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God’s Baptism – a sermon (text)

The Baptism of our Lord (Epiphany 1)
January 7, 2018

Lections: Psalm ; Genesis 1:1–5; Romans 6:1–11; Mark 1:4–11

Sermon: God’s Baptism
Text: Mark 1:9

Writen by Rev. Dr. John Rickert
Read by: Arlen B.

Psalm 29 (antiphon v. 3)

3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.

1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.

3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.

Genesis 1:1–5
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Romans 6:1–11
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Mark 1:4–11

4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7And 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. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

 

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Mark 1:9

The beginning of a story is vital. If you don’t hook your readers with the first paragraph or two, they may well not read the rest of the book. But how should one begin the story of Jesus, the story of the Gospel? Matthew and Luke begin with how he was born of a virgin. John goes even further back in time, a time we read about this morning in Genesis, when the Father’s Word created the heavens and the earth. Indeed, as John said in his Gospel, without the Word nothing was made. Then John tells us that that very same creative Word became flesh as our Lord Jesus.

But Mark is different. His Gospel story is the shortest. He begins with the public ministry of Jesus. At the beginning of his book he offers us no grand cosmic beginning, like John. He offers us no nativity stories or genealogies, like Matthew and Luke. In fact, we get no backstory at all. We just find John the Baptist, suddenly appearing in the wilderness. Just as suddenly, Jesus appears and presents himself to be baptized. No conversation between John and Jesus is recorded by Mark, like we find in the other Gospels. Indeed, the only voice recorded is that of the Father, who declares Jesus to be his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. Mark also tells us that the Holy Spirit was present, descending upon Jesus. We thus have the Holy Trinity represented.

We are left to deduce that Jesus is the one John spoke about in the snippet from his sermon recorded earlier in our reading when the Baptist said that One would come after him who is mightier than him. We are left to deduce that Jesus is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

What we know from our reading, then, is that Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. That he is greater than John the Baptist. And that the baptism of Jesus is one that grants the Holy Spirit. And, of course, that God is Triune and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are involved in the ministry of Jesus, in our salvation.

Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. As always, Epiphany was January 6. On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, the Gospel lesson is always the Baptism of Jesus in our lectionary series. We just get it from different Gospel accounts. Most of our Gospel lessons this year will come from Mark. We will get used to his sparse style. This doesn’t mean he ignores the Old Testament, it just means that the reader needs to be better informed than, say, in Matthew’s Gospel where he seems to constantly say, “this happened to fulfill what the prophet wrote.”

It has long been recognized that our Old Testament reading from Genesis has baptismal overtones, which we see in how Mark presents our Lord’s baptism in his Gospel. In Genesis we read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Then, as “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), God spoke His Word: “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). While God was certainly making light on this first day, “light” itself is often used as a metaphor in the Bible. It represents righteousness, truth, heaven, even God, among other positive things. Our Genesis reading is certainly, at least part of, the background for John writing about the light shining in the darkness and the darkness not overcoming it as he began his Gospel (John 1).

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in Mark, we again find the Holy Spirit above the waters. When Jesus was baptized the Light of the world begins his public ministry. It is a ministry about making new creations out of us.

Also, in our baptism, the Holy Spirit hovers over the waters and creates in us new life by granting to us “light,” that is, righteousness, faith, and a new relationship with God. Just as our Genesis reading begins “in the beginning” so our Gospel lesson starts with, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1). Just as our Genesis lesson speaks of the creation, so a new creation is made through the waters of Baptism by the same Word and Spirit of God.

We read in Mark that John came, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” There are several things to notice about this. First is that Jesus did the same thing (Matthew 4:17). Second, John is not simply the forerunner of Jesus because he appeared before Jesus, but also because John proclaimed the same message as Jesus, a message of forgiveness of sins. Though not in our reading for today, John’s mission as forerunner is also seen in his miraculous birth, and in him dying a martyr’s death. There are some other points that could be made here about John as forerunner, but these will do.

John and Jesus both preached a baptism of repentance. Because there is such a strong desire among us to take credit for what the Lord does, we should spend just a moment on repentance. Many have preached repentance as if that is something we do. You repent and then Jesus will do his part and grant you salvation. However repentance is not some good work we do by the power of our will. It is something worked in us by the Holy Spirit through the word and sacraments. As we confess in the Small Catechism, we believe that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept us in the true faith (Small Catechism, Creed, Third Article, explanation). So neither John, nor Jesus, is preaching good works as a means of salvation.

Jesus came “and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mark 1:4, 9). That seems rather odd to us as Jesus had no sins of His own (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). Jesus had nothing of which to repent. Jesus, the true and only eternal Son of the Father, came to the waters of baptism, not to be saved but to fulfill, in part, the requirements for our salvation.

This is part of what the theologians call the active obedience of Jesus. At this moment Jesus takes His stand with sinners. In His baptism Jesus took the sins and mortality of the world upon Himself. He was also being baptized into His own death, by which the heavens are opened and the Spirit is given. Without Jesus’ death on the cross our baptism would be simply an empty ritual. Because we are baptized into Jesus, His baptism is for us. He is revealed as the Son of the Father so in our baptism we become adopted Children of God, recipients of the Holy Spirit. The Father is well pleased with His beloved Son and raises Him from the dead, which leads to the Father being pleased with us and granting us resurrection as well.

In our baptism we are “united with him in a death like his” as Paul said (Romans 6:5). Because we are united with Jesus in his death, we also share His resurrection unto “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). This connection with Jesus runs through his entire ministry. So, in Ephesians, Paul can even tell us that we are united with Jesus in his exalted state (Ephesians 2:6).

It is, therefore, no big surprise that Christians have, from the very first century, recognized that baptism is not just plain water but a precious gift from God. In the water, included in God’s command and combined with God’s word, we find that the Spirit works forgiveness of sins, rescues us from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this. It is, to use the symbolism found in Revelation, the mark God places on the forehead of all believers. It is the New Testament continuation of circumcision. To use another Old Testament image, like the doors that were marked with the blood of a sacrificed lamb during the final plague in Egypt, so we are marked with the blood of Jesus in Baptism so that the plague of death will pass over us.

Those who don’t understand, ask, “How can water do such great things? Isn’t that the same water you drink, wash your dishes with or water your yard with? Are you saving your yard when you water it?” We respond, “Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying’” (Small Catechism, Baptism).

Where do you begin the Gospel story? I guess you might say Genesis 1:1. That is certainly where the Apostle John started it (John 1:1—18). Or you may want to start your telling of the story with the birth of Jesus, like Matthew and Luke. But Mark chooses to start with John the Baptist and the baptism of our Lord. By doing this Mark echoes our own lives as Christians. For many of us, the water of baptism is where our story as sons of God began. Our baptism is when we were brought to faith. Our baptism is the beginning of the Gospel in our lives just as baptism is the beginning of the Gospel story for Mark. So there is a balance between Mark’s Gospel and our experience as believers.

In today’s reading from Mark we have God’s baptism, for Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is baptized for us so that he can, and does, identify with us. Mark makes this point by having the beginning of his Gospel parallel the beginning of the Gospel story in our lives. It is a beautiful picture of Jesus representing us. But Jesus’ baptism also makes it possible for all baptisms to be so much more than just a symbol, a picture. He makes our baptisms God’s baptism for us, a gift, a baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus’ baptism, then, reveals both that Jesus is the Son of the Father and also that we, through the baptism he grants us, are also children of the heavenly Fahter. Amen.

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