THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
I have said many times that when I read the Old Testament, I try to discover the God Lesson. This is especially the case, when I read the creation accounts. Yes, there are two of them, and they do not “line up”, as far as the sequence of events. (The first is in Genesis 1:1-2:3. The second is in Genesis 2:4-25.) This really tells me to not focus on the scientific details, but rather to try to discover what God wants to tell me about Himself and my relationship with Him.
Today’s reading is from the first creation account, and describes the first day.
- The first thing to notice is what God started with—what was there in the beginning? Verse 2 tells us that it was water. In the beginning, our world, was only water. Also, the Hebrews were land-dwellers. Farmers. To them, a large body of water like the Mediterranean Sea was a horrific, chaotic place, full of sea-monsters. (The sea monsters were called Leviathan.) So, according to this account, in the beginning, there was chaos.
- Verse 2 also tells us that “a wind from God” swept over the waters. The Hebrew word that was translated “wind” here is “ruah”. Ruah can mean “wind”, “spirit”, and “breath (of life)”. Ruah is what God gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden.
- Now, in verse 3, God takes action. God cuts through the chaos, and calmly creates our world using only His word. Other ancient creation stories include gods fighting in wars. Theirs is story of blood and gore, and chaos abounds. Our God, by contrast, calmly creates order from the chaos. And it was good.
The Gospel lesson for today is Jesus baptism. It is fitting to have an Old Testament lesson that begins with water.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In the first chapter of the gospel of John, we learn that Jesus was present at the beginning of creation. Do you think there might be a connection between God creating light on the first day, and Jesus being the “light of the world”? Also, since God’s ruah swept over the waters, this tells me that the Holy Trinity was there right from the beginning—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What do you think?
This is a great baptism story, written by Luke, but about Paul’s work. Paul, Timothy, and Silas are on a missionary journey. They are spreading the Good News, baptizing, and bringing people into life in The Way. (The Way is what the early Christian church is called in the book of Acts.)
A new disciple, named Apollos, appears in the verses just before our text. He is a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt. He has been a disciple of John the Baptist, and is a gifted evangelist. Paul’s team fills him in on the Good News of Jesus. He is baptized in Jesus’ name, and sent on to Corinth to continue the work that Paul’s team had begun.
In today’s passage, Paus discovers another group of believers who are much the same as Apollos. They have been baptized by John the Baptist, but do not know about Jesus.
- With Apollos continuing God’s work in Greece, Paul and his disciples can focus on the church in Ephesus, which is in modern day Turkey. They discover some disciples of The Way. (vv. 1-2)
- Verse 3 says that they were baptized “into John’s baptism”. In other words, they were followers of John the Baptist, and had not yet heard of Jesus. Apollos’ story is similar to this one. It’s worth reading, in Acts 18:24-28.
- Paul explains the difference between John and Jesus. These disciples recognize that Jesus is the fulfillment of John’s preaching, and are baptized in His name. (vv. 4-5)
- After their baptism and Paul’s laying his hands on them, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and begin speaking in tongues and prophesying.* (vv. 6-7)
- Speaking in tongues and prophesying were the results of baptism and laying on of hands. This was the proof back then that the Holy Spirit dwelt in the hearts of the new believers. Today in most churches, these gifts of the spirit no longer appear. The Holy Spirit is most certainly present, but in a less dramatic way.
- All Christians today are baptized, either at infancy or at the age of conscience. Whichever time it is done, and however it is done (immersion or sprinkling), the Holy Spirit enters the life of the baptized, and dwells within them.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
From this story, and from Apollos’ story just before it, we learn that John the Baptist also had a following, even after his execution. The word needed to get out to these people, that the prophecy of John the Baptist had been fulfilled. How many people around us today are longing to hear this Good News? Can we be like Paul, and share this good news with them?
*Prophesy not only means predicting the future. It means to speak like a prophet, or to be God's spokesperson. This includes correcting, teaching, and praising.
The Gospel of Mark begins with the story of John the baptizer (or Baptist, if you prefer). The verses preceding our passage quote the prophecy of Isaiah, which tells of “a voice crying in the wilderness” to prepare the way of the Lord. John is a Nazarite—someone who was “set apart” from society, and had dedicated their life to serving God. There are many Nazarites in the Old Testament, but John is one from birth. This was exceptional.
- In the first paragraph, we see John going about the Lord’s work. He urges people to confront their shortcomings before God, their sin. He urges them to pledge to change, and to start over on a new and right path. We call this whole process “repentance”. It takes all of it to being repentant. (Just being sorry doesn’t count.)
- In verses 7 & 8, he makes it very clear where he stands. He is the one preparing the way. Back then, untying someone’s sandals was the task of a low-ranking slave. John is telling everyone that compared to the one who was coming, John is the lowest of the lowly.
- The second paragraph tells us that Jesus comes to be baptized by John. At his baptism, the Holy Spirit comes, and God the Father speaks.
Because of our sinful nature, none of us are worthy enough to untie Jesus’ sandals. Yet, through our baptism, we become the adopted children of God. Jesus is our brother!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Jesus lived his life without sinning. Yet, he came to be baptized. He did not need to repent; yet, he came to John, and entered the River Jordan. Why? I believe this was Jesus’ way of telling us that baptism, such as the one that John was doing in the Jordan, is a good thing. That repentance and baptism is part of living a life as a follower of Jesus. It is a way of receiving the Holy Spirit—a means of grace.