The Baptism of the Lord

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The Baptism of the Lord -- meaning for the world, for Israel, and for us

Good morning, everyone! One tool often used in journalism is the nutshell paragraph, often just called the "nut graph." This is that very brief summary most of us are used to seeing near the beginning of an article. The author answers two questions that the reader will have-what is the point of this story? and why should I care? "Today in the House of Commons members of parliament gathered to discuss..." "Trade negotiations continue between Canada, Mexico and the United States, with no end in sight..." "In this article, we'll look at how hurricane Iota affected Honduras and..." After giving that nutshell paragraph, the journalist will then go on to expand the story with background, events, and conclusions. The first paragraph is essentially a contract between the writer and us the reader: "here's what we're going to talk about, so you know you're not wasting your time." This is different from artistic writing, where the story may be told over several chapters. The story is often told slowly to keep you reading. Even commercial writing for a product might be a little more subtle about what they're actually talking about than journalism. Jesus' baptism is Mark's "nutshell paragraph." Mark 1:4-11 NIV 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: "After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize 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. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Mark writes his gospel in blunt, no-frills language and at lightning speed compared to the other three Gospels. A distinctive characteristic of Mark's style is his use (some 47 times) of a Greek word that has been variously translated "at once", "without delay", "immediately", "quickly", "just then". You could almost summarize Mark as saying "and then this happened and then that followed and then" over and over all the way through the book! It was probably the first Gospel written, and that may have affected the speed portrayed within it. Mark starts the conversation with this image of Jesus getting baptized by his cousin in an obscure strip of country east of Jerusalem. The crowd is a mix of cranky and hopeful, including people from the well-heeled to the unsavory parts of society. It is here that Mark compacts several stories into one narrative. Here's your nutshell paragraph for today. Let's use it to look at how the baptism of Jesus tells us three things: the world's story, Israel's story, and our story. 1. The World's Story (Mark 1:10-11 ESV) 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. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Another literary term we could use here is a nod, a wink, or a tip-of-the-hat. Writers and movie makers will sometimes make an oblique, sideways reference to something their audience will know. Think of shows that might use language or themes from politics either as a joke or to express a certain theme. When we hear the name Louis Riel it has a meaning tied to a story. The images brought to mind by those words might be completely different to a person in Africa because they have been part of a different story. The Gospels are heavily painted and layered with references or allusions to the Old Testament story. In this instance, we see strong allusions to the creation story in Genesis: the water, the Spirit hovering over the water and the voice of God starting a story. If we examine the stories from the Old Testament, we see several stories referring to a figurative baptism. First, there is the whole world being baptised with Noahian deluge. Genesis 6:17-18 NIV 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark-you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. In the worldwide flood all of humanity was destroyed with the exception of Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives. New life emerged from this baptism of the world in the form of Noah and his family. 1 Peter 3:20-22 NIV 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.[a] It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand-with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. The apostle Paul has in mind the exodus story when he describes the Israelites being "baptised" as they passed through the Red Sea. 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 NIV 10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Mark is telling us that Jesus is the re-creation. Everything is being made new and different. In many ways, it's all starting over. We see this theme throughout the Gospels. The authors use wording like "in the beginning" and emphasize garden imagery and other things to bring across the fact that the human story is being told again, but this time the author of all creation has entered his story as a character himself. We have the advantage of reading this from a historical point of view. But we also need to put ourselves in the mindset of those seeing this happening and first hearing these words. For them, water was not only necessary for life, but it was also a symbol of all that was chaotic, death-giving, and wild in the world. John's vision of a new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21 includes the line "...and there was no more sea." Revelation 21:1 NIV 21 Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. That doesn't mean there was no water, but the chaos, destruction, and anti-life had all been brought to bear under the rule of Christ. So baptism itself was a bit of a scary un-creation. It was meant to symbolize a kind of death. Can you breathe under water? No, you cannot. Further, you are at the mercy of the person holding you. With Jesus going down into the "death" of the water and coming up again, he signified his death and resurrection, and this act also referenced the original creation itself. A question should arise in the back of all our minds: Why was Jesus baptized? Mark and others describe John's work as a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." But Jesus didn't have any sin to repent of and never would, so why is he there? Matthew 3:15-17 NIV 15 Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of his Messianic ministry. There are several reasons for Jesus' baptism. The first is mentioned here, "to fulfill all righteousness". His baptism indicated that he was consecrated to God and officially approved by him, as especially shown in the descent of the Holy Spirit (v. 16) and the words of the Father. All God's righteous requirements for the Messiah were fully met in Jesus. Second, at Jesus' baptism John announced the arrival of the Messiah and the inception of his ministry. Third, by his baptism Jesus completely identified himself with humanity's sin and failure though he himself needed no repentance or cleansing from sin (Heb. 4:15) and becoming our substitute. Fourth, his baptism was an example to his followers. As Paul writes in (2 Corinthians 5:21 "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God"). Just as Jesus went through baptism, so we go through baptism. Just as we go through life with all its pain and joy, so did Jesus. Just as we go through painful distance from God because of our sin, so Jesus did, although he never committed any sin. Put simply: Jesus became like us, so that we could become like him. But it's not just an act - it is reality. He was one of us; we are being re-created to be like he is in our innermost being (Rom. 8:29). Part of that was entering baptism, going through what was an obscure ritual at the hands of his eccentric cousin who himself had little clue what was going on. Our baptism memories might be just as humble. This is the story Jesus entered. For lack of a better word, he was immersed in our story. This happened in his incarnation, in the womb, and was demonstrated again here at the Jordan River, and would be demonstrated again in his suffering and death. The good news is that he brings this story to a happy conclusion in his resurrection, and because he has joined himself to our story, we will be with him in his glory, too. 2. Israel's Story (Mark 1:1-3 ESV) The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "Behold, I will send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" Most of us are familiar with commercial breaks on TV. They are often used to add a suspenseful break in the story right before some huge reveal or twist, or before a famous star arrives on the scene. You might see someone's reaction and then the cut to a commercial, leaving you on the edge of your seat wondering what comes next. These words from Isaiah are kind of like that. Mark superimposes them here-a herald of the coming of Israel's God when the way is prepared for him by the prophet. These words resound at the beginning of his Gospel and then Jesus arrives. Israel's God has come, and he just happens to be in the form of a Hebrew kid from the lock-your-doors side of town, speaking with an accent! When Philip told him that they had met the Messiah, Nathaniel is quoted as saying, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46) A big reveal indeed! The retelling of Israel's story launches: (Mark 1:5-6 ESV) 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. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. Here is Israel-people passing through the river. We know from other Gospels that they are most likely on the east side of the river. John is re-enacting the story of Israel as they entered the promised land by crossing the Jordan River from the east. Mark takes a moment to describe the fact that John looked and dressed (and probably smelled) like Elijah, the wild, woolly, wilderness prophet of the in the Old Testament. Finally, Jesus appears, passes through the water, and then is immediately led out into the desert by the Holy Spirit where he prepares for ministry and is tempted-just as Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. Jesus re-enacts the story of Israel, but instead of complaining and rebelling, he does so in perfect obedience. Do you see that? Jesus is re-telling the story in the right way. He is coming to complete the story that Israel began. As he says in Matthew 5:17: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them". He came to finish the story. The next detail shows us a hint of the future of God's relationship with humanity. Jesus is plunged under the water and comes back up: (Mark 1:10-11 ESV) 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. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Note that all three persons of the Trinity are involved in Jesus' baptism. The Father speaks. The Son is baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends on the Son. He (Jesus) saw the heavens being torn open. There are fine words in Greek for opening or disclosing, but Mark chooses the word "torn." This is an important choice of words. One vital thing to remember when reading the Gospels is that the authors never wasted ink-they made their word choices carefully. In this case, that word "torn" appears in only one other place in the Gospel of Mark. Years later, Jesus is crucified. Among the many things going on we read in (Mark 15:38), that "The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom". This is the same word! Just as God tore the division between his dimension and ours in the moment of baptism, so he tore the curtain open that separated the Holy of Holies for centuries in the temple. That brings us into... 3. Our Story Jesus' baptism retells the story of the creation of the world-the voice of God and the Spirit hovering over the water. It also retells the story of Israel-passing through the waters of the Red Sea on their way to the promised land, then wandering in the desert just as Jesus went to the desert. Finally, the baptism of Jesus retells our story. (Mark 1:7-9 ESV) 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. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The passivity of Jesus' baptism is striking. He comes out to the desert to be baptized by his eccentric cousin who is just about to get in so much trouble that he'll be beheaded by the king. John's work was a renewal movement, disruptive and disturbing to the powers that be. He didn't go through the human resources department or fill out the proper forms before initiating. This is a wild, strange spectacle, no doubt visited by as many onlookers as participants. And it's in the middle of this that Jesus humbles himself into the process. John tries to stop him. (Matthew 3:14 ESV). John would have prevented him saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" There are parallels to human birth-the helplessness, the breaking of the waters, that first breath when you come into the world. This is the message of baptism and the gospel: This isn't a self-improvement course or a bit of good advice-this is re-birth. We don't need a course correction; we need to start over. John begins to understand the power of what's going on. He says he isn't worthy to undo the strap on the sandal of the One coming. Undoing a person's sandals was preparation for washing feet--the lowliest servants' work, as we know from several other times in Scripture. But John says, "I can't even get that close, this is above my pay grade." That's that truth of it. Despite Hollywood's and others' platitudes to reach down inside ourselves or speak from the heart, the gospel tells that the answer isn't in there. We need stronger medicine. We need Jesus to come from outside and immerse himself in our story. And that's what he did. When this message was recorded, we were only one week into the new year. And we naturally wonder what this year will bring after the tumultuous year when the pandemic was declared and the ensuring disruption to our personal and business life. Since we have just examined our personal baptism and how it relates to the Lord's baptism and given the timing of this message, it seems to me that before we advance much further in this year, it would be appropriate to also review how the Lord has been with us since our baptism. Perhaps as you went through 2020 your feelings matched the groanings of the psalmist captured in Psalm 77:7-9: 7 Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? 8 Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion? For all of us there are times in our life when we feel that God is distant. Some writers refer to this time as the "dark night of the soul". Although reason tells us that God is always present our feelings betray us. As troubles mount and our prayers bounce off the ceiling we may wonder like this writer if the Lord has rejected us for ever. Will he never be kind to me again? Where is his unfailing love in my misery? What about his many promises? Has God forgotten to be gracious to me? Where is the compassionate God? Has he slammed his door shut on me? Fortunately, the psalmist stops wringing his hands and responds to his own misgivings with a remedy to his self-imposed misery. Psalm 77:10-12 NLT 10 And I said, "This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me." 11 But then I recall all you have done, O LORD; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. 12 They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. The psalmist says that he will remember the times when the Most High intervened in his life. He will remember the Lord's deeds, his miracles, his works, his mighty deeds. As we read these words, we can extract a principle to apply in our life as we move into the second year of this pandemic. Yes, 2020 was an exceedingly difficult year for many of us. You may have experienced unemployment or reduced employment. Personal contacts were seriously hampered by lockdowns and restrictions on various gatherings including weddings, funerals, and worship services. But if you have been baptised for some time like many of the members of our congregations you know that God has been with you in previous personal trials. That means that we have a choice to make. We can wring our hands and mount the horse of misery and cry, "Oh, woe (whoa) is me!" or we can follow the admonitions of this writer and tighten the reins on this wild beast and declare, "No, I will take the time to bring to mind the many times that God has come to my rescue since the day I was baptised." Your story will be unique to your life but what does the Holy Spirit bring to mind as you hear my words? Perhaps you remember being blessed with a better job after a painful firing or layoff. Or a prodigal teenager who came home to your welcome arms. Maybe a failed marriage or other relationship was restored. Maybe the loved one you have been praying for years accepted Christ as their personal saviour. Perhaps you were blessed with a fine home or condominium that you thought that you could never afford. Whatever your situation my hope and prayer is that you will start 2021 with some focused meditation on what the Lord has done for you since your baptism. Today we have examined the baptism of the Lord and its meaning for the world, for Israel and for us. There is one more scripture in Paul's epistle to the Romans which I feel is fitting conclusion to what we have covered today. Romans 6:3-4 NLT 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Yes, the baptism of the Lord has profound meaning for the world, for ancient Israel and for us individually. As we begin a new year may we continue to live a new life in the glorious power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Word count: 3750 Time: about: 28 minutes Sermon The Baptism of the Lord0Page 1 of 1 Keith M. Roberts0New Life Christian0January 10, 2021
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