And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:4-11
This passage “marks” my entry into the book of Mark. I have studied the book of Mark several times with Bible studies and on my own. As I recall one of the recurring themes in the book of Mark is that Jesus reveals the arrival of God’s Kingdom on earth slowly and as one would reveal a secret. It will be interesting to view this book through my current watery “Walking on Water” lens. Perhaps there will be more hidden springs than I found in Matthew.
I reflected on the essence of this passage when I floated into the book of Matthew almost two years ago when I wrote, Signposts of a Savior about Matthew 3:1-6. One of the differences I noticed when I reread Matthew is the order of the explanation of baptism and the details about some powerful detractors provided by Mark. In Matthew there was an interesting interlude where John called the religious leaders a brood of vipers before explaining baptism and its meaning. Then Matthew finally arrived at the actual baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17. So what took Matthew 17 chapters to describe and explain takes Mark 7 chapters here.
The focus seems to be placed squarely on the savior, baptism, and its meaning. Certainly less focus on the religious leaders and their role. The essence of water baptism is described the same here as in Matthew “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The Jordan River is providing the water to perform this symbolic transformation from an old life to a new one through repentance – a fundamentally spiritual change.
I suppose this act of John using “dirty” river water to essentially forgive sins was what stirred up the religious leaders that Matthew describes as a “brood of vipers”. Their “rattles were buzzing” because someone was disturbing their comfortable den of dos and don’ts. People were finding a way to God that did not require the temples and traditions they had built their lives upon.
Jesus shows up to be baptized and without much explanation John baptizes God’s Son in the dirty river water of the Jordan River. The focus is on the Holy Spirit and the Role the Holy Spirit plays in the conversion process that begins with the baptismal bathing. We see all three manifestations of God here at once, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This glimpse of God in three forms at once does not happen often so it is probably worth a little pondering. I have reflected several times about the elemental nature of God and how God is like water. We are not too surprised when we see water in three forms: ice, vapor, and liquid water so why is it so surprising to see God in three forms at once? Perhaps because the form taking here is largely a spiritual one rather than a physical one. God is present in both the spiritual realm and the earthly realm at the same time. How is this possible? I do not know.
What seems important here is that God thinks the symbolic act of baptism is a really important spiritual act that He participated in Himself. That is enough for me.
Prayer: God help us to be washed clean and made new through baptism.