Christ Announced at Baptism - First Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Mark 1:9-11
January 10, 2021

As John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River, Jesus also came from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized by him. The people were coming to be baptized confessing their sins to receive forgiveness (Mark 1:4). Jesus did not need baptism from John for that purpose. Rather, He came to be baptized to begin His ministry as the Christ. In this beginning He identifies with sinners so we can identify with Him. In His baptism He is revealed as God’s Son and to be anointed with the Holy Spirit. The revelation of Jesus as the Son comes in the voice from heaven: “You are My beloved Son; with you I am pleased” (Mark 1:11). The Holy Spirit then comes to Jesus in the form of the dove.

We can see many important things in Jesus’s baptism. Here we see God revealed as Trinity, as all three persons of the Godhead are present. The Father speaks from Heaven and reveals the Son. There is the Son, in human flesh appearing, revealed to us as the Son by the Father. And the Holy Spirit descends to the Son from the Father.

Here we also see that the Son and the Spirit are intimately connected. Jesus will go about His ministry as the Son, but also in the power of the Spirit. Thus we know that the Spirit directs us to the Son and connects us to Him in the Spirit’s work in our lives.

We also see the grace of the Son’s ministry. This grace is that the Son receives the baptism that John the Baptist preached. This was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus did not need this baptism, yet He received it. As God the Son, Jesus identifies with sinners, with you and me, who have fallen short of the glory of God. In the Son God the Father approaches us so that we can approach God the Father. So as Jesus identifies with us as He receives John’s baptism, we are identified with Jesus as we are baptized into Him. When Jesus is baptized by John, He receives our status as sinner. As we are baptized into Jesus, we receive a new name and new status before God: You are my beloved son or daughter, says the Father to us. I am pleased with you, says the Father to us.

Now when the Father says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am pleased” (Mark 1:11), the Father is talking to Jesus, directly, personally. He has Jesus as a specific person in view. It is this Jesus, the man from Nazareth in Galilee, to whom the Father speaks. This Jesus is a particular person.

So as you are baptized into Christ, the Father speaks to you directly, personally. He has you in view, each of you, as you. He recognizes you and calls you by your name, just as He recognized Jesus as Jesus, the particular human being, the particular person.

Jesus is a concrete, particular human being. Baptism involves the use of concrete physical water. The voice from heaven is heard in known human speech. And as such it can be translated into other known human speech, like English, so we can hear it here today. One of the things we can say about this is that God does not deal with us in terms of abstractions and in impersonal, depersonalizing, generic, classifications and generalizations. He deals with us concrete and specific people in concrete and specific ways. Jesus is personalized by God in God’s address to Jesus at His baptism. God personalizes you as He addresses you in your baptism into Jesus. 

Each of you is a particular person. You are a man or woman, not a generic it, not a generic category. You are father or mother. You are a son or daughter. A grandfather or grandmother, a grandson or granddaughter. You are an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew. You are not a category, a classification. To treat you that way is to dehumanize you. God recognizes you for what you are. And God’s recognition is specific and particular. You are not part of a faceless mass, a generic collective, to be controlled. You are not a prole.

It is consistent for God to recognize you as such as God redeems you, because He has created you this way. Male and female He created us humans. We have particularity. We are either man or woman. Be fruitful and multiply God said to us. So we are father or mother, son or daughter, as we are male or female.

In Christ, God speaks to you in the singular as the particular person you are, as He spoke to Christ that way. He recognizes what He has made you to be as a man or woman. He recognizes your gifts your abilities, achievements. These are all sanctified as you are baptized into Christ. He recognizes your sins, your sins, your particular sins. With respect to you, He does not recognize the sins that others have done that you have not done. People can purport to hold you accountable for the sins of others. But in order to do this, they must treat us generically and in terms of classifications. But God does not so treat us this way in Christ, as we see in Baptism. The only sins that God holds you responsible for are your sins, your own faults.

Now to speak of sins may not sound like good news. But to speak of sins in this context is good news or leads us to good news. If there is pressure to be held responsible for the sins of the Fathers or someone else’s bad conduct, it is good news that God only holds you accountable for your own sins. It is good news to be held accountable only for your own sins because it is fundamentally unjust for you to be held accountable for the actions of others. So to hear God speak to you as you, to speak of this in terms of God holding you accountable for your sins, sins as God defines them, can give you relief in relation to the kind of tyranny that wants to hold you accountable for others’ bad conduct.

There is a liberty in Christ that is manifest in Baptism. There is a fundamental justice in Christ, a fundamental fairness, that treats you in the particularity you are, not as an abstraction or generalization, and so in Christ you are treated as a human being. And this fairness is also that in Christ you are responsible for your own actions. This is just and fair. It supports liberty. It enables being able to move on and build.

Our country has been founded upon this basic understanding of justice. Christianity has undoubtedly played a huge part in this in our history. But as our culture is moving away from Christianity there are strong forces at work for treating you as a category, to rub out your particularity; to depersonalize and dehumanize you; to make you faceless and generic. This is being done in the name of certain kinds of rights. But to make generic, to rub out your particularity, is to lay the groundwork for taking away your rights; for denying the freedom of speech. This is being more and more codified in law and taking the shape of deliberate indoctrination.

But there is also good news in Baptism in respect to talking about our sins because we come back to where we started, with Jesus identifying with our sins being baptized by John, so we could identify with Jesus. Jesus takes upon Himself our sins before God receiving John’s baptism. As we are baptized into Jesus, we receive His name and God’s evaluation of Jesus, I am pleased with you, I am pleased with you. This evaluation is true for you, personalized for you, in your baptism into Christ, for in your baptism into Christ, the voice from heaven speaks: I am pleased with you, as this you here is singular.

What burden do you have related to your sinfulness, your selfishness, your fallenness. God says to you as you are baptized into Christ: I am pleased with you. When there is no longer a voice from heaven as occurs in secularization, there is no longer any voice from God that can personalize us and stem the tide of depersonalization.

We rejoice in Baptism, because Christ is revealed to us there, and who we are in Christ is also revealed to us there. And we rejoice also because there is liberty in Christ, as we are connected to Christ in baptism, whether the world recognizes it or not. This is a liberty to affirm our humanity as God made us to be in our concrete particularity, man or woman, father or mother, son or daughter; to be free from dehumanization that treats us generically, as a category, as a nameless, faceless part of the masses, to be controlled. A liberty to be responsible only for one’s own sins; a liberty in having one’s sins taken by the Son of God; a liberty, a rest, a peace, to have God’s voice, which speaks I am pleased with you.

And in this liberty we have a calling, a calling to be God’s son or daughter to be faithful to God and for the good of others. And God gives us the strength and power of this calling. This strength and power is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the power of faith in Christ as Savior, and the power of all goodness in and through us. This is the Spirit whom the apostle says is the love of God poured into our hearts (Romans. 5:5).

How rich indeed is your baptism. How all important is the voice of the Father from heaven. How all important are Christ and the Spirit. All thanks and praise to God for who Christ is and His wonderful gifts to us. Amen.



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