The One Who: is Coming

The One Who  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  18:49
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Let us pray…Gracious and loving God, as we move further away from your Son’s birth, help us in this day to remember the glow, the excitement, and the joy that came from celebrating his birth. As we come before you today in this time of reflection, open our hearts, minds, and spirits to your still speaking voice so that we can focus on you in our lives, Amen.

Setting the Stage

Mark begins his Gospel writing in a way that is different from all the rest of the Gospels. I think that Mark may have wanted to get to the heart of his writing right from the beginning. Matthew and Luke take much more time telling about the early years of Christ’s life and John writes to explain who Jesus was. Mark, in contrast, starts with John the Baptist, who is Jesus’ cousin, in the wilderness. And, Mark describes John as someone who has moved away from society and culture to be a monk of sorts. Now, we need to understand that in that society and Jewish culture, John would have been seen as a prophet, the likes of which many had not seen or heard from for over 400 years. So, when he begins teaching in the wilderness, many looked to him as Elijah, which his clothing and diet emulates. But, they would have also known that he represented something great for them. The last piece on John’s actions and the description that Mark provides of him is related to this…the Jewish people of that time were and have been waiting for the return of Elijah as a sign that the Messiah was coming.
For us this morning, it is hard to envision the scene around the Jordan River at this time. Having visited the spot that many believe that Jesus might have been baptized myself, I cannot even come close to imagining what it might have looked like as I am sure it is much more commercialized than it was in John’s time. However, let’s try to envision the area…this is a picture of what we believe is the spot where Jesus might have been baptized.
What you can see from this picture is that the Jordan is a relative narrow river, at least at this point, but it flows quite quickly. This spot is one of a few spots along its length (about 240 miles) where there is a Ford, or a pool where the water does not flow as quickly. When you think of stepping into a river, I know I think about something like the Delaware or more locally, the Lehigh. For the most part, the Jordan only goes as deep as 10 feet, so these points along the river would have been important to the people of Jesus’ time.
Here’s why…culturally, the Jewish people also had something like baptism in their tradition. When a person determined to become a Jew, they would have to go through a ritual cleaning. For the Jews, being ritually clean is really important. Here’s just a glimpse of why…in ancient Israel, water was often used as an instrument for purification (e.g., Lev 17:15; 22:4–6; Num 19:11–12). In order to become an Israelite Jew, one needed to be clean because their faith instructed them on what was and was not clean, which could be a whole other sermon. For our purposes, I am telling you all this so that we are all coming at this story from the perspective of what John’s role is according to Mark. So, by contrast to the Jewish ideology of baptism, John’s baptism stressed transformation, and that transformation represented a turning from sin and marked a turning point in a person’s life. It wasn’t about being clean on the outside but rather spiritually clean. It also made everyone equal because he was calling everyone to be baptize, Jew and Gentile. That meant that there was no separation of who you were or where you were on life’s journey, John’s baptism was for everyone and represented the same thing for all.
So, when John entered the scene and began performing baptisms, his appearance (like Elijah), his teaching (as a prophet), and his actions (baptisms) would have meant something to the people. When we hear Mark report...
Mark 1:5 NLT
All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
I am hoping that we can all see a little more clearly why so many were streaming to the river’s edge. He was what they were waiting for. Now, don’t get me wrong here…some people were probably just curious about what was going on or why there was this guy standing at the Jordan performing cleansings, but there were many who would have recognized all these things about John and therefore knew that the Messiah was arriving or had arrived, even if they did not know about the birth yet.

Why is this important?!?!

At this point, I can hear some of your minds grinding over this information and wondering why this is so important. Or, maybe thinking, what does this have to do with us? Let me just say, I hear you and I hope by the end of our time together this morning, you have a glimmer of why talking about John and Jesus at the Jordan has some affect and impact on us today...
Now, many scholars believe that Mark may have started his Gospel in this way to really get to the heart of what John and Jesus were here to do…and that is…showing John to be the one who heralds the coming Messiah and Jesus, well you know, to be the Messiah and give credence to who Jesus was. At this point in my study of Mark and this passage in particular, I can see how it was important for Mark’s readers to know and see that the most important person was Jesus and this story gives us that here...
Mark 1:7 NLT
John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals.
John wanted the people who were coming to be baptized or to just generally be curious to know that he was not the Messiah but that the Messiah had arrived and was coming to make all things new and save everyone from sin. Mark did not appear to want to mince words but rather to get to the heart of what his entire message is…Jesus is the Messiah.
The other piece of this story that is really important for us today is to understand why it was important for Jesus to be baptized.

The Meaning of Jesus’ Baptism...

As members of a family of faith, Christians, we all know the importance of being baptized. I also imagine that for each of us, how we define baptism and what it means to us might be as different as we are as individuals. There are several questions I get as a pastor quite frequently, and one of them is “Why did Jesus get baptized, if he had no sin?”. This question raises so many other discussions but for the majority of those who ask, this speaks quite a bit about what we think baptism does for us.
Now, without getting into too much theology, I want for us to consider this morning that there is 1 really, really important reason for Jesus to be baptized and it is not that he needed to be cleansed for purity reasons or for the removal of sin. The primary reason for Jesus’ baptism, by John mind you, is that God sent Jesus as a human to be relate-able to us. I mean, think about it…and I know we have talked about this before…but if Jesus’ primary reason to be here was to bring everyone into right relationship with God, how could he have accomplished that if we could not relate to him? His human presence was to bring into life a God who, since the time that Adam and Eve left Eden, had not been in physical form or appeared to everyone in a physical way. God did appear as clouds, fire, and smoke but as a physical being like the rest of us…it had not happened since the time of the Garden.
In Jesus being baptized, with the heavens opening and the spirit descending like a dove, it was an affirmation of who he was and what he was to do…being the physical presentation of God and therefore the Messiah. So for Mark, this idea that John was a prophet and Jesus was the Messiah, and this story emphasizes those two roles, Mark is attempting to make sure that whoever read his words would understand and be able to make these same connections, regardless as to who they were or from where they came.

What does this mean for us today?

As we consider what all of this means for us today, I want to challenge us to think about what it is that we do in our everyday lives that helps us to be more like those who were streaming to John at the Jordan. For those I have baptized in my career, each of them can say they were baptized in the River Jordan, just like Jesus because I use just a bit of actual Jordan River water in the font each time that I baptize someone. For me, symbolically, even if we are not standing at the side of the river, each person’s life is connected to Jesus in this way.
I also do this because when we are baptized, someone promised or we personally promised, that we will be faithful members of Christ’s family. We ask the parents or the individual to make certain promises and the most important is this one...
Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ's disciple, to follow in the way of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best you are able?
By promising to follow in the way of Christ, we are promising to take our own baptismal vows seriously. If God desired for us to turn back to God and follow in Christ’s way, then why wouldn’t Christ be baptized? If you think back over your life, wasn’t there someone you emulated or acted like? I am guessing that the person you most emulated in your life was someone with whom you were closely connected. God came in human form as an infant to not only know what it is like to live as a human but also so that we can connect with God because God was human, just like us.
This story serves as a reminder that the Gospel is down to earth, grounded in the real, tactile, sensual, fleshy world. Mark gives us a story which challenges us to think about baptism and what it truly means, but he also gives us a story to bring God into the real world. He gives us a river, special clothing, a particular diet, a dove, and the sky opening up…these are all real and sensory, they are a way for us connect. The Baptism of Christ brings God into the real world…and this is why we read and study this story…Amen

Here is a reminder that the gospel is down to earth, grounded in the real, tactile, sensual, fleshy world. In these few verses are references to river water, clothing from camels, diet from bugs, and tying shoes, a bird analogy, and an interesting weather phenomenon. Mark’s earthiness gives us a hedge against faith and worship that are too ethereal, otherworldly, abstract.

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