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Sermon Briefs: Mark 1:9-15

In the mid-seventies, L. David Brown of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Waverly, Iowa, used the baptism narrative in Mark 1 to develop a sermon around the theme of baptism. He established the premise that our Christian identity is tied to a biblical understanding of baptism. His sermon focused on three different baptisms: John's, Jesus', and our own.
John's identity is tied to his prophetic role of calling people to repentance and baptism. The kind of baptism John offered was different from any baptisms of his day because he called people to be baptized who were repentant of sin. Though he had feelings of unworthiness, especially in the company of the Christ, his identity was never a question because he knew and preached of a God of forgiving love.
Then why was Jesus baptized? His baptism was an act of identification with the sinners of this world. In Christ, we understand what God is really like as well as his true humanity. Because he identifies with us, we are able to form a healthy identity of our own.
Brown's Lutheran theology comes through in his final point. He states that Christians receive our identity in baptism because baptism bestows upon a person the gift of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. As empowered sons and daughters of God who have been forgiven of our sins, such gifts shape our identity.
Brown points out that the common denominator in the account of Jesus' baptism and his temptation in the wilderness by Satan is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Some rich preaching themes could be developed around this fact.
Dr. Hugh Kirby, pastor of Hartwell First Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia, used verses 9-11 as his text. His sermon posed the question, "Why did Jesus choose to participate in a baptism for the repentance of sins if he was without sin?" Admitting that we do not know all the reasons, his sermon takes this four-point outline.
1. It was a point of decision. This event marked a decision that took him out of the village of his childhood. He left his family, his vocation as a carpenter, and entered the larger world with the purpose of following God's plan for his life. The journey of every disciple's life should be to move out of the walls of self-preoccupation.
2. It was a moment of identification. The story is told of the life and ministry of the Catholic priest Father Damion. He worked for years on the Island of Molokiai in Hawaii with the leper colony. He lived and worked and gave all he had to bring the healing grace of the Christian faith to these people until he came to the point where he could say, "We lepers." Though he was not a leper, he could identify with them with his mercy and love. Though Jesus was not a sinner, his baptism sent a message that he would enter into the plight of human sin with his ministry.
3. It was a moment of approval. Jesus was looking for and received the assurance from the Father that his decision was the right one. Mark's account is more personal and direct than Matthew's account. In Mark's gospel, God speaks directly to Jesus. God still speaks personally and directly to us.
4. It was a moment of equipping. The Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove, a symbol of peace and gentleness. This symbolized a very different kind of ministry than that of John the Baptist. John's message was a message of terrible sifting, of doom and gloom, not one of good news. In his baptism, Jesus was being equipped for the ministry that lay ahead of him, a ministry that conquered through love. Jesus' baptism set a new course for bringing humankind into a meaningful encounter with the Father, one demonstrated with the gentleness of heart, mind, and soul.
Michael Helms