- Rev. Sarina Odden Meyer
Journey w/ Jesus (Mark) - Jesus' Baptism
Mark 1:1-11, Proverbs 3:1-8, Psalm 29
We are starting a new sermon series for the new year. In the summer I did a series called Journey with Jesus. I got a lot of positive feedback during that series so I thought I would do another one. The summer series followed Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. This series will follow Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Today is the first part of a five-part Journey with Jesus series and we will be starting with Jesus’ baptism.
You may recall from our Advent series, that during Advent we were preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth. One of the things we noticed at our blended service on pageant Sunday, was that when Mary learned she was pregnant with Jesus she went to Elizabeth for help and to mentally prepare for his birth. Elizabeth was John the Baptist’s mother. We have prepared for Jesus’ birth and we saw how Mary prepared for Jesus’ birth. We’ve celebrated Jesus’ birth and now, today, we will see how Jesus prepared for his earthly ministry: just as His mother went to John the Baptist’s mother, Jesus went to John the Baptist.
Just as Mary could have been stoned for being pregnant outside of wedlock, Jesus was embarking on a ministry journey that could get him killed. And we know that it did...and that he was resurrected and so death did not have the final say, but this was dangerous. Jesus went to John the Baptist to prepare. By going to John first, he was living out what we read in Proverbs 3:6: “In all your ways acknowledge [God], and [God] will make your paths straight.” What this means is that we put God at the center of all that we do. In all we do we are following God; when we are following God, God makes our paths straight. This is what Jesus was doing. Let’s see how this unfolds in the Gospel of Mark. We are going to follow the Mark passage today and also see the connection with Proverbs 3:5-6.
Starting in Mark 1:1, it says this: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This entire passage in Mark 1:1-11 is about the revelation of Jesus’ identity in the Gospel of Mark. Unlike the other Gospels that start with birth narratives or philosophy, Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus is the Son of God. We learn this in the first verse. Jesus learns this at the end of our passage, in verse 11. This identity gives Him a straight path and a clear vision for His mission. Interestingly, in the Gospel of Mark, humans in the narrative do not recognize Jesus as Son of God until the very end when he dies on the cross and the Gentile centurion says, “Surely this man was God’s son” (Pheme Perkins, "The Gospel of Mark", NIB, vol. VIII, pg. 528). Mark is signalling to us that the cross was part of Jesus’ mission from the beginning and is connected to his identity as Son of God. It might seem odd to us that Jesus goes to John the Baptist to be Baptized in order to start his earthly ministry, but God led him to John. By following God there, Jesus received a revelation about his identity and God made His path forward straight, just like we read in Proverbs 3:6: “In all your ways acknowledge God and God will make your paths straight.”
Let’s continue reading in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 1:2-3 it says this, “As it it written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now, for those of us who worry about making mistakes, Mark is an encouragement to us in these two verses. He said that this whole quotation was from Isaiah, but actually the first half is from Malachi 3:1 and the other half is from Isaiah. But if Mark, one of our Scripture writers can make mistakes and still do good, powerful good for the kingdom of God, so can we.
What we see here in this quotation that Mark has given us is that John the Baptist was there to prepare the way for Jesus. Through John, God would make Jesus’ path straight. John the Baptist was faithful to his calling; his faithfulness enabled him to fulfill this important role in Jesus’ life. God wanted him to be there to help Jesus prepare, just like his mother was there to help Mary. And because John was faithful, God worked through Him to make Jesus’ paths straight. Let’s see what John’s calling was.
Mark 1:4-6 says this: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” John’s calling was both really cool and totally bizarre. Let’s start with the bizarre part. He was called by God to be in the wilderness, wearing camel’s hair, but not a camel’s hair sport coat, this was...camel’s hair. And he was eating locusts and wild honey. This was just odd. But John himself was following Proverbs 3. Proverbs 3:5-6 come to mind when I read this about John: Verse 5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” In other words, God might call you to do something completely weird, but even if you don’t understand it, verse 6 says “in all your ways acknowledge God and God will make your paths straight.” So John was there, faithfully wearing camel’s hair in the wilderness, eating locusts and wild honey. Even though this part of John’s calling was weird, his faithfulness to it enabled him to fulfill his role as the one to prepare the way for Jesus: his appearance resembles a description of Elijah from 2 King 1:8, and his diet marked him as a prophet. Even if we don’t understand how God might use something, God always has a larger purpose in mind.
Now to the cool part of John’s calling. It says, starting in verse 4 that “he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This was a ministry of compassion. At the time, temple sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. But John was saying that people could come and get wet (anybody can get wet), people could come and get wet and receive forgiveness of sins. What was the people’s response to this? In verse 5 it says, “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.” There was an enormous, positive response by the people to John’s ministry. They were hungry and thirsty for forgiveness of sins and a deeper relationship with God. John’s faithfulness to this part of his calling enabled him to be the conduit through which Jesus received the revelation of His identity. Also, since John’s ministry was about the forgiveness of sins and since Jesus was baptized by him, Mark is signalling from the very beginning that forgiveness of sins in central to Jesus’ mission as Son of God. AND that crowds will flock to Jesus, just as they flocked to John.
In the next few verses, Mark 1:7-8, John says something about Jesus. Let’s see what he says, starting in verse 7: “[John] 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John says that Jesus is more powerful than he is. If John is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, how is it possible that he is worthy to baptize Jesus? This is an example of how when we are faithful God will do amazing things through us. John trusted in the Lord with all his heart and was faithful to God’s calling on his life to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He prepared the way for Jesus in two ways. First, his ministry of forgiveness of sins prepares people to receive Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness of sins. John baptizes with water, which is temporary. But Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and that kind of baptism is permanent. Through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, sins will be permanently forgiven. Through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we live in a state of forgiveness. The second way that John prepares the way for Jesus is through His actual baptism. Verse 9-11 describe what happened. Neither Jesus nor John knew what would happen and it seemed odd that Jesus would seek baptism from John, but through their faithfulness, by putting God at the center of all they did, God did something amazing for Jesus in that moment.
Let’s read verse 9-11: “In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is the moment where Jesus receives his identity in the Gospel of Mark. Notice here, in the Gospel of Mark, only Jesus sees the heavens torn apart, only Jesus sees the Spirit descend on him, and only Jesus hears the voice. We see here God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit coming together to support and empower God the Son and set him on a straight path to accomplish God’s will of bringing permanent forgiveness of sins. He is called God’s beloved Son, and we learned at the beginning that Jesus’ identity as Son of God is connected to the cross from the very beginning. His path was straight.
Even though at first glance it seems strange that Jesus would go to John the Baptist for baptism, when John the Baptist wasn’t worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, this moment is an example of both Jesus and John fulfilling Proverbs 3:5-6. First we will look at verse 5 again, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Trust in God even if it doesn’t make sense. John didn’t know what would happen when he baptized Jesus and Jesus might not of ever told him. The text doesn’t say that Jesus said anything about this. But because John was faithful to His calling, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit worked through him to do something amazing for God the Son. This often happens to us.
Jennifer Geddes recalls how her faith was formed as a child by her relationship with her grandparents. Her grandfather headed a Stewardship campaign at his church when she was a child. His name was Stewart so she thought he was managing his own ship: the Stewart-ship. She didn't understand why he had to do things with this ship instead of play with her. When he explained that “stewardship was how we took care of what God had given us by saving and being generous” (Glad Tidings, Nov/Dec 2017, pg. 9), those words stuck with her. She remembers them to this day. He was faithful to his calling in that moment all those years ago to be both a grandfather and head of the stewardship campaign. Through him, God had a lasting impact on Jennifer. When she asked him about that conversation years later, he did not remember it. God asks us to be faithful in doing the things that God has called us to do. Through that faithfulness, God does amazing things in other people’s lives that we aren’t even aware of and we might never even know about.
And finally, Proverbs 3:6 says again: “In all your ways acknowledge God, and God will make your paths straight.” Jesus made sure that he was always doing the will of God. He put God the Father at the center of all He did. He was attentive to where God the Holy Spirit was leading Him. This led him to John to be baptized. Through that baptism and that act of faithfulness, Jesus was set on a straight path. In all He did He acknowledged God and God set His paths straight. This is true for us as well. Often we feel like we are not sure who we are or what we should be doing. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In all of our doings, in all of our deliberations [today] and all of the week and while...whatever we do, we must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all of our actions” (from Sojourners, "Verse & Voice of the Day"). When we are not sure what we should be doing, we can remember John the Baptist and Jesus. We can remember to keep God in the forefront in all that we do. When we do that, we are following God, and God will lead us on straight paths.