January 7, 2018
This is the day we celebrate “The Baptism of our Lord.” This is an event that all four of the Gospel writers tell us about. As I’ve said before, if something is a “four Gospel” story, it needs to be seen as having “extra importance.”
The Baptism of Our Lord is one of those stories. And it is the event that “kicks off” the ministry of Jesus. (If you’ll allow me a football metaphor here today!) Mark’s Gospel (and John’s Gospel for the most part) starts the story of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Matthew and Luke begin with some of the birth accounts of Jesus. We saw that during Advent. But these other two start at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
That’s what we have here in Mark. Mark begins by telling us about this man named John who comes on the scene, “preparing the way.” And Mark sees John as a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy. There’s no doubt about that here! He quotes two quick passages from the Old Testament. The second one is that of Isaiah. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness ‘Prepare the way of the Lord., make his paths straight.’” (Isaiah 40:3) That’s fairly familiar.
The first passage he quotes is less familiar. It comes from Malachi 3. “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way.” That’s important because Malachi is the bridge from the Old to the New Testament. It is a book whose title literally means, “My Messenger.” (Hence the quote here.) It is a book that prophecies the coming of the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Mark sees that as very important! He’s the only one who quotes Malachi.
So John was the Messenger. He was the Elijah figure who was to come before the Messiah. That’s what the Jews have always believed, that Elijah would return before the Messiah. They still believe that today. That’s the preparation. And that gives Jesus that much more importance. He’s seen as the one foretold by the prophets, too!
Of course, the next thing that happens in this story, is that Jesus comes to John (along with many others) to be baptized. And I think one of the things we always see in this story, is the same thing John saw. John doesn’t actually say this in Mark’s Gospel, but what he sees is that this is backwards! In Matthew, John actually says to Jesus, “No, it’s you who should be baptizing me!” He knows how important Jesus is. He had already said to the people, (and Mark does tell us this) “After me comes one who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie…”
So, it does seem odd to us that this is happening, doesn’t it? It would make more sense for Jesus to be doing the baptizing! And it brings up all kinds of questions, like “If Jesus was without sin, why did he need to be baptized?” Which I don’t think I want to get into today! But it’s something to think about – if you haven’t already.
What I will say is that Baptism is more than just a “cleansing” of sin. If that were the extent of it, we’d all need to be baptized every day! Wouldn’t we? I know I would! And I’m sure you would, too! Baptism is, among other things, a “beginning.” It is a beginning of a life in the church for a believer. Or for a child it’s the beginning of the life of “christian nurture” – in the church! It’s all about being part of what has been called “The household of God.” And I think we’ve lost something if we think of it only as a cleansing of sin. Actually it’s the sign of our cleansing of sin. Just like the Lord’s Supper is a sign of the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus.
Sadly, baptism for some is just something to “be done.” Like it’s an immunization of some kind. And yes, it is something important to “be done,” but it’s about the beginning of something! It’s about the beginning of one’s life in the church. After it comes the nurture. We can’t forget that part! I’m proud of this church, because it asks the parents, not only to think of their faith, but also to consider making a commitment to bring the child to church as part of that nurture.
So, baptism is the “sign” of the beginning of something – something important! In Jesus’ case, his baptism was the beginning of his life of ministry. It was sort of like an ordination for him. And he saw it as an important step. As he said, it was “fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” It was important, if not for that explanation alone! But add to that the voice of God. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
I want us to think about that today. The actual voice of God was not heard very often. And when it was heard, it was associated with big events in the Bible. It was heard on the mountaintop in the wilderness. It was heard in the Transfiguration of Jesus, which we’ll talk about in a few weeks. So, the people who were there that day, and those who would be told about this or who would read about it later, knew something important happened!
This story has been handed down and told throughout the ages. The people knew then, and have continued to know, that God had spoken, and that this man Jesus was the one spoken of by the prophets, as was John the Baptist. And the Baptism of the Lord was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. Ever since that time, Baptism has been a beginning for believers.
And so we’ve been emphasizing that here at the beginning of the year. We’ve done this for a number of years now. And I think it’s a great way to start a new year! As we think of the new calendar year, we’re also thinking of a new year in God’s kingdom. And we’ve been doing so by recalling our own “beginning,” the beginning of our lives in this faith “community” we call the church.
So today, we consider our own baptism. And we say again the vows we took, or that our parents took on our behalf. And as we do so, may we think of this story. And may we remember in this the voice of God. “This is my beloved Son.”
So take out your bulletins, and let us stand and renew our baptismal vows together! And then I will “re-introduce” you to the waters of baptism!
Eternal God, bless us as we begin a new year, and as we begin a new year in your kingdom and in your service. Help us to know we are following Jesus, your beloved Son. May we be more like him in this coming year. For we pray in his name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.