Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:4-11 Part 1
Each of the synoptic Gospels explicitly records the baptism of Christ (Mt 3:1-17; Mk 1:1-11; Lk 3:2-16), while the account is implicit in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:29-34). Christ's baptism is clearly one of the key events of his earthly life, and one of the most surely attested. His baptism inaugurates Christ's ministry after three decades or so of quiet preparation. More important, it appears to mark a significant moment of inner confirmation of Jesus' own identity as divine Son and Messiah of Israel. These and a number of other theological themes and motifs emerge from this text, some of them debated to this day.
The messianic identity of Christ is one of the central themes of the Markan baptismal account. The Gospel of Mark begins with the quotation of two Old Testament prophecies concerning the announcement of the Messiah's coming (Mal 3:1; Is 40:3). Both passages indicate that the Messiah will be immediately preceded by a messenger proclaiming his imminent appearance. John the Baptist is identified as that messenger, the one whose wilderness preaching ministry ushers in the ministry of the Messiah, Jesus.
The content of John's preaching relates to another theological motif, humankind's need for repentance. John's message was an uncompromising call for repentance that evoked in many hearers the confession of sins (1:4-5). Their baptism by John in the Jordan is a visible sign of this turning away from sin and turning toward a new way of living. These elements related to water baptism—confession of sin, repentance of the old way of life, a turning toward God—nicely illustrate at least part of the meaning of believer's baptism in the authors' own tradition as Baptists. Yet in this account, these mass baptisms in the Jordan, important as they are for their own sake, signal something more profound than a wave of spiritual renewal in Judea. They portend a preparing of the way for the Messiah soon to come.
Those baptized by John did so as a signal of their confession and repentance. Why, then, was Jesus baptized? None of the Gospel accounts record any evidence that Jesus had any consciousness of personal sin; indeed, given our belief in his sinlessness, we would not expect such consciousness on Jesus' part. Matthew's baptismal account offers an answer to this key question. In this account, John protests Jesus' request for baptism, but Jesus replies, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt 3:15 RSV). Old Testament prophetic texts declared that the Messiah would do that which is just and righteous (Jer 33:15-16; Is 11:4). His baptism identifies Jesus as the Messianic servant who stands in solidarity with the people he came to save, One who obediently fulfills all of the commands of God his Father. Baptism also offers to Jesus a way of marking the transition from a time of preparation for ministry to the inauguration of that ministry.
The last two verses of the Markan baptismal account contain theological themes that lie at the core of Christian faith—the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, and the Incarnation. The meaning of these verses has been at the center of considerable theological argumentation.
Upon rising from the waters of baptism, Jesus experiences the Spirit descending upon him "like a dove" (1:10). Earlier in the passage we hear John promise that the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Old Testament prophetic texts had promised this powerful baptism of the Spirit in the latter days (Joel 2:28). Many texts in the earlier historical books of the Old Testament refer to God's anointing of called leaders with the Holy Spirit. His baptism, then, signals Christ's anointing with the power of the Holy Spirit for the conduct of his ministry. The power of the new, messianic age breaks into the old with the anointing of Jesus. Henceforth the power of the Holy Spirit would blaze forth like "fire" (Mt 3:11) from Jesus and from his church.
Besides witnessing the descending of the Spirit, Jesus also hears the voice of his Father (he hears a voice—that it is his Father is implicit but clear) declaring his divine Sonship and the Father's approval (1:11). The presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together in this passage is important when one considers the small number of passages in which the three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in this way. The text has been important in the church's development of a theology of the Trinity.
Related to this, we see the theme of the unity of the three Persons of the Trinity. Although there are three Persons, they are unified in their nature. The Spirit gives Christ approval by descending upon him (1:10). The Father voices his pleasure in the Son (1:11). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are not working independently of each other to accomplish different agendas.
A major point of contention in this passage has been over the relationship between the Son and the Father. Historic Christian orthodoxy has read this text and the overall witness of the Scriptures as affirming a pre- existent Son, one who is beloved of God from before the foundation of the world (cf. John 1:1-18). The adoptionist theory, on the other hand, views the moment of baptism as the time when Jesus made the transition from being a normal human being to the adopted Son of God. If this view is adopted there is no Incarnation per se, but instead a supernatural adoption. This view must be rejected on biblical grounds as falling outside the boundaries of New Testament teaching.
Jesus' baptism marks a rip or tear in the history of the world. After John the Baptist has prepared the way, this aeon has been interrupted by a new aeon. The Messiah has come, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing will ever be the same again.
David P. Gushee and Tim McKnight