“The Ultimate Affirmation”
Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable and pleasing to you oh Lord my rock and my redeemer, amen.
When I first read Mark 1:4-11 I was immediately captivated by the last three verses that document Jesus baptism, I couldn’t even imagine what Jesus saw and heard when the heavens were torn open and God’s voice spoke to him. But as I studied the text I was blown away by the magnitude and scope of not only Jesus’ baptism, but of the amount of prophecy and hope of a nation wrapped up in John, and the one who John prepared the way for. Will you turn in your Bibles to Mark 1:4-11, this is on page 910 in the pew Bibles.
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” This is the word of the Lord.
Of the four gospels, Mark is far and away the shortest, Mark’s gospel is like the script for an action movie; it moves quickly and only provides the bare-bones details. In the three verses prior to our text, Mark immediately establishes John the Baptist’s role as the one who will prepare the way of the Lord by harkening to the prophet Isaiah. Seven hundred years earlier, during a chaotic time in Israel’s history when the northern and southern tribes had just split, Isaiah foretold of a wild man, wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs, who would be the herald of the messiah. John fulfilled prophecy right down to his clothes and diet.
But there’s still more, the wilderness where John was living, preaching, and baptizing was the same wilderness where Israel had spent so much time after leaving Egypt, they had spent forty years in that rough terrain as they anticipated God delivering to them the promised land. This dry, unwelcoming terrain was steeped in Israel’s history and the only fitting place for John’s voice to cry out his message to prepare the way of the Lord.
The hope of a nation for nearly a thousand years was finally going to be realized, and at this pivotal moment in history, it was the divine mandate for John, the long foretold fore runner to the messiah, to prepare the people for Jesus. Can you begin to see how important, how reality altering important, these events are?
The text tells us that the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were coming out to the wilderness to be baptized by John. They recognized this man, this man who earlier prophets described right down to his leather belt. Why was John captivating so many people? He was certainly counter-cultural in their day by where he lived, what he wore, and what he ate. But the reason I would argue John was drawing so many people to him was because he knew his power was not in himself, but in the one for whom he was preparing the way. John says that the one who is more powerful than he was coming after him, and he was not even worthy to stoop down and touch Jesus’ feet. In a culture based on honor and shame, this is a powerful statement. In those days it was the job of servants and slaves to put on and remove sandals and wash feet. John was saying that compared to Jesus, he’s lower than a slave, and he was the one long foretold to prepare the way of the Lord. John the Baptist’s power as the herald of the messiah was not in himself, but in his Lord.
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson in Israelite history and prophecy but what does this all mean for you and me today? First of all, John’s message of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is just as unique and vitally true today as it was to those who heard John preach. The majority of Jews that heard John’s call for repentance and baptism were surprised because in the Jewish faith, the only people requiring the ritual cleansing of sin by water were gentiles who had converted or Jews who were defiled. The average law abiding Jew saw themselves in good standing with God because of the animal sacrifices that they made at the temple.
But John was preaching of a new covenant, something better, a new high priest that would forever bridge the gap between sinful man and the true and living God. Entrance into this new covenant is marked by baptism, when a person humbles themselves before God and repents of their sins and then receives the gift of having those sins forever washed away, no longer cut off from our almighty Father. Jesus changes everything; no one else could ever do what Jesus does.
You’ve probably heard this message before, but do you live confidently in truth of Jesus Christ? Do you let the grace of Jesus Christ transform your life day by day? In Christ you are set free from sin; this message is far more than simply qualifying you for heaven someday. Our baptism in Jesus Christ forever transforms who we are and brings us into new life right here and now, we can taste and see that the Lord is good right now.
You may have heard John the Baptist’s message before, and it’s my prayer that the message of Jesus Christ transforms your life every day; but how many of those in the community around us have heard this message? If you’re anything like me, you might tend to assume that with the amount of information that is continually available to us with technology and the internet, and the fact that there seems to be a church on every corner in the U.S. means that everyone knows about Jesus, but studies show that that just isn’t true. Many scholars argue that we live in a post-Christian nation and even if people have heard the name Jesus, they may not have experienced the life-giving truth of Christ in a way that would cause them to become a disciple. At the heart of this text is the message that John preached and lived, we need to follow his lead and proclaim the good news of Jesus and the new reality that the messiah brings. Watch the news for five minutes and then tell me if we live in a world that needs the transformation that only Christ can offer.
The second thing I hope you take away from this passage is the power and the role of the Holy Spirit. In many of the same prophecies we looked at earlier, the new age that would be brought about by the coming of the messiah was to be marked by the Holy Spirit, God’s spirit would dwell with and in his people. John knows that the Holy Spirit is vital because he notes the Holy Spirit as the difference between the baptism he offers people and the baptism that Jesus offers. Sure enough when Jesus came up out of the waters of the Jordan after being baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him, what marks the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry, the beginning of his work as the messiah, the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Remember earlier I told you Jesus represents far more than simply qualifying us for heaven, the inauguration of Jesus ministry in the event of his baptism tore open the heavens and God’s spirit would now dwell on earth, we don’t have to wait for the next life to experience God’s loving presence, the messiah brought with him the Holy Spirit for all those redeemed in the baptism of Jesus Christ.
It’s very interesting that Mark chooses the words the heavens were torn open in verse 10. In verses elsewhere in the Bible, we read about heaven being opened in several places, but when the messiah is baptized or is installed on earth for his work, the heavens are torn open. Things which are opened can be closed again, but in Jesus Christ, heaven is forever torn open for those who repent and believe in God’s saving one. Because of the messiah, sin can no longer shut the gates of heaven on humanity if we but repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
The third thing I hope you take away from this passage is the affirmation God provides Jesus, and all those Jesus redeems, of our status as beloved children of God. After Jesus sees the heavens being torn open and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove, he hears the voice of God utter the most powerful statement that could have been made, you are my Son, the beloved one, with you I am well pleased. This is the ultimate affirmation one could ever receive. Not only was John, the one long foretold to prepare the way of the messiah, pointing to him, not only were the heavens torn open and the Spirit of God descending upon him pointing to Jesus as the messiah, but God the Father boldly speaks value, divinity, and mission into this long promised savior of the world. Jesus is God’s own son, the beloved, and in him God is well pleased. Many commentators note that this isn’t just God vocalizing his pride in his Son but affirming that his Son is the one who will serve as God’s agent to save the world, Jesus will bring about this new age where God’s spirit will dwell in his people and the heavens have been torn open. Is this not the ultimate affirmation?
Friends, it gets better, through Jesus Christ every person that repents and is baptized gets that same honor and that same affirmation. God says to all those saved by Jesus Christ you are my son or my daughter, my beloved, in you I am well pleased. If there is a truth or reality better than that I have yet to find it. The true and living God of the universe that lovingly created humanity in his own image fixed the problem we created and in the new reality brought about by Jesus Christ, we can again become beloved sons and daughters in whom God’s spirit dwells.
After this incredible event that inaugurates Jesus’ ministry he immediately goes out further into the wilderness to take on Satan, God stamped his seal of approval on Jesus so now he can take on any temptation the devil has for him. Think of a time when someone spoke truth into your life and affirmed you and your ability, you feel like you can take on anything this world might have for you. Just as God’s affirmation of Jesus after his baptism entailed a mission, so does our affirmation from God that we are Sons and Daughters; we are to live confidently as children of God who spread the good news of Jesus Christ and live out the new reality which the messiah brought about, the reality that God’s presence dwells in us every day, that heaven has been forever torn open through Jesus Christ.
Rob Bell in his book “Love Wins” writes some good things and maybe some not so good things about God’s redeeming love. But one of the things that he does best, towards the end of his book is to say that the message we all to often preach that Christianity is only about getting people saved for heaven someday is deeply flawed. The message that John the Baptist preached and that Jesus brings into reality is better than that. When we repent and are baptized in Jesus Christ we receive God’s spirit and if you listen close enough you’ll hear you are my son or my daughter, my beloved, in you I am well pleased. Friends, there is nothing better than that and that is our ultimate affirmation.