Jesus Was Baptized

January 8, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 1:1-11

Where The Son Of God Is

1. "At around that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John at the Jordan River," (verse nine). In The Gospel According To Mark this is the scene in which Jesus first appears. A surprisingly brief depiction is made on it. As readers, we're hit with a wanting to know how this one who is baptized here had been raised in Nazareth and the way he was when he appeared in the vicinity of the Jordan. But, when Mark wrote [his] gospel, he truncated the childhood of Jesus. He even omitted describing his looks. He left just one thing only and wrote it short, that [Jesus] "was baptized by John."

2. Traditions regarding the childhood and growing-up period of Jesus have tons of embellishment on them. But, how Jesus may have spent his extraordinary youthful period or how he may have displayed his marvelous talents from his toddler days, in a certain sense, make no difference to Mark. Of course, we know that Mark wrote this for those people later who had never met Jesus as he was before their time, but he could care less about telling of Jesus' appearance and looks. [That's] because the important point that the readers need to put their minds on lies else where. And where might that be? -- It is the place where Jesus Christ is. [The Lord] is in a line with repentant sinners. He is receiving baptism with them, and he is in the same waters with them. The gospel begins to give its story of Jesus from that place. "At around that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John at the Jordan River."

3. Let's try to imagine with our mind's eye that scene, which these few words relate. A man called John showed up in the Judean wilderness. He called out repentance [to the people], like every prophet from of old. Then, John began to baptize the people, who came to him, in the River Jordan. John's message gripped the hearts of many people back in his day. In less than no time, the baptismal movement had spread in all the region of Judea. Numerous people came to visit John, and confessing their sins, they started to be baptized. The scripture relates the situation with the words that "The entire region of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem came to John."

4. It just might be, though, that in saying "all the inhabitants of Jerusalem" it is more than likely an exaggeration because every single inhabitant, by far too many, couldn't have come. As a matter of practical fact, on the one hand many did proceed to John, but it seems like there were many persons critical of him, who wouldn't come to John. The people like that can be found at the end of chapter eleven. Those with leadership positions in Judea, that is, the chief priests, the scribes of the law, and the elders are representative of them. As they saw it, repenting and being baptized was something that the Gentiles ignorant of God were supposed to do. Being treated like some Gentile would require some putting-up-with.

5. In addition to that besides, there were probably a lot of folks like that. The baptism which John administered was described as "a baptism in which one can obtain forgiveness of sins." As we understand from there, those who came to John and were baptized had clearly come seeking for forgiveness of sin. Therefore, as you might expect, those not seeking for forgiveness of sin did not come. To begin with, the act of seeking forgiveness of sin is tantamount to placing oneself on the side of deserving to be judged for one's sin. Therefore, those who placed themselves on the side of being worthy of judging others would never seek for forgiveness of their own sins. The righteous people, the people supposing themselves as righteous had never sought for forgiveness of their own sins, even though they had condemned others for theirs. The people like that didn't come to John.

6. Please try to picture in your minds John calling out to them, "Admit your sins, turn to God and seek forgiveness from God," and then in response to his call, the long line of people asking for forgiveness of sin. Then, try to imagine a picture of the others watching them [being baptized] from a distance. [You will see] these people refusing to go to John. [You will see] these people listening to John's message and making sour faces. [You will see] them looking at and laughing at the people who are shedding their tears over their sinfulness. [You will hear] them saying to each other, "Whenever the bad crowd repents and society improves from it, that's a pretty decent thing to happen, you know it!?" [You will hear] them get mad and say, "Did you say let's repent? It would be best for our masters, they had better repent!" [You will see] them departing, showing complete disinterest. Well, when we picture such a scene, where are we really at? Are we among the flock of the repentant? Or rather, are we just among the ones coldly watching from a distance? Which is it?

7. So now, one man has been passing through these people on either sides -- [including] us on whichever side we are. When you look, it is Jesus. The sinless Jesus quietly passes through. Jesus has entered among those shedding tears over their sinfulness and seeking for forgiveness, and bowing his head in the same manner as them, he asks of John, "I want you to baptize me." Then, as one of the sinners, while among the sinners [yet without sin himself], he submerges him in the waters of the Jordan River. That's the scene depicted here in this text. That's what it means when it says, "At around that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John at the Jordan River." -- What do you all think it means?

8. In fact, the way Jesus is here like that is not seen in just this text in this gospel. It permeates it through out the whole text. Where else do we later find this One who was submerged in the Jordan River as a sinner? Surprisingly, we find him at the table of sinners. He is having a meal with them. At the same time, the righteous nearby scorning the tax collectors and the sinners are shocked and each say in their own way, "Why is he having a meal with tax collectors and sinners?," (2:16).

9. But still, that was just the beginning. Ultimately, where do we see Jesus? He is on a cross. The scripture says, they "crucified two thieves with Jesus, one on his left and the other on his right," (Mark 15:27). Even there, Jesus is counted to the last as a sinner. Isaiah has these words, "Laying down his life, he died; for, he was counted as a sinner," (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus' life turned out exactly as those words had said.

10. The gospel we're reading starts out with the following words, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God." It is the story of "Jesus Christ the son of God" that this gospel is communicating to us. Yet, when you ask, "Where is this son of God?," he is among the sinners. The figure he has in [Mark] is not one of placing himself among the righteous to save them, but, of placing himself among the sinners, as one of them.

The Heavens Break

11. That's the story of Jesus Christ the son of God. But, please take note that it is purposefully called "'the gospel' of Jesus Christ the son of God." Gospel means to say good news. What is written in the text is good news. So, in what sense is it good news for us that Jesus was baptized as a sinner, ate meals with sinners, and ultimately died as a sinner?

12. While we give that some more thought, we want to read on some more. Mark wrote this next right after Jesus was baptized and arose from the water. "Immediately after he arose from the water, he saw the heavens break, 'the Spirit' descend upon him like a dove. Then, a voice saying, 'You are my beloved son, compliant with my will' was audible from heaven," (verses ten and eleven).

13. When Jesus was baptized and he came up from the water, he saw "The heavens break, and the Spirit of God descend." It has "the heavens break," but more accurately, the text says, "the heavens were broken, [or split]." To say "to be broken" means there was someone who did the "breaking," and it was none other than God. [Someone] saw it, but it was only Jesus who saw it. The Holy Spirit did descend upon [someone] but it was only upon Jesus. [Someone] heard the words, "You are my beloved son," but it was not heard by any of the people around him. it was heard only by Jesus. In brief, all of these were experiences of only Jesus. I am asking you to please remember this.

14. Any way, the expression "the heavens were broken" is not one we are used to hearing. The expression with which we are more familiar is "the heavens were opened." In fact, the expression, "the heavens were broken" is not found anywhere else in the scriptures. Therefore, such an expression must have been used on purpose and by design.

15. When someone familiar with the scriptures thinks after that of what was broken next, he or she will recall another scene. There is something else that is broken [or split]. Indeed, there is. Yes, there is. It is "the curtain in the temple." Please look at Mark chapter fifteen and verses thirty-seven and thirty-eight. "But, Jesus let out a loud cry and took his last breath. After he did that, the curtain of the temple split into two from top to bottom," (15:37-38). Here as well it is translated as "broke, split," however, the text actually says "was broken, was split." It was not, of course, a human who split it. It was God himself. In this gospel, what was "broken" by God was only in two.

16. So, what does it possibly mean that this curtain was broken by God? This "curtain in the temple" used to divide the temple's holy chamber from the chamber of the holy of holies. It was only the high priest who could go through this curtain and into the holy of holies. He was only allowed to go through it once a year. Furthermore, he was not allowed to enter the holy of holies without bringing something. What did he go in there with? He carried "blood." It was the blood of the atoning sacrifice. Without it, he did not go in. To get to the point, the curtain symbolically expresses that God is the Holy One and sinful humans cannot approach him as they are by nature. But, that curtain was broken by God. This means that God himself opened the way for sinners. Put in other words, it means that God split the heavens, he opened heaven for every person.

17. Earlier I said that everything that happened at the time of Jesus' baptism -- the heavens were split, the Holy Spirit descended, a voice was heard -- had happened only to Christ, and one person experienced them. [They were] only for Christ. -- They are also written in today's passage of scripture. However, that was but the beginning. It was the beginning of God's turning point work. From there Christ would start to walk. Where was he heading? He was heading for that one point when the curtain at the temple would be split. The life of Jesus was truly heading right for that. It is just as the scripture says, where it is written that "Jesus let out a loud cry and took his last breath. After he did that, the curtain of the temple split into two from top to bottom."

18. This happening took place through the sinless Christ's being baptized as a sinner, his living with sinners, and his dying as a sinner. Through his bearing the sins of every person on his back, and his dying as a sinner, the sinless son of God removed the partition between God and sinner. The heavens were split open.

19. This is the gospel. This is the gospel for those who turn to God and want to live with God. This is the gospel for those who have their sins forgiven, and who want to turn their faces to God. It was a great gospel for those who responded to John's voice and came to him. And this will be a great gospel for us too, if we find ourselves in the line with others seeking for forgiveness of sin and repentant, and not with those watching coldly from a distance.

20. We can live looking up to the opened heavens. We can look up to the heavens split wide open unto us and for us, and not to a heaven split just for Christ alone. Yes, we can. We don't need to live looking downward any more. We don't need to live as hopeless sinners avoiding God's face. Looking up to heaven, which God himself split and opened for us, we should live looking up to God. This gospel is also being spoken and given to us today.