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Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart that, by the patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life. … through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.
Mark 1:1–4 ESV
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
“The baptism of John, standing between the Old and New Testament, occupies as to its effect and fruitage an intermediate position. It contained more than the shadow (Col. 2:17) of legal purifications and circumcision, because it was “a baptism of repentance into remission of sins.” Its condition was repentance, for it was administered only to those who had heard the preaching of repentance (Matt. 3:2) and had confessed their sins (Matt. 3:6). In it repentance was also confirmed (Matt. 3:11), for it was truly “a seal of repentance.” (Tertullian). It communicated as a means the forgiveness of sins (cf. Mark 1:4, with Acts 2:38). But it was less than Christian baptism, for it was a baptism of water (Mark 1:8) and not of the Spirit. It did not regenerate. Thus John’s baptism agrees with his whole position. He was less than the least in the kingdom of God (Matt. 11:11) because he was not within.”
John A. W. Haas, Annotations on the Gospel according to St. Mark, ed. Henry Eyster Jacobs, vol. III, The Lutheran Commentary (New York: The Christian Literature Co., 1895), 29.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, not His birth, is Exhibit “A” of Mark’s argument that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and John the Baptist is the first witness. Mark took the recollections of Peter the Apostle and presented them to Gentile Romans who had come to understand that the visible representation of God was the Emperor. To them, Peter preached, and Mark wrote that it is not Nero, the mighty Roman Emperor, but Jesus, the crucified Galilean Rabbi, who is in fact, the true Son of God. Jesus’ reign is not based upon legions of men, bristling spears and wearing the iron armor of the Empire. It is based upon the prophetic Word of God, therefore it is introduced by the Word of God through Malachi and Isaiah, which both announced to and prepared God’s people for the coming of their King.
Mark 1:4–8 ESV
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
For those who are looking for the right ruler to follow, the right team to join, John would not appeal to Roman sensibilities anymore than he appealed to Jewish ones. Nevertheless, the authority in his voice caused people to look past his outward appearance and sense the anointed power that drew them to the Jordan, confessing their sins and fearing the coming wrath of God. That same voice told them that he was not the Way, but the one who prepared the Way. He could not be the end of their seeking, instead, he was a partner with them on the journey. His baptism was not the completion, but the beginning, of their journey of transformation from slaves of sin to children of the King. John proclaimed God’s Law in all of its harshness as a member of the Levitical priesthood through his father, Zechariah. His closing words point to One who will give more, more than ritual purity, more than a hunger for righteousness. John offered water and a warning, but the One who came after him would offer both cleansing and power: water and the Spirit.
If John’s words concerning his baptism also describe the way that you were baptized, you might be a disciple of John. Let’s look at it, piece by piece.
John was calling for repentance, not discipleship.
John’s baptism was a baptism of water only.
The people who were baptized by John confessed their sins first, having heard God’s Law and His impending judgment, and then were baptized. Afterwards, they were instructed, again in the context of the Law, in what they should now do.
There is only one exception to this, and you can search the Scriptures for yourselves to confirm it. When Jesus was baptized, He did not fit John’s pattern at all.
Mark 1:9–11 ESV
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Again, let’s take it apart, piece by piece. but in order to see it clearly, I need to take you to listen to Matthew’s report of this event. I could have went to Luke as well, but we will read him next year:
Matthew 3:13–17 ESV
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Ok, let’s check out the pattern
Jesus came to be baptized, but John neither declared God’s Law nor called for Jesus to repent. Instead, John confessed that he needed Jesus to baptize him!
Jesus comes out of the water, and the Holy Spirit comes down and rests upon Him - He is baptized in water and the Spirit.
God the Father declares that Jesus is justified. He needs to do NOTHING to please the Father.
In short, Jesus’ baptism was not the same as everyone else’s who came to John.
So What?
Turn to the person next to you and ask them:
So what?
You see, Jesus got baptized, but not because he had any sins to be forgiven. For everyone else, they were being baptized for the forgiveness of sins. They came into the water, guilty of sins. They were washed in the water. They came out of the water, with their sins forgiven, because God established this baptism for that purpose.
But when Jesus goes into the water, He goes in sinless. He gets washed in dirty water. He goes in clean and comes out with our dirt. He goes in sinless, and comes out with our sin.
I suspect, but it’s just a suspicion; it would make a great movie, though. Can you imagine how, on the one hand, the Pharisees, when they came out to see John, as recorded in the Gospel according to John, were genuinely seeking to identify who the Baptizer might be: was he “the messenger,” or was he in fact, the Coming One? There is no record that has the Pharisees saying anything negative about John; by contrast, there is no record of them saying anything good about Jesus. It is as if, on some level, although He had done nothing wrong, They just felt that something was wrong with Jesus! Every action that they took in relation to Him followed from that premise. Could it be that everyone’s sin that Jesus took upon Himself in that baptism was sensed by their hyper-legalism?
Another think for you to think about. Even today, many are looking for something or someone who will have the answers, who will possess the charisma, the wisdom, the power, the weight, to give to us the peace and security that we crave. Looking back over the past decade, 2009 until the present, we have seen our national politics move away from the desire to find a good chief executive in a political system that worked through negotiation and a belief that we were all playing or the same team, to a desire for an almost messianic figure who would take control, sweeping away all opposition, and fix all of our problems, along with a perception that there is a group that wants to save America and a group that wants to destroy it. The chilling, hauntingly beautiful thing about this picture is that we are quite certain who wants to destroy our liberties and bring us into bondage:
They do!
They are the ones who do not understand. They are the ones who cannot see reason. They are the ones who must be eliminated for the good of our community. And here is the key: They are different from us.
When human wisdom replaces God’s revelation, we judge others, not by God’s holy Word, but by our own sensibilities. We look for the things that separate us, not from God’s righteousness, but from our preferences. That is how we are able to demonize others who are no more perfect and no less sinful than we are, while holding ourselves above reproach when we need the Holy Spirit to work in us “both to will and to do for His good pleasure” too.
God the Father was consistent when it came to Jesus. At no time did the Father condemn the Son as being evil. At no time did the Father deny His love for the Son. When, on the Cross, Jesus bore the sin of the World and took in Himself the wrath of God that we deserved, the Father veiled the sun, and shook the earth so that no one would gloat over the sufferings of His Beloved Son.
All this was included in Christ’s “fulfilling all righteousness” that day in the Jordan river. It is for that reason that the Scripture says as a warning:
Hebrews 12:25–26 ESV
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
and also this:
Hebrews 10:28–31 ESV
28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We have spent far too long fearing the opinions of people, and not enough time cultivating the fear of the Lord. People won’t take your shame for you, they won’t bear your reproach, they won’t die for you. Not like Jesus did. That’s way there is no substitute for “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That’s why your good deeds cannot wash away your sins, but the blood of Jesus can. That’s why putting your trust in man is a fool’s wager, but putting your trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the guarantee of an eternal inheritance that neither fades nor corrupts. That’s why, as Peter wrote to remind Christians just what was at stake in their trusting in Christ:
1 Peter 3:18–22 ESV
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
So take me to the water, not the water that was befouled by the sin of the world, but the water that was purified by the presence and Word of Christ. Take me to the water, not that which reminds me of my sins, but that unites me to Christ. Take me to the water where the Gospel is proclaimed, where my faith is nourished, and where the Spirit is at work.
And let the peace of God, that passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
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