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The Baptism of Christ

Da Vinci masterpiece
Baptism of Christ

Mark 1:9-15, 1Peter 3:18-22, Psalm 25: 1-10

One of the first Greek phrases I ever learnt was, kai eutheos: it means ‘and immediately’. The gospel according to Mark employs the same phrase constantly to move the story of Jesus along at a breathless pace. For Mark, the story of Jesus is the story of the long-expected Messiah who came to save. Mark wastes no time in telling his reader this fact. And there is a special focus on the importance of Christ’s baptism.

Kai Eutheos.

And immediately Jesus comes to John.

Kai eutheos

And immediately on being baptised – the heavens are torn apart.

Kai eutheos

And immediately, the spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness.

A lot happens in very few verses.

Like Mark’s Gospel our lives can seem quite breathlessly paced too; we’ve had Christmas, we’ve had the new year, we’ve had epiphany, we’ve had January, February is almost over; we’re into lent and it’ll be Easter before you know it.

Kai Eutheos – and immediately.

It’s very easy to be swept along by the daily grind, the normal activity of our lives, the pressures and the sad state of the world. And that is why we have the period of Lent; it is a period where we are supposed to slow down, to reflect, and to look at what’s important in our lives. It is a time to address the spiritual side of our day-to-day business; at the heart of which is our relationship with God.

Relationship is also at the very centre of God’s being. The great mystery that is the trinity, is really highlighted by today’s gospel reading. We meet the three persons of the trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy spirit and we get to see how they interact with one another, and we learn things about them. We see that the there is no peripheral member to God’s tripersonality.

Baptism is the key to everything that I’m talking about this morning. But the act in itself brings up some complicated questions.

In the Greek text, John is called John the Baptizer. The Greek word is a present and active verb – which means John is described as actively performing the baptism. The origin of baptism is unclear – no Jewish sect of John’s time would’ve recognised any such practise, it would certainly not be considered a sacrament, so it seems an odd thing for John to do. The Jews did have purification rituals, but John is quite clear that his baptism is for those who wish to repent of their sins. So, what we need to be clear on is that Baptism is not about Jewish identity nor is it about Christian identity. It’s about a person recognising that they are a sinner and wanting to be part of a relationship with God.

So why does Jesus seek to be baptised? We learn in Matthew chapter 3 that John is quite against baptising Jesus, as he sees it as not his place to do so. Jesus tells him that he must, ‘to fulfil all righteousness’. That doesn’t really help us understand any better. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus is the only sinless man, so what does he need to repent of?

Jesus doesn’t need to repent of anything, but he does show the way. He sets an example for us, that baptism and repentance is the first step on the path to relationship with God. But more so, his baptism is a great scriptural teaching moment.

The very beginning of Jesus’ ministry points forward to the culmination of his ministry. Jesus is prepared from the first moment to step into the place of the sinner; something that he will do again on the day he goes to the cross. Jesus and Mark, see this baptism as a prefiguration of his atoning work at the crucifixion. In Chapter 10 of the gospel of Mark, we hear how James and John misunderstand what Jesus is going to do and ask to be part of it – He refers to his crucifixion by means of the baptism, he tells them they don’t know what they are asking; that they are not able to be do the baptism in the way that he will be baptised.

Kai eutheos – and immediately, when Jesus is baptised at this point in the story, we see the spirit descend upon Him. The creed tells us that the spirit proceeds from the Father; it is another manifestation of God. We have many names for this other person of God: we call it the parakletos, the comforter, the advocate; it is one who draws alongside us when God is not flesh, It is the same individual who motivated Moses to bring the people to liberation, the same manifestation of God that spurred the Prophets to speak to the people of Israel, to the religious leaders and the authorities, to the kings and the sages. The Holy spirit that reveals the plans of God.

That whole time, the Spirit has been active in the history of Israel, ever-present, ever-guiding, often overlooked, often disobeyed, continually misunderstood. But here he comes again, tearing the very sky open, anointing Jesus so that the people will see. The spirit that Jesus will wield and baptise the new humanity with.

You can sense the impatience of the Gospel writer Mark, scribbling furiously, to get that message out, digging his quill into the parchment – kai eutheos, don’t you see, it is him, it is him, the one we waited for, it has always been him.

It is a great moment of revelation that foreshadows the things that will come. Jesus is more than he first appears. Simultaneously God the Father, God the Son and imbued with God the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel this morning we see, and we hear, and we ultimately meet, the divine community of God. The manifestations of the full Glory of God and how He works together in the three persons.

But it goes even deeper than that. The relationship that resides in the very being of God is not about God himself; The trinity is merely another method of revelation. The trinity is not about how God relates to himself - it’s about how He relates to us – to his people. It is the trinity of God, mankind, and the created order.

God already did the groundwork; He laid the foundations of a relationship with Him from the beginning of time. Baptism becomes an outward symbol of how we are prepared to accept his steadfast love. As we approach something Holy, we don’t just wash ourselves, we must first repent of our failings to stand within His presence; exactly as Jesus showed us.

It is in Peter’s epistle we have that confirmed: Peter writes in verse 20:

to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God.

Passage through water is a recurring theme in the OT; for Noah, his successful navigation of the flood waters brought about salvation for him and his family, when Moses led the people through the Red Sea, he brought them to liberation. The very word Hebrew (as in the Hebrew people) means – those who have passed through water. We are grafted into the Hebrew family by baptism.

So, we learn that relationship with God means salvation, and the world needs that more than ever. Baptism is the first step to reconciliation; even before Jesus began his ministry, he first showed us this.

In the time of lent we are given the opportunity to reflect on relationship; not only our relationship with God but with the people around us. Our families, our community our wider associations. And when we do reflect on these, we see that much of the problems of the world are problems of relationship. In the UK, it is the relationship between our political parties and the ordinary folk like you or I; but it’s far more tragic on a global scale. I think of the relationship between the Russians and the Ukrainians, the Israelis and the Palestinians.

We know this: God is love, because God, at his very heart is good relationship. When Jesus came, he brough with him the same opportunity of good relationship, but a new form of baptism. It was baptism by the spirit. This is the more powerful baptism; this is the baptism that the world needs - kai eutheos 

So we pray

Lord, great is your faithfulness towards your world. Despite the failures of your people, the Holy Spirit remains with us through the baptism we received in Christ. As we go through the period of Lent, strengthen our relationship with you, bring forth that spirit in each of us, so that we can be agents of change. That, in some way, we can bring about your true purpose; that we can boldly speak of our confidence in you to restore this broken world. As John baptised your son, and He in turn baptised us, send us out into your world to bring the Holy spirit to others. Let us be both present and active in your plan for salvation. Let the world pass through your waters.

In Jesus name we pray.   


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