It began with His baptism

Please read Mark 1: 9-15 and then pray; Almighty God, lead us this day into the truth of your Word, which has been inspired by your Spirit to reveal the salvation brought to us by your only beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

The great season of Lent has started. It began last Wednesday and will take up forty days which corresponds to the forty days the Lord Jesus spent in the desert “being tempted by Satan.” (1:13) Our Lenten bible readings and reflections begin at the point at which Jesus began own his public ministry, the day he was baptised by John in the river Jordan. Up until this point, Jesus had lived with his family in relative obscurity in the small village of Nazareth in Galilee (1:9). He was Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter (6:3) and the son of a carpenter named Joseph. When he was about 30 years of age (Luke 3:23f), a day came when he felt compelled to leave carpentry and his family, and travel south to the region of Perea, in the lower Jordon valley, where John had already been baptising hundreds of people in the Jordan for several months. The three-year ministry of Jesus was about to begin, and it would begin with his baptism.

Mark was almost certainly the first of the 4 gospels to be written, and Mark is well-known for its action-packed pacey style and brevity. This gospel only has 16 chapters, and chapters 11-16 all focus on the last week of the life of Jesus. We now refer to this as Holy Week because it is the most sacred week in the annual Christian calendar. Here in chapter 1, Jesus’s story does not begin with angel visitations and promises to Joseph or Mary; it does not begin with his birth in Bethlehem or with the story of visiting shepherds from surrounding hills and Magi from the east. There is no mention of his dedication in the Temple or of his childhood. Instead, Mark dives straight into his narrative with the unconventional and extremely powerful preaching ministry of John the Baptist who just happened to be Jesus’s cousin. This gospel starts 30 years after the births of John and Jesus, with John the Baptizer, the forerunner to Jesus, who was specifically called to prepare the way for the promised Messiah. And that is exactly what John did! (Read 1: 1-9) This is where Mark wants to begin.

The first we hear of Jesus (v9) in Mark’s gospel is when we are informed that he left Nazareth to make his way to the area where John was busy baptising huge numbers of spiritually hungry people. Astonishingly, Jesus from Nazareth simply joined the queue to be baptised. We know from John’s gospel that John the Baptist knew there was a day coming when he would see the Messiah; there would be a time when he would witness with his own eyes the Spirit coming down upon an individual and remain on him. (Read John 1: 32-34) This individual upon whom the Spirit fell and remained would be non-other than the Son of God. And Mark’s gospel begins with this declaration; The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

The critical moment had come both for John and Jesus! The two are now about to meet, possibly for the very first time in the flesh, waist deep in water in the river Jordon. John baptised Jesus, but as Jesus came up out the water something spectacular and supernatural occurred. Heaven itself was ripped open and the Spirit came down upon Jesus “like a dove,” – which meant that the Spirit came down upon Jesus not with an awesome powerful force, but with peace and gentleness, (like a dove) softly resting and remaining upon him. John saw what he had been promised. The Spirit coming and remaining upon Messiah. Jesus was aware of an incredible anointing with the Spirit and the Spirit’s power. But then came the voice from heaven. This was the voice of God the Father speaking to his Son, his only Son.

You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

Jesus – the Messiah or Christ – from Nazareth, is to begin his public ministry after being baptised by his forerunner John; He received the fullness of the Spirit as foretold by the prophets (Isaiah 42:1f), along with the emphatic (you x 2) and glorious affirmation and applause of His Father. What a way to begin! Jesus now steps away from the waters with a unique authority and power! He is ready for battle! (Mark 1:12-13) And so, we must now go on to understand the present-day relevance of this remarkable and powerful baptismal event, how it affects us and our great salvation, and its monumental significance for the life and ministry of Jesus himself.

So firstly, as I have already pointed out, but it needs to be stated again, Jesus’s baptism marked the starting point of his ministry. The waiting was over. The preaching and work of the Kingdom was to begin. From our perspective it is important to remember that baptism for us comes at the beginning of the Christian life. Baptism is an important starting point for us also. Whether you were baptised as a baby under the faith of your parents, or as an adult, coming to the Lord from a background of unbelief, baptism is where the Christian life and journey begins. True, baptism with water must be preceded by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus, but it comes at the beginning of our walk of faith and discipleship. When the Church was born and began to grow, we notice in the preaching of the apostle Peter exactly what was needed to start out on any Christian discipleship journey life of faith.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2: 38-39)

In the NT, there is no such thing as an unbaptised believer. In the NT, we are introduced to two sacraments of great significance; baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism was the sacrament for the beginning of the Christian life; holy communion shared with other believers was for the whole of the journey through life until death. Christ’s disciples then eat it anew with Jesus himself in the fullness of his Kingdom. Baptism was to be done once at the beginning. The Lord’s Supper was to be received and shared regularly. Both pointed to the grace of God in Jesus. Both pointed to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Both were needed. Both were commanded by Jesus. Jesus himself was baptised and said that his disciples must follow his example (Matthew 28:19), and on the night before his atoning death, he himself instituted the Lord’s Supper. Do this in remembrance of me!

Secondly, the monumental significance and solemnity of Jesus’s baptism is displayed through the fact that this was a blatantly Trinitarian event and action. Here, like nowhere else, we see the clear and harmonious working and infinitely loving co-operation of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. One God in three persons working lovingly and purposefully to bring salvation to the world; a world that was made through the Word of the Father and the through the action and power of the Son and the Spirit. Here, the Son of God lovingly and willingly submits and receives. The Spirit descends with gentleness upon the obedient Son and remains on him. The Father speaks and affirms the love He has for His beloved Son, and of the pleasure He has in seeing His Son begin a mission that will bring hope and salvation to the world. This baptism of the Lord Jesus is a most holy, holy, holy, event.

And so is your baptism and my baptism. Baptism, according to our Lord Jesus’s great commission must be done “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) God, the Most Holy and Mighty three in One, is present and powerful and gracious as you and I are being baptised. The Father is confirmed to be our Father in heaven, the Son our most precious Saviour and Lord, the Spirit our faithful equipper and comforter. Baptism must be thoroughly Trinitarian for it to be biblical, Christian, and Christ-like.

The third thing to note, and this is most significant as we begin our Lenten journey toward Calvary and the empty tomb, is that the baptism of Jesus fell under the shadow of the cross. At this very first point in the ministry and mission of Jesus – the cross is upon the mind of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When Jesus stepped into the Jordon to be baptised by John, he was taking his first steps toward his death on a cross. Why was this, and why did Jesus even have to be baptised?

Jesus did not have to be baptised because he was sinful and needed to confess his sins like the hundreds of others around him. Jesus was not baptised because of John’s call for repentance. Jesus knew no sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21) He was undefiled in every way. So why did the Son of God need to be baptised? Jesus needed to be baptised for two reasons and we are helped if we listen to Jesus’s own explanation to John as to why he had to be baptised. For this we must go to Matthew’s gospel. (Read Matthew 3: 13-15) The prophet John could see and sense Jesus’s utter purity as he approached him for baptism. In that river, John was standing before the Holy One of God – one who did not need to be baptised.

Jesus was baptised, to fulfil all righteousness according to his own testimony, which means that he was baptised because it was part of the will of his Father and an important part of his obedience to His Father. Jesus’s baptism was a part of His full obedience to His Father – it was part of his full and complete righteousness – a perfect righteousness that Christians are clothed in by grace and through faith in Jesus. (Philippians 3:9 and 2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s gift of righteousness to you was made possible because of Jesus’s righteousness. This is the righteousness which comes from God and is by faith. (Romans 1:17) We are not saved by our righteousness but HIS.

But Jesus was also baptised to fully identify with the sinners he came to save. He was not baptised because of his own sin, but because of ours. God who became fully human in Jesus had to fully identify with the ones He came to save, yet without sin. In Hebrews 4:15 we read this;

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, JUST AS WE ARE – YET WAS WITHOUT SIN.

He became one of us – to save us. He became one with us – to save us. However, one who comes to save us from sin, must have no sin himself. He must resist it, overcome it, defeat it and be completely free from it. Jesus was! We see this in the next episode in his life as he overcomes temptation to sin and defeats Satan. (Read Hebrews 2: 14-18) Jesus perfectly understands your struggles with sin and suffering, yet he never sinned himself; but in his baptism, he comes into the water with you, he identifies with you, your predicament, and your need for rescue which he himself came to provide for you by his sinless death on the cross. The baptism of the Lord Jesus was therefore, the first step he took to save you and me. Resisting the temptations of Satan in the wilderness was the second step. (12-13) All praise and thanks to Jesus! As John the Baptist proclaimed – Here is the Lamb of God (totally innocent) who has come to take away the sin of the world. (John 1:29, 36)

In closing today, let me make three other points of application to us from the historical fact of Jesus’s baptism by John. As I have already made plain, we need to be baptised. We do need to repent of our sin, to confess it and turn from it decisively, to die to ourselves through the waters and be raised to newness of life and resurrection power.

We know and recognise that within the Christian ecclesiastical traditions represented in this Church, some may have been baptised as children, whilst others were baptised as adults. Of course, being baptised as a child must be followed up with Confirmation as an adult – so that whether you are baptised as a child or as an adult, we are all ultimately repenting of our own sin and making a decisive and public decision to follow Jesus. Today is not the day to for me get into the great debate that has been a part of Church history relating to biblical basis for paedo-baptism and credo-baptism. For myself, I personally feel and believe that there is stronger biblical evidence for adult baptism – but the main point I want to make today is this: As a Christian – you must take baptism seriously, and you must be baptised as part of your obedience to Jesus, and as part of following his way and example. If, however, you would like to know more about the biblical and theological arguments for both infant and adult baptism – I can do no better than give you a link to a brilliant debate between two American theological giants – R.C Sproul and John MacArthur. Below is the link to this fascinating and fantastic debate between two men with the deepest love and respect for each other. R C Sproul takes up the Presbyterian position (paedo-baptism) and John MacArthur represents the Baptist position (credo or believer’s baptism). You decide!

John MacArthur vs R. C. Sproul – A Baptism Debate (Please click this link to watch the YouTube video)

The other vital thing to take away from today is the need in our lives for the Holy Spirit. If the Lord Jesus Christ in his true sinless humanity needed the Holy Spirit – how much more do we in our struggle with sin and Satan! Everything the Lord Jesus went on to do for the rest of his earthly life (3 years) was done in and with the power of the Holy Spirit. This included his ability to resist temptation, his ability to perform miracles, his ability to recall and teach Scriptural truth, his ability to endure and suffer pain and loss, his ability to face even the terror of the cross. Clearly, we need the Holy Spirit to live and breath and move and serve as humble and weak Christians! Remember the teaching from this first chapter in Mark. John came to baptise with water for repentance but Jesus came to baptise with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:8, Acts 1:8) We need both baptisms. Water baptism for the beginning of Christian life, and the baptism with the Spirit and with power for living out the Christian life. As you read Acts and the early life of the Christian Church, the apostles always seek to emphasise 4 crucial facets of Christian faith and obedience;

  1. Repentance (initial and ongoing)
  2. Faith in the Lord Jesus.
  3. Baptism with water.
  4. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Remember my first sermon earlier this year which examined the great question in Acts 19? Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Jesus needed the Holy Spirit. So do we!

Finally, we too also need the wonderful blessing that Jesus received on the day of his baptism. We, like him need the affirmation of our Father’s love. At the outset of his ministry and mission and his long and testing three-year journey to the cross, Jesus was publicly affirmed and blessed with the personal knowledge of His Father’s love and pleasure. The Father was with Him. Friends, as specially chosen and adopted children of God, we also need to know the love and care of our heavenly Father. We share the same Father as Jesus – and He loves each of His children deeply and dearly. You are beloved! You are a beloved son or daughter of the living God! Listen to the voice from heaven affirm and bless you!

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Thank God for this truth and reality brought to us by the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We are children of God! We really are! This knowledge gave Jesus a mighty boost as he left the waters and headed straight to the wilderness. The same affirmation from His Father would come again at his transfiguration (Mark 9:7) before he boldly set out toward Jerusalem. We need this too, as we journey through life with all its ups and downs, with all its highs and lows. This precious knowledge of the love and blessing of the Father – our Father. May the knowledge of the Father’s love toward you be a blessing to you this day and every day. The great singer-songwriter Matt Redman put all this beautifully in what he called “The Father’s song;”

I have heard so many songs, listened to a thousand tongues, but there in one that sounds above them all. The Father’s song, the Father’s love – You sung it over me – and for eternity it’s written on my heart…

This was the song sung over Jesus as he stepped out of the waters – the song of the Father’s love. This is our song too, and it can never be silenced or taken away from your heart! It is with us for eternity.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen!

Revd Peter J Clarkson (18.2.24)