Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"For You"

Mark 1: 4-11

Romans 5: 6-11

      On the first Sunday after Epiphany, we observe on our liturgical calendar what we call The

Baptism of the Lord.  Our primary text comes to us this morning from Mark’s Gospel account of

Jesus’ baptism, but we will be referencing Matthew’s and John’s accounts as well.  Let’s go out to

the river and meet a guy we might call strange.

          (Read Mark 1:4-11)

      Mark reports that “….people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem

were going out to him….”  Why such excitement over a grasshopper-grubbing, camel

skin-wearing, hellfire and brimstone-preaching wild man?  Wouldn’t urban sophisticates [those

from Jerusalem, city folk] simply dismiss John as another religious weirdo preaching on the street

corners?  Wouldn’t the common sense folk [those from the Judean countryside, farming people]
regard John as a guy who wasn’t operating on a full string of fish?  Yet John is causing quite a stir

in the Jordan River Valley and fast becoming a religious celebrity.  In his book “The Intimate Gospel,” Earl Palmer

writes this of John the Baptist:“He is bold, clear, ethically-courageous, uncompromisingly stern.”  A fellow like this is

sure to draw a crowd.  Among the crowd along the Jordan are the movers and shakers from well-to-do society

who are eager to be seen.  The less than well-to-do are there also; not to be seen, but to see.  Many are there who

are fed up with stale words and hollow promises of religion.  Matthew mentions in his gospel that John had some

choice words for the religious leaders, who were viewed by many as self-righteous hypocrites.   John has quite a

cheering section.  “You tell it like it is John!” which of course really means “Tell them like it is!”  And among the crowds

are those who enjoy when the failings of others are exposed.

      When John invites them into the muddy waters for baptism, the people respond in mass.  We

don’t know precisely how they understand baptism.  John proclaims it’s a baptism of repentance

leading to the forgiveness of sins; akin to the Jewish purification ritual.  Some may see it as an opportunity to add

another accomplishment to their spiritual resume; to top off their existing

righteousness.  But most are coming to John legitimately seeking God’s pardon; and as they are

baptized, they are genuinely confessing their sins.  They trust that if their confessions are sincere

enough, thorough enough, and if they are sufficiently sorry, God will forgive them.  They see this

holy man – strange as he is -- as one who can get them closer to God through this act of water

baptism.

       But John the Baptist – in his own estimation – has perhaps less to offer than they expect.  He

concedes in effect, all I have is water, but the coming One who “will baptize you with the Holy

Spirit,” He’s the real deal.  I can’t even tie his shoes.  With boldness, clarity and uncompromising

strenness, John points beyond himself to someone else.  And like John, we preachers of the gospel know that all

we have is water.  When a precious and helpless child is placed in my arms, all

I can do is baptize him or her with water.  For the Holy Spirit is not a gift of mine, or of any preacher, or of John. 

It is a gift of Christ.  So the last thing I want, or any preacher wants, or John wants is to gain a following and build a

personality cult.  John wants people coming to him - for all intents and purposes – to forget about him, and to focus their

attention on the One coming after him. 

      Suddenly, He’s here.  Jesus from Nazareth.  And He wants John to baptize Him.  In Matthew’s

account, he adds that John is stunned and actually tries to dissuade Jesus, claiming that he (John)

 is not worthy.  The prophet of God looks into the face of this one among all the others lining up

for the sacred ritual.  This one is utterly different; without guile; without malice without guilt. 

John cannot begin to imagine laying unworthy hands upon the one whom he calls, according to

John’s Gospel, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” 

      Jesus clarifies His purpose in seeking baptism when He says to John, again recorded in Matthew 3:

“Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  In a nut- shell,

that is why Jesus has come:  to fulfill God’s righteousness.  He is on a mission from God, and He signals His

intention to fulfill that mission, in part, by His own baptism.  Charles Cranfield, who was a professor of theology

at the University of Durham in England, observed in his commentary on Mark:  “Jesus’ submission to a baptism

of repentance befuddled and embarrassed the early church.”  It befuddles and embarrasses us still that Jesus would

take the role of lowly penitent, even as we proclaim Him without sin.  On this we must be clear: Jesus had no need of repentance. 

As He kneels into the Jordan’s murky waters, he passively receives the sign of repentance; not for

Himself, but on behalf of we sinners; on behalf of me and you.  Verse 5 of this morning’s passage

makes clear that all those who come for John’s water baptism are there for a baptism of repentance – from the urban sophisticate

to the common sense folk of the countryside; from the well-to-do to the not so well-to-do; from the self-assured to the unsure self; everyone.

      Sometimes, we preach the gospel in a manner that throws people back on themselves.  We say

“Repent.  Recite the sinner’s prayer.  Turn your life around, and then you will receive salvation.” 

That all sounds good and right.  But the risk is always there of thinking we can save ourselves

through our repentance; our recitations; our turning our lives around.  We can’t.  In fact, as the

Apostle Paul makes clear in his letter to the Romans:  “For while we were still weak, at the right

time Christ died for the ungodly.”  When we could not – in our spiritual weakness – move one

inch toward God, Christ in the mystery of incarnation moves God toward us.  I think it would be

accurate to state in reflection on our present text that while we were still weak, at the right time

Christ was baptized for the ungodly.  Mark moves in his narrative from all the people seeking a

baptism of repentance in verse 5 to one single representative in verse 9.  Jesus is the one true

Israelite who can take their place, and ours.  Jesus is baptized as an identification of the sinless

with the sinner; of God with us; of Immanuel.  Jesus thus stands in complete solidarity with the

people He’s come to seek and to save.  In this very act of solidarity, all righteousness is fulfilled.

      Just as Jesus is coming up out of the water, He sees the heavens splitting and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. 

The Spirit of God fills Him and gives Him power and guidance for His mission.  And He hears the thundering approval

from the heavens: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  This remarkable man from Nazareth

is more than a Spirit-filled guy. He is God’s beloved Son.  Such relationship between Son of Man and eternal Father is both

essential, and effectual.  Ahead, of course, lies a more bitter baptism that will culminate Jesus’ mission; a baptism of suffering

and death, of which He once cautioned James and John:  “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized

with the baptism I am baptized with?”  Yet through all that – a baptism He didn’t need, and a cup He didn’t’ ask for –

Jesus lived a life and died a death of union and communion with the Father; all for the sake of divine righteousness. 

      That day at the river Jordan, many thought they were going to hear a fiery speaker tell it like it

  1. Others were looking to add another accomplishment to their spiritual resume. Some hoped to

attain forgiveness through sincere confession and ritual washing.  None of them realized their own

powerlessness to earn or win God’s acceptance.  Yet Jesus came among them; humbling Himself

by joining the ranks of sinners and taking His stand with them; just as He will later die for them. 

Jesus’ baptism launches Him on the road of perfect obedience that would inevitably lead to the

cross. 

      In conclusion, the message of Jesus’ baptism – the message of the entire gospel – is summed

up in two words:  for you.  Jesus has accomplished in His saving life, death, and resurrection what

we could not, and cannot, do for ourselves.  In the French Reformed liturgy of baptism, the minister takes an infant in

his arms and proclaims:  “Little one, it was for you that Jesus Christ came down into the world, struggled and suffered,

for you he endured the agony of Gethsemane and the darkness of Calvary, for you he said, ‘It is accomplished.’  Yes, for you,

little one, although you know nothing of it as yet.  Thus the Apostle’s words are confirmed, we love God because he loved us first.”

Amen.

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102