(for the Baptism of Our Lord, Sunday, January 11, 2015)
John the baptizer 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 baptized 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 baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized 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 1:4-11, NRSV).
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 baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
If baptism in water is this good what is baptism in the Holy Spirit going to be like?
It must have created so many questions in John’s followers. Perhaps some began searching for this next one. John is awesome. But who is this that will dwarf him?
Mark’s readers do not 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.’
This 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 also to be in the know; to hear this call; to see this trinity working together.
But what most intrigues me is John’s promise of the Spirit and 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 one.
Jesus’ baptism begins heaven’s great revealing. It is the first epiphany.