Mark 1:4-11 4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. 6John was clothed in camel’s hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7He preached, “One more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals! 8I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10Just as Jesus came up out of the water, 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 Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Mark is a man of few words. He wrote the shortest of the Gospels. He must have used a very short scroll. He doesn’t mention the birth of Jesus like St. Luke or the visit of the Magi like St. Matthew or the incarnation of the Son of God taking on human flesh like St. John. Mark begins his Gospel with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. Mark is short and to the point. Jesus in the water. The Savior in the Sacrament.
Even though St. Mark is a man of few words, that doesn’t mean he has little to say. On the contrary, when he speaks, his words are loaded. They are dense and packed with meaning. He wants to make us think.
Mark does that by telling us of Jesus’ baptism using only three short verses. That might lead us to believe that it must not be very important. But, with Mark, that’s not true. He packs a lot into those three verses.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee …” Pretty simple. Pretty straightforward. Mark is telling us where Jesus came from. Not quite. It isn’t where Jesus came from that’s really important. What’s important is that Jesus came. Simple words, but words with meaning. They tell us that Jesus was there intentionally. He didn’t just happen to be walking around in the desert, notice that there was a ruckus going on at the Jordan, and wander by to see what was going on. From Nazareth to the Jordan was about 30 miles. Walking. Jesus came. The journey was not short; nor was it easy. He left His heavenly Father behind in heaven. He left His earthly mother and family behind in Nazareth. Jesus came. He came to be present in the baptismal waters of the Jordan River.
Jesus comes to be present in the waters of every baptism. I have baptized children in church, in the hospital, in homes, and in backyards. I have baptized using the copper bowl in the baptismal font; a plastic or glass bowl in the hospital or home; I’ve even used a pool. Jesus was present in the sprinkling, in the pouring, and in the immersion. Jesus comes in the water the same way He initially came in the waters of the Jordan River. Purposefully. Intentionally. Graciously.
“… and [He] was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Mark makes it sound like Jesus was baptized just like everyone else – that it was all the same. But, it wasn’t all the same. Mark tells us in the previous verses that everyone else were baptized by John in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. But, Jesus did not have any sins to confess. He did not inherit any sin, nor commit any sins. In fact, He should have been repulsed by that water! It was a cesspool of sin!
That water was filled with every sin imaginable. Sins washed off the multitude of sinners. You name the sin and Jesus is hip-deep in it. Idolatry, hypocrisy, immorality, disobedience, hatred, murder, lust, adultery, theft, lying, coveting, pride, greed – and Jesus wades right into that toxic, putrid water! He lets it be poured all over Him! The grime of guilt and the dregs of damnation. Already in the Jordan River, Jesus is becoming filthy with our sins.
A few years ago, we had a huge rainstorm the night before our New Hope Soccer Camp. The warm-up field became a muddy mess. Some of the campers were running and diving into the mud. Their moms were horrified with how filthy their kids were.
God the Father, though, is delighted. He saw His Son dripping with the slime and smut of sin … and He says, “I am well pleased with you.” The Holy Spirit is pleased, too. The First and Third Persons of the Holy Trinity are thrilled that the Second Person of the Trinity received John’s baptism. They’re elated that Jesus is drenched in this dreck. The Holy Spirit is so pleased that He descends upon Jesus, and the Father booms His approval: “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.”
The Father doesn’t say – as we probably would – “Get out of that disgusting water! Go clean yourself up!” No, this is the will of the Father. This is what Jesus came to do.
The Sinless One is baptized like a sinner. The One who needs no repentance comes as the penitent. The Son of God in the Flesh, Immanuel, God with us, submits to a baptism of repentance.
Jesus does not come to the Jordan to confess His sins and be washed clean of them. Jesus has no sin. He comes to the Jordan to get dirty with our sins and give us His cleanness and holiness.
“Just as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” That’s a good translation of the Greek. Literally, Jesus sees the heavens being “schismed.” Even though Jesus’ baptism is recorded in all four Gospels, Mark is the only Gospel writer to describe the heavens being torn open in this way. Mark uses that word “schism” on purpose. He uses it one other time – and that is at Jesus’ death. Mark reveals that just as Jesus breathed His last on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). Mark connects the beginning of His Gospel with the end. He connects Jesus’ baptism with His crucifixion. He is making the connection that as Jesus was taking humanity’s sins upon Himself in His baptism, He was also taking them to the cross.
Mark is also making the connection that because Jesus took humanity’s sins upon Himself, now heaven is opened to us. The curtain separating the Holy of Holiest God from sinful humanity is now torn down. Jesus in His baptism and His crucifixion has brought God and humanity back together again.
This is what your baptism means for you today. Heaven has been opened to you. Your sin has been removed by Christ’s forgiveness. It has been washed away by Jesus’ baptism. You have been redeemed by the blood of the Savior. All this means that there is no longer any barrier between you and God. You may enter the Holy of Holies. You may approach the throne of the Almighty.
After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. In, with, and under the baptized body of Jesus, the world is being re-created and made anew. Remember the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters in the first creation in Genesis 1. Everything was created through the spoken Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God in human flesh. Everything was initially created through Him. Now, through Him, everything will be re-created. He is a new beginning, a fresh start, another Genesis. In Him, everything again is made “very good.” Everything that was drenched with sin at the tree was made new as Jesus was drenched with water at the river.
To ask a very Lutheran question, what does all this mean?
Whether you are Eliseo or Elijah a week from now or Mary Ann Heinitz a week before her being called to heaven or anywhere in between, you can say with confidence, “I am baptized into Christ!”
The devil will disturb your soul by throwing your sins into your face. He will remind you of your sins, your failures, and your faults. He will accuse you of being a horrible child, an awful spouse, and a hypocritical Christian. When the devil taunts you in this way, flee to the font and proudly proclaim, “I am baptized into Christ!”
Your sinful nature will lull you into a false sense of security. It will make you feel like you don’t need the Church, God’s Word or the Sacraments. It will silence your guilty conscience telling you that you are a good Christian, a great spouse, and a fantastic parent. When your sinful nature wants you to believe that you don’t need Christ or His Sacraments, remember that the Son of God left the glories of heaven to bathe in the filth of the Jordan River for you. He was baptized for you. Wake up your sleepy conscience by shouting, “I am baptized into Christ!”
As you struggle with financial difficulties; as you suffer from health problems; as you battle through depression, you will be tempted to believe that God is not near; that He doesn’t hear; that He doesn’t care. Hear the voice of the Father from heaven telling you, “You are my child in baptism, whom I love. Because of what my Son accomplished for you at the Jordan River and Golgotha’s hill, I am well pleased with you.” Calm your troubled heart by repeating, “I am baptized into Christ.”
You will battle your addictions, wondering if you will ever break free of them. You will labor to tame your tongue so that you won’t repeat every thought that flows through your mind. You will strive to control your sarcasm that saturates every conversation. See the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters. You have been made a new creation in your baptism. You were buried with Christ in your baptism and raised from the dead through the glory of the Father to walk in a new life (Romans 6:3,4). You have the Holy Spirit living inside you so that you can say with faith, “I am baptized into Christ.”
You will struggle as a single dad raising your children on your own. You will struggle as a divorced mom trying to do it all. You will struggle with your loneliness when your spouse is taken to heaven before you. It is during these struggles that you remember that you are not alone. The Triune God placed His name on you in your baptism. You have God as your Father, Jesus as your Brother, and the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you. Through your baptism, you have also been brought into the Holy Ark of the Christian Church. Your baptized brothers and sisters in Christ are here to pray for you, to comfort you, to strengthen and encourage you. In the midst of your struggles bow your head in prayer and thank God saying, “I am baptized into Christ.”
In every Christian funeral I preach, I ask for the date and place of the departed saint’s baptism. In the funeral sermon, I want everyone to know that the Good Shepherd brought their loved one into His flock through Holy Baptism. The Good Shepherd then continued to watch over, care for, and forgive His precious lamb. The Good Shepherd loved that lamb so much that He laid down His life for His sheep. He applied that love to their loved one at the baptismal font. Love, grace, and salvation poured over the child’s head as the pastor applied water and Word to this new lamb in the Shepherd’s flock. At the beginning of life, at the end of life, and at every stage in between, we repeat the refrain, “I am baptized into Christ.”
St. Mark is a man of few words. Only three sentences to teach Jesus’ baptism. But what the Holy Spirit teaches us in those three sentences! Jesus came. Jesus became filthy with our sins so we might be washed clean. Heaven has been torn open to us. Jesus brought about a new creation. And the Father is well pleased with us. Because of all this, there is now power in these words: “I am baptized into Christ.” Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.