There are some passages in the bible that are hard to explain theologically.
Like Jesus getting baptized in the River Jordan by John.
It just doesn’t make sense theologically.
After all, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and forgiveness.
But our theology maintains that Jesus was without sin.
So why would Jesus receive this baptism?
Theologians and biblical scholars offer various explanations, but if you read them carefully, none of them are very convincing.
It really is a sticky problem if you try to figure it out in theological terms.
If you read Matthew’s account it actually mentions that John didn’t like the idea of baptizing Jesus either and tried to get Jesus to change his mind.
John goes so far as to say that Jesus has it all backwards, and that John should be baptized by Jesus.
It’s easy to see why John was hesitant.
But here is the beauty of Mark’s account.
There is no mention whatsoever about this theological conundrum.
Nothing! It just says Jesus came and was baptized by John.
No fuss, no argument, no hesitation, nothing.
He just got baptized! One verse.
So what that tells me is that at least from Mark’s perspective, the theological puzzle isn’t the main thing.
In fact, it appears to be a complete non-issue for Mark and so he just passes right over it.
So then, what is the main issue in today’s reading from Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus?
What is it that this gospel would have us take from the account of Jesus’ baptism.
Well, first off, this is an account of something absolutely amazing that was taking place in the wilderness, in the Judean countryside.
It was something big, something distinctly unusual, and something exciting.
John was definitely getting the attention of lots and lots of people.
He wasn’t some hermit, all alone in the wilderness, quietly carrying out his mission.
Not even close!
No, this guy was a sensation!
He was a hit!
In today’s gospel account we have a description that is quite unlike any other personal description in the new testament.
Sometimes in the O.T. there are detailed descriptions of clothing, but for the N.T. this passage is unlike anything else.
Similarly, in the O.T. there are descriptions of unusual diets, but nowhere else in the N.T. do we find this sort of narrative.
If anything, this description of a very unusual individual in the wilderness is sort of reminiscent of O.T. descriptions of prophets.
Like when Elijah goes to the brook Cherithケリテ川, and scripture describes how he drinks water from it and is guided to food by birds.
And the link to clothing is even more significant, because in 2 Kings chapter 1 we have this description of Elijah’s clothing.
7The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?”
8They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.”
The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
So even though the writer of this gospel isn’t interested in pursuing the theological implications of Jesus’ baptism, he is very interested in looking at the rich theological implications of John the Baptist.
The parallel with Elijah is intentional.
Any faithful Jewish reader of scripture would have caught that right away.
Because in Malachi there is another related passage.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5).
So John the Baptist is directly compared to the prophet Elijah, and coupled with the prophesy in Malachi that Elijah will come again, the theological connection is obvious.
What makes this even more remarkable is that even Jesus himself pointed to this connection later on.
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist … and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:11,14).
So the intent of the Gospel is to draw our attention to the fact that John was a prophet, along the lines of Elijah.
But what we should note here is that prophets are never the center of the story.
The job of a prophet is to speak the word of God.
To use words to point people toward God.
And John makes it clear that he is no different.
Now we start to get to the heart of this passage, because this guy who was such an enormous hit; this guy who was attracting people from everywhere; he wanted people to know that something big was about to happen.
You see, he wasn’t some religious guru promising happiness and success and fulfillment and wealth.
He wasn’t saying, “Follow me and you’ll never regret it”.
No, he was saying “get on your knees and repent!”
Because someone who is far, far greater than me is about to show up and when he does, it will be absolutely amazing.
You think getting baptized in this river is life changing?
Well you just wait, because when this guy shows up there is going to be something far greater than baptism in the river.
The Spirit! The living power of God is what you will be immersed in.
You’ll go down into that holy river of God and be submerged… the you that is right now will die… and then you’ll emerge from God’s holy river a new person.
Now that is a pretty powerful message.
Prepare to see the power of God at work in this world, in this very place, and in you!
Then we get to the baptism of Jesus; that strange event that we struggle to explain theologically.
But once again, the Gospel of Mark wants us to see something specific about that event.
The baptism account is brief and includes few details; but it’s what happened after that!
That is where the Gospel of Mark directs our attention.
It is plain and simple.
This event is to be read right alongside the words of John about the person coming after him.
That’s why the editor of this gospel put them right next to each other.
In other words the entire point of this narrative in Mark is that John the Prophet predicted the coming of a savior, and Jesus was the one about whom John was speaking.
Jesus is the one that humanity has waited for.
Jesus is the one who has come to initiate the building of God’s kingdom.
Jesus is the one who has begun the work of reconciling all of creation with the creator.
Jesus is the one!
We have finished the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
And now we focus on who Jesus is.
Now we focus on what Jesus means.
And now we focus on what it means to follow Jesus in the work of building God’s kingdom.
Jesus is alive and at work right here, right now.
We are called to be his hands and feet in this world.
In good times and in bad times, we are called.
In joy and in sorrow, we are called.
In health and in sickness, we are called.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.