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Baptism of Christ

Mark 1:9 -- 15

Within these few verses is revealed the very nature of Christ.

(Mark 1:9-15 NIV) At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. {10} As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. {11} And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." {12} At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, {13} and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. {14} After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. {15} "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

The Outward Signs

Sometimes, God just has to put up a sign post for us. When important things are happening – and the advent of Christ is the important thing in human history – God must explain it to his beloved children.

The baptism

It often puzzles Christians: John is preaching a gospel of repentance. Jesus comes to him to be baptized; but Jesus is sinless – why the need? Even John sees it that way, in the other Gospels.

  • The principle is that of identification. Jesus is identifying with us. He is proclaiming that he is fully man, and therefore (since sinless) an acceptable sacrifice. No longer is God the voice on the mountain but a man like us. The method of identification? Baptism.
  • Which is for the purpose of our identification with him. He, God, became man so that we – by identification – might become like God (eternal, for example). How is that identification accomplished? By baptism.
The anointing of the Spirit

The original language here makes it clear that the Spirit is not a bird. Rather, the Spirit, unseen, descends like a dove. Why is this done?

  • This is again an identification with us, for after the Resurrection we will receive the Holy Spirit. In that sense, we see a preview of what is to come.
  • It states that heaven is torn open; well it might be. The Spirit comes upon whom He pleases, but God is one. The barrier between heaven and earth – whatever it might be – cannot stop the unity of God.
  • This may also be seen as an anointing – as the oil (often a symbol of the Spirit) flows down from above, so does the Spirit. But see in what form! The form is like a dove – the symbol to this day of peace.
God’s voice

The unity of God requires that all three persons be present, and so the voice of God is heard. We see in this three things:

  • First, we see the divine approval of Christ. God is commissioning the greatest of his prophets.
  • Next, we see the statement of relationship. It is to make very clear that this is not the relationship of the Old Testament, but rather the closest of relationships.
  • Finally – we are commanded to hear him. Sometimes you just need to make sure there is no room for interpretation.

The Nature of the Trinity

Permit me to re-use a model that might make more sense than some others. As human beings we have a great deal of difficulty in the saying that God is three, yet one. It’s because we think that such a thing cannot be. But we have examples even in our own lives of this; I borrowed this one from Dorothy Sayers.

Consider that you are a mystery writer (which she was). First there is the idea for the book – locked up in your head where no one can see it. You might say, “I’ve a great idea for a new book!” You write it down; it gets published (well, some writers do get published) and out comes the incarnation: the published work. If the work is great enough, it may actually have an effect on peoples’ lives. That would parallel the Spirit working in us.

So saying, let us consider the three persons in the Trinity.

God the Father

Aquinas put it well: the essence of God is his existence. Surely he must exist, and exist forever – for nothing ever caused its own existence. Therefore all that has existence must have been created by the one who is existence.

What do we know about this existence? When we say, “God is” – it’s the way he introduced himself to Moses[1] - what do we find?

  • God is “one”[2]
  • God is spirit[3]
  • God is love[4]

All of these are his attributes; so we say that God is his attributes. He is perfectly love, for example – the source, the author, the exemplar of love. But his attributes come in two varieties:

  • There are those which relate to his holiness – righteousness, justice, faithfulness, truth.
  • There are those which relate to his love – such as his tender mercy.

So what, then, can God do with mankind? The righteous, holy God can have nothing to do with us. The loving God yearns to take us in his arms. His “oneness” says he cannot do both. But God is one – in three.

Jesus Christ

The solution to the problem is found in Jesus, at the Cross. He is the mediator – perhaps we might say the bridge – between man and God. He is the solution to this dilemma about God.

  • Jesus is fully man – just like us. He knows our pains; and (being sinless) is fit to pay the price for our sins.
  • Jesus is fully God.[5] So our bridge is firmly anchored – here and in heaven.

How is this done? Through the atonement. Our sins are as a debt to be paid – and we are the paupers who cannot pay them. But God sends his son to be the payment for those sins, and thus our relationship to God can be restored on the basis of the righteousness and sacrifice of Christ. God’s holiness is satisfied; his love is fulfilled.

But then what? Surely it is not sufficient to see salvation and live unchanged; if we are crossing over the bridge from sin to holiness we must change. For that, there is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit

The primary purpose of the Spirit is simple: He is here to convict the world of sin and judgment to come. [6]

  • For the unbeliever, this is to provoke a decision to accept the atonement – to identify with Jesus Christ as we said it before.
  • For the believer, it is to provoke repentance, that we might remain clean before God.

But there are other purposes as well:

  • We need a little help at this! We need someone to go to God the Father on our behalf, appealing in ways that humans are not capable of. That is a function of the Holy Spirit.[7]
  • We also need the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives – not only to remind us to repentance but to assure us that our faith is not in vain. Therefore He is the guarantee of our own eternal life.[8]

This – as we said – must produce change in our lives. If we cross over from darkness to light, it should show clearly. How? Is this not the fruit of the Spirit?[9]

The First Year

In this very brief account Mark skips over the first year of Jesus’ ministry. We know this from the parallel accounts; it is likely that Mark, being a friend of Peter, starts his detail from when Peter joined Jesus. But before this year can happen, we have a strange event – the temptation in the wilderness.

Fully human

If there is anything which defines “human”, it’s temptation. Christ is fully human, like us, and therefore is tempted, like us. The level of the temptation is matching to his stature as a man – none of us is ever tempted beyond what we can bear – and therefore is much greater than anything we could bear. But it is very human: we see the temptations of the flesh, the world and the spirit.

But notice something that is absent here. The Father and the Spirit are present at the baptism, but they appear to be absent in the wilderness. God often does that to us. It is like letting a little child take a few steps on his own; in no other way will he learn to walk. Jesus does this for forty days. He understands our temptations.

Fully Divine

The Spirit sent him into the wilderness. The one who is fully divine always listens to the commands of God, even when the change of location looks really bleak. It is the mark of the divine nature of Christ that he went willingly where the Spirit sent him.

The temptation – Mark doesn’t mention the details here – is over, and we see another aspect of the divine nature of Christ. If you are one of God’s children, after the temptation comes the comfort. In this instance, in the form of angels. And who knows? Maybe some of us have entertained angels unaware – as they were comforting us.

The result

The time has come. Jesus begins his preaching ministry. There is no sense of waiting, holding back or delay. It’s just “get on with it.” What then does our Lord preach?

  • First, he preaches “good news.” The barrier between man and God is about to be destroyed. The long awaited Messiah is here. That God would come among men – and prove to be the man among men – is indeed good news.
  • He preaches the kingdom of God. Note: not the democracy of God, or the cult society of God; the kingdom of God. There is no question of who is monarch; the only question is, “who is citizen?”
  • Citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is to be had, not for a price but for a process: repent and believe.

Do we see it as good news? Do we see it with the authority of God in it? Are we really the children of the kingdom of God?

[1] Exodus 3:14

[2] Deuteronomy 6:4

[3] John 4:24

[4] 1 John 4:8

[5] Hebrews 1:3

[6] John 16:8-11

[7] Romans 8:26-27

[8] Ephesians 1:13-14

[9] Galatians 5:22-23

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