2009-07-05 (am) Mark 1.9-13 Baptism by Water and Spirit
This morning, Lord willing, we’ll look at three things, Jesus’ baptism, and what that means for us, the Father’s word’s from heaven, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. So, it’ll be a very Trinitarian sermon!
Let’s just set the stage before we dive in. It says at that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. This means, that at the time that John was preaching repentance and baptising those who repented, at the height of John’s ministry, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. Other than the introduction, this is the first time Jesus appears in Mark. He’s about 30 years old. He knows his cousin John is preparing the way for his ministry and he goes to where John is. This is Jesus’ first act of ministry.
Again, this is unusual. If this was a biography, we would expect more information, we would expect some glowing details of Jesus’ qualifications. We’d expect to hear about Jesus’ talents, his ability to preach, his power, his healing abilities, how when he was five, he did this or that. Or then, when he was fifteen, he amazed people by doing so and so.
But there’s nothing like that. We just have him coming to John. No other information is given. He comes to be baptised. Mark doesn’t tell us much, though. But we get a bit more information from Matthew’s gospel:
In Matthew 3:13-15, we read that when Jesus showed up for baptism, John first objected, saying, “I need to be baptised by you!” But Jesus said, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).
But what does “all righteousness mean?” The answer comes from John 17:19 “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
But why, what reason did he need to be sanctified? He’s God! He’s holy! Baptism is part of the process of sanctification, but it still doesn’t explain why Jesus came to be baptized. The baptism of John was a symbolic washing away of sin, after a person confessed and repented from sin.
But Jesus was sinless. He had nothing to confess! He didn’t need to repent, to turn from his wicked ways, for he had none! So why did he show up there? Why did he have to submit to baptism?
The simplest answer is that Jesus did have sin. He had our sin. Our sin was imputed, was ascribed, assigned, was placed on him. This fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah 53:6 “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6, NIV). The apostle Paul explains it even further when he writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus submitted to baptism in order to be sanctified, that is, to be washed of the sin that was imputed to him. He submitted to baptism so that our baptisms wouldn’t be devoid of meaning. In being sanctified, we too will be sanctified. Just as he took on our sin, we in turn take on his righteousness.
In submitting to baptism, Jesus is, as it were, taking the final plunge of his humiliation. We learn from Philippians 2 that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Jesus’ baptism demonstrated his willingness to take on our sin, our punishment, all God’s wrath against sin, the full consequences of the curse, in order to sanctify us. That is why John the Baptist, seeing Jesus approach says, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1.29).
By beginning with this first act of ministry, by stating that this is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we learn that Jesus is the good shepherd. In those days, the title shepherd was synonymous with king. So, when David proclaims, “the Lord is my Shepherd”, he’s really saying, “The Lord is my King.” Mark is telling us something here. Jesus is the good shepherd, who lays his life down for his sheep. Just as David was a good king, who was a shepherd who was willing to lay down his life for his sheep when he fought lions and bears, and then, for the sheep, the people of Israel in fighting Goliath, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life to conquer sin. Matthew records Jesus’ own words, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus baptism, and all baptisms then, point to Jesus’ voluntary self surrender. All baptisms are made meaningful by Jesus’ baptism, which began his ministry of taking away the sin of the world, it is Jesus’ sacrifice which enables the forgiveness of sins. Thus, baptism has a powerful significance for us who have been baptized! We realise that not only did Christ participate in our suffering, he participated in our cleansing, our sanctification, thus transferring to it eternal consequence so that, far from being a meaningless ritual, it has power and meaning, not in itself, but in what Christ has done! All baptisms point to Christ!
So, all of that is what’s going on in Jesus’ baptism performed by John at the Jordan River. Unfortunately, none of the gospels tell us the mode of baptism, but given the descriptions of ceremonial cleansing in the Old Testament. It is most likely that John would have sprinkled Jesus with water.
So, after that, as Jesus comes up from the water, he sees heaven torn open, the Spirit descends upon him, and the Father speaks.
We’re going to take these a bit out of order, we’ll look at what the Father says, and how that’s significant for us, then we’ll look at the Holy Spirit’s work.
So, here’s Jesus, freshly baptised, though he himself didn’t need it, but he did it to fulfil all righteousness, and declare his willingness to take on sin. The Father blesses His Son. The Father conveys his approval. He is well pleased in Jesus, for he’s witnessed Jesus willingness to take upon himself our sin. He’s so pleased, that he rips heaven apart.
The Father rips heaven open in order to strengthen and encourage Jesus. The Father declares: “You are my beloved son.” These words call to mind Psalm 2:7 “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Ps 2:7, NIV) and Isa 42.1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isa 42:1). And even the words Abraham spoke to Isaac, “God will provide himself the sacrifice.
The Father isn’t just pleased with Jesus’ actions. The Father loves the Son, eternally! These are the words of an incredibly happy, proud, loving father. The Father’s love for his son is boundless, limitless, unquenchable, undying. The son is the object of the father’s inexhaustible delight. The son stands physically on the shore of the Jordan River, and hears God say, “I love you. I cherish you. You are my one and only. You are my eternally begotten son. You are my delight!”
These words are so necessary for Jesus to hear. Jesus will need to carry this eternal love and delight with him. They will comfort him during his times of loneliness. They will encourage him in prison. They will strengthen him in suffering. And they will ring in his memory when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus was forsaken, so that we will not be forsaken. Though we once were forsaken, in Christ, we’re accepted. We’re forgiven; redeemed; made forever right with the Father. And the same love, that eternal, inexhaustible, irresistible, incredible love the Father has for the Son, is lavished on us too!
This morning, as you sit here, as I stand here, we must understand, we must see it, that if we’re in Christ, really in Christ, then we should picture heaven ripped open right now, and hearing the Father say, “You are my beloved son! With you I am well pleased!” Because what Christ has done, is he has made us forever right with God. We are forever loved by God. God is forever well pleased with Christ in us!
Heaven is opened. The Father is revealed. He is speaking. Do you hear the words spoken to you? Have you rent your heart? Have you confessed? Have you repented? Have you been washed? Have you accepted the grace, the faith, the love held out to you? Are you aware of the Spirit at work in your heart? Have you taken Christ as your saviour?
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been attending church all your life, or if this is one of the first times. Have you seen the Father? Are the eyes of your heart really open? Do you really see the beloved Son? Do you really see the Heavenly Father? Do you really feel the Holy Spirit upon you?
If not, then don’t wait! Pray! Even now, while I’m speaking, pray! Ask the Spirit to open your eyes! To open your mind, to open your heart, so that you may confess, repent, and receive the Father’s love! Do it! Give your life over to Christ!
And just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, so the Spirit will come upon you, and give you what you need.
And that brings us to our third point, the Spirit. The Spirit descended upon Christ, as a dove, like a dove. The Spirit wasn’t a dove, but the form of dove symbolizes, purity, gentleness, peacefulness and graciousness. The Spirit descended and rested upon Jesus, thus, Jesus, indwelt with the Spirit, is pure, holy, gentle and peaceful.
Again, we might ask the question why? Because Jesus is God, why did he need the Spirit? As to his human nature, Jesus needed to be strengthened. Jesus who demonstrated his willingness to suffer hell for us, needed the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, because he took upon himself the full weight of the sins of the world.
And immediately, as words of the Father fade away, the Spirit hurls the Son into the wilderness. The picture here is the Son, full of the Spirit, full of the blessing from the Father, jumping up for the next task. He is like a good soldier, a seasoned veteran who has been through a few scrapes, who is commanded to go to battle once again. He’s confident in his task, willing to go, but knowing it’s dangerous.
That’s the sense of the Holy Spirit’s sending. Jesus is thrust into the wilderness.
There’s two aspects to this though. Jesus was alone. There were no humans to help him. In this, we see that he is the one, he’s the true King! Jesus often went to be alone, to be alone with his Father in prayer. So, there in the wilderness for forty days, Jesus was in prayer with his Father.
The Spirit led him away from John, away from the crowds, away from what we’d expect Jesus to do. What kind of start to a ministry is this? If it were a concert, John’s the opening act. Then, the moment everyone is waiting for, John introduces the headliner, the main act, Jesus. He walks on stage, waves a bit, and then walks right off.
There’s no momentum here. There’s no press campaign. There’s no powerful launch to a public ministry. If he’d wanted it, it could have happened. No, the more important thing is to begin with prayer. Jesus goes to the wilderness, willingly goes, prompted by the Spirit to go, in order to pray.
Then, at the end of that time, at the end of the forty day fast, Jesus is tempted by Satan. How different from Adam’s temptation. Barren wild, dangerous, wilderness versus lush, tame, safe, garden. Adam failed, Jesus overcame. And angels attended him.
When we give our lives to Christ, the Spirit comes upon us, as he came upon and rested on, and lived within Christ. And the Spirit sends us to the wilderness to pray and to face temptation.
Like Christ, we have to be ready and willing. We have to be filled with the Father’s love for us, and turn to him in prayer. We have to recognise that our life is different now. Satan will tempt us. The life we once lived, we’ve died to it. We’re dead to sin, but sin is still alive to us. We must resist it. With the Holy Spirit within us, we can resist it.
How’s it going? Are you living by the Spirit? Are you thrust into the wilderness to be alone to pray to the Father? Are you bearing up under temptation, knowing that the one who said no to Satan is stronger in you than the old man who said yes to Satan? Or are you still saying yes?
Does your life demonstrate a difference? Jesus’ life after his baptism was radically different from his life before his baptism. Can you see the difference? Can others see the difference in you? Because Christ was sanctified, made holy, you are made holy too. You are set apart. Live as ones set apart. Live as Christ lived.
Let the Spirit lead you. Don’t be the same! Let the Spirit lead you into the wilderness to pray. Spend some time alone with the Father this afternoon! Then come again this evening, join the worshippers in the park, or in this building depending on the weather. Demonstrate your faith by doing the extraordinary! Take a step out of the ordinary! Be dedicated to the Father, as the Son is. Be filled with the Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Amen!