The Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:4-11)


In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

So, what was all that about? As I always say on this Sunday, it marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He says yes to God, is designated as Son of God, the Holy Spirit comes upon him, and off he goes. He calls us to follow the same way. But to what? A life of militancy and political violence?

Many Jews hoped so. And you can interpret Psalm 149 in that way. Some still do. They ached for the Messiah to lead them in a rebellion against the hated Roman occupiers. The Messiah would win battles, purify the nation and give it back to the chosen people, Then he would reign as glorious king, showing those other nations what was what, and where God’s approval rests.

But it was not to be like that. This King was a king of peace. Following him turned out to be a different kind of adventure, an adventure of forgiveness and prayerful example. How disappointed most people felt. The God stuff was supposed to lead to power and prosperity. Followers of Jesus seemed to gain quite the opposite.

Over the centuries some Christians tried out the power game, they did terrible things “Because my religion tells me so”. But it always went wrong and brought disgrace on the church.

And today we can see that nothing has changed. Islam is open to exactly the same misinterpretation. As we were thinking a while ago, the temptation to do a terrible thing “Because my religion tells me so” remains strong. Do you remember the Bataclan shootings in Paris a few years ago? I have no doubt that those gunmen shouting “God is great” in impeccable French thought they were doing him a great service. And if they were killed, then a warm welcome would await them in heaven. I think not.

Baptism into Christ challenges us to put aside such twisted thinking and follow the one the Bible calls the “Prince of Peace.’ His weapons are prayerfulness, love, teaching, example, service of others and so on. Not likely to win me power and riches, but ultimately these are the things that change the world for good.

Even more, they are the kind of followers that God will welcome into heaven.