Baptism is to be a living reality not a one-time affair in our lives. John welcomes us to the water and Jesus invites us into the kingdom of gracious tomorrows.

Introduction

The text can be read here (Mark 1:1-15)

I remember the first time I read this gospel. I didn’t get it. I didn’t like it.

If you have a red-letter Bible that has the words of Jesus in red instead of black, and you flip over to the gospel of John, you will see big chunks of red—there are a lot of Jesus’ teachings in John. I liked John more than Mark.

Matthew is about 50/50 black and red. Matthew is writing to people who know their Jewish Bible, so he takes events and teachings in Jesus’ life and ties them back to those stories. He would say, “Well, Jesus said this and did that and it’s kind of like what Isaiah said, or Joel said, or like what Moses did.” If you are someone who wants to see the connection between Jesus and the Jewish bible, that’s a great place to start. I liked Matthew more than Mark.

Luke is unique. Luke was a physician with a well-ordered mind. He interviewed eyewitnesses and incorporated those conversations into his writing. His gospel feels intimate and personal. I liked Luke more than Mark.

There I was, only a few years into my life as a Christian and I was reading Mark and hardly anyone believes Jesus! The people don’t believe Jesus. The disciples don’t believe Jesus! Jesus heals people and they don’t believe! He casts out demons and people get mad! In chapter 8 Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you think I am?” And Peter responds, “The Messiah!” And then 2 verses later Peter pulls Jesus aside and says, “You know, I will never believe what you just said.” In the words of Homer–Doh!

Then I learned that many scholars (with reason) believe that Mark ended the gospel at chapter 15. If that is true, then Mark ends the story like this, “So, Jesus died and was buried and on the third day they went to the tomb and the stone was rolled away. They peeked inside and Jesus’ body wasn’t there.”

He doesn’t tell you what to think. Well, Mark, I’m a baby Christian over here and so did they take the body or was he resurrected? I need to know cause I got a lot riding on this.

I was once having lunch with a friend who was writing a thesis on the gospel of Mark. I was bemoaning the lack of belief in Mark. “No one believes!” I yelled.

He replied, “Don’t you get it, man? Mark is screaming off the page, the only ones who know what Jesus is up to are the ones who are deeply threatened by his kingdom–the demons. Think of it like this, when you are sitting in your cozy home and you hear a police siren, do you get nervous?”

Me? No. I’ve done nothing wrong. 

“Exactly. The kingdom of God has come down and is being lived out by Jesus. The demons hear the siren and they are worried and they get busy. Even before Jesus shows up, those malevolent forces are there trying to make things worse for Jesus.”

And I realized that Mark is making me ask a very important question, “Why does it seem like evil is always one step ahead?”

I said, “You know, Gary, I’ve always liked the gospel Mark more than the other ones.” 

Mark’s Difficult Questions

Mark makes us ask important questions, “Why does it seem like evil is stronger than good and is always one step ahead?” With all the good in the world, why can’t it stay good? With all the words of truth, why is it easier to believe a lie? 

Here’s a question that is more personal and more difficult, why is it that I’m like Peter—one moment I’m an avid believer who will stake my entire life on the person of Jesus, and in another moment, I say, “Jesus, there’s no way I’m going to agree to live the way that you teach?”

It’s an Old Story

There is the wilderness of resistance.

There is the water of cleansing.

There is the kingdom of goodness.

Mark anchors the story of Jesus and John in the story of Moses. Israel languished under Egyptian domination and after many years delivered them. They crossed through the waters of the Red Sea (a baptism of sorts!). God told Moses that they would go into a land and that they would enter that land by walking in faith. God came to Moses and delivered Israel from Pharaoh in Egypt. Through a series of failings, they wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Eventually (Deuteronomy 34) Moses passes away and God raises a new leader, Joshua. Joshua is with the people in the wilderness. God is ready for them to live in a land not dictated by the tyranny of Pharaoh or by the whims of resistance (wilderness), but by the Word of God lived out by faith. They get there by entering the water and then crossing over the Jordan and coming out the other side in faith. They walk toward the new land and live in it by faith.

Pay attention! Mark is clever.

In what geography is John? He is in the wilderness.

What body of water is he near? The Jordan.

What does Jesus come proclaiming soon thereafter? The kingdom of God–there is a new land waiting for you to live into when you come out of the water! The past is done tomorrow awaits.

Baptism is not the end! Baptism is only the beginning. In baptism, God promises to save us by grace, to cleanse us from our sins (the wilderness of resistance), and to empower us to live in faith today (to live in and for the kingdom of God).

John says his baptism is with water (once) but Jesus’ baptism is with the Spirit, which is with us always. Baptism is a living reality within us that shapes our identity as children of God. We are known and forgiven. We are known and we are loved.

Our Baptism Liturgy

Our baptismal liturgy is punchy like the gospel of Mark. The first question gets to the main topic, “Who is your Lord and Savior?” No messing around. Who has the first and last say in your life and who is the one who is your hope in this world and the world to come? Jesus Christ.

Get ready. Question 2, “Do you forsake evil in the world?”

Easy! In the world? Sure. The world is beautiful but broken. War is horrible. On that we can agree. There is greed and corruption and thievery. I reject the evil out there.

But the question continues, “Do you forsake evil in the world and in yourself?”

Whoa there! I didn’t think it was going to get so personal. The evil in me?

Inside each of us is a wilderness of resistance. All of us can agree that war is bad, but how many of us are warring against ourselves? Or, how many of us are warring with someone who lives under our roof? Mark, like Jesus, aims at the heart. We can slam the ingratitude out there, but how many of us complain over our steak dinners?

The kingdom that God invites us into is not physical. Instead, it is God’s gracious influence on our hearts through the grace and truth of Jesus that both confronts and comforts us. You see, when we tire of living in the wilderness of resistance, we are welcomed to come to the water and wash of it. I’m not saying, we get baptized again if we’ve already been baptized. I’m saying, we remember our baptism and that God has promised to forgive us and wash us of it. We can start over, brand new. We don’t have to live in yesterday.

The amazing thing about the kingdom of God is that it is not a kingdom of yesterdays; it is a kingdom of tomorrows. Jesus invites us into the kingdom of gracious todays and tomorrows. I need that and I suspect you might need it too.

Mark gets us ready to hear the gospel, but be ready. It comes fast and furious. He’s in a hurry. There’s no time to waste. The baptizer is at the water’s edge welcoming us in and the Messiah is on the other side preaching a world that is very different from the soil of the one you are standing on.

Don’t you tire of the wilderness, of the resistance?

The water is here! Remember it.

John welcomes us into the water and Jesus invites us to walk into the kingdom.

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