Wade in de Water

Scriptures: Ezekiel 36:23-29a; Mark 1:9-11

We continue our study in Mark. This is the third week, in an attempt to get a more in-depth understanding of the whole life of Jesus and all of its scope. Again, as a reminder, this is supplemented in the Tuesday morning Bible study. We get into far more depth in things than I can here. If you have questions, that’s the time to bring them. I guess you could email them to me and I could answer them that way as well.

We are in the peak time of John the Baptizer’s ministry. We went through that last week, about how he was a herald for Christ. He’s having the largest impact of this time, his biggest crowds. It says thousands would come out to see him.

Remember, this was not like going across the street. This would be more along the lines of a University of Iowa home game. Only you had to walk. They would walk as far as ten, fifteen miles, and you would have everybody crammed in. Think of when you have everybody trying to get through the gates into the stadium. It’s always really crammed.

We went to Silver Dollar City on our vacation down in Branson, and even with a VIP pass that got us in, we still had to wait to get through the turnstile. The boys went on at least one, maybe two rides, and again, you just had to stand out there and wait. And wait. And wait.

They even had a little sign there, telling the approximate wait time on one of them, the most popular roller coaster they had. At one point I saw they had a forty-five minute wait, and I thought, “Who’s going to stand in line forty-five minutes for a two-and-a-half minute ride?” A lot of people.

These crowds were coming out. And Jesus comes from Nazareth, about ten miles. He has not begun his ministry, and is just now moving out to do so. There are solid cultural reasons for his not going until now, that you can find out if you come to the Bible study on Tuesday morning. That is more background to the event occurring here that I want to explore today.

One of the initial questions that’s been asked through the ages, that might run through your mind, that the liturgist alluded to, is “Why would Jesus need a baptism of repentance?” That’s what John was preaching.

In fact, in Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptizer basically says exactly the same thing, recognizing Jesus’ purity and righteousness. John says, “I should be baptized by you, not you by me.” Jesus says, in response, “for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” So Jesus had a purpose in doing it. We’ll get to more on that question soon.

Now I want to take a brief overview of this short three-verse passages with the baptism. As he had the baptism, something happened. It says the heavens were torn asunder, if you read the Greek (it says “opened” in most of your translations), and this voice came down and said, “You are my son, the beloved.”

I would like to note that each gospel takes a slightly different tack on this baptism. They all have the baptism. But Mark, for instance, treats it as a personal vision, and we’re going to get more into that. Matthew has – I won’t call it a crowd hallucination, but that’s the closest I can come to it. Everybody heard it. Even the working is changed. Instead of “you are my beloved son” it says “this is my beloved son.” He’s obviously making a pronouncement to the people.

In another one of the gospels, its says they heard thunder rolling, when they heard the voice of God. Perhaps they were not prepared to hear – they did not have ears to hear what He said. Yet they knew that He was there. A real tangible event, possibly. In the Gospel of John, it says the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove. Not like a dove, but in the form of a dove, and stood on Jesus’ shoulder.

So this baptism is obviously something important. This vision was obviously something important. We’re going to explore here what it means to Mark, and then what it means to us. Jesus came from Nazareth. As one commentary says, it was an insignificant distance to travel physically, but a monumental step in his answering the Father’s call to a vocation.

I want you to think for a moment about his going into the ministry, about his call to a vocation. He was thirty years old. He was a carpenter. He was a carpenter’s son. He’d been raised to run the family business.

So he’s leaving behind all that is familiar, all that was close: his home, his family support network, and his source of income and his status. We see signs of what that cost him, elsewhere, when Jesus notes things like “a prophet is never honored in his home town” (that’s just before they decide to try to throw him off a cliff, by the way), and another time he says, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” He left everything.

We will see later in Mark that Jesus’ family does not support Him in his ministry as an itinerant preacher. That’s right. They even call him crazy and tell him to “Come back home.” We know that neither of the two brothers that are listed in the scripture (Jude and James were both described as brothers of Jesus, they each have their own little book) believed until after the resurrection that Jesus was the Messiah.

They were his brothers. They grew up with him. I’m not going to get into what it would be like to grow up with Jesus. Somebody who’s sinless, even through his childhood, somebody who managed to be perfect in all things. I bet that caused a lot of anxiety and stress among the rest of the brothers there. But as I said, we’re not going to go into that. They didn’t support him, though, when he went into the ministry, at least not initially.

Sometimes our answering God’s call to do something in particular for God will cost us. It would be well to remember how Jesus set the example, before we ask or cry “How could you be so hard, God?”

Another commentator, William Barclay, one that I happen to like, notes that for Jesus, the baptism was a moment of decision, identification, approval, and equipping. I’m going to use those four words and give my own spin on things.

It was the moment that Christ chose to answer the Father’s call to public ministry. So that was his decision. Many of you have heard the story of my call to ministry, and it took a conscious decision. That’s all I’m going to say for today. It took a conscious decision for me, because I’m either stupid or stubborn or whatever you want to call it – it took a long time, for me to say yes.

Christ knew that this was the time the Father had intended. And he said, “I will follow your will, Father.” And he went forward to the public ministry. In that moment of baptism, Christ chose to identify with the movement of God in the call to repentance. That’s what John the Baptizer was preaching, right? The call to repentance. If you look at what Jesus preached, the first thing he said was “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” He was going right along with it.

Even though Jesus didn’t need it, he wasn’t going to call people to go through anything that he was not willing to undergo. Think about that for a moment. He was not willing to ask anybody to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.

How would it have been if he had called people to repent of their sins, and get baptized, and when they asked him if he had done it, he said “Nah. I don’t need to. I am the sinless Son of God.” While that would have been true, I imagine very few people would have placed faith in him as the Savior. They would have seen him as obnoxious or arrogant. Or at best, they would have wondered how Jesus could possibly understand them and where they were, if he wasn’t even willing to undergo what he was asking anyone who would follow him to do.

It was the point where Jesus got the personal seal of approval from the Father. Mark makes it clear in his account of Jesus’ baptism that only Jesus sees the heavens part, and hears the voice say “You are my Son, the beloved. In you I am well-pleased.”

Later on, at the Transfiguration, when the disciples were there, God was going to say something a little different. We’ll get to that when we get there.

It was a moment of equipping for Jesus, as well, in the Spirit, as all the synoptic Gospels note that Jesus was impelled or sent into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where Jesus was prepared then for the battles to come.

Forty days. We’re going to get into that when we get into the temptation more fully. He was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, the same wilderness that John had come from. Or maybe worse, because Jesus couldn’t find any food. I guess he wasn’t good at catching locusts. He fasted for forty days. He was being prepared for the battles to come, that were going to take great spiritual strength and discipline.

As we consider what this passage has to tell us n a practical manner, we need – I believe – to focus on the identification process, our own call by God to a vocation and/or ministry, and what our equipping means. There isn’t time, again, to go into this in great depth, but we should be able to draw some parallels to our passage today.

The first is our identification. It was in the baptism Jesus identified with us; likewise, in our baptism we are identified with Christ. If you go to Romans 6, in particular verses 3-7, Colossians 2:12, and Galatians 2:19-21, all of them speak about how we die with Christ as we are baptized, and we are raised with Christ as we come out of the water or we finish with the baptism. It is in that moment of baptism that we are identified with Christ.

In the Presbyterian church, because we have infant baptism, not just adult believer baptism, we believe in that moment that we are identified with Christ in that we become part of the people of God. God places His mark upon us, as a sign and seal of His grace, through the faith of the parents. Then that faith is confirmed and affirmed, when the children, as young adults, go through confirmation class and then stand before you to make their profession of faith.

We are named co-heirs with Christ, sons of the Father, with all the power and authority of Christ – as we live in and act in Christ. This is rooted in our confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; and the sign and seal of that is baptism.

Secondly, we are all called to a vocation and ministry for God. Your vocation is probably not to preach the Gospel every Sunday from the pulpit (though if anyone would like to preach at any time, just let me know). But you do have your own call and challenges. I have always said that being a farmer is a vocation. So is being a teacher, and a doctor, and so many others. It is more than “just a job”. It is part of who you are.

John Maxwell told a story where he said he was giving a conference, and he talked about how everyone had a vocation and being ordained to that vocation. During one of the breaks, somebody came up and greeted him and said, “Guess what?” John Maxwell said, “What?” He said, “I’m an ordained plumber!”

Likewise, you also have a ministry waiting for you – something specific where God uses you to bring the knowledge of His saving love and grace to others. That might be in the church. It might even be outside the church. But you need to look for the opportunity God is presenting.

Please note that following a vocation is not easy. Because it is integral to you, it is precious to you. Every day, you will be challenged; every day, you will be tempted. Every day, you must rededicate yourself to your call, and sometimes, let’s face it, there will be a great battle. It will be a fight just to get yourself out of bed and to your work.

I am not just speaking of physical illness, or even depression, etc. It could be a battle over distractions, direction, or duration. Is this the way it’s supposed to go? Am I still where I’m supposed to be? Or are you calling me somewhere else? We’ll have more of that as well in Bible study.

Thirdly, we are equipped by the Holy Spirit. We, like Christ, have the Holy Spirit living within us. That’s the promise, the promise of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts and talents and tools to accomplish His will.

If you want to check your Bible out, or do a Google search on spiritual gifts, you’re going to find a whole lot of different lists. There are at least two list of spiritual gifts that I know of in the Scriptures. And that’s not even counting the talents. There are also calls that are mentioned in there. You can find a variety of different things.

If you want to take one of these spiritual gift inventories, I have several of them, and I’m more than happy to let you take one. Depending on its focus, they usually want you to find out the top six out of twenty or thirty that are listed there.

That might give you some idea how God can gift you. That gift is there to equip you for your ministry with others, as we follow the Great Commission of Christ to make disciples of all nations, and to teach them what Christ has commanded us.

So Christ’s baptism was not a small thing, to be tossed away or forgotten. It had a purpose for him. It had a purpose for us. Christ’s baptism is not something that we can say, “Well, that’s cool. It’s done.” It’s something that we need to consider regularly in our own lives.

Because I don’t believe we can consider our own baptism without considering his. And I think sometimes we need to consider our own baptism, more often than we do. What does it mean that I have been baptized into Christ? That’s a question to ask yourself.

By the way, as an aside, since we’re Presbyterians and we have this thing called a Book of Confessions, they have wonderful explanations of that, in a variety of our Confessions, a number of them. We have Books of Confessions here in the office. I would encourage you to look it up sometime.

But even if you don’t do that, if you have a study Bible, I’m sure that any study Bible, when it talks about baptism, in any of those passages I gave you, or even Jesus’ baptism, is going to tell you something about what the editors of that study Bible think it means.

Think about what it means to you. Because it is in that recognition of our baptism that we gain our understanding of who we are in Jesus Christ. It is in that understanding of our baptism that we gain our understanding of our authority, of who we are in Jesus Christ. And it is in that reflection on our baptism that we gain our understanding of whose we are, and what we can do, with God as our Father.

May that reflection be a source of challenge, but also a source of joy, for each and every one of you always, that you would give God praise and glory for His wondrous love, shown in our adoption, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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