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Gospel: Mark 1:4-11 (NIV)
- Psalm 2D “Great are the Works of the Lord”
- Hymn of the Day: CW 377 “To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord”
- Hymn: CW 668 “Jesus Comes Today with Healing”
- Hymn: CW 927 “Lord, Dismiss Us with Your Blessing”
Epiphany 1 (Baptism of Our Lord) January 14, 2024
Mark 1:4-11 Pastor Wolfe
Through the Word & Water of Baptism
1) God reveals his Son, Jesus
2) God creates his children, us
Last weekend we celebrated the festival of Epiphany. The festival is centered on the visit of the Gentile Wise Men from the East. While we don’t celebrate it with as much fanfare as Christmas itself, for centuries Epiphany has been known as the “Gentile Christmas.” A reminder that God works to bring not just Jews to our Savior, but Gentiles as well.
After the Wise Men’s visit, Scripture goes nearly silent about Jesus’ early life. (Just one account of 12-year-old Jesus in the temple.) In fact, some 30 years separate today’s Gospel reading from that visit by the wise men. Jesus is now a grown man. Surely a faithful son to Mary and a good friend to all. Gentle and kind and humble in spirit. Perfect, but unknown to most. At the Jordan river, on this day, that would begin to change. The word “Epiphany” means to reveal, and that’s what happens here. Through Word and water in Jesus’ Baptism, God reveals his Son to the world. But we can’t see Jesus get baptized and not think of our own. So we remember as well that through baptism God strengthens and creates his children today.
This year as we walk through the life of Christ in worship we’ll mostly be following the Gospel of Mark. Each of the four Gospel writers has their own style focus. Matthew, the Jew, quotes the Old Testament constantly and shows Jesus as the promised Messiah. Luke, the doctor, investigates and interviews and often gives us more details than the others. John focuses on Jesus as true God. And Mark? Mark usually gets right to the point. And that’s exactly how he starts his Gospel. It takes Matthew two and a half chapters to get to Jesus’ baptism. Mark gets there in chapter one, verse 4.
Well actually, first he talks about Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist. Maybe you were here for our Advent services when we talked about John. John told the people of Judea and Jerusalem that the kingdom of God was near. He told them to repent of their sins and receive forgiveness. He baptized them in the Jordan River in the wilderness to bring God’s promise to them. God used John the Baptist to reveal the coming Savior to his people. It’s right on brand then that God would use John to reveal Jesus as his Son through baptism too.
We know from Matthew’s account that John at first didn’t want to baptize Jesus. John understood what baptism was for, and he knew Jesus didn’t need it. John knew that the baptism he offered was one of repentance, of sorrow over sin. And now the sinless Son of God came to him and asked to be baptized? How could the Master ask this of the servant? And so John replied, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knew the Messiah had nothing to repent for. He had no need to have his sins forgiven. So then, why did Jesus ask to be baptized? Again, we don’t have the answer here in Mark because he just gives us the quickie version, but Matthew records Jesus’ answer to John’s question. “Let it be so now; it is proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
Jesus didn’t need forgiveness to have all righteousness. He was righteous by his very nature. He is perfect God all on his own. He didn’t need to be baptized to fulfill his own righteousness; he needed it to fulfill ours. You see in this baptism and in the words he speaks here, God reveals Jesus to be his Son, the Messiah. And with this baptism Jesus is declaring that he is the one whose perfect life will replace our lives of sin. Here Jesus identifies himself with us. Through the waters of this baptism, God reveals to us our saving substitute. He sets Jesus aside, anoints him, for the work that only he could do.
As soon as Jesus comes up out of the water, praying according to John’s Gospel, the heavens split open, the Spirit descends on Jesus, and God speaks. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” If there were any doubts about who was being baptized here the Father removes them, revealing his total satisfaction with Jesus. He has done everything well. And that’s important for us Jesus had asked to be baptized to be our substitute. And now God himself tells us that Jesus is indeed pleasing to God. These words, which must have been comforting to Jesus, are in fact just as comforting to us. Here is God’s Son truly revealed. Revealed as our perfect substitute. Revealed as our Savior. Here God tells us at the very beginning of Jesus’ public work that all is well. Jesus had pleased God to this point, from his birth to this moment of revelation that he is the perfect Lamb of God.
Did you know that there was one other time when God spoke almost the same words to Jesus? Near the end of his time on earth, Jesus stood on the Mount of Transfiguration and revealed his glory to the apostles Peter, James, and John. There at the end of his ministry God again revealed to the world that he was well-pleased with Jesus. Soon after, Jesus carried that divine seal of approval to his cross on Good Friday and his victory on Easter Sunday. Yes, through baptism and through words God reveals his Son to us, the perfect righteous substitute we need for a home in heaven.
But there’s a tiny bit more for us to talk about. If Jesus were perfect in our place, but we had no way to believe that or become a part of it, we would still be lost. It would be like having the antidote to a lethal snakebite in our hands with no needle to inject it. But in the very sacrament we remember today God gives us the rest of what we need too. Jesus was revealed to be God’s Son in his baptism, and in our baptisms God actually makes us his own children too.
Remember how we saw in Advent that John the Baptist was most special because of his message? John told the people that the Savior was coming, but the heart of his message was about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. John directed the people to Jesus not just as the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises, but as their only way to salvation. John’s clothes, his diet, the place he did his ministry – all of those were visual aids for the importance of turning away from the world and ourselves for salvation and turning instead to God.
That is really the essence of baptism too. Over and over in Scripture God tells us that he is the one working in baptism. Peter preached at Pentecost that God forgives sin through baptism and wrote in his first epistle that baptism saves us. Paul tells us that God washes us and gives new birth in faith. How does baptism do this? “It” doesn’t. God does through it. In baptism God connects us to the work that Jesus did. It’s just the Word of God, with water. The “wet Word”, if you will. Through the Word in baptism we receive the perfect righteousness of Jesus. In baptism God gives us what Jesus had by nature – the status of perfect children of God. Through this sacrament the Holy Spirit creates a new, holy person within us. It’s important to recognize that baptism isn’t another way of being saved apart from Jesus; it’s one of the ways God ties us to Jesus. Paul writes in Romans 6. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Jesus’ death is the one death we want to be a part of, because it is the only one that didn’t stick. Because Jesus defeated death, and because our faith connects us to him, we trust that we have overcome death too.
When he wrote to Titus, Paul says, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is all about what God has done for us. It’s his pledge of a good conscience to us that we are washed entirely clean of our sins. Baptism isn’t our work – it’s God’s! Baptism is just the Word made wet, with the same Spirit giving the same miraculous gift of faith through it.
Being baptized then, reminds us that even though we fall into the traps of the devil and the temptations that surround us every day, in God’s eyes we are righteous because of Christ. What amazing grace that we, who were sinful from the time our mothers conceived us, who were born enemies of God, are indeed his adopted, beloved children. We read in Galatians, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.”
So God indeed reveals a lot to us today through baptism. He reminds us once again that Jesus is his perfect Son, a substitute for us that our heavenly Father is perfectly pleased by. And in baptism God reveals us, makes and strengthens us to be his children. Whether a person finds faith before baptism or through it, you, believers, are children of God, adopted into his heavenly family. Let your baptism be a continual reminder of who you are now not by nature or birth, but by faith. We have been buried with Christ, and have risen with him into a new life of service and love. We are born again in the truest sense. As children of God may we always look to please God with childlike faith and enthusiasm. Pray that as you remember your baptism, you always remember your new identity as a child of God. Celebrate that and live! Amen.