The Baptism of Our Lord – Vicar Stoppenhagen
The Baptism of Our Lord
Text: Mark 1:4-11
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh
January 10, 2021
In then name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. Amen.
Lutherans aren’t very good at talking about the Holy Spirit. We see a passage like today’s Gospel lesson and we quickly focus in on two things: Jesus, of course, and the voice of God the Father. The Holy Spirit is quickly lost in our discussions about Jesus’ sonship, the necessity of his baptism, and the Father’s good pleasure. The Holy Spirit always seems to be taking a back seat to the Father’s creative action and the Son’s redemptive work.
Why is this? Why do Lutherans shy away from the Holy Spirit? Well, we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ! It’s Jesus who became man and took our sins upon himself. It’s Jesus who went to the cross and died for us. Therefore, it’s Jesus on whom our faith rests. Yes, the Holy Spirit plays a part in that somehow, but in the end, “It’s still all about Jesus.” The Holy Spirit is just the “shy” person of the Trinity. He keeps to himself and only shows up at church once a year around Pentecost. Right?
Now I’m not saying that our high view of Christ is a bad thing. It’s one of the hallmarks of Lutheranism and draws us back repeatedly to how God has redeemed us. But if the Holy Spirit is indeed the “shy” person of the Trinity, then we should pay particular attention whenever he really does show up! That’s why our Gospel lesson today is so significant—not just because Jesus is baptized, but because the Holy Spirit makes a rare appearance in physical form!
The action of baptizing itself takes a back seat in Mark’s Gospel. It’s only a single verse, saying simply, “Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” What’s more important is what’s before and after the baptism: Namely, what John proclaims Jesus will do; and what happens to Jesus after he comes out of the water—and both these things involve the Holy Spirit.
The coming of the Holy Spirit through Jesus was one of the main points of John’s preaching in the wilderness: “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John didn’t just say this once; he preached it over and over again. But what would this have meant to all the Jews coming out from Jerusalem? The words of the prophet Joel would have echoed in their ears: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” And this pouring out of the Spirit meant the restoration of Israel. This is exactly what John preached—that the long-awaited Messiah would finally arrive and pour out the Spirit of God on all people. The dead and stagnant air of oppression would soon be gone. The Messiah would cause the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into the world.
But how would they know who this mightier one than John was? What would set him apart? That’s why what happens after Jesus’ baptism is so significant. Jesus steps up out of the Jordan and “immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” Here at his baptism he is anointed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus can’t truly be the Christ—“the anointed one”—without first being anointed with the Holy Spirit. He can’t pour out the Holy Spirit until he himself has received it in full.
But what does the Holy Spirit do? Yes, he’s the third person of the Trinity, but isn’t he just some powerful force that Jesus used in his ministry? No, he’s much more than that. It’s only through the Holy Spirit that all three persons of the Trinity can be fully revealed. Jesus is recognized as the Son and that the Father is recognized as the Father only after Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit. It’s only after the Spirit rests on Jesus that the Father acknowledges to the world, “You are my beloved Son.” Without the Holy Spirit, we would not be able to see who Jesus truly is—that he is the true Son of God, begotten from eternity.
In many ways then, the Baptism of Jesus is a second Epiphany. This is what our Eastern Orthodox brethren observe. Like the visit of the Magi, the Baptism is Jesus’ manifestation as the Son of God to the world. But even more, the entire Godhead is revealed at the Baptism. The Baptism shows us that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable. Their work is interdependent and can’t be accomplished without all three working together.
Beyond revealing Jesus’ divinity, the Spirit initiates and sustains God’s divine plan. But he does this in odd and unusual ways. This isn’t included in our reading, but after Jesus’ baptism, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” If the Father was so pleased with Jesus, why does the Spirit drive him out? Why does he force Jesus to face the temptation of the devil? It’s all to make sure Jesus does what he’s supposed to. To be a Son with whom the Father is pleased doesn’t mean instantaneous fame and fortune. It means immediately getting down and dirty to do the Father’s work, to put his plan for salvation into action. It’s a struggle, a battle, a sacrifice for others. But strengthened by the Spirit, Jesus endures the wilderness for our sake.
Now this Holy Spirit belongs to you. Jesus has poured out his Spirit on you in your Baptism. In fact, Mark has written this passage in such a way that you can write yourself into the Gospel right where Jesus is: “In those days, Rebekah came from Wake Forest and was baptized by Pastor Martin in the font at Our Savior. And suddenly the heavens opened and the Spirit descended on her like a dove. And a voice said, ‘You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.’” That is the beauty of your baptism, that you not only receive the forgiveness of sins, but that the Holy Spirit comes and enters your heart and makes you a child of God. And it’s by the Holy Spirit that you’re able to recognize Jesus as true God, who redeems you from your sin.
Even more, the Holy Spirit sustains you in your temptation in the wilderness. We all have been driven out into the wasteland of this fallen world. The prince of this world, the devil himself, has marked you. He sees that you are baptized, that you belong in the household of God, and he has placed a target on your back. He will do anything to steal you from the fold. But when you feel like the devil’s temptations are about to overwhelm you, know that the Holy Spirit is there, comforting you and ministering to you with the peace from above. He is giving you all that you need to “walk in newness of life.” By the Word, he instills in you both a repentant heart and a desire for the things from above, so that you might feast on the Word of promise and meal of salvation.
Finally, because the Spirit has marked you as a child of God, you will receive an inheritance. The Holy Spirit has “rent the heavens and comes down” and rested on you, so that by Christ’s redemption you may enter the glory of the Father. Heaven itself is now open to you. Death no longer has dominion over you. By the Spirit, you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, even as you patiently await the day when he calls you into his glorious presence.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.