Sermon on Mark 1:4-11 for January 10, 2021 – 1st Sunday after Epiphany – Baptism of our Lord
Dear friends in Jesus,
Let’s take a little Bible trivia quiz this morning. What is Jesus’ last name? A logical guess might be “Christ”, since he is often referred to in Scripture and by Christians as “Jesus Christ”. If you said “Christ” is Jesus’ last name…no prize for you. “Christ” is a title. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew “Messiah”. Both words mean “anointed”. Jesus, the Anointed One; the One set apart for a special task. That‘s what it means to be anointed. In the Old Testament the Lord had people anointed for special tasks. Fragrant, oily substances were poured over the heads of people who were set apart for particular tasks, such as that of king or prophet or priest. The practice of anointing would let people know that this individual had been set apart for a task. So at his baptism Jesus was anointed or set apart so that people might know him as the Son of God who had the task of rescuing them from their sin and the eternal death they deserve. So, back to the last name question; what might be a second guess at Jesus’ last name? Perhaps in Nazareth he was known as “Yeshua Bar-Josef”. That translates into “Jesus, son of Joseph”. For those of you who remember Scripture as you learned it from the King James Version, you may remember Jesus once calling Simon Peter “Simon Bar-Jonah” (after he made the wonderful confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God); or now in more recent Bible translations, “Simon, son of John”. That seems to be how family names developed, so that Simon, son of John would become “Johnson”. Jesus, son of Joseph would become “Josephson”.
In answer to our trivia question about Jesus’ last name, there doesn’t seem to be one in Scripture. Although, in our lesson today about Jesus’ baptism, we probably can come up with a most appropriate last name for Jesus: “Godson”. As Jesus stepped out of the Jordan River after being baptized by John, we read that the Holy Spirit settled on him in the physical form of a dove and that the voice of the Father spoke, “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”. At his baptism Jesus was set apart as God’s Son in human flesh, set apart for the special task of rescuing sinners from the fate their sins deserved.
A wonderful truth of Scripture that is part of our focus today as we revisit Jesus’ baptism is that not only was Jesus set apart at his baptism, but you and I also have been set apart through baptism.
Baptism Sets You Apart
- As an honest examiner of yourself.
- As a dearly loved child of God.
To truly appreciate baptism and the great things God does for us in it we first have to understand our own nature and standing with God. Apparently many of the people going out to John for baptism understood. Mark writes that when they came for baptism they were confessing their sins. John had been preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. If God tells us we need this baptism, this washing away of sins, then it is clear we have sins, dirt, that needs to be washed away. If we don’t think we have any sins that need to be washed away, we aren’t being honest with ourselves. For most of this past year, our confession of sins in our worship has included the statement from the first letter of John that says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. In one of our “older” confessions we are invited to “draw near with a TRUE HEART and confess our sins to God, our Father…”
But honesty with God and with ourselves and with one another is something we struggle with. This struggle we have also inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve, along with our sinful nature. Adam and Eve had trouble being honest with themselves and with God when it came to their sin and how it affected their relationship with God. After not believing God and disobeying him by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, when God came looking for them, Adam couldn’t respond to God in total honesty when God asked if he had eaten from the tree he had commanded them not to eat from. He couldn’t just say, “I’m sorry. I did eat.” Instead, he looked for ways to push off the blame onto others, or at least to include others with him in blame. “The woman you put here with me told me it was good to eat.” Eve did the same. “The serpent told me it was good to eat.”
The lack of total honesty shows up in us, too. Often our dishonesty shows as an unwillingness to look only at myself and my behavior. We compare ourselves with others. We may confess our sins and admit how much we offend God. But I suspect each of us also might be thinking, “Lord, if you think my sin is bad, you ought to take a good look at so and so.” Or there is always the old standby: “I’m not the only one doing it; lots of people are doing the same thing.”
But baptism forces you and me to be honest with ourselves and with God. It sets us apart to be honest examiners of ourselves. What has God chosen to use in his sacrament of baptism? Water. And what is one of the most common usages of water? To wash, right? To wash our hands and bodies, our clothes and many other things. To use water to wash is the simple meaning of the word “baptize”. And why do we wash? We wash because we are dirty. This was also the message of John the Baptist as he announced that he was baptizing. Mark’s gospel tells us, “And so John appeared, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He wasn’t just baptizing, but he was telling why baptism was needed; he was preaching, proclaiming, announcing about baptism. In announcing a baptism of repentance John was telling people to honestly look at themselves and see that they needed a cleansing bath to be right with God, and that it was there for them. They seemed to understand their “filth” before God and the need for cleansing, too. They came because they heard of the cleansing being offered. It they didn’t think they needed it, they wouldn’t have come. Instead, they were seeking through the cleansing of baptism to “flee the coming wrath” of God’s judgment (Luke 3). “Confessing their sins, they were baptized.”
As we face the baptismal font and its water before us, and reflect on baptism, we are forced to be honest examiners of ourselves. The message of washing in baptism regularly sets before us our natural sinfulness and uncleanness before God, forcing us to be honest in examining our lives before God. But it also sets before us the cleansing that God himself offers in this wonderful sacrament, a cleansing accomplished through the work of Jesus, for which he was set apart from eternity, but also in his own baptism.
Jesus came to John to be baptized. Why? He needed no cleansing. He had no sin. He had no sin of HIS OWN. But he had been set apart to be the substitute before God for sinners. He had been set apart as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. As the Substitute for sinners before God, he came before God the way we must. This is what Jesus told John when John protested as Jesus came for baptism (Matthew 3), telling Jesus that Jesus should be baptizing him, not he baptizing Jesus, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” There Jesus underwent the cleansing we need. There he was set apart as our Savior. And there in baptism he applies to us the cleansing we need. And every time we return to our baptisms we see ourselves honestly, sinners in need of cleansing and sinners who have been cleansed. You go back to your baptism more often than you might think. Sure, when you attend a baptism in your family or when we have a baptism in a worship service you are taken back to your own baptism. But you and I are taken back to our baptisms just about every time we gather for worship in this house of prayer. You see, water isn’t the only “ingredient” in baptism. Jesus gave his disciples words to use in this sacrament as well, and they are the key “ingredient”. He told them to “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:20). The majority of our worship services begin with those words. Right away in our worship we are made mindful of our need to come before almighty God honestly, seeking his forgiveness. Those words resound later also, to take us back to our cleansing bath when we hear the announcement of forgiveness or absolution (washing away): “…as a called servant of Christ and by his authority I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is the other side of being honest examiners of ourselves – in baptism you are washed clean of sin and guilt. When burdened with guilt and despair, this honest truth will lift you up.
So, while baptism sets you apart as an honest examiner of yourself and as a cleansed sinner, it sets you apart as something, really someone, else. Your baptism sets you apart as a dearly loved child of God.
As Jesus stepped away from the Jordan River a pretty remarkable event happened that set him apart, telling those around him like John that Jesus had a special task to accomplish and telling Jesus himself of his special mission. All the gospel writers who recorded the baptism of Jesus also record that the Holy Spirit appeared in physical form as a dove and settled on Jesus, and that a voice announced to Jesus “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” How welcome and powerful those words had to be for Jesus. The “mission” for which he was set apart was about to go into “high gear” as he publicly was set apart as Savior. And the opposition to his “mission” was also about to increase. Immediately after his baptism the Holy Spirit led him to the wilderness. After 40 days there, during which his only nourishment was spiritual, meditating on God’s word but eating no physical food, Jesus had a face to face confrontation with Satan who hoped to cause Jesus to fail in his mission of living a sinless life as the Substitute for sinners before God. Satan went to work on Jesus the way he works on everyone; he hits where he thinks someone is weak. So, he tried to hit Jesus in the stomach. “You look hungry, Jesus. 40 days without food. Of course, you are the Son of God with almighty power, so you could just tell these stones to become bread.” Where would Jesus find the strength and comfort to resist this, and the other powerful temptations? He found strength and hope in the words of the Father. The word he had been meditating on was strength-giving. But also the words of the Father and the presence of the Spirit at his baptism were strengtheners, comforters and hope givers. “YOU ARE MY SON WHOM I LOVE; WITH YOU I AM WELL PLEASED!” With those words ringing in his head and heart, Jesus was strong to say, “No, Satan. It is written,’ Man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes come the mouth of God’. It is written, ‘Don’t put the LORD, your God, to the test’. It is written, ‘Worship the LORD and serve him only!’”
And where did Jesus find the strength to keep going in his “mission” when Satan attacked from behind the scenes, the way he hits at you and me. When people rejected his calls to come to him as their Savior; when his own people yelled “Crucify” and when the Father himself wouldn’t listen to him as he carried our sins to his cross, where was his strength? Certainly the temptations were there to hate and to be angry and to seek vengeance. Where was his strength to instead be patient and kind and loving; and to reach out to them with forgiveness? His strength was in the truth of those words spoken at his baptism! “YOU ARE MY SON WHOM I LOVE!!!” Strengthened with that truth, Jesus went to complete the “mission” of cleansing sinners from the stains that would keep them from the Father’s presence.
The Bible is clear that baptism connects the baptized to that dearly loved Son of God, making what is his theirs. To the Roman believers the apostle Paul wrote, “we were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death, so that just as he has been raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you, too, may live a new life” (Rom 6:4). To the Galatian believers Paul wrote, “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Gal 3:27). Baptized into Christ, the death he died under God’s condemnation is credited to you, as if you went through it. His new life is yours. And something else that is Christ’s is also yours. The struggles and temptations and opposition that was his in this life is also yours. You’ve experienced opposition to words and actions that are guided by his commands. You face the difficulties of living in a world filled with sin. In our current times, as with Jesus, we often face opposition and receive poor treatment. It’s tempting to let anger swell within us, to hate and to seek to hurt and harm. Where is your strength to resist such sinful behavior? Same place as Jesus’ strength. During these times run to the waters of your baptism! For there, in that cleansing bath you were washed of all sin and guilt before God. There, in that anointing you were connected through faith and love to Jesus, the Son of God, your Savior. And regarding that connection the apostle Paul also wrote to the Romans, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Connected to him, you are then also connected to his strength. Connected to Jesus, the words spoken at his baptism also apply to you! “YOU ARE MY SON WHOM I LOVE. WITH YOU I AM WELL PLEASED.” There is strength. There is your comfort. There is your confidence. In those days, remember that in your baptism you have been set apart as a dearly loved child of God. That means that you also have a new and powerful last name – God’sson! Amen.