Read the text here: Mark 1:4-11
Wet & Well Pleased
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.” Mark 1:10-11
And we are off! Just like that within just a couple verses in the Gospel of Mark we are plunged into Jesus’ ministry. No long mystical prologues; no genealogies; no Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds or wise men here. Within the space of just a few sentences Jesus arrives at the Jordan River as an adult, is Baptized and then he is immediately wandering in the wilderness struggling against the powers of temptation. No time for a reception, or time to visit with family or time to consider and think about all that has happened. Jesus is baptized – the heavens are ripped, the Spirit descends, he hears the voice – and it is out into the wilderness and beyond. Just like that.
The heart of this brief episode occurs in verse 10 through 11 just as Jesus emerges from the water. Let’s take a closer look at these events in two groups:
1. “The heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove…” The Greek here is even more violent – the heavens are ripped apart - it says. The word used will appear only one other time in the Gospel and this time at the moment that Jesus dies on the cross when the curtain of the Temple is ripped. The prophet Isaiah pleads with God: “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1). And here the prophecy is fulfilled. God has ripped open the heavens and has come down to dwell among God’s people on earth in the form of the Spirit. The Temple curtain is ripped because God no longer will be separated from human beings – God lives among God’s people. The ripping open of the heavens then makes possible the bestowing of the Spirit of God on Jesus.
2. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased!” Did Jesus know who he was in relation to God before His Baptism? This is a statement of identity – Jesus is God’s beloved Son. This is also a statement of unconditional acceptance. Note - Jesus has done nothing yet. Jesus has not yet accomplished anything. Jesus has not even contended with the powers of temptation – this comes AFTER these words. In fact, this event, these words make it possible for Jesus to enter into his ministry.
This story, like all stories from the Gospel, are about more than just a biographical recounting of an event in Jesus’ life. The Gospel stories are proclamation and all have something to say to us about our lives in Christ and our discipleship. For we are called, we are baptized and we are sent forth. We are reminded that God has ripped the heavens open, God has ripped apart the Temple curtain and God continues to dwell among us. God is not remote or distant or confined to one holy place. God lives among God’s people. And the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all who are baptized. You have been given the gift of the Spirit in your baptism.
And the words spoken are for each of us as well. “You are my Son / you are my daughter – with you I am well pleased.” Spoken to each of us before we have done anything. Because God’s love and acceptance of us is not contingent on anything we do – we are accepted and loved on the basis of who we are. This is no mere affirmation. This is not a pat on the back and a “good job!” from God. There is a place for that, but this acceptance goes deeper than a superficial affirmation – or a “like” on Facebook. Jesus had not done anything and neither had most of us when we were baptized. This is unconditional acceptance. This is God saying to you: “I love you. You are beloved. I am well pleased with you. Nothing you do will ever alter this fact.”
But the story doesn’t end here. This is only the beginning, as it is for us as well. For we too are called; we too are sent forth from the font to bear the light of Christ’s unconditional love and grace. Like Jesus, we are empowered to move forward in our lives, contending with temptation, and encountering all kinds of situations we were have the opportunity to bring the light of Christ.
Therefore, Baptism is more than a private family event. Baptism provides the foundation of our faith. For in Baptism we are accepted and loved by God and called and sent forth to bear the light of this love and grace into the world. So, then since this is such an important part of our faith I want to suggest and exercise. Do you know when you were baptized? I was baptized on April 10, 1955 – Easter Sunday! Have you ever done anything to remember and celebrate your baptism? There are a variety of things that you can do. Dipping your hand in water and making the sign of the cross is one thing that I think is very meaningful and helps us to remember and stay connected to our Baptism. But also, What about getting a candle out (your baptismal candle if you still have it, otherwise any candle will do), lighting it and reading through this story of Jesus’ baptism, along with Romans 6:3-5, and also with Luther’s Small Catechism explanation of Baptism. You can do this on the anniversary and/or in connection with the Baptism of our Lord and other festivals of the church. But whatever you do, never forget that the words of the voice are for you: “you are my Son/Daughter, the Beloved, and with you I am well pleased!”