Blog Template Theology of the Body: Mark: The Exemplary Baptism of God

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mark: The Exemplary Baptism of God

Image of the cupola of the Neonian Baptistry at Ravenna, one of the earliest Christian depictions of Christ's Baptism, circa 4th Century.

The Baptism of Jesus
Mark 1

9"One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10And when Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven saying, "You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you."

Fr. WB preached on this text yesterday. Given that he is perhaps one of The Youngest Priests in the Anglican/Episcopal Communion, he did a pretty good job....

Today, the first Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord Jesus at the hands of St. John Baptist. Fittingly (given than this celebration falls within the season of Epiphany), the Baptism of Jesus is a part of his manifestation. And in digesting the story of Jesus’ Baptism, in meditating on it, hopefully, something about him and about our life in him, will be manifested to us.

In today’s lection from Mark’s gospel, we read John’s words concerning Jesus and the contrasting natures of their respective ministries. John says “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mrk. 1.8). This represents the fact that repentance precedes holiness, and that in the economy of salvation, the prerogatives of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, are gifts only to those who have been initiated, through the water of Baptism, into the sacred mystery of the death and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus, the only Son of the Father, the first person of the Trinity, who sent him to save us.

But wait. Just before the gospel reading for today, in verse 4 of the first chapter of Mark we read that the baptism of John was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sin.” And yet Jesus is supposed to be without sin. In Hebrews (4.15) it says explicitly that Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are, yet was without sin. Why then was he baptized, if John’s baptism was “of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins”? The answer is appropriate to the season of Epiphany: Jesus was baptized to manifest something to us (cf. John 1.31). First, because we are to be imitators of him, he manifests that we are to be baptized with the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins – with the same baptism, in other words, with which he himself is baptized. Because, unlike Jesus, God knows we can use a bath. Particularly if it washes sins away. Secondly, Jesus baptism reveals to us who he is. “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’”(Mrk. 1.10-11). This isn’t news to Jesus. Remember, in the words of the opening of St. John’s gospel, Jesus was “in the beginning with God.” He knows who he is. But the descent of the Spirit on him and the voice from heaven at his baptism are for our benefit. So that we may know in clear terms that we are not dealing with an ordinary person, and that because he is no ordinary person, he can help us. He is not just another prophet like Moses, or Elijah or John Baptist. He may be a prophet, but he is not JUST a prophet: he is in fact the Beloved of the Father, the only son of the Father, upon whom rests the Holy Spirit of God. At Jesus baptism, he is manifested to be from God and to be God.

Jesus is revealed to us to be him of whom Isaiah prophesied in today’s OT reading:

“Thus says God the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: [here is what he says] I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

We are the blind. We are those whose eyes are opened only by the light of Christ. We are the Nations, the Gentiles, with whom God did NOT make a covenant, as he did with Israel, but upon whom the dayspring has nevertheless dawned (cf. Luke 1.78-79), because of Christ’s epiphany to us, the Gentiles hitherto languishing in darkness. Thus St. Paul says (Galatians 3.28) that in Christ the distinction between Jew and Gentile is eliminated, for salvation, in the person of Jesus, has been manifested to all. That is good news. We are no longer left in the dark prison of our sin and sinfulness: but Christ has been revealed to us, and his Epiphany is one of light and freedom. For Christ, as Isaiah says, is given to us as a covenant, to bring us out of the prison where we sat in darkness. Christ not only shows us what we must do (that is, we must come out of our darkness and bondage to sin), but he does it for us. By dying, by entering our darkest darkness and our tightest bondage, and rising again to the light of eternal life. That is the nature of the love of God manifested to us Christ Jesus. (Jesus) shares with us his own kinship with God: that is, he makes us heirs of God’s Kingdom, because he is the heir of God’s kingdom and he is one of us. He turns us into a mystical family, whose bonds are more tightly knit than those of biology. In Christ, and only in Christ, God becomes our Father, Jesus becomes our brother, and we become brothers and sisters of one another. We are God’s own people. And as his sons and daughters, sharing in his own holiness, we are empowered and commanded to proclaim his mighty acts in calling [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Thus, do not be ashamed of the gospel. Bring a friend to Church. And, better yet, serve the poor. As many non-Christians as there are around us at Yale and in New Haven, there are many, many more people who do not have the means to eat or to keep warm. You see them every day. This semester at ECY we will have a number of opportunities to serve the poor, feed the hungry, and warm those who are cold. Do it. And by all means, bring a friend. And always remember why. You serve others because you have been served. You have been served by the salvation of God, the babe in the manger who grew into the man baptized by John, and after that to the Man on the cross- to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.