Reading Mark 1 4-11
8 days after his birth Jesus is circumcised, as Luke reminds us. This is celebrated on Jan 1st but tends to get overlooked in the excitement of New Year. This Sunday we are 30 or so years later, and, as an adult, at the start of his public ministry, Jesus is baptised by John the Baptiser, who had already begun his public ministry with this distinctive practice of immersing people in the Jordan River. John the Baptist is combining two Old Testament themes. In his dress-code he is reminding the people of Elijah who was said to be the one who would precede the Messiah; and his practice of baptising people, immersing them in the Jordan, was a re-creating of Joshua leading the people from the wilderness into the Promised Land – they come out of the Jordan to claim the land.
According to Deuteronomy and the prophets, the people have lost their land because of their sin, their failure to follow the ways of God; they were taken into exile, and now they are ruled by a foreign power. John is saying that the time is now come for the Messiah to come and for the people to re-claim the Kingdom.
And so Jesus is baptised, not because he has sins to be forgiven, but to show he is not just part of this movement but is taking on the lead in it (and as Elisha took over from Elijah).
And in confirmation of this there is a voice from heaven, and the Spirit descends like a dove. “you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well-pleased” also reminds us of Old Testament passages, from Isaiah 42 and Psalm 2, but as we follow the story on, we will also see a link to Genesis 22 and the very difficult story where Abraham is told to sacrifice his son whom he loves.
What do we learn from this?
First, that our New Testament is founded on the Old Testament, both its main stories and its language and themes and ideas: To understand who Jesus is requires us to understand the Old Testament better also.
Second we are reminded that our faith is a public and political faith. Jesus came to bring in the Kingdom of God which would challenge the kingdoms of the world, the Romans, the Herods, the chief priests etc. His baptism is a public, outdoor event and our faith needs to be public and outdoors.
Third we may want to think again about what our baptism meant and means. Was it nice event (many years ago), or is it the signing up to following Jesus, living in the way of God?
Fourth: – although John the Baptist is the culmination of the OT prophets, the hinge to Jesus as it were, God has not gone silent since: how do we as individuals and as churches live out and act out God’s call in today’s world, always pointing people beyond us to the one who is “more powerful”.
An interesting episode in the life of Jesus, or a reminder to us of God’s call on our lives?
Rev’d Peter Reiss