting him to clean his room? Was he frustrated when his voice changed at puberty?
Believe me, this is in no way meant to be frivolous or irreverent. While Jesus was fully divine, Lutheran theology teaches that he was, at the same time, fully human. I for one, am going to cling to the belief that his early life experiences were the same as for any of us. It gives me great comfort to think that Jesus encountered all the awakening, joys, and pain that each of us must endure. After all, these are the very things that make us, and Jesus, human. Since God chose to walk in flesh as one of God’s own creation, it is reassuring to know that anything we might undergo is part of Jesus’ own human experience.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a record of Jesus’ life prior to the start of his mission to save God’s people. Which brings us to his encounter with his cousin John the Baptist on the bank of the Jordan River this morning. People have been flocking to John to hear his message of repentance and to be baptized in preparation for the coming Messiah. The chief reason for baptism with water, then and now is the symbolic washing away of sin. Yet, Jesus lived a sinless life. And therefore John, who was intimately aware of the divine nature of Jesus, is astonished when his cousin presents himself for immersion in the river. A distinguishing feature of Jesus’ ministry is his habit of turning just about everything that is firmly established upside down. And this morning’s event at the Jordan, being the very inception of Jesus’ public ministry appears to set the stage for everything that comes after. In his first public act, he does the exact reverse of what was expected.
We find John, waist-deep in the river Jordan, baptizing those who have come to him for cleansing from their sins. He looks up to see Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’, wading out to take his turn, among the repentant sinners. John is uncredulous; Matthew recounts that John asks, “you want me to baptize you? Shouldn’t you be baptizing me?” Jesus tells him, “no, this needs to happen as my very first act of ministry; so that I may fully and completely be identified with those I have come to save”.
Well, not in those exact words; more like, “to fulfill all righteousness”. But the meaning is the same. If Jesus is to eventually take our place on the cross, it seems only right and proper that he would start out by taking our place in the baptismal waters. Thus, we are connected with Jesus through the very first action he undertakes. And we will accompany him throughout his entire journey. Paul tells us that we have been baptized with Christ and will share in his death and resurrection. We travel with Jesus, from immersion in the Jordan, to the cross and ultimately, the empty tomb. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the river and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son of God. It is much the same at our own encounter with the baptismal font of grace. We too are blessed with the Holy Spirit abiding within us and are made sisters and brothers of Christ and children of God.
Baptism is a holy rite and one of only two sacraments observed by Lutherans; along with the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. And all talk about baptism should be reverent and held in holy esteem. Which reminds me of a joke; “a two-month-old baby returns home from church the morning of his baptism. He tells the toddler next door, ‘you won’t believe what happened to me this morning. A guy in a dress tried to drown me in front of the entire congregation. And, I kid you not, the whole time it was going on, my family just stood around taking pictuyres’. I’m not going back there!’”. Well, we hope he will understand what really happened when he’s a bit older and it’s explained in confirmation class.
Ultimately, John relents and Jesus receives his baptism. The ‘logos’, the very Word of God who has come to earth as a mortal is now ready to begin the mission that he has come to accomplish. Jesus will turn the world upside-down, exposing every action that is contrary to God’s will for God’s people. The meek will inherit, first shall be last, sinners and tax collectors will be dined with. Lazarus will be brought back to life. The blind will see, water will become wine. Peter will be declared the rock and Thomas’ doubt will transform into belief. Jesus will bring about all these seemingly unresolvable issues, as only God’s Son is able to do.
Yet, all the while, he will be doing so as a mortal being, from his birth from Mary, through baptism by John, to completing his ministry, to his death at the hands of Rome.
Christ’s baptism this morning is the inauguration of his life-giving mission for God’s people. His ministry has been blessed by God and Jesus is now ready to secure for all of us a justified relationship with God. In the weeks to come we will hear of the signs, wonders, and miracles that Jesus performs. We will see ourselves in the actions of those he admonishes. We will be reminded again and again that we are to follow the ways of Christ as we make our way in this life. And the very first example we should emulate is his admonition that we are all neighbors, and brothers and sisters to all. Jesus was willing to undergo a baptism for the remission of sin, even though he was sinless. Thus, our Savior is willing to identify with us; broken, sinful beings. And we also, through our baptism are now identified with him; our sin is taken away by his rebirth and we are made new. So, it seems to me that we don’t really have a choice, do we? If we are baptized into Christ’s life we must therefore strive to live and act as he did.
Jesus Christ, sinless and holy came to walk among God’s sinful and wicked people. If Jesus is willing to do this for us, we are bound to honor and bless this by being his hands and feet in the world he left. It’s up to us to continue what he started. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and be a place of shelter for God’s people. In this way we identify with the One who came to identify with us. Jesus walked our path before us, showing us the way to walk after him. Our Lord and Savior became flesh to be one of us; in baptism, colic, messy room, squeaky voice and all.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious and holy God, we give you thanks that you chose to become incarnate and walk among your people. Through Jesus you humbled yourself to experience all that makes us human; that you might truly and bodily know all that we, your people endure.
In thanksgiving, we pray for the ability and strength to emulate your earthly walk among us. And we pray these things the name of Jesus Christ, the One whose baptism began his mission and whose death and resurrection commend us to continue to serve as his earthly hands and feet.
And in Jesus’ name together the people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.
Preached by Minister Tom Houston at Grace Ministries when he presided at service there on Sunday, January 10. 2021.