Teaching the Gospels — The Baptism
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)
Let’s set this scene a bit: what kind of people fill up this scene? Hot sun — muddy water — look at the people! Tax collectors climb down off of their Cadillac donkeys. Temple guarding thugs looking around for marks to squeeze. Religious extremists of every stripe — religion as privilege, alongside religion as bludgeon, alongside religion as vehicle for national pride and influence. Sound familiar?
And all around — average poor folks just looking for hope. Without making any partisan comments at all, I think that this recent election season and the electricity around the idea of hope resembles the attractiveness of John the Baptist. The gospel writers plead with you — do not put this story on some religous shelf where it can’t touch your real life. This IS real life! The same world you and I live in — same people, same problems, same fears, same hopes — and down to the shore walks this young rabbi. Feet just as dirty as everyone else’s — family just as conflicted — and he walks down the muddy bank into this river, the same river the first Joshua led Israel into and through. In a small and desolate part of the world, far away and long ago, a craftsman’s son came up out of the water just like you did — soaked clothes, soggy hair pasted to his head.
And then heaven BURST open! Like God Himself just can’t wait, but just has to tell everyone how proud he is of his son. When you were baptized, God was just as proud of you. Why? Because when you were baptized, you started looking like Jesus.
You were born from above — Jesus was born from above.
You chose to submit to unity — Jesus chose to submit to unity. You see, when Jesus tells his cousin that this is fitting to “fulfill all righteousness,” he means that what they are doing will clarify all the OT hints about how God would set things right. He won’t stay far off and lob thunderbolts at his foes — that is Zeus’ gig. He won’t demand that his supplicants degrade themselves like animals — that is Pan’s game (Caesarea Philippi, a place that will be instrumental later in the story, was the Vatican of first-century Pan-worship). No, he is going to set things right by humbling himself — by taking responsibility for the sins of his people. We Westerners struggle with this whole idea — we think religion is about me and God. Easterners easily grasp the idea of communal repentance — of David and Nehemiah confessing and taking responsibility for the sins of the nation. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance into the forgiveness of sins — neither of which personally apply to Jesus. But Jesus graciously, courageously, and humbly takes responsibility for his people’s sins — and ours.
Likewise, when you were baptized, you submitted to unity. You let God put you into a group where you don’t get to pick your fellows. We’re all in this amazing, unique group — look around our congregation sometime! What do we really have in common besides our need for and love of Jesus? Not much. Your repentance, your baptism did not just unify you with God — it unified you with a people that you didn’t choose and who have nothing in themselves to offer you but crankiness and challenges and heartache. These are the people — you among them — to whom God says, “You are my Beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.”
Jesus was baptized into DEATH — you were baptized into death.
Baptism isn’t just about life — it is not all sweetness and light. God’s loving affirmation proves it with two haunting allusions. Sure he quotes Psalm 2 “You are my Son”– the great psalm guaranteeing victory over the nations to the Son of God. But in the Hebrew scriptures, things rarely turn out well for beloved sons. When Isaiah is telling the story of the Suffering Servant that will rescue Israel, he begins by saying, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1 ESV)
IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS — now flip forward to chapter 53 and see what happens.
What about Joseph — another beloved son who gets a raw deal.
But where do God’s words really point? I believe he is pointing to, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2 ESV)
Baptism in the Jesus way has a hard edge to it. Jesus isn’t just the kind and compassionate man who invited children to sit in his lap, and he’s not just the brilliant rabbi that answered all comers with the love and wisdom of God. He’s also the guy that told the Pharisees that they could go to hell — the strong craftsman who whipped the crooks out of the Temple — the explosively radiant Lord of judgment who terrified, scared to death his own disciple in Revelation 1.
Intimacy with Jesus, a real relationship with him, is only possible, is only authentic after we’ve made some hard decisions and major sacrifices. In order to find your life — your REAL life — you must lose the life you’ve built for yourself where you get to decide who goes where, who does what, and everything else. It isn’t like joining a club or being a fan of a ball team. From another direction, it isn’t just adopting a couple of special teachings and quaint practices. Becoming a disciple is to move from one world to another. How can you practice living a baptized life?
Intentionally let others have their way even when you don’t like it?
Be more lavishly forgiving?
Spend time with the God of Scripture (for those of us who can’t wake up in the morning, roll over, and say ‘Good Morning’ to Rabbi Yeshua cooking breakfast for us, Scripture is an essential part of getting to know him)?
Community life? What can you do to make Holly Hill more unified? I’m not talking about some big flashy thing that’ll get you noticed. I’m talking about some small and quiet thing that will get your hands dirty. Don’t come to me next week and tell me about it — you don’t need my permission and I’m not going to pat you on the head. Think of something and just go and do it. That is grace — unexpected, beautiful, and redemptive. Do something this week to reach back in your past, grab your baptism with both hands, and let it soak your life with grace again.
I love you guys. Have a great week!
in HIS love,