Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text this morning is from the Gospel Reading from Mark chapter 1. We’ll specifically be focusing on verses 9-11. Let me read those verses one more time:
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And when he come up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open 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.”
1. If you look up these verses in just about any Bible translation, you’ll find that the section heading for these verses is, “The Baptism of Jesus.” It’s probably fitting that we read the story of Jesus’ baptism on this day when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, don’t you think? But what’s interesting about Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism is that he devotes virtually no space to the baptism itself. He simply tells us that Jesus went to be baptized…oh, and by the way, when he was coming out of the water something else happened. On the one hand, the details which Mark provides are maddeningly lacking. Yet on the other hand, that’s pretty much in line with the way that Mark tends to operate. His Gospel is extremely fast paced when compared with the other Gospels, and he rarely includes details that aren’t important for the theological point which he is trying to make. What I’m trying to say is this: The few details which Mark does include in his brief account of the baptism of our Lord give us a clear indication of the theological take-away Mark has for us. Let’s take a closer look at the text to see what that might be.
2. The first thing to note about verse 9 is that for such a short verse it is absolutely loaded with Old Testament references. Much of this is difficult to see in our English translations, but there is one reference in this verse which we can see quite clearly. The verse begins with the words “in those days”. This phrase is uttered all over the Old Testament books of the Prophets, specifically in contexts in which Yahweh is about to be or has been active. And so, it’s in this context of Old Testament prophecies which Mark presents Jesus entering the scene.
3. But that’s not all. In verse 10, we see three things happening. First, Jesus comes up out of the water. Note that the previous verse told us that this is the water of the Jordan River. So, Jesus comes up out of the water. He has just been baptized by John. John is God’s prophet who just Mark has told us that he has come to “prepare the way of the Lord.” John came baptizing God’s people and preaching repentance to prepare them for the coming of their God. And so, in a similar way, Jesus has come to undergo Baptism, and in so doing he identifies himself with God’s own people preparing for God’s coming. In other words, Jesus is taking on the role of God’s people—he is the people of God, Israel reduced to one.
4. But then verse 10 continues with two more things happening. Next the heavens are torn open, which recalls the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Oh that you would tear the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1). And then God himself—that is God the Spirit—does come down to anoint Jesus as God’s Christ. In Jesus, God has become one of us, yet he is still God’s own son, as the voice from heaven proclaims. If Mark wants you to take one thing away from this brief story, it’s that in Jesus, God has entered into the story of Israel. In his baptism, we see how Jesus has willingly accepted his identity and role as Israel’s Savior. Jesus has entered into Israel’s story to redeem all who trust in him and to offer them a place in his own story.
5. I want to come back to this idea in a few minutes, but first I feel compelled to address the situation that happened on Capitol Hill this past Wednesday, though I want to be careful as I do. I have no intention of addressing the politics of the situation, but I do want to address the response that I have observed coming from our nation’s leaders as well as from many of our fellow countrymen. See, whenever a horrific event like this occurs, it leaves us with mixed emotions. It leaves us sad. It leaves angry. It leaves us confused. It leaves us struggling to make sense of it all. Shortly after these events several of our country’s leaders spoke out, seeking to make sense of all of this. Vice President Pence said: “We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms. We grieve the loss of life in these hallowed halls as well as the injuries suffered by those who defended our capital today.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “I want to be very clear: those who performed these reprehensible acts cannot be called protestors. No, these were…domestic terrorists. They do not represent America.” And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “The clockwork of our democracy has carried on.” In light of the Baptism of Our Lord and this text from the Gospel of Mark, I can’t help but observe something about these responses: in the midst of difficult circumstances, human beings have a tendency to look for meaning by rooting their identity in something beyond ourselves. The question is not, will we root our identity beyond ourselves? The question is, where will we root our identity? For these leaders of our country, they are rooting themselves in the hallowed history of our country. They are rooting themselves in the American values. They are rooting themselves in the clockwork of democracy. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning these men for their words, but I do intend to make it clear that this is not where we, as Christians, should root our identity.
6. The truth is, humans don’t act that much different in difficult times than we do in normal times. The only difference is that difficult times have a way of revealing what’s truly going on in our hearts. As we see in the example of our nation’s response to this horrible event, we have a tendency to live as individuals, centering our lives and rooting our identity on a story other than Jesus’. Whether it’s the story of our great nation, the story of our own achievements, the story of pleasure and of the pursuit of a happily-ever-after life—whatever that story is for you, we need to recognize that we have a tendency centering our lives on a story other than Jesus’. Because it’s only when we recognize this sinful tendency that we begin to fully experience the implications of both Jesus’ baptism and our own baptism. See, in baptism, Jesus exchanges his righteousness for your sinfulness. Martin Luther called this “the joyous exchange.” In your baptism, you were joined to Christ. Your sin became his. His righteousness became yours. This is the joyous exchange.
7. But that’s not the end of the story either because in baptism, Jesus also gives you a new identity as a part of his story. You are no longer defined by the categories and stories of this world—at least not primarily. Because you have been joined to Christ in your baptism, his story becomes your story. You cannot function in this world outside of the story of God’s plan to redeem his lost creation through his son Jesus. And it’s because of this reality that the entire outlook of a Christian is changed. It is because of our baptism that we can now view every part of our life as a part of the story of Jesus. He has redeemed me in my brokenness, and now he invites me to see the brokenness of the world around me not as an opportunity to cling to empty, meaningless political values. No, he invites me to see the brokenness in the world around me as an opportunity to bring the love of Jesus to people who are in such desperate need of a Savior. I pray that by the power of his Spirit within us our Lord Jesus would grant us the strength and the courage to bring his love to the broken world around us which is in such desperate need.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.