The Bible begins baptismally. I know that sounds strange, but think about it for a moment. “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. The Deep. Tehom, those primal, swirling, chaotic waters. Spirit and water, water and Spirit. Remember Jesus to Nicodemus? “Unless you are born again from above by water and Spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Creation and new creation. Through water and Spirit with the Word. Right there in the opening verses of Holy Scripture, a baptismal beginning. Before there was day and night, sea and sky, sea and dry land, plants, fish, birds, and various kinds of animals with man at the top of the heap, in the beginning when the earth was chaotic and disordered, there was water and Spirit and the Word. Now you see why we call Baptism a new creation. It’s also the way of the first creation.
You can also understand the Flood from this perspective too. In the Flood, God returned everything to Genesis 1:2. Everything covered with water. The Flood was a washing with water of a creation gone bad. And when Noah stepped out of the ark with his family and the animals, it was a new creation of sorts. In fact, it was Noah’s birthday – the first day of the first month of the 601st year of Noah’s life. Happy birthday, Noah, as he stepped out on dry land.
You can also understand the Exodus trip through the Red Sea in those terms. Israel emerges from the water as a nation. Egypt is the womb of Israel and the Sea is its birthing water. As the Israelites walked through the Sea, they went from being slaves to free men, from nothing to a nation.
Now you’re prepared to hear from Mark. The beginning of Mark’s version of the Gospel is John the Baptizer and the baptism of Jesus. This is where the Gospel begins for Mark. He has no need to tell us about Jesus’ conception, His birth in Bethlehem, His presentation in the temple, HIs childhood. Matthew and Luke will fill in that blank. For Mark, the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, begins with His baptism, and so we are here today to consider the Baptism of Our Lord. And if that water wasn’t enough, we have a Baptism, as Emilyn receives the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit and becomes a new creation in Christ. Wow! What a day!
John’s baptism was transitional, a bridge between the old covenant and the new. It was different, unprecedented, new. In the old covenant, you dealt with sin by blood sacrifice, the blood of an animal for your blood, life for life. But with John came something new – a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. You came to John standing there in the Jordan river, confessing your sins, and you were washed by him and forgiven. Your sins were washed away. And the whole while John would be preaching and pointing ahead to another One, a greater One for whom John was not worthy to be the lowest slave untying His sandal. He would bring an even greater Baptism – the Holy Spirit.
Jesus came up from Nazareth to the Jordan and stood before his cousin John. It’s unlikely they had ever met before that. John grew up in the wilderness; Jesus in the northwest hill country of Galilee. John had been waiting and watching, preparing the people for the coming of Messiah. He had an image of Jesus with an axe swung to the root and a winnowing fork to throw the chaff into the fire, One who would baptize not simply with water but with fire and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus stood there before John in the Jordan, and an amazing thing happened. Jesus wished to be baptized. The Sinless One wishes to be baptized as a sinner. The only One who has no need for repentance wants to receive John’s baptism of repentance. Matthew records that John objected, saying, “I should be baptized by you,” and that’s right. The sinner needs to be baptized by the Sinless One. But Jesus says to John, “Let it be. For it is proper for us to do this in order to fulfill all righteousness.”
Here in the water of the Jordan, in John’s baptism of repentance, the Plan goes into effect. The sinless Son stands in solidarity with sinners, immersed in their putrid bath water. All their adulteries, thefts, murders, lies, deceits, idolatries, blasphemies are washed into that water, and Jesus steps in to make the bitter water sweet. Like a sponge, He absorbs the sin of the world and becomes the Sinner for us all, “in order to fulfill all righteousness.”
The Sacrifice is washed, Jesus is baptized into His death. This episode leads directly to His cross. Mark makes the connection with a verb. In Jesus’ baptism the heavens were ripped open violently; at Jesus’ death on the cross, the temple curtain that isolates the most Holy place was ripped open in the same way with the same word. Jesus’ baptism and His death go together.
There in the water of the Jordan is the Word made Flesh. When water and the Word get together, watch out. Big things happen. Remember Genesis 1:2? Mark tells us that as Jesus got up from the water, the heavens were torn open, the Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice was heard giving testimony straight out of Isaiah 42: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen One in whom I delight.” “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Father is delighted and well pleased because the Plan was being put into effect; the Plan hatched from before the foundations of the world that the world would be redeemed in the death of the Word, the Son of God. Jesus’ baptism sets the ball in motion. The pin is pulled; there is no stopping it now until it ends on a cross outside Jerusalem, where again He is declared the Son of God, this time by a soldier witnessing His death.
Jesus, though sinless, was baptized as a Sinner, so that you, though sinless, might be baptized into His righteousness and holiness. In His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus takes up your sin; in your Baptism, He washes away your sin and covers you with His own robes of righteousness. A sweet swap; a happy exchange. The Sinless One for the sinner, for you.
What does it all mean? The apostle Paul tells us very clearly: Do you no know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism (Baptism did it, it’s not just some symbolic thing) in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory off the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
This is the greater baptism of which John spoke. The Baptism that makes us new creatures in Christ, that births us as children of God, that washes away the stain of sin, that joins us to the death of Jesus and to life of Jesus, that puts us into the Body of Christ, incorporating us in Christ, that clothes us with Christ. This is that fiery Baptism of the Holy Spirit who works through water and the Word. This is the death and life of Jesus applied to you personally; this is salvation made personal. The Christ that was baptized for all in the Jordan and died for all on the cross is here for you in the water. For a little daughter of Eve born in Adam’s sin and death. But now a child of heaven, born of water and Spirit through the Word. Joined to Jesus in His death and life with all the promises and certainty these bring.
It isn’t just one day but every day for the baptized. Baptism isn’t something that happens once and is then forgotten except for the pictures and the certificate. It is daily. Daily dying to sin. Each day Baptism drowns the sinner, and boy does he need drowning. The sinner dies, the saint in Christ raises. Each day is a resurrection day, Baptism raising us to life, renewing us, lifting us up out of the death of sin to life in Christ. It’s an identity we wear. We don’t simply say, “I was baptized,” but “I am baptized.” That’s who you are. You are identified with Christ in His death.
Baptized into Christ, you are new creatures, a new creation. Genesis 1:3 has come to you in a new way. The Spirit hovering over the baptismal water has ordered the chaos of your sin and death into something new – a justified sinner, forensically, legally declared righteous in God’s eyes for Jesus’ sake. Now you are permitted by God in heaven to consider yourself already dead to Sin. Sin no longer has mastery over you. Sin’s lordship is ended. You are dead to Sin but you are alive to God in Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus is where all the action is, where your life is, where your salvation is, where your holiness is. It’s all in Christ, and baptized into Christ and believing Him, you get to play with it, work with it, live it.
Does Emilyn understand all of that? Who knows what she understands? She has a lifetime to grow into it, and so do you. As many days as the Lord gives you, and then the eternal Day in which the darkness of sin and death is no more.
You are baptized. Welcome to Light and Life, a new creative Day.
In the name of Jesus, Amen