Reading Ramblings – January 10, 2021

Date: The Baptism of Our Lord – January 10, 2021

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

Context: The emphasis in the readings is on God’s power and authority. God the Father is the creator of all things and also specifically creates with his Word, the Genesis text emphasizes. What God declares, is. The psalm further reinforces this power and again emphasizes the voice of God. God’s creative power is unleashed specifically in baptism, whereby we are created anew. John the Baptist indicates Jesus will baptize in and with the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Word of God made flesh, what Jesus is not symbolic but actual, a key difference between the baptism He brings as opposed to John’s baptism. This is elaborated on in Paul’s beautifully inspired words in Romans. Sin truly has been killed in us as our defining and controlling quality. We are freed from slavery to this sin and therefore are free to resist it, even if imperfectly. Though we still see our sin we must count it as nothing compared to the power of the Word of God declaring us alive in Christ through baptism. All of this highlights the importance of baptism in the Christian life. At Jesus’ command we submit ourselves to the re-creative power of the Holy Spirit on the basis of the obedience of Jesus the Christ to receive reconciliation with God the Father.

Genesis 1:1-5 – Initially the selection of this reading might seem odd for a Sunday commemorating Jesus’ baptism. We might try to find some corrolation with the waters mentioned in v.2, but this is secondary (and more likely symbolic of nothingness or chaos) compared with the primal creative work of God in v.3. How does God the Father accomplish creating? He speaks. The creative power of God the Father is in his Word, which John tells us in the opening of his Gospel is made flesh in Jesus the Christ. So when the Word of God institutes baptism, He does so not symbolically but with power, a power consisting of the giving of the Holy Spirit of God present at the creation of all things. Baptism is a moment of God’s creative powers. This should not push us to make baptism into some sort of Law. We are commanded to be baptized (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-11, etc). Anyone professing to be a follower of Jesus the Christ will submit themselves or be submitted to baptism. But baptism is not a Law restricting access to the grace of God. For the miscarried child or someone who is killed or dies before they can receive baptism, we do not say this precludes them from God’s grace and mercy. It is simply the normal course of action for someone of the faith as indicated in 1 Peter 3:21.

Psalm 29 – This psalm begins with a command – for the people of God to ascribe – to give voice to – the qualities and attributes of God the Father He has revealed to us. We are to acknowledge God for who He has shown himself to be. This would be in contrast to attributing these qualities to any other entity or person, real or imagined. Some translations say give or bring rather than ascribe, but the idea is the same. But then the psalm moves on to focus not on what we ascribe/say/bring/give but rather remind us what God accomplishes through his voice. His voice is the voice of power, and the most powerful and frightening or intimidating natural phenoma we can point to are at his command. This culminates in the most amazing of reminders – the Lord of all creation uses his voice and power for the benefit of his people! He is the source of their strength and blessing! Surely, the God who creates and can destroy is more than able to bless and strengthen, so that his people should all the more have reason to ascribe to him glory and strength and holiness!

Romans 6:1-11 – We can’t outsin the grace of God. God’s grace is bountiful, Paul concludes in Chapter 5. Which might lead some to mistakenly or mischievously argue that by sinning more, we show God’s greatness better by giving him more opportunities to forgive! This is unthinkable! We have been changed. How great is that change? As great as the change from life to death. As definitive and all encompassing. We have died – it is already an accomplished event in our lives – to sin. When did this happen? At our baptism. Baptism is not merely some perfunctory act of symbolism. It has spiritual connections to the very death of the Son of God. Spiritually we die with him and are buried with him. And as Christ was raised from the tomb, our baptism raises us spiritually to new life. Paul uses strong language. Our sinful nature didn’t simply die, it was crucified! It was nailed to the cross of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith! Therefore we can’t simply choose to sin as though this is somehow appropriate to us or glorifying to God. Just as a living person can’t pretend to be a corpse – or visa versa – we can’t pretend at something we aren’t.

Mark 1:4-11 – Mark (recording Peter’s testimony) begins his story of Jesus with John the Baptist, the one who prepares the way for the Messiah according to prophecy, and the one who clearly differentiates himself as the messenger rather than the messiah (vs.7-8). The difference is in power and authority and purpose. John the Baptist can only point the way – the Messiah is the one who will accomplish the bringing of the HolySpirit.

But John’s baptism of Jesus does accomplish something beyond prophetic fulfillment – it provides an opportunity for God the Father to express his love for his Son as the Son is obedient to his Father’s will as prompted by the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist testifies that he witnesses this event as well (John 1:32-33) as verification of both his own purpose and Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

In his baptism – which Jesus does not need for his own forgiveness of sins – Jesus immerses himself in us, our situation, our brokenness, our sinfulness. He emerges from the water not washed clean of sins but rather with our sins on his shoulders. His willingness to do this, to stand in our place, is I believe what prompts the Father’s outburst of joy and love. His Son is obedient to the Father’s plan, fully knowing this will lead to a very brutal end (according to his humanity).

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