A reflection on Mark 1:4-11 for ‘The Baptism of Our Lord’ Sunday – January 10, 2021.
John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He 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. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And 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. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Mark 1:1-4 (NRSVA)
Mark’s account is brief. At least in comparison to the other synoptics – Matthew and Luke.
The essentials are all there, however. John is described in similar terms: he baptises for forgiveness, attracts from Judea and Jerusalem, lives like an old-time prophet. Even as his popularity grows he points away from himself: ‘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. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
If baptism in water is this good – and this attractive – what is baptism in the Holy Spirit going to be like?
It must have inspired questions in John’s followers. Perhaps some began searching for this next one. John is remarkable. But who is this that will dwarf him?
Mark’s readers don’t have to wait long for an answer. Jesus baptism, at the very lest, points the way. He emerges to parted heavens, the descending Spirit, and heaven’s voice: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
The account is clearly told from Jesus’ perspective. Jesus sees the torn heaven and the Spirit resting upon him. Heaven’s voice speaks not to the crowd, but to Jesus himself. This is Jesus’ experience.
And, of course, it is also ours. Mark wants his readers to be in the know; to hear this call; to see this Trinity at work.
But what most intrigues me is John’s promise of the Spirit – and now – the immediate descending of the Spirit upon Jesus. Clearly if anyone is to baptise with the Holy Spirit it is this one.
Even this early in Mark it looks very likely that’s Jesus is the predicted – and revealed – one.
Jesus’ baptism begins heaven’s great revealing. In the Gospel of Mark it functions as the first public epiphany.
What does this baptism account reveal about the humanity of Jesus? What does it reveal about the divine nature of Jesus?
What are the parallels made here between the ministry of John and that of Jesus? What are the differences?
What is your experience of the Holy Spirit?