Baptism of Christ B


Voice in the Wilderness: Jeff Nelson

Featured Musician:Amanda Opelt


97: January 11, 2015

  1. Genesis 1:1-5

  2. Mark 1:4-11

Featured Musician: J

The Steel Wheels

Tasty Wafer: Movies with "Baptism" Scenes from Textweek!

Exegetical Notes

Mark 1:4-11

Initial Thoughts

  • Mark- remind folks you are now in year B- focusing on Mark!

    • Oldest Gospel~written around 70 CE (just before or just after the destruction of the Temple)

    • shortest Gospel

    • The immediate‚ Gospel: “immediately” appears 41 times in Mark and only 10 times in the rest of the NT. Communicates the revelatory, imminent breaking in the God’s incarnate presence and grace into the world. “In the Gospel of Mark the teaching, deeds, and life of Jesus reveal the intrusion of the good news into human experience.” (Paul S Berge, Enter the Bible)

  • How the story begins according to Mark - we have just heard from Matthew, Luke and John

    • Overlap with Advent 2B - Mark 1:1-8, but a different focus

    • Advent the anticipation of Jesus

  • Epiphany/Baptism of Jesus - Jesus’s ministry among us

    • The First Noel! - the word, Noel‚ may derive from the french word Nael which in turn comes from the Latin natalis meaning birth OR it may come from the French word nouvelles which means news. Taking this second etymology this is the story of the first Good News!

    • Epiphany was the second of the traditional days of baptism (leading to the development of Advent as‚ St. Martin’s Lent, to allow catechumens to prepare for their baptism on Epiphany).

Bible Study

  • Opening passage of Mark points both backward and forward.

    • Starts with words from Isaiah, moves through John the Baptist, who concludes looking forward to the one who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.

    • Jesus baptism, like Advent, is rooted in both the past (Isaiah- see verses 2-3) passage of Mark Advent, which points both backward and forward and the future (new life and promise)

    • The beginning of the Good News begins with the prophets.  The beginning is not a beginning at all, but a part of God’s greater story.  Just like the ending of the gospel is not an ending at all, but the transition to the church.

    • Baptism to is not a beginning or and end, but a pivotal moment of grace on the journey- a sacramental rite of passage that marks an individual's choice to turn toward God

  • Parallels between John and Jesus

    • Both begin in the wilderness

    • Have disciples who are to follow them (not just ‘believe in them’)

    • Proclamation of the gospel

      • Repentance, baptism, Kingdom of God

    • Betrayal and executed.

    • “What Mark creates then, is not a simple identification, in which disciples become John or Jesus or their equivalent. Instead, disciples follow in the way of John and Jesus.” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 20)

    • But they are NOT the same - see verse 7. What John begins (or continues in the tradition of the Prophets- Jesus culminates into a more holistic invitation to grace for all people)

  • Verse 4 and 5 - How are baptism, repentance, and forgiveness related?

    • NRSV: John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

    • CEB: John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins

    • John Wesley: “That is, preaching repentance, and baptizing as a sign and means of it” (Wesley’s Notes on the Bible)

    • John Calvin: “Repentance is not placed first, as some ignorantly suppose, as if it were the ground of the forgiveness of sins, or as if it induced God to begin to be gracious to us; but men are commanded to repent, that they may receive the reconciliation which is offered to them.” (as quoted from Harmony, I, 179, in Interpretation: Mark, p. 32)

    • “The text makes it clear that repentance, baptism, and forgiveness of sins belong together,” (Williamson, p. 32)

    • In short - to come forward to baptism includes an acknowledgement of sin, an inability to overcome sin on our own (the need for grace), and a commitment to change our hearts and minds to God as revealed in Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.

  • Baptism of Jesus (sinner or not?)

    • The sinless paradox - John proclaims ‚Äúa baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins‚ (v.4). If Jesus was sinless (as he is traditionally thought to be) then why would he come to be baptized?

    • Only Gospel that has Jesus directly baptized by John, later Gospels omit the baptism by John (Luke and John) or explain it away (Matthew)

    • Heaven torn open - foreshadows the tearing of the temple in Mark 15

  • Alludes to the whole story- this sets up the life, death and resurrection of Jesus:

    • Chapter 1: God proclaims Jesus is God’s son, in chapter 15 the centurion will proclaim Jesus is God’s son.

    • Spirit descends on Jesus - Suffering Servant of Isaiah 42 and Savior of Israel (Isaiah 64:1 - “If only you would tear open the heavens and come down…”)

    • Son of God - Davidic Kingship (Psalm 2:7)

    • Proclamation directly connects with Transfiguration (Coming up on Feb 15)

      • Also connects with Isaiah 42:1-”But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight. I've put my spirit upon him; he will bring justice to the nations.“

  • Does anyone else hear this proclamation? It seems this is just for Jesus (and us)‚ You are my son not ‚This is my son (Matthew 3:17) What will it take for us to make a similar proclamation (You are my savior)?

Preaching Thoughts

  • Both Rick Morley and the Rethink Church material point to the beginning scene of Godspell.  In the movie, the John the Baptist character calls people out of their everyday lives to splash and celebrate in the fountain.  Rick Morley describes the Broadway revival of the show starting with a small drip from the ceiling turning into a frollicking, splashing waterfall.

  • This is a great opportunity to talk about Baptism- what is it? Why do we do it? WHy do we (or don’t we baptize infants)? What does our baptism mean? Is Baptism an act of the individual turning to God or of God claiming an individual or both?

  • Baptism is central to many of our Christian traditions- yet for many it has devolved into a cultural thing you do to make Grandma and Grandpa happy- it is time to reclaim baptism.

    • Baptism calls us into ministry within the world, not away from the world. To be baptized is to be last, to serve or even to be crucified for the sake of love of God, neighbor or even enemy.

  • Repentance and confession can often be met with resistance. Can we reclaim the language of repentance and confession not as an acknowledgment of how lowly and worthless we are, but as an unburdening. New Year’s is a time when people begin cleaning out, making resolutions to simplify. Confession and repentance is a simplification- remove the clutter of sin from your life and focus on God in Christ. How can we invite people to unburden themselves and simply their lives for ministry?

  • Pheme Perkins states, “From the Christian perspective, John the Baptist did not awaken a repentance that heralded God’s judgment. Rather, repentance and anticipation evoked by John’s preaching provided a receptive audience for Jesus’ ministry.” Do you agree with this? Does repentance and the anticipation/hope for/acceptance of God’s grace prepare us to hear Jesus’ message or is this Jesus’ message?

    • Perhaps we need to repent (message of John) before we can hear the good news. Can we “be saved” if we do not believe we need to be saved?

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Initial Thoughts

  • Repetition

  • Order

  • Poetry - like the prologue of John

Bible Study

  • Order in the midst of Chaos

    • Context: Babylonian Exile

      • chaotic, unknown future

      • The very rhythms of nature are a promise of God’s presence

      • Formless void - eternal, chaotic, alone

      • God enters - relationship, order, separation

      • There is not a morality - God creates but does not condemn

      • Darkness is kept - not declared evil or bad

  • Relationship

    • God interacts with creation from the outset and fills creation with Ruach - wind/ breath/Spirit of God

  • Goodness

    • Not a moral goodness, but an intrinsic goodness - Goodness describes the very nature of creation

    • Universal message of Genesis 1 (David Bland, Feasting on the Word, year A volume 3)

      • Torah does not begin with Israel, but with Creation

      • Walter Brueggemann - Monotheism too easily becomes monoethnism

      • All of creation is blessed and good

      • Interdependent - no part of creation exists alone, not even God

      • Light is connected to the tides which is connected to the plant which are connected to the animals which are connected to humans which are connected to God

      • There are not isolated pieces in God’s creation

  • Time

    • Which came first God or the beginning?

      • In the beginning/ when the beginning occurred - God was creating the beginning

      • May not be a specific moment but In beginning

      • Beginning may not be an exact moment but a general period of time - “Once Upon a Time…”

Preaching Thoughts

  • How might we claim God’s presence in the midst of chaos? In what ways do we lift up the rhythms of nature and see God at work and in relationship with creation and us?

  • How do we live out the interdependence of creation? What about the interdependence of the churches?

Acts 19:1-7

Initial Thoughts

  • Obviously a perfect pairing with the Mark text, and brings up a lot of theological issues that might be well-worth discussing.

  • Teaching moment about what baptism means. Search your denominational documents. There is probably good stuff there.

    • United Methodist Understanding of Baptism

      • “The word sacrament is the Latin translation of the Greek word mysterion. From the early days of the church, baptism was associated with the mystery that surrounds God’s action in our lives. That means that at best our words can only circumscribe what happens, but not define it.”

    • United Church of Christ understanding of Baptism

      • “The sacrament of baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God. Through baptism a person is joined with the universal church, the body of Christ. In baptism, God works in us the power of forgiveness, the renewal of the spirit, and the knowledge of the call to be God's people always.“

Bible Study

  • Literary Context

    • In the midst of Paul’s third missionary journey to the Gentiles.

      • “If we follow Luke's account of Paul's journeys, the story related in Acts fits within his third missionary journey (18:23-21:16). Just prior to it, attention is upon Apollos of Alexandria, already a Christian, who was preaching in Ephesus (18:24-28). But his knowledge of the faith was inadequate, and it fell to Priscilla and Aquila to explain "the Way of God to him more accurately" (18:26). One of the things lacking in his understanding was a fuller view of baptism, for "he knew only the baptism of John" (18:25)” (Arland Hultgren, Working Preacher)

  • Re-baptism? Water or the Spirit?

    • “Paul does not berate them for their failures… He merely asks a relevant theological question, followed by another, and then by instruction… Paul’s perceptive queries became the means for growth” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 101).

    • Baptism of John vs Baptism of Jesus

      • “Later commentators who saw in this story of Apollos’ baptism an affirmation of two baptisms - that is baptism in water followed by baptism of the Holy Spirit - misread Luke’s intentions… It would have been inconceivable to Luke that someone could be ‘in’ Jesus and not also be ‘in’ his Spirit. Baptism ‘in the name of Jesus’ is baptism in the Holy Spirit… Luke would not have understood any conception of discipleship without the Spirit.” (Will Willimon, Interpretation: Acts, p. 147)

        • John’s baptism of repentance was preparation - just as he said it was.

        • Baptism in the name of Jesus is where the Spirit comes in.

        • This is not to say that repentance isn’t involved in baptism in the name of Jesus.

        • Not a two-step process of becoming deeper Christians. Being baptized for repentance by - or in the name of - John was not the same as being baptized as a follower of Jesus.

  • Gifts of the Spirit

    • Given to all, not just those who have achieved a deeper understanding. Gifts of the Spirit as evidenced here are not passage into a deeper Christian club, not are the prerequisites for being “in.”

    • Speaking in tongues and prophecy.

      • Speaking in tongues - not just about speaking in other languages as the CEB changes it to. This is ecstatic speech.

      • Spirit of profound worship - that moves someone beyond words and rationality.

      • Prophecy - Not about telling the future, and not necessarily connected directly to the speaking in tongues.

      • Prophecy is sharing testimony about Jesus Christ. To state that “Jesus is Lord” is a prophetic statement, especially when it is over and against the popular understanding that Emperor is Lord.

      • Must be for the building up and education of the Church.

      • “An integral piece of spirituality, then, is the declaration of the faith, clearly and intelligibly.” (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 102)

    • “While not all baptized Christians have the gifts of tongues or prophecy, the giving of them reminds us of two things. First, all Christians are endowed by the Spirit, and there are many gifts. Tongues and prophecy are not the litmus test of whether or not one is a Christian. The true test is whether that person makes the confession that "Jesus is Lord," which is prompted by the Spirit and cannot be made otherwise (1 Corinthians 12:3). Secondly, we are reminded that being baptized entails the use of whatever gifts one has to witness to what God has done in Christ.” (Arland Hultgren, Working Preacher)

Preaching Thoughts

  • “The narrative may be especially instructive in a day when people struggle for meaning in life and for a new depth of spirituality. Individuals long for something more real than what can be found in a frantic, impersonal, and materialistic world. The very word “Spirit “ becomes an attraction by suggesting an animating force, a reality giving ardor, vitality, and warmth of feeling. The quest for spirituality however, is open to distortion, to the search for strategies and methods that seek to force God’s hand and that neglect the divine freedom. God is dree to act where and how God wills. The promise to be claimed from our text is that the Spirit is to be sought in the word preached and the sacrament enacted.”  (Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 102)

  • The evidence of their baptism was immediate and obvious. What are the discernable marks of our baptism? For those who were baptized as babies, this is a difficult thing to discern, but can we at least wrestle with the question, “What if I were not baptized?” How would life be different? If baptism is only about passage to heaven and avoiding hell, that seems to be an empty understanding of what is happening.

  • Most mainline churches have moved away from the speaking in tongues as described in Acts. The Common English changing it to “speak in other languages” seems to remove some of the mystery of this act. Speaking in tongues is not a simple experience, and the practice of it has been abused - since Paul’s time. Have we, however, lost something important by ending this practice altogether?

    • “Mysticism is inherent in a spirit-filled universe.  God moves through the sighs too deep for words and at times these spiritual insights may burst forth in ecstatic hymns and super-sensory awareness. This is not supernatural, but a heightening of consciousness and a deeper sense of the causal relationships of life.  The world is filled with magic and mystery and possibilities beyond our wildest dreams.  God’s lures are more than we can ask or imagine.” (Bruce Epperly, Process and Faith)

    • “Speaking in tongues, inasmuch as it circumvents and destabilizes conventional patterns of discourse, can pave the way for kingdom change in the world. Tongue speaking can be construed as a mode of discourse that refuses to conform to reificatory patterns of thought and speech. It overwhelms speech by exposing it to an otherness beyond convention. Such discourse, empowered by the Holy Spirit, can dismantle systems of thought that subjugate and marginalize human others. We catch a glimpse of this in the work of womanist and black feminist writers, writers who endure a double marginalization on account of their race and gender. As Mae Gwendolyn Henderson observes,” (Jacob Myers, Working Preacher)


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).