When the ears and eyes differ
4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:4-11 ESV)
Last week Jesus was under 2 years old. Today he is about 30 years old. A lot can happen in a week! While Jesus lived each day in between 2 and 30, the accounts about him can skip days and decades – and we so often wish these accounts would provide more details but we have what we have – and it is what we need to live with God – to know who Jesus is and what he has done for us. And the Church has learnt to tell the stories in a sequence and emphasis – and you tend to find that the stories of Jesus after The Epiphany emphasise or point to Jesus as the Son of God and culminating – spoiler alert! – in our church calendar with his Transfiguration shining like the sun before he sets his face for Jerusalem and the throne and crown of the King of kings – made of wood and thorns. And so between now and Lent we tend to meet ‘powerful’ Jesus, ‘performing miracles’ Jesus, ‘enigma’ Jesus and today, the Church talks about Jesus’ baptism culminating in a wet Jesus in the river Jordan – heaven being torn open, the Spirit visible like a dove descending on him, and the voice speaking – and Mark suggests that only Jesus is aware of this but his account lets us eavesdrop “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
Are you excited? You should be! It is not usual for the Son of God to be walking around.
Are you confused? Possibly. There is so much we don’t know – the psychology or self understanding of Jesus at that moment perhaps. And a lot has been written and there has been much speculation about how Jesus can be the Son of God. I’m not so much interested in that because, I think, it is an unknowable exercise trying to understand or psychoanalyse Jesus – but I can ask this question …
Jesus! What are you doing in the water?!
The preparation of that camel haired leather belted apparelled man with the locusts and wild honey diet was noticeable for its single focus – repentance, prepare the way of the Lord, forgiveness – in fact John the Baptist even puts him and this coming Lord on scales – and the difference is stark – John is so low down he’s not even worthy to bend down and untie the coming Lord’s sandals! So … Jesus … what are you doing in the water?!
That’s the weird moment – not the miraculous – but how the ears hear one thing and the eyes see another! Jesus, get out of the water! But no, there he is wet in the River Jordan and my eyes are telling me Jesus is a sinner having apparently repented and received forgiveness but my ears are saying that he is God’s Son and God is pleased with him!
Who is Jesus? Which one is Jesus – the real Jesus? Is he the Son of God? Is he the sinner? How can he be both?
And Jesus had three years of public ministry where those types of questions were asked about him. The final verdict was the religious establishment and the eyes now behold blood and guts and judgement and pain and finally death. Ok – now he definitely looks a sinner! Except why are we bothering to talk about one sinner? This sinner?
Because there is an empty tomb and the account is told with the message – two words – you might have been expecting three – FOR YOU. That’s how Jesus’ story should be told so that those who hear him or hear about
him hear that whether he looks like a sinner or sounds like God is pleased with him, this Jesus is FOR YOU – not against you.
We look back at that baptism of Jesus and find both messages – Jesus is in solidarity with sinners – he is one of us – and he is doing this FOR YOU – and he is God’s Son – with whom God is pleased and that implies no sin – and why is this Son of God here? FOR YOU! Baptism is that moment when words and sight seemingly contradict – send mixed messages – and we have to work out who and what we are seeing and when it comes to Jesus it is best to hear him as here FOR YOU. To rescue, to forgive, to give life, to bless is Jesus’ goal and purpose and he is one of us to take the bullet for us, the judgement for us, the attacks of the Evil One for us, the death for us. And this rescue publicly began at his baptism. That’s why Jesus is in the water looking like another sinner – beginning the rescue of sinners.
Baptism remains controversial in Church history for the same reason – the eyes and the ears don’t match. Jesus wasn’t a sinner but in baptism looks like one to rescue us – and is declared God’s Son.
In Christian baptism, people are sinners and are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection in baptism, declared to be God’s children – but what we see suggests that the baptism doesn’t work – because the baptised person – whether child or adult – still sins, still regrets, still needs to say ‘sorry’, still comes back to God asking for forgiveness. It is this incongruity and, for some, an inability to explain what is happening that has caused differences in baptismal teaching – about the age of the baptised, about the amount of water, about who is doing what in baptism – and these differences come about to try and align what we see with what is said.
So when baptism is our commitment to discipleship and following Jesus then what do we do when we don’t follow Jesus in this or that aspect or time of our life? Are we still disciples?
Or when baptism is God’s gracious gift and we are the beneficiaries but live without a relationship with Jesus in any real sense, how should we be regarded? Are we still disciples?
Those are big questions and more details are needed to be known to give specific answers but this truth remains that salvation is only in Christ and if someone is saved then that is solely because of God in Christ Jesus and if someone is lost, then that is their own fault.
And the best way to walk between the despair of sinning and the lack of any desire to relate or respond to Jesus is to see Jesus – today in his baptism – the Son of God appearing in the likeness of sinful flesh and using that as a lens to look at ourselves. We might use the phrase ‘saint and sinner’ as the water drips from your head – because that is what the baptised person is – ‘saint’ declared first(!) – a child of God – but also still a ‘sinner’ – seen by others and also known in the heart of the person baptised. So what happens when we are confronted by competing words – saint? sinner? – or by the tension between what we hear and what we see or experience? Paul (in Romans 7) described it as the bad he didn’t want to do he keeps doing, and the good he wants to do, he doesn’t do – wretched person – but his only hope and salvation is Christ Jesus, his Lord.
And that is how followers of Jesus live – no matter the words or experiences that scream at our sins from outside of us or come from within us – it is to Jesus we turn – this sinful wet Son of God, this crucified criminal Son of God – and he reminds us of our baptism when we are joined to him and see that everything Jesus went through was FOR US – and that is the only real and long term help that can help us live each day with the sins and selfishness that plague us. We cling to Jesus’ forgiveness – we are God’s children through baptism – we say we are ‘saints’ – and yet we acknowledge at each Divine Service and each time we say the Lord’s Prayer that we are also sinners who behave in ways that hurt and ruin life for us and for others.
It is Jesus who doesn’t tire of coming close to us because all he ever does is FOR US never against us. And so we marvel today, yet again, at God’s love in Christ – in this wet Son of God – and want to follow him still, again, this time, always – the struggles and sins and fears won’t go away throughout our life – but neither will Jesus. And his promise is your baptism – and each day can begin with his mercy and strength – the heavens open and we are not alone in this world.
- Mark 1:4 - 11