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Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:4-11 Part 1

Mark's telling of the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River points to underlying motifs in celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. Mark takes great care to link his narrative with significant figures from the Hebrew Scriptures. The opening verses begin with a citation from Isaiah. The portrait of John the Baptist calls to mind the prophet Elijah. Even the baptismal language when the heavens are "torn apart" carries memories of the call of Ezekiel. Mark clearly wants to embed the Jesus story in the tradition of the great prophetic figures of the past. The baptism of Jesus is linked with prophetic stories of judgment and with a call to change or repentance. As a result, Mark's Christological claims grow out of a connection between Jesus and the God of Isaiah, Elijah and Ezekiel.
At the center of this message is a critique on the social order. Mark locates the events in the wilderness as opposed to Jerusalem, the center of society. "All of the people of Jerusalem" (v. 5) go out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. The significance is underscored with the emphasis that Jesus will leave the wilderness following the baptism only to be driven further into the wilderness for the temptation narrative.
The baptismal narrative underscores two themes. Baptism is a source of solidarity. Rather than ask the modern questions of individual purpose (Why did Jesus need to be baptized?). Mark stresses the baptism as a unifying act. Jesus joins with all the people who come to the Jordan. John's message of repentance is in line with the prophetic tradition that addresses societal injustices. Mark wraps the message of John the Baptist in the tradition of Elijah (through the prophetic uniform of camel hair and a leather belt). Elijah's willingness to confront kings who abused their power and to speak up in times of injustice is a heritage claimed by John the Baptist and through baptism incorporated into the mission and ministry of Jesus. The geographic location points again to the call for revolution that for Mark begins in the wilderness but will move to confront the power structures in Jerusalem.
Baptism is also the beginning of a journey. Mark introduces the Gospel with the baptism as a way of beginning the public ministry of Jesus. The implicit reference to Ezekiel's call ("the heavens were opened" in Ez 1:1) emphasizes the initiatory dimension of baptism in which we experience a calling, blessing and confirmation. This act leads us to discover ways to live out of the waters of baptism (which Mark underscores with Jesus' proclamation in v. 14, "the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news").
The reading from Genesis for this Sunday opens up the possibility of exploring the dimensions of baptism as a part of the creation narrative. The Spirit of God sweeps over the face of the waters where there is a "formless void" and darkness that covers the face of the deep. In this narrative, the first act of creation is separating the light and the darkness. This leads to the initial declaration that creation is good. Mark's rendition of Jesus' baptism alludes to the creation dimensions of this act through the Spirit descending and the declaration from heaven (Mk 1:11).
The reading from Acts explicitly connects the event of baptism with the coming of the Holy Spirit. John's baptism is portrayed as one of repentance whereas baptism in the name of Jesus shifts the emphasis from past to present encounter with the Spirit. Baptism as that, which connects us to the past, engages us in the present and prepares us for the future enriches the Marcan narrative and provides theological groundwork for relating the lectionary texts.
Paul Galbreath