Baptism of Repentance (Mark 1)

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Sermon Text

1. Brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome to the season of Epiphany. This season is basically a crash-course in the revelation of the deity of Jesus. Each week in Epiphany has a different revelation about the deity of Jesus Christ throughout His earthly ministry. Today we’ve got Jesus’ Baptism by John in the Jordan River. In this one story, we have the revelation—the epiphany—of Jesus’ place in the Trinity. This revelation is given to us only because Jesus humbled Himself to submit to the Baptism of repentance that John gave. He submitted Himself to this Baptism so that He can relate to us sinful people who are like those coming out from all over to be baptized by John. This Baptism was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth. The beginning of the greatest epiphany the world would ever know. God uses five steps in our text to unfold His salvation for us through Baptism:

  1. God called John to be His prophet in the desert region around the Jordan River;
  2. God brought the people out to the desert to hear John preach;
  3. God forgave the sins of those who came out to John confessing their sins;
  4. Jesus submitted to being baptized by John;
  5. God the Father proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah—the Son of God.

2. First, God called John to be His prophet during these last days before His Son’s ministry on earth. God called John from before he had been conceived. God told his father Zechariah that John “will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). John left his hometown in the hill country of Judea to go where God had ordained for him to proclaim the Baptism of repentance. John was probably raised by his parents with the knowledge of the prophecy given to Zechariah in the Temple. So, when he went out to do the Lord’s work in the “spirit and power of Elijah,” he dressed the part as well. The beginning of II Kings has this description of Elijah:

The king [Ahaziah] asked [his messengers], “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you [that I will certainly die]?”
They replied, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.”
The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.” (1:7-8)

John even took his attire from the great prophet in whose likeness he was to preach. Just as John’s clothing was simple, his message was simple and directly to the point. He was given the Word that the Messiah was coming into the world. He proclaimed this message faithfully. Oh that we could do that today! Today, we have too many people who want to water down the Word of God and make concessions with our society. John the Baptist didn’t stand for that. He faithfully proclaimed what he had been given. That’s what we should be doing as God’s prophets in this place. We have been given the message of Christ to deliver to the world. We’re to deliver that message in the same way that it was delivered to us. There should be no concessions with the society. God tells us multiple times in His Word, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:1). As a church and as the children of God, we’re to be out shaping the society—not letting society shape the church. That’s not being faithful to our calling. John was faithful in his calling. So we should be faithful because that’s what our Lord demands.

3. Second, God brought the people out to hear John preach. John preached out in the desert region. It wasn’t a very populous place that he had been given to prophesy and proclaim his message of the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He could have done much better if he’d been called to preach in Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Jericho or any other town in Judea. But God told him to preach in the desert region. He did this for multiple reasons. The primary reason was so that He could bring the people to John. God wants His Word to be honored, heard and observed. That’s why He gave us the Third Commandment so that we would not “despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it” (SC, “Ten Commandments”, III). There was no television during John’s ministry. God knew that the people who lived in the Judean countryside and in the towns and cities of Judea wouldn’t find John’s message by simply channel-surfing through the cable channels. No, God had to bring the people out to John. What better thing could He have done? God was providing for His people to hear His Word without distraction. Think about it. John was preaching in a remote location. The only reason you’d have to be near there is if you were going there in the first place. God brought the people out to hear His Word—not to see some great sight (Luke 7:24-26). God took those who came out to hear John away from their normal, daily routines. He wanted them to have the opportunity to hear His Word preached in its truth and purity. The Word, in its truth and purity, affects our lives in such a way that we acknowledge our sinful condition. This is why we should be in God’s Word daily because God wants us to review our spiritual condition on a daily basis. Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism, “the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (“Baptism”, IV). Daily contrition and repentance is the heart and center of the Christian life. That’s one reason we come to church on Sunday–so we can confess our sins. We know that we need to confess our sins to God our Father. The people who came out to see John the Baptist came out confessing their sins. They came to John and heard the Word of God that he proclaimed. Since the Word of God does not return to Him empty, the Word cut many to their hearts. They knew that they stood before God as poor, miserable sinners. When they confessed their sins, absolution was given to them through the Baptism that John performed. We also get absolution when we come before our heavenly Father and confess our sins. We are brought to God’s Word so that we can hear it and believe that it is for us. It cuts us to the heart just as it did those who came to hear John. We believe that we have our forgiveness—we can believe the absolution given to us by the Pastor—because we have the promise of God through His Word that our sins are forgiven on account of Christ.

4. Third, God provided those who were penitent with His forgiveness through Baptism. John’s Baptism was a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (v6). God granted the forgiveness of sins through John’s Baptism because this Baptism was designed to make believers in the coming Christ from the people of Israel. John was never bringing disciples to himself. He continually preached and proclaimed that he was not the Messiah. He continually pointed forward to the Messiah who was coming. We see this in the end of his ministry as he points Andrew and John the Evangelist to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Everything John the Baptist spoke and did was for the glory of God and to build the base of followers for the Messiah from the house of Israel. Many Christians want to make a distinction between John’s Baptism and the Baptism we receive through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, the Bible makes only a minimal distinction. As fallen human beings, don’t we sometimes like to make mountains out of molehills? John does say in our text, “I baptize you in water, but He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” (v8). The distinction John makes is not one of power or worth. The Baptism John performed granted forgiveness. The Bible plainly tells us that. John points to the fact that the Baptism we receive through Jesus will be the completed Baptism because Jesus will have completed the work of our salvation. At the time John is preaching, Jesus had not died on the Cross yet. The distinction John is making is only a distinction of time. No one receives the Baptism of John today because Jesus’ work has been completed. He has died on the Cross to purchase the forgiveness of our sins. He has completed the work of salvation toward that which John pointed. John looked ahead as the last of the prophets of the old covenant. We can look back that we have the full story. We know that Christ has paid the price for our forgiveness. Through His death, He once and for all puts our sins to death. As forgiven children of God, we should live our lives as those who believe that we have eternal life in Heaven. Our sins have been forgiven. We should, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, should “forgive those who trespass against us.” We forgive because we have first been forgiven by God. Our relationships with and how we react to those around us should be a reflection of the forgiveness we have been shown in our Baptism. How we treat others shows how we view our relationship with God. Those who call themselves Christian yet hate their neighbor doesn’t take their forgiveness seriously. The forgiveness we have received from God should not only be seen but should overflow from us as David says, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). This can only be done when we understand that the gift of forgiveness is much more than we deserve.

5. Fourth, Jesus submitted to being baptized by John. John preached the coming of the Messiah. We have in Matthew’s account that John was reluctant to baptize Jesus, but Jesus said, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). Mark doesn’t record this, but Mark does let us see that Jesus wanted to be baptized by John. This was part of Jesus’ humiliation. Everyone around Him was being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. He had no sins to be forgiven. But that didn’t matter to Him. He wanted to identify Himself with our sinful flesh. He did this so that our Baptism could be good. Jesus stepped into the Jordan River as our substitute. He stepped into the water and had water applied to Him. We came into the water with our sin-filled lives to have our sins washed away. Jesus came into the water with no sin and had our sins poured onto Him. It was through His Baptism that Jesus first took our sins upon Himself. He carried our sins until He hung upon the Cross. The sins that were washed onto Him at His Baptism were then punished as Jesus suffered the eternal torments of Hell during the three dark hours He hung upon the Cross after His Father turned His back on Him.

6. Fifth, God proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah after His Baptism. After Jesus comes out of the water and steps onto the bank of the river, the heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove. He hears the voice of God the Father say, “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased” (v11). Jesus’ Baptism was the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry on earth. This was the proper thing to do so that He could begin His work of salvation. Jesus did not wait for a calling from God like was given to John. Being God in the flesh, Jesus came and sought John’s Baptism to start His ministry. As John was the forerunner of Christ, it was proper that the forerunner would anoint the One who came after him. John knows his work is done. The Messiah was in the world to save it. Now he could say, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). We see this in our own lives. In our Baptism, we hear the same words, “You are My son” / “You are My daughter, whom I love; in you I am well-pleased” as the water is poured over our head. It’s not something in us that brings about this statement. It is the mercy of God that causes Him to adopt us as His children. As Jesus’ Baptism was the beginning of His ministry, so our Baptism begins our ministry. No, we don’t work for the salvation of the world or even ourselves. We work to expand the kingdom of God by proclaiming Jesus’ saving work on the Cross to those God has put in our lives. We share the love of God in everything we say and do. This is what Paul tells us when he says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord” (). The name of the Lord is given to us in our Baptism. That is the name that we wear as His children. Just as we received our earthly father’s name at our physical birth, we receive our heavenly Father’s name at our spiritual birth. This is the name that we present before the world in everything we do. This is the name that we proclaim throughout our lives as the One who was baptized for us so that we could receive the forgiveness that He freely gives to all who believe.

7. These five steps were necessary to bring about our salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s our salvation that is foreshadowed through Jesus’ Baptism by John the Baptist. Even though Jesus had no need to repent because He had no sin, His Baptism is useful for us because He uses it to identify with us so that we can celebrate our Baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. May we always look to our Baptism as the assurance that we are saved by the saving work of Christ from His Baptism in the Jordan River to His death on the Cross to His resurrection from the dead and ascension into Heaven. Amen.