Please turn in the pew Bibles to Mark chapter 1 and follow along as I read verses 9-11.
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Amen the world of God, thanks be to God.
The NFL Wild Card football games are on TV this weekend, and you can be sure that many of the commercials during the games will feature a variety of SUVs. Each ad looks about the same: attractive people load up their oversized 4x4 to head out up the mountain, throwing up dirt and gravel all the way. The ride is usually followed by an image of the same folks setting up camp, or jumping into a kayak, or dangling from a rock. Looks like fun—“looks” being the operative word here. Image is everything here.
The truth is that only about five percent of SUVs are ever taken off-road, which means that you’re more likely to see a Range Rover at the mall than anywhere near a mountain lake. Never mind that though, for most SUV owners, the look and image of a four-wheel drive vehicle is worth the extra bucks in the purchase price.
But given the current debate about rising gas prices, oil shortages, environmental impacts, and alternative energy, we can understand why some SUV owners feel the need to justify themselves. Why have a four-wheel drive vehicle if the only dirt those four wheels ever touch is the fringe of the kids’ soccer field?
But wait! Thanks to a new product, SUV owners can complete their image and silence their critics. With “Sprayonmud” they can create the illusion that their SUV has been churning through mountain mud. For a mere $14.50 per bottle, you can buy actual mud to spray on your vehicle in order to make it look as though you are just back from a wild ride in the wilderness when, in fact, you’ve been merely hiking through the aisles at WalMart.
The promotional material says, “If you’ve got a 4X4 or off-roader, Sprayonmud will send a message to anyone who disapproves or is just plain envious — you use your off-roader, off the road as well as on it.” Inside each quart-sized plastic container is real dirt, mixed with water, and a “secret ingredient” which helps the mud stick to the vehicle’s body.
A few strategic squirts on the fenders and you’ve got an Escalade that’s dirtier than a defensive tackle in one of this weekends playoff games. That sure beats driving around a banged-up old pickup with a gun rack and a Confederate flag sticker.
Or does it? Let’s face it, people have got to be really in need of approval to buy fake mud. Real off-roaders know that the best mud is free. Their vehicles wear that mud as a badge of honor, marking them as adventurers. Fake-mudders mark themselves as fake. To be real you have to go where the dirt is.
When Jesus burst on the scene in first- century Israel, one of his first actions was to mark his life and ministry with some real mud. He traveled way off-road, all the way out into the Judean wilderness, to see his cousin, John. In the manner of some of the prophets of ancient Israel, John lived a solitary life amid sand and snakes but preached a message so compelling that people were willing to get their feet dirty to find him.
Standing there in the notoriously muddy water of the Jordan River, Mark 1:4 tells us that John offered a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” First-century Jews were familiar with ceremonial washings, but the only one that involved immersion was for those converting to Judaism. John called everyone, even ethnic Jews, to be baptized or “marked” as being in need of forgiveness and salvation. The mud and muck of human sin was being washed away with repentance and confession. John’s baptism was, in a real sense, a great equalizer, declaring that rich and poor, Jew and non-Jew, all must turn to God.
And herein is a paradox. You don’t wash dishes in dirty water. Yet John calls his disciples to be “washed,” or cleansed in the dirty waters of the Jordan. That seems strange.
Jesus baptism was even more strange. Remember, John said that his baptism was for “repentance for forgiveness of sins.” But Jesus had no sins. There was nothing for him to repent of. Why then be baptized at all? John recognized this immediately. John knew that Jesus was “the one” who was promised. In V7, John said, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” If anyone needed to skip this particular muddy bath, it was Jesus. In Matthew’s version of this event, John is incredulous when Jesus shows up. We read in Matthew 3:14 that “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness" (15). But what does that mean? Jesus was already righteous. What is Jesus saying to us through this act of baptism?
The eighteenth century commentator, Matthew Henry, says that “It was an instance of Christ's great humility, that he would offer himself to be baptized of John; that he who knew no sin would submit to the baptism of repentance.” Jesus was Lord of Lords King of Kings, incarnate God, yet he humbly submits to this rite of baptism like everyone else.
As John objected to baptizing Jesus, Simon Peter would later object when Christ washed his feet. Both John and Peter had some understanding of who Jesus was, and it shocked them to see one who was so high do something that they thought of as so low. There is the same kind of shock in the birth narrative of Jesus. When Mary learns that she is to be mother of God, she says, How can this be?
God was born among us as a babe in Bethlehem. God performed the job of a slave by washing feet. God was baptized by a sinner, as a sinner, among sinners. How can this be?
This is the astonishment of the Gospel. God came among us and was one of us, and was not even the highest of us, but was the lowest of us.
But after he is baptized, the gospel of Mark immediately identifies him as Son of God. In v10, Jesus sees in his mind’s eye, the heavens torn apart, and the spirit descending upon him like a dove. Not like an eagle. The eagle was the royal bird of the Roman Empire. Christ is not about that kind of power. Interestingly enough, the eagle was never offered as an Old Testament sacrifice; the dove was—hinting perhaps at the sacrifice of Christ.
Then in v11 a voice from heaven speaks to Jesus, reassuring him and affirming his action, saying, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." Obviously, this was the voice of God. What was God pleased about? God was pleased that Jesus identified himself with us.
That is what the baptism of Jesus was about. It was not about repentance. That was what John’s baptism was about. But Jesus took John’s baptism and gave it new meaning. He was always doing this. He took the Passover and gave it new meaning as the Lord’s Supper. He took John’s baptism for the remission of sins and changed it into the mark of his people. And as the first of his people, he took the mark on himself.
It is a mark of God’s grace and favor. Look again at verses 9-11. Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John and for Jesus this is an anointing — not just with water but with the Spirit. Baptism marks Jesus as “the Beloved” in whom God’s own nature is revealed and with whom God is “well pleased.” And when we are baptized as Christ was baptized, we are also the beloved with whom God is well pleased. That is what Christian baptism is about. It is a symbolic expression of our relationship with God. It is the mark of the people of God.
We sometimes speak of Baptism washing away our sins. That was John’s baptism. Jesus baptism was not a washing but an anointing. He was anointed with water and spirit. He was recognized as Son of God. This is his coronation. Here he is crowned king of kings—with all the favor of God.
For us, baptism is a sign of God’s favor as well, but it is favor that is unmerited and undeserved. We recognize that we can’t fake out God and be something that we’re not, so we “come clean” through repentance and confession. That was John’s baptism and we still need that, but we need the baptism of Jesus even more.
Our baptism connects us with Jesus and brings us not only forgiveness of sins, but the power to resist sin. When the great reformer Martin Luther was tempted, he would often put his hand on his head to remind himself that he was baptized — that he was different, that he could resist temptation because in baptism he was identified with Christ. Our baptism into Christ reminds us that we are a people who are different. We are an empowered people, empowered to live good lives that are well pleasing to God..
In his baptism, Jesus was anointed King. In our baptism, we are anointed kings and queens. Right now our royalty is perceived only by faith. We receive baptism and all the promises of baptism by faith. But at the end of time, all those promises will be made visible. In Matthew 19, Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. Everyone was astonished by that statement, and they said, How then can anyone get into the Kingdom? Jesus replied that what is impossible for people is possible for God. In other words, no one can save themselves entirely by their own efforts, but God can save us. When Jesus said that, Peter said, Lord, you know some of us given up everything to follow you, what about us? What about me? Very natural question, I suppose. Jesus said, Don’t worry about it. You will have a throne right by me. At the end of time, the people of God will wear royal robes and sit on thrones as brothers and sisters of Jesus. That is what our baptism symbolizes.
There’s more. Jesus’ baptism in the muddy Jordan symbolized his getting down into the world and identifying himself with us. In the gospels, his baptism was the beginning of his public ministry. Thus, for us, baptism is also preparation for ministry.
Baptism is a sign that we pledge allegiance to a different kingdom — the kingdom of God, and that allegiance is worked out in our service to others. I Peter 2:9 says to us, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people.” That is what our baptism symbolizes, but then Peter adds, you are “God’s own people in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Our baptism as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood,” gives us a purpose. Our baptism is a commission and a call. The followers of Jesus are called to be where Jesus is. Jesus is standing in the dirty water of the world. He is right here among us, working to end the suffering and hurting and oppression of the world, working to help others and calling us to that same ministry.
Thus, what we do now matters. We are agents of the coming of the kingdom where we are today. Right here in York, we are called to work for God. Right here, right now, we can experience the promises and purposes of God in our lives.
Our baptism, then, invites us to live in a new reality, a reality where we are royalty but are called to work for our own royalty. We are saved, but are called to work out our own salvation.
This insults our idea of royalty, it goes against our idea of salvation. Jesus always did that. Jesus was the king of kings. He got down in the mud to help us. He makes us kings and queens and calls us to get down in the mud to help others. That is not a human idea of what a king or queen does, that is God’s idea for God’s kingdom.
We should examine ourselves and make sure that we are not fake Christians with spray on mud. As we begin this new year, it is a good time to ask ourselves if we are the real thing. Is our baptism real? That means: What kind of ministry do we have? What are we doing to help others? Amen.
Sources for Sprayonmud:
Andrews, Robert. “Spray-On Mud Makes a Splash.” Wired News, June 10, 2005. wired.com.
“Spray-On Mud gives SUVs panache.” Arizona Daily Star (Tuscon), June 19, 2005. dailystar.com.
Sprayonmud Web Site. sprayonmud.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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