Baptism

Photo by Joel Mott on Unsplash

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Mark opens what is often considered the first Gospel with the Greek word arche, translated beginning. It seems he had the idea of using the opening of Genesis decades before John wrote his own Gospel.

The Greek word euangelion translates as Good News, or Gospel. Our word gospel comes from the old English word god spell, also meaning good news. Euangelion was used in the First Century mainly in association with Roman leaders. Augustus was announced wherever he went as the euangelion, the good news is coming. When you consider it, it was a good word for the early Christians to steal.

Clearly, Mark did not want to mess with sorting out the confusion of the birth story, or even the relationship of John to Jesus. Verse 4 gives us the unvarnished wild man in the wilderness, pushing people under the river water.

As Mark describes the scene, John is preaching along the southern portion of the Jordan about twenty miles east of Jerusalem and some 4,000 feet below the city. That meant that people from Jerusalem had a difficult trek down and back up the mountain. John was not the typical preacher of the day. People were excited because he was announcing the coming of the long awaited Messiah.

The Greek word, baptizo, means to immerse. It is similar to what Jews were used to doing at the time. Before going into the Temple, they would go to a mikveh, walk down into the pool of running water, completely submerge several times, then climb up a different set of clean steps. That is the simple version but notice that each person did it alone.

John personally dunked those who were seeking to renew their faith. The early church practiced total immersion until the question of the salvation of infants became a fear for many. Eventually, sprinkling of infants became common and was even extended to adults. But sprinkling is not baptizo.

Verse 9 created a problem for the early church. In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the JordanESV John only baptized people (possibly only men) who publicly confessed sins and publicly changed their ways.

Jesus had no sins to confess, nor did John ask him to. Reread what Mark wrote. Jesus appeared and was baptized, period. Matthew has an important exchange between them in 3:13-15. Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consentedNIV

Even at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he knew that he faced the baptism of death. That death would fulfill all righteousness. Jesus, therefore, chose to submit to the symbolic baptism, in part as a symbol for us to follow, and mainly as a symbol of what would come to him three years forward. Still, the church has always felt a sense of guilt that our Savior humiliated himself by accepting the baptism of sinners.

All four Gospels include a version of the baptism of Jesus. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open 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.” ESV

The heavens being torn open is a symbol of the open pathway between heaven and earth that the Messiah will make as he fulfills all righteousness. The image is repeated at the crucifixion when the curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two (Mark 15:38).

The Spirit descending on Jesus is symbolic of our baptisms. As Matthew 3:11 has it, I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fireNIV

Most of us like the idea of receiving the Holy Spirit but are less enthusiastic about the fire. Matthew 3:12 explains. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fireNIV Mark 1:4 reads, For John came and began to baptise men in the desert, proclaiming baptism as the mark of a complete change of heart and of the forgiveness of sinsPhillips Without the change of heart baptism is of no use.

What does a change of heart look like? Read Luke 3:10-14. Then the crowds would ask him, “Then what shall we do?” And his answer was, “The man who has two shirts must share with the man who has none, and the man who has food must do the same.” Some of the tax-collectors also came to him to be baptised and they asked him, “Master, what are we to do?” “You must not demand more than you are entitled to,” he replied.And the soldiers asked him, “And what are we to do?” “Don’t bully people, don’t bring false charges, and be content with your pay,” he repliedPhillips

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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