7 January 2018Mark 1:4-11
“I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (v. 8)
Psalm: Psalm 29
On the Sunday after the Epiphany, the Church remembers the Baptism of Jesus. And, when many Methodist churches will be holding their Covenant Service, it is especially fitting for each member to think about their own Baptism also.
The Baptism of Jesus is placed in the very first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. It marks the start of Jesus’ ministry, and connects it with the great prophetic traditions of Israel. John the Baptist is seen as the last of the biblical prophets, in the style of the fierce and uncompromising Elijah, living off the land in the wilderness. He is the forerunner of Jesus: sent to clear the way for God’s Messiah-King. Mark sets the scene with a quotation from Isaiah 40:3 – from a chapter that told of a great redemptive turning-point to come. He is saying powerfully that that time has now arrived! John’s ministry was a time of great revolution and spiritual awakening for many faithful Jewish people, who heeded his call to repentance. The symbolic dipping and washing in the river Jordan pointed back to the entry into the Promised Land in the book of Joshua (Joshua 3) and pointed forward to greater promises yet to be completed. Baptism symbolised turning back to the true God, and entering into God’s own kingdom-movement. It was about being cleansed ready for the arrival of the Messiah-King.
John’s Baptism was for “the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4), which is both about personal reconciliation with God and also a general term for what God would bring about when the long period of exile was truly and finally over. Although geographical exile had ended centuries earlier, many scholars believe that the spiritual exile continued: God had not yet ‘returned to his temple’ (see Malachi 3:1; Zechariah 8; Ezekiel 43). John promised that the coming Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit – the true God would at last return to dwell with people. And in verse 9, the true Messiah makes his long-awaited entrance.
- The voice from heaven declares: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (v. 11). Do these words only apply to Jesus? In what sense does God say that to all of us?
- What are the things in your life that perhaps prevent you from hearing God’s loving voice? What are the noises and distractions that deafen you to that message?
- If you have been baptized, what did it mean to you? How do you express the sense that Baptism is both the proclamation of the loving voice of God and the repentant response of the believer?