Text: Mark 1:4-11
Date: Baptism of Our Lord + Epiphany I + 1/11/09
Once again, in a matter of only four weeks or so, we hear of John the Baptist preaching and baptizing in the wilderness area of the Jordan River. Of course, this time it is for the purpose of telling of the beginning of our Lord’s active earthly ministry that begins with His baptism. Before we speak of Jesus’ baptism, however, let us listen again to the Baptist and consider the significance of his baptism.
St. Mark tells us that John came “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” It is good that we hear, once again, from the Baptist, for we need to know and remember that, as long as we live in this fallen, sinful world, repentance is not just a one-time event but a daily thing, as Martin Luther said in the first of his Ninety-five Theses. For the old, sinful nature keeps hanging on.
Repentance consists of two parts, namely, true sorrow and affliction of the heart and turning in faith to receive forgiveness from God. This is also the difference between John’s baptism and that of Jesus, as John said, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” That is, sorrow of heart and contrition over sin is only the first half of true repentance. Without faith in the forgiveness brought about by Christ there is no repentance. Jesus’ baptism is not a replacement of John’s but its completion as we hear in the verse following our text that Jesus proclaimed both repentance and faith in the words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
“In those days,” writes Mark, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee.” Not just an itinerant preacher, a rambling rabbi, a rebel with a religious cause, but Jesus, the “man from heaven” as St. Paul calls him (1 Cor. 15:47), the One born of Mary of the house and lineage of David who is also, as Mark said in his very first sentence, “the Son of God.” As true God of true God, Jesus is the pure, holy, sinless man. In order to save us from sin, He came to take our sin on and in Himself in order that He could carry it to the cross and wash us in His blood. So when Jesus stepped into that water before the Baptist, it was as if all the dirt and grime of our sins now were beginning to be transferred to Him. When we sinners are baptized we receive the cleansing of the forgiveness of our sins. When Jesus was baptized, He began to receive the condemnation and the death that we deserved.
In proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, John was announcing the judgment of God on the sin of Israel and the whole world of mankind. By being baptized Himself Jesus both acknowledged that judgment of God and indicated that his mission was to endure that judgment for the life of the world. That it would be a successful mission is stated right off the bat. For, “when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening.” Until Christ came and began His work, heaven had been closed to all mankind separated by the deep divide between the sinful and the holy, death and life. But when the Savior appeared, the ancient prayer for deliverance of Isaiah 64 was answered, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Is. 64:1), for, in Christ, He did! The Holy Spirit descended upon Him signifying God’s new creation of the new Israel. And the Voice from heaven identifies Jesus as God’s only and unique Son—the only one equipped and qualified for the task of redeeming all mankind. He did not become God’s Son at his baptism; He is and always was the Son of God. Rather, here he began to identify and take on the sin of the world in order that He might take it away by His cross and death.
As Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his work of salvation with the certainty of victory, so, as the Apostle Paul said, your baptism means dying to sin and rising to new life. That new life is not just a new power given us like a spiritual additive. It is nothing less than Jesus Himself living in you and in me, so that we become, literally, the Body of Christ—pure grace, pure gift, making of us a new creation, “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10). In him we receive the Holy Spirit and all His gifts, and the approval of the Father that makes us sons. “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:26-27, 29).
Because Jesus was baptized, because He bore our sins, we have a high priest in Him who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses…one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Because He suffered and died we have a Savior whose sacrifice of Himself has put away sin (Heb. 9:26) and the condemnation of it for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Because He rose victorious over death and the grave we have a God who has turned our graves to be but the gate to resurrection and eternal life. Because He lives, we shall live also. Because He feeds you with his own Body and Blood you are His new creation knowing that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Him we can dare to suffer all, even death. For we have been baptized to death—and to life.