The Baptism of Christ

Today’s reading is Mark 1:4-11Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

This separate video will be available from 2pm Sunday.

Everyone was talking about John! He was not like anyone else they had seen. For a start, his clothes were… basic. I mean, who wears animal skins tied together with a belt? And his diet? The honey was OK, but the grasshoppers or locusts… not so sure…

The first words of Mark’s Gospel are ‘The beginning’. And this reminds us of the first words of the Bible; ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and he earth.’ God is the beginning of the salvation of us all, as well as the creator.

So what is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel? Well interestingly it is in fact not Jesus Christ, but John the Baptist, who came before Jesus. This first section of Marks Gospel covers three events during John’s ministry: John baptising and prophesying in the desert; John’s baptism of Jesus; and Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Although two of these involve Jesus, they all take place during John’s time, and it is not until verse 14, when John is removed from the picture, that Jesus steps out of John’s shadow, and this part of Mark’s gospel comes to an end.

So John the Baptist is a hugely significant figure in the Bible. But you wouldn’t necessarily have thought that had you looked at him!

Often, what people look like can get in the way of who they are, and what they have to say… or what they are trying to say.

For some, through cosmetic surgery, expensive, dramatic and shocking clothes, they want to say… ’Look at me… because, well, I’m beautiful’.

But as a proverb from the Bible tells us, ‘All that glitters is not gold’.

John’s appearance was extraordinary… plain and poor and basic in the extreme… and if such a person walked down our streets, most people would, sadly, probably cross to the other side as quickly as possible.

But not so with John, because there was more to him than just appearance. People took notice of what he looked like, but when he started speaking, he really made them sit up and listen.

They called him ‘The Baptiser’ or ‘The Baptist’, because that is what he did—he baptised (or dipped) people in the river, to show that they were really sorry for their sins—the things they had done wrong in their lives.

This baptism was a sign that they wanted God to forgive them and wash away their sins. John wanted everybody to be ‘clean’ and ready for Jesus, who was coming, and who was much more important than him.

So what did John tell everybody? He spoke about a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, and he spoke about the one who would follow him—Jesus—who would baptise not with water, but with the Holy Spirit of God.

Essentially, John said—BE SORRY!

And the people who took notice of John began by confessing their sins—confessing the things they know they had done wrong.

We all know that acknowledging our wrong-doing is more than just saying sorry. It’s an attitude of our hearts. Sometimes an unconditional ‘sorry’ just seems to be the hardest thing.

All of us need to identify with our wrongdoing—and the guilt burden we carry as a result—and want to be rid of it, because as we do this, we can then claim the wonderful promise of forgiveness that God offer—and the freedom this brings to our lives.

I once read an article in a magazine, with a sub-heading. ‘It’s never been harder to tell right from wrong’.

The article commented on all the recent gossip worthy tattle about a high profile fashion model and her drug taking, a film star’s philandering, a politician’s messy personal life, and all the gossip that surrounds such things… ’How we laughed’ it stated. And went on as follows…

‘And that’s the point. Drug-taking, infidelity and paternity suits may all be gossip-worthy, but they are not, for most of us at least, morally reprehensible. TV celebs and prostitutes, pop-stars and prison sentences, socialites and three-in-a bed-romps—it all boils down to lifestyle choices. “Traditional” morality, according to a report by the Social Affairs Unit think tank, has been replaced by an alternative morality—and what constitutes good and bad behaviour is not as cut and dried as it once was.

The New Morality works like this: if you’re not harming anyone, then anything you choose to do is fine; and if you are harming someone, then that’s sad rather than bad’…

Salutary stuff… As we think about other people and express our views about them, where do we stand on the many moral issues of the day? I am certainly challenged to look again at my own thoughts, words and deeds before I judge someone else.

The apostle John wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9Open Link in New Window

The promise of God, free from guilt… and running away… is what baptism is all about. As we turn from our sin and turn to God, he takes away the sin, so that we no longer carry either the guilt or penalty of it. From this forgiveness comes cleansing, symbolised by the water of baptism. Often described as a converting experience, this is nothing less than a transformation—a new beginning with God.

But why, some may ask, did Jesus need to be baptised by John, because surely he is the one person who was without any sin at all. He is divine—one with God. Jesus is indeed without sin, and needed no washing clean. But his baptism by John not only showed solidarity with humanity, amongst whom he had come to live and die. It was also a clear commissioning by God, for Jesus, for the task he was about to begin on our behalf.

As Jesus came up out of the water, ‘he saw heaven and earth being torn open and the Spirit (of God), descending on him like a dove.’ (v10). And a voice from heaven saying, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

The same Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus and enabled and empowered him for his ministry comes upon us too when we are baptised, when we turn towards God, to fill us, and to help us to live a new life in Christ. And as he did at the river Jordan with John and all others there, Jesus stands alongside you and me. He stands with us.

There is a Christian song that I really like. Some of you will know it too. The words are tremendous.

It is the song of a heart that knows repentance, forgiveness and transformation through knowing Jesus. As the newly baptised comes out of the water of baptism, they say:

I am a new creation, no more in condemnation, here in the grace of God I stand. My heart is overflowing; my love just keeps on growing, here in the grace of God I stand.

And I will praise you Lord, yes, I will praise you Lord, and I will sing of all that you have done.

A joy that knows no limit, a lightness in my spirit, here in the grace of God I stand.

Dave Bilbrough ©1983 Thankyou Music

As you know a re-built and renewed relationship with God, so you too can hear those words of God from heaven, said to you…

“You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”.

There will be a video version of the service.

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