First Sunday After Epiphany
Sermon starts at 15:22 in the recording
Gospel: Mark 1:4-11
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed,
‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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.11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Afterthoughts: The Empowering of the Holy Spirit
This past Sunday we remembered the baptism of Jesus.
In the Gospels, this event is significant because it is the launching point for the ministry of Jesus
(which came after His temptation in the wilderness).
His baptism was a demarcation point for His life.
After this, His life was a slow and steady journey to the cross.
My main point in the sermon on Sunday was to show that there was a difference between the baptism of John (which dealt with repentance) and the baptism of Jesus (which dealt with indwelling Spirit of God).
As a further reflection of the lessons and the sermon, I wanted to look more closely at the reading from Acts as it brings up the “so what” issue.
Paul seemed really concerned about whether or not the disciples had received “the right” baptism.
Why was he so picky about this?
Why did their baptism make a difference?
Let’s think through this.
Paul had encountered some disciples.
But I thought that Jesus was the only one that had disciples?
Disciple comes from the root of a word that means “a learner.”
(And from where we get our word for math).
If you remember, Jesus’ disciples called Him Rabbi and Teacher.
They were His students; they were learners.
So Paul had encountered people that were the students of John and that movement in some way.
So now, Paul is trying to clarify who they are.
He asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?”
Why would he ask this?
Think back to Pentecost.
It was the mark of the new Church.
Paul writes of this in the great doxology from the beginning of Ephesians:
“What’s a Holy Spirit?” they ask.
Ah, Paul figures out the issue.
They were stuck on repentance and hadn’t yet learned about the Holy Spirit, which meant that their understanding of salvation was flawed, and thus affecting their life.
They hadn’t heard of Jesus.
They only understood John’s baptism (no power)
Paul invited them into Jesus’ baptism (power).
And what happens after they get baptized into the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
Holy Spirit things happen.
(Again, think Pentecost).
To me, this point is brought to the forefront with Marks’ use of the Greek preposition eis in the Gospel passage, and specifically what happens when the Spirit descends upon Jesus. More on this in a moment
The translation says that the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.
Which is a good translation for the other three Gospel renderings of this passage (they use a different preposition).
But Mark, being a less “flowery” and a “just the facts” type of Gospel guy seems to record the most important part of this moment:
God’s empowering Spirit.
Mark says that the heavens “split” (schizoid – where we get our word for schism). This is a way of saying that something earthshaking is about to happen.
So what earthshaking thing happened?
Again, the translation is “descended upon” but the visual here is the Holy Spirit comes “into Him.”
Not on but in.
A sign of power.
If we remember the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, it comes and goes as God directs. The spirit comes upon and leaves, many prophets, priests and kings.
Instead of merely resting upon.
The Spirit would now indwell.
Which is where the Church comes in.
No longer would the people of God rely solely on a prophet, priest or king to give God’s direction and discern God’s wisdom (which is essentially mediating their relationship with God).
Instead, God’s own Spirit would indwell the people of His Church to lead them in the way of life.
Another way of understanding this would be this:
The same Holy Spirit that was present in the life of the Apostles
can be present in you and me.
(This is where we come back to the baptism thing,
And mainly the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism).
Have you ever heard someone say, “But I am a good person.”?
Or, “I do all the right things.”?
Here is what Jesus would say about that.
John’s baptism is an understanding that I must live a “good life.”
Be a good person.
Do the right things.
Say the right words.
It is a recognition of the importance of doing good.
(Which is not a bad thing.)
Just not the thing that makes us a part of God’s community.
To be in a relationship with a Holy God,
We must be a holy people.
We must be righteous.
And if this is not true, we are in trouble.
Paul says this about our chances of being righteous,
So what will resolve this?
Jesus’ baptism (as opposed to John’s).
The word for baptism comes from the cloth making world.
It was used to speak about dyeing cloth by dipping it or immersing it into something.
When we are baptized into something, it reflects a change.
For John’s baptism, it is a change of understanding about ourselves.
It is the revelation that we are sinners needing to repent and be cleansed.
For Jesus’ baptism, it is an ontological change.
It is a change in nature.
From unholy to holy.
From unrighteous to righteous.
From lost to found.
My point in all of this is not to say to someone,
“You are not…”
“You’re not enough.”
(I am not intending to make the conversation about the two baptisms a negative one. Indeed, the work of John was of one “who would prepare the way; the first baptism makes way for the second).
Instead, I intend to say,
“You could be.”
“You have hope.”
It is a way of seeing what could be.
Let’s go back to the reading from Acts and Paul’s interactions with some disciples that he met.
Once Paul and these disciples realized what needed to be done, the disciples made a choice.
After they were baptized, things changed.
They were now a part of God’s family.
And empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.
And we can be too.
By realizing our true (failed) nature.
And by placing faith in the work and baptism of Jesus.
That we might live no more for ourselves but to the One who has redeemed us, Jesus Christ, to the glory of His Name.
Will you live into this hope with me friends?