Reading Ramblings – January 11, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Epiphany – January 11, 2015

Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Romans 6:1-11; Mark 1:4-11

Context: Epiphany focuses on the divinity of Jesus the Christ, just as Christmas focused on his humanity. The texts for Epiphany emphasize moments where Jesus’ divinity is glimpsed, in this case at his baptism.

Genesis 1:1-5 – The opening passages of Scripture point us to God as the source of all things. Not as part of creation, but outside of it, independent of it. We also have pointers to a Trinitarian understanding of God – God as the source of all creation – the Spirit of God present, and the Word of God calling into existence all that has existence.

This passage emphasizes the power of the Word of God. God speaks, and his will is accomplished. This points us forward to the Word of God made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, through whom God will accomplish the re-creation of his fallen creation.

Psalm 29 – This psalm emphasizes the Lord’s voice, which we would hear in conjunction with Genesis 1 and the liturgical season as applying to the Son of God. The voice of God is here depicted as the primary activity of God. What God accomplishes He accomplishes through his voice/Word. His voice /Word is synonymous with the power of God. God speaks and things happen. He does not need to speak and then do something further. What He declares, is.

Romans 6:1-11 – Accenting the Gospel lesson regarding Jesus’ baptism, this passage from Romans also picks up on the power of the Son of God and what He accomplished in his incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. Every bit as powerful and creative as speaking creation into being is the new creation Jesus brings into being through his perfect obedience to God the Father. The Word of God through which creation came into existence is also the Word of God through which we are re-created. Our baptism is a unity with Jesus in his death, so that like him, we might be freed from the power of sin and death and Satan. Our old, natural masters being thrown off, we are brought into new life as re-created children of God the Father. Baptism is not symbolic, then, any more than Jesus’ death and resurrection were symbolic. Baptism is spiritual death so that the powers that naturally enslave us are removed, and our new owner take possession.

Paul begins this section by mocking the viewpoint that may have been circulating at the time that excessive sin is an opportunity for excessive grace. Such rationale clearly misses the realization of what God offers us through His Son. Through faith we are new creations and it would be ridiculous to continue to live and act as though we were not! We have received newness of life through baptism in the name of Jesus, and therefore our lives will naturally evidence this newness.

Paul continues on to elaborate, asserting that sin is a condition of the living, and that death frees us from the power of sin. Since our baptism is our spiritual death, sin is no longer our spiritual master, even though sin will continue as part of our lives until our death. But that sin is now abnormal, not a natural part of who we are as people raised to new life in Christ. The power of sin to lead to death has been broken, because our baptism kills us by binding us to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Mark 1:4-11 – The baptism of John the Baptizer is briefly contrasted with the work of Jesus the Christ. John’s baptism is a mark of repentance for forgiveness of sins, forgiveness that comes in the person and work of Jesus the Christ, not through John’s baptism. John baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit of God. John’s baptism is an outward sign of repentance, baptism in the name of Jesus will result in a new creation imbued with the very Spirit of God.

John clearly recognizes his role, and the Gospels are unanimous in that when they portray John, they portray a man humble enough to recognize his own role without attempting to move beyond it.

Jesus’ baptism is marked by divine manifestations and signs, indicating the unique nature of Jesus. Jesus hears the affirmation of his heavenly Father, and while Mark is not clear as to whether others do or not, it is clear from John 1:29-34 that at the very least John the Baptist is also a witness to this divine revelation.

As a whole, the readings of this first Sunday in Epiphany call us to affirm that Jesus of Nazareth is no ordinary human being, but is in fact the incarnate Word of God, the Word of God through which creation was spoken into existence, and through which God the Father will work his salvation for his creation. We are not free from the Biblical witness to insist that Jesus was merely a human being, merely a moral example, merely a good teacher, merely a healer and worker of wonders. This things are all within the larger context of his identity as the Son of God. What He accomplishes is therefore not just for the limited benefit of the few people who happened to encounter him and receive healing or deliverance from demonic forces. Rather his life and death and resurrection become the starting point of a new creation, a re-creation of fallen creation back into the original perfect image of Genesis 1.

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