Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 7, 2024
Mark 1:4-11 Commentary
If you were following the Gospel lectionary texts in December, then the first four verses of our text today will be familiar because they were also in the passage for the second Sunday of Advent. In my commentary for that week, one of the things I focused on was the fact that God decided that the good news about Jesus Christ would start with someone else. Similarly, on this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, which is also the first Sunday after Epiphany, I’d like to focus on the fact that the good news about Jesus Christ isn’t just about him.
First, consider that Jesus came to John in order to be baptized. Jesus didn’t need John’s baptism the way the people were undertaking it: there was nothing for which Jesus needed to repent. Even still, Jesus asked John to be an integral participant in the unfolding of his life and ministry. This is the way of God, isn’t it? To take on unlikely partners in the unfolding revelation of God’s love and purposes for the world… To participate in things like the sacraments in order to show us how those things reveal God’s ever-loving self… To humble himself so that he might show us what we each need to do…
Secondly, here at Jesus’s baptism we see that the good news about Jesus Christ isn’t just about the second person of the Trinity—it’s about all three persons. As Jesus rose up out of the water of the Jordan River, “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.’” It is a revelation of Father, Son, and Spirit that loudly proclaims the message and intent of the triune God.
And that intent is good news indeed. It is a promise with teeth, it is a message of belonging, and it is a description of God’s relationship and posture towards Jesus.
The heavens rip open and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is said to “come upon” Jesus (or someone else), but here, the sense is about a permanent presence, a constant companion. The conversation about how the Spirit will “come upon” someone in whom it already resides is a fun one to consider but not the point of our gospel text. Suffice it to say, the point that the gospel is making is that the promise of sonship and love made by God from heaven is given “teeth” with the sending of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will be with Jesus during his ministry on earth. God does not leave the Son without hope or help.
God the Father declares to Jesus, “You are my Son, You are the Beloved.” It is not difficult to imagine that these words were “sticky” to Jesus. As he immediately went on to face temptation in the desert, day after day as he was tempted to doubt by encountering the suffering of the world, as he endured abuse, as he prayed to have the cup taken from him in the Garden of Gethsemane, these words of belonging by love, belonging by a bond that cannot be shaken, these words would truly feel sticky.
Sometimes they would have covered Jesus with a sense of peace despite the circumstances, stuck like a glue that was actually the resolve to face the hardest callings and greatest sacrifices. Other times, Jesus would need to sit in the stickiness of a love that did not do all that he asked of it, did not end every challenge he faced, did not stop every attack and sometimes fell silent.
And if Jesus is the “last Adam” and “firstborn from among the dead” (1 Cor 15 & Col 1) who shows us the way that it is between God and us, then we learn about how to live in the stickiness that is being God’s beloved from him. His baptism experience isn’t just about him in relation to the Father and Spirit, it’s a picture of our own place among them.
God does not leave us without hope or help. At our own baptisms we are reminded that all of God’s promises are a “Yes!” in Christ—including the promised Holy Spirit who the Father sends and Jesus breathes upon his disciples. The Spirit can help us with the sticky words we read in the Scripture—words that sometimes seem like a trap because of how untrue they feel, or how something can be true even when something that seems like the opposite is also true.
At our baptisms we remember that, following the experience of Christ our co-heir, we are the children of God, beloved and cared for. We are people God willingly splits the heavens open for in order to communicate and express his love for us! Don’t believe me? Consider that as Jesus died on the cross, there was another splitting: that time, the curtain in the holy of holies that shielded God’s presence from us sinful humans was torn apart, top to bottom. In Jesus’s birth, life and ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and promise of return we get the same message over and over: God’s love will not be held back from his beloveds.
So might we also see the way in which God is taking delight in us? Various translations of verse 11 translate eudokēsa as the Father telling Jesus that he is “well pleased,” (NIV, NRSV) that Jesus is the “pride of [God’s] life,” (The Message) or that Jesus is one in whom the Father “takes great delight.” (NET) I like that last one the best because it helps us keep the meaning separated from any sort of works righteousness. The Father isn’t pleased with the Son because the Son has earned it, it’s purely out of love and because he looks upon Jesus as someone worthy of his love. The Father delights in loving him. This is God’s basic posture towards us; God’s delight and rejoicing over us is a message proclaimed all over the Scriptures. May their power become just as sticky to us as they were to Jesus.
My colleague Scott Hoezee makes a really good argument for including verses 12 and 13 this week. Why conclude with Jesus being driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan? In his sermon commentary Scott writes, “because such an engagement with evil is precisely what Jesus’s baptism was all about. God did not send his beloved Son into our world just to be nice… [but] to engage the evil that holds our world captive.” Read more here.
I find it interesting that in the sci-fi and fantasy world, a “tearing” that allows different spheres of realities is usually a dangerous threat for humanity. Take the book, video game, and TV series The Witcher. A long, long time ago, multiple spheres or dimensions of realities existed together, but then at the Conjunction of the Spheres all that changed. And now, when there is a tear that opens this world to one of the other dimensions, monsters and bad forces come in. Similarly, in the Marvel multiverse—which also began with a unity and a harmony—“incursions” occur between, among, and even from beyond the cosmos. But with Jesus’s baptism, we see the “tearing” of heaven as a positive for humanity, symbolized by the real experience of Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit and hearing the Father call him “beloved.”
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