“Spirit and Water” MARK 1:4-11

must be asked before we really go deep into the meaning of Jesus Baptism, our own baptism, and how that relates to ministry.
January 11, 2015
Reverend Aaron Gordon
Scholars have put forth many different answers over the years, but I think that there are really only two plausible options. One is that Jesus has sinned, and was somehow in need of John’s baptism of repentance. The second option is that Jesus had a need or a desire to identify with those people he came to save.
We read in several places in scripture that Jesus had no sin. The clearest of these may be in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
If we believe that Jesus knew no sin, then he didn’t need to be forgiven of any sins. We just read in Mark that John the Baptist was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” So option one doesn’t make any sense for Jesus.
The second option I mentioned is that Jesus was baptized in order for him to identify with the sinful humans that he was sent to save. In my own mind, this option lines up with scripture.
We read in Isaiah 53:12:
“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”
The “him” written about in Isaiah is a man who is a suffering servant of the Lord. I can’t think of a more perfect description of Jesus. This has been an explanation widely accepted since the middle ages. We read here that the suffering servant was numbered with the transgressors.
Perhaps what Jesus meant by saying he was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” is that he must be baptized, and so counted as one of the sinful humans through baptism, to uphold the writings of the prophets, even though he himself was without sin. His identification with sinners includes many aspects, including being born, and ultimately ending as he was crucified between two thieves as if he was a sinner himself.
Because sinless Jesus allowed himself to be baptized and identified as a sinner, the Holy Spirit came upon him, and he heard God’s approval of him as God’s son.
Something about this baptism experience was necessary in God’s plans on earth. And Jesus, was not only dunked under the water, but was also baptized by the Holy Spirit in a fantastic way.
This brings us to our own baptism. Although there are some in the congregation who may have been baptized as adults, like myself, I am thinking that most of you were baptized as infants. However you were baptized, adult or child, dunked or sprinkled, the baptism is the same.
We are all baptized into Jesus’ own baptism. We read in Romans 6:4 – “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Jesus, began a new thing after his baptism. His official public ministry. This was the time that Jesus began to travel, and preach, and teach all over the country. In our own baptism, we were not simply baptized by water and prayers, but our baptism shows us the inward baptism of the Holy Spirit, which unites us with Christ, and empowers us to join Christ’s.
Without this union with Christ that we receive by the power of the Holy Spirit, we would be in the same situation as the ancient Israelites, who were often unclean and sinful, and unable to be in the presence of God without some extra work. But, because of the Holy Spirit’s action in baptism, we have access to God.
So even though we may still sin, and have a constant need to confess our sins, we don’t have to worry about sin keeping us away from God. It might be strange for us to think about being too spiritually “dirty” with sin to approach God. After all, we are taught to pray directly to God in Jesus name. And, we read in scripture that Jesus is present with us, even inside us (Col. 1:27). If not for Jesus, we would not have access to God (John 17) unless we spiritually and ceremonially cleaned ourselves for the occasion.
This WAS the way it used to work for the Israelites. Because, without going through the rites of sacrifice and purification, a person would not be holy enough to approach God. In the days of the tabernacle, they would be thrown outside the camp unless the situation could be rectified. Numbers 19:20 reads, “if those who are unclean do not purify themselves, they must be cut off from the community, because they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, and they are unclean.” This sounds problematic to me. Especially since almost everyone became unclean or sinned from time to time.
What if you die before you can be purified and forgiven will you get to be in God’s presence? What if you accidentally approach God while unclean?
I am glad we don’t have to worry about these problems, because we are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Our Baptism is the sign and seal of this promise. That sounds like good news to me.
Christ’s baptism was a visible sign of the invisible reality that the Holy Spirit was in Jesus, and that Jesus was pleasing to God. In the same way, our baptism is a visible sign of the invisible reality, that our faith in Jesus unites us to Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is the same Holy Spirit that is with us inside of us so we can participate in Jesus ongoing ministry to others. As we read in 2 Corinthians 3 “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant”
It is our baptism that links us to Jesus’ baptism, and our ministry to Jesus’ ministry. And that brings us back to our ministry…
How do we participate in Jesus ministry as Hillcrest? We already do lots of things. From Love Baskets, to Sunday School, to Carpenters’ sons, there are many ministry activities that Hillcrest participates in. Not the least of which, is our constant witness that Jesus is the messiah through our regular worship of God.
We do many things. But how do we judge if we are being faithful to Jesus’ calling on us? Jesus has asked us to care for others, even the least of us. Jesus has asked us to witness to others. The world around us is constantly changing. Are we meeting the needs of each other, the community, and the world?
In the beacon newsletter, and here today, I am inviting all of you to join me in praying and thinking about this question: What is God’s calling on Hillcrest, to ourselves, to the community, and to the world?
I will be praying about this and discussing this with the session, but I really want all of us to take this question seriously. I believe that the closer we draw to God as a congregation, the more faithful we will become in our activities, and vice-versa.
Coming up in a few weeks, I will be putting a survey in the bulletin. It will be anonymous and it will be a way that the session and I can get everyone’s thoughts and feelings on what God is calling us to do. One cool thing about Presbyterians is that we believe that we can best discern God’s will together as a group.
I’ll put a box up in the hallway outside the office for you to put the surveys in, or if you want, you can fold the survey and put it in the offering plate. Please take time to pray and think and fill out a survey. I would like all the surveys turned in no later than Easter Sunday, so the session and I can read them and consider all that we read. Also, know that I am available to talk with any of you about how you see Hillcrest joining in God’s ministry.
In the fall we will be able to make some decisions and see how we can line up with God’s calling. I may ask some of you to lead who have not been in this role before, and we may have to eliminate some things that we do in order to maximize our efforts to join God at work.
Just like Jesus underwent John’s baptism and his temptation to prepare for His public ministry, we will all have a period of preparation. So do not be afraid, but be glad because I think this whole experience will deepen our faith in Jesus. Jesus who identifies with each of us in baptism, and grants us a place in His ongoing ministry. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:1) Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.