A sermon based on Mark 1:4-11
Sunday, January 8, 2016 – Epiphany 1B
Did you notice the new addition to the altar area a few weeks ago? I added it to help draw your attention to something special. I added it to help you focus and remember a wonderful gift that God has given to you. I added… a bright LED spotlight inside the baptismal font. It's pretty amazing, right? J I tried to match the color of the cross—as we highlight the Means of Grace—those means through which God gives his very grace—his forgiveness of sins to you.
Here I stand at the pulpit—a symbol of God's Word. And as I preach each week, your attention is drawn here to the Word. In the center stands the altar beneath the cross, reminding you of Jesus perfect sacrifice for you on the cross. The light behind the cross draws your attention to it and to the very body and blood of Jesus which comes to you every other week on this altar. And over there is the baptismal font—now with a bright light to draw your attention to it.
And today we celebrate not one, but two baptisms here at Grace. No… there are no new babies born that no one told you about. In fact, no one is actually going to be baptized today. No. The two baptisms that we celebrate are 1) your baptism. Each of you who have been baptized have had your sins washed away and you've been adopted as God's dearly loved child.
But how can ordinary tap water do such amazing things? Well, that's where the second baptism that we celebrate comes into play. Today we also celebrate 2) Jesus' Baptism which gives power to ours. By his perfect life, declared at his Baptism he has made you and me pleasing to God, loved by him.
So, today we celebrate two baptisms: Jesus' and ours. And both are pretty remarkable. Both are really quite amazing. Our text is from Mark 1:4-11…
4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and 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 will come one more powerful than I, the thongs 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 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."
I. Jesus' Baptism
Do you remember the keyword for the book of Mark? It's amazing! (I don't mean that it's amazing that you do or don't remember. I mean that the keyword for the book of Mark is "amazing!")
Over and over again Mark declares how Jesus amazed the people as he revealed who he was by performing all kinds of miracles. He healed the sick and raised the dead. And that's really what the Epiphany season is all about: Jesus revealing who he is by what he's done. And he truly is amazing!
So this morning, as we start the season of Epiphany, we start with the account of Jesus' baptism. And even though Mark doesn't use the word "amazing" in these verses, some pretty amazing things happened didn't they?
For starters, look what happened as Jesus came out of the water! "As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open…"
What do you think that looked like? Pretty amazing, I'll bet. It wasn't just clouds parting to the sun shine through like you see in the Bible story books. It says heaven was torn open! Like the curtain that hid God in the Most Holy Place, heaven itself was torn in two as God condescended to come to earth! I picture in my mind something like a portal to heaven opening in the sky, with light far brighter than a thousand LED spotlights! J What an amazing sight that must have been!
But that's not the only amazing thing seen! Then, "As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw… the Spirit descending on him like a dove." Out of the rift in heaven itself, the Holy Spirit came to earth. And he came down in bodily form looking something like a dove. I picture a fluttering light, but more. He took on physical form. Almost a second incarnation, where God took on substance! How amazing!
But there's more! Jesus didn't just see amazing things. He heard them too. "As Jesus was coming up out of the water… a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." And I can only imagine what that sounded like! Was it like peals of thunder? Like a roaring waterfall? Or like a soft, gentle, whisper. I can only imagine the voice of God in a deep resonating bass that shakes the earth and rumbles through your entire body when he speaks. But either way, God spoke out loud for human ears to hear! What an amazing sound it must have been!
And notice what God said: that Jesus was pleasing to him. Implied is that Jesus was pleasing in every way; that Jesus never sinned. And so really, isn't the whole event pretty amazing? Isn't the very fact that Jesus was baptized at all kind of amazing? After all we just read that this Baptism was "of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." But Jesus had no need for repentance or forgiveness because Jesus had no sin. So why did he need to be baptized at all?
That's a good question. In fact, even John himself wondered the same thing. He told Jesus that Jesus had it all wrong. Jesus didn't need to be washed by John! John needed to be washed by Jesus! But Jesus explained to him, "It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." (cf. Matthew 3:14-15)
And that answer might still be a bit confusing. There was no law that said one must be baptized. So Jesus could still fulfill the law perfectly even if he didn't go through this ritual. So what's really going on? Jesus was pretending to be a sinner just like us as he identified with us sinners. He was taking our place in living this life perfectly on our behalf. By his perfect life and active obedience, he was fulfilling all righteousness …for us. Pretty amazing, right?
And that really brings us to our second amazing baptism. As amazing at Jesus' baptism must have been, we didn't get to see heaven torn open. We didn't see the Holy Spirit descend in bodily form. We didn't hear God speak from a rift in heaven. But still, some pretty amazing things happened at our baptisms. And John talked about them…
II. Our Baptisms
When John was baptizing at the Jordan River, he talked about your baptism when he said, "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
When you were baptized, the whole ceremony maybe took 3 minutes from start to finish—including the introduction and the prayer on your behalf afterwards. And it might not have seemed that impressive when an ounce or two of water was gently poured on your head. I mean, to my knowledge, heaven never opened and God didn't physically appear or speak at any of your baptisms. But some pretty amazing things happened nevertheless.
"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit," John said. And that's exactly what happened at your Baptism. Through the power and promise of God, the Holy Spirit did descend on you—though invisibly. He came to dwell in you and to give you faith in God's promises. Peter said on the day of Pentecost, "Be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off." That last part means that this promise is for you too.
At your baptism, the Holy Spirit came to you to give you faith in God's promise of sins forgiven. And considering that every person is born spiritually dead, blind to God's ways and God's truth, hostile to God in every way… that truth, that you believe in him and trust in him, is honestly pretty amazing!
And that's not all. Because through that faith which the Holy Spirit created in your heart, he also brought you repentance—a change of mind about yourself, about your sin, and about your Savior—and forgiveness of sins through that repentance. So our baptism is just like John's in that it's "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."
Through your baptism, you've been connected to Jesus and to all that he's done for you: his perfect obedience is given to you, his innocent death counts as your own, his resurrection from the dead guarantees your own. And all of that means that your sins are removed! Your guilt is gone! You are perfect and holy! That's pretty amazing, isn't it?!
And even that's not all! Because Jesus didn't just come to take your sin away and then leave you to figure out the rest of this life on your own. No! God adopted you to be his own! In Galatians 3(:26-29) God wrote through Paul, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ… You are all one in Christ Jesus. [And] if you belong to Christ, then you are… heirs…"
Through your baptism, God has adopted you as his own child—his own son—an heir who will inherit all that he owns! God now says to you, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." You are God's dearly loved child who he promises he will guard and protect until that inheritance of heaven is yours. Pretty amazing, isn't it? It's not just amazing, but awesome, really—literally, awe-inspiring—to think of all that God's done for you in your baptism!
And finally, what's more still, is that through your Baptism, God gave you a super power: He gave you the ability to not sin! God said through Paul in our epistle lesson (Romans 6:3-4,11-12) : "All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were… buried with him through baptism… in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead… we too may live a new life… Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus… Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."
By your baptism, you now have the power to resist temptation, to put your sin aside and leave it behind you in the dust, to take out the trash in your life and not let it return. You have the ability to live for God in thanksgiving for all that he's done for you, for all that he's given you, for all that he's promised you in your baptism! And that power is truly amazing! It's life changing for you and for those around you when you use it.
What amazing baptism, friends! What amazing things took place when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river—heaven was torn open! The Holy Spirit came to earth physically! God the Father spoke from the heavenly rift!