The Baptism of Our Lord (1/11/2009)

The Baptism of John / The Baptism of Jesus 

Lessons:     Genesis 1:1-5     Psalm 29     Acts 19:1-7     St. Mark 1:4-11

Prayer of the Day:     Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I 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. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

 Mark 1:4-11 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. 

As the four evangelists wrote of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, they each begin their approach in unique ways. Matthew and Luke begin with birth narratives. John begins before time itself, describing Jesus as the human embodiment of God's creating word. Mark begins as Jesus, some 30 years old, is baptized by John in the Jordan River. There are four distinct beginnings on display here, and not much agreement among the Gospel writers about the birth or childhood of Jesus.

It is interesting to note that the story of Jesus' baptism by John is the very first time that these four all begin to tell the same story. Clearly, this event was important in their minds. And quite likely, this event was an important factor in how the early church came to understand Jesus. More important than his birth. More important than anything that happened in his childhood home. His baptism is a key element of his life story - one that the evangelists take very seriously.

The official name for this Sunday - a festival Sunday in our church year - is "Baptism of Our Lord." The lessons appointed for this day draw us in two different directions.

The Gospel lesson (St. Mark 1:4-11) describes the baptizing ministry of John. It is "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." People would come to John, become convinced of the need to turn their lives around, make the commitment to do so, and then be baptized by John as a sign of their new intention to live in a way that honors God.

The second lesson (Acts 19:1-7) describes baptism in the name of Jesus. Paul travels to Ephesus, where he meets a group of disciples who had received John's baptism. Paul declares that there is a difference between John's baptism and Jesus' baptism, and as he baptizes in the name of the Lord Jesus they are filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul believes that John's baptism isn't enough. It is intended to prepare people for Jesus. It is good preparation for receiving the gift of Christian faith. But it is only as they are baptized in Jesus' name that they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of new life.

Unfortunately, many "Christian" churches in our day are stuck in the same situation that Paul discovered in Ephesus. They have focused on the baptism of John - the baptism of repentance - and haven't yet discovered the baptism of Jesus. For them, baptism follows faith, and is a sign of the believer's intent to live as a follower of Jesus.

But Paul shares the greater gift with the Ephesians. He baptizes them in the name of the Lord Jesus, or as he would later put it: into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christian baptism - the baptism of Jesus - is not a sign of our intent to live better lives. Instead, it is a sign of God's intent to redeem us: to touch us with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and with the promise of grace, and unite us to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as Jesus died, Paul writes, so too will we die. But just as Jesus is raised from the dead, so too will we be raised to new life. (Romans 6:1-5)

On this festival day, we remember the people of God who went out to John to hear him preach, to discover their need for repentance, and to hear the call to turn in a new direction. We remember that in baptism, Jesus was united with them - and is united with us. But most importantly, we remember that as we are baptized into his death and resurrection, we are renewed in our relationship with God, and granted the gift of new life. All of this is dependent not on our human response to the call for repentance, but on the unfailing love and grace of God. For that we say: "Thanks be to God."

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  • What is the difference between John's baptism and Jesus' baptism?
  • How did John's baptism prepare believers for Jesus?
  • What greater gifts did those who were baptized in Jesus' name receive?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  • How does becoming aware of my need for repentance and forgiveness prepare me for a relationship with Christ?
  • What can I do to remember that my salvation depends on God, not on me?
  • Forgiven by God, and relieved from worrying about that, what does that free me to do in Christ's name?