- Collect: “ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth; Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
- Epistle Reading: Romans 12:6-16
- Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-11
Today is the Second Sunday After the Epiphany. Epiphany is on January 6th and the season extends for two to six weeks, depending on the date of Easter each year. An “epiphany” is a sudden realization or manifestation of some fact. In the church, during Epiphanytide, we mark the manifestation of Jesus as the long-promised messiah sent by God the Father. On January 6th, we remember the coming of the three kings to bring gifts to Jesus two years after his birth. They came to honor the king foretold by the prophets and born in their time, the king who rules over all. Today, we mark the baptism of Jesus. And next week, we will look at Christ’s first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.
The season of Epiphany encapsulates the realization of who Christ is and what he came to do in the world. It was early in Jesus’ ministry that he was clearly revealed to be the Son of God sent by the Father to be a light to the nations, to restore mankind to the proper relationship with God.
Baptism for the Remission of Sins
In the Gospel passage for today, we read of St. John Baptist doing that which earned him the title of “Baptist”. He is preaching, calling people to repentance. And he is baptizing them for the remission of their sins.
John the Baptist’s role in the life of Christ was foretold by the prophets. As this passage tells us, “it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” As we read here and elsewhere in the Scripture, John told the people of the area that Jesus was coming. He told them that Christ would be revealed in their time, and that they should be prepared for him.
In preparation for the ministry of Christ, John was calling on the people to repent. This is something that we all must do. We must acknowledge our sins before God, our sins against God. The Lord our God is holy, and we have offended against his holy nature by our common and frequent misdeeds. Whether in lying or greed or sexual immorality, we have done those things which are abominable in his sight. Whether in sloth or gluttony or covetousness or failure to acknowledge the Lord, we have done those things which assault his holy character. And we must repent.
This was the message of John. He preached the “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” What is meant by that phrase? In the Jewish tradition of the time, baptisms were common. They were carried out to show an outward sign that a person had committed himself to follow the Law of God, that he had repented of his sins and been washed clean of them. The term “remission” means that his sins are done away with, his debt satisfied. So, in calling on the people to be baptized, John is asking them to give a sign of their commitment to the Lord and as an indication that their sins have been forgiven. And we read how the people responded by confessing their sins and being baptized.
The Baptism of Christ
As John was preaching and baptizing, Jesus came from Nazareth to the Jordan River. There John baptized him. What was the purpose of this baptism? We know that Christ had no sin to confess, needed no repentance, and–therefore–required no forgiveness. He was holy and blameless from his birth; why would he then be baptized?
One reason for Christ’s baptism is that of example. Through his baptism, Christ shows us that repentance and remission of sin is necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven. Through his own action, Jesus shows us that baptism is a necessary step in our obedience to him. He confirmed this after his resurrection when he commanded the apostles to baptize, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” [Matthew 23:18-20]. Through Christ’s obedience to the Father, he has given us an example to follow.
Something else happened at Jesus’ baptism. He was not only giving us an example, and later a commandment for baptism, but he was also revealing himself as the Son of God. How was he doing this through the simple act of being washed in water? He was showing his role as the sacrifice for our sins. In the early days of his public ministry, Christ was already taking upon himself the sins of the whole world. His baptism was a sign that he had taken upon him the sins of us all. Though he had no sin within himself, he took upon himself the consequences of our sins so that he might pay the penalty for them on our behalf. His baptism shows that he took those sins into the water as a confession of them so that, through the act of his death on a cross for our sake, we might be cleansed of all unrighteousness.
Through Christ’s submission to the Father’s will, even in the example of baptism for the remission of sins, Christ has shown us the way to the Father. And the Father affirmed Jesus publicly. As Christ came out of the water, the skies opened, the Holy Ghost came upon him like a dove, and the voice of the Father spoke: “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Because Christ showed the necessity of repentance and forgiveness of sins, and because he showed himself willing to take upon himself the sins of us all, to be the intermediary between sinful man and holy God, the Father spoke of his love and joy toward Jesus the Son.
While he was preaching and baptizing in the Jordan, John said, “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” John’s baptism was one of water, one of symbol only. The baptism that Christ commands is one of water as a sign but of Spirit in nature.
St. Paul wrote of the spiritual nature of baptism. In his letter to the church at Rome, he said, [Romans 6:3-6]
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
Just as Christ was crucified, died, and was buried, we are buried in baptism. Our sins are buried in baptism. Our old man, our old nature toward sin and the bondage of sin, is crucified with Christ in baptism. And, just “as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father”, we come out of the baptismal waters with new life–the life of the Spirit of God, the life of a clean soul, the life of one reconciled to God. We are no longer the servants of sin, but we are become the servants of God.
When we, in faith, trust in the Lord, we have the power to overcome sin. That does not mean that the temptations of the world around us disappear. But it means that we are not bound to yield to those temptations. It means that, even if we stumble, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who intercedes for mercy on our behalf. We are no longer bound to sin and unrighteousness, but we are bound to holiness and righteousness. We no longer bear a reproach against the majesty of God, but we bring honor to his name.
St. Paul wrote in his epistle to the Galatians, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [Galatians 3:26-27]. Let us put on the nature of Christ. The nature that Jesus displayed while on earth was one of submission to the Father, of obedience to the Father’s will. Let us, in faith, put on that same nature. We do so in the sacrament of baptism, whereby the Lord, through an outward and visible sign, bestows upon us an inward and spiritual grace. It is through this act of our repentance that Christ gives us strength to follow him. And it is through our faith displayed that we are become the children of God.