The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
The Baptizer, Forgiveness, and He Who Comes
Second Sunday in Advent, 04 December 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Advent is all about comings and beginnings, a very appropriate season to meditate upon the Gospel appointed for this day.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Here in a sentence fragment—there’s no verb so my grammar checker went nuts—Here we have the title, purpose, and description of the whole account of the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark, John Mark.
The focus is clear. It is the Gospel. It isn’t just any gospel, any Good News, but THE Gospel. An English word we derive from the Greek here is Evangelical. Lutherans are evangelical in that the evangel, the Good News, the forgiveness of sins. Much in our church is left to Gospel freedom. Sometimes it may be something we don't like. Forbidding something that God allows or leaves to Christian freedom is legalism—living by the law, not the Gospel. That we must avoid. Lutherans are evangelical. If it weren’t for the Gospel, there would really be no point for any of us to be here.
God has concretely located this Gospel. It is in the mouth and pen of John Mark, disciple of Peter, companion of Paul and Barnabas. And most importantly, it is the Gospel about Jesus. There really is no other gospel, no other truly good news. Jesus’ Gospel is Gift, given to you, by grace, through faith, not by works of the law or your own spiritual preparations or methods. Jesus’ Gospel is gift.
And Jesus is doing His names in this Gospel. He truly is a Jesus, a Savior. He is the Christ, the Greek version of Messiah in the Hebrew, the one anointed for a specific purpose. Jesus Christ is then, the one who is the Savior. And He is the Son of God. Only a Son can call the Father, “Our Father.” He is “Our Father” because Jesus is in our human flesh and He comes to be in solidarity with you. And this is no mere human father. This is the Father, the Creator, God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger s wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
The Word of the Lord through Isaiah the prophet quoted from this day’s Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 40, about a voice in the wilderness is supplemented with a Word from the Lord mouthed by Malachi in chapter three about the forerunner, as God calls him, “My messenger.”
The messenger is at hand in the next verse. And both the preparation and the voice are in the wilderness. And the Word of the Lord and His Gifts are drawing others there.
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
In the freedom of the Gospel we are blessed with two possible colors for advent: purple or blue. Both are colors of royalty since they were the most expensive to produce in the ancient world. In Advent, we look forward to the coming King of the Jews, sought by the magi. Purple is also the color of Lent, when we keep our eyes on Jesus, who is enthroned upon the cross as Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews—INRI at the top of all those crucifixes.
Violet or purple reminds us of repentance due to its Lenten association—Lent being a time of repentance. Advent Blue focuses on the joy of the coming. Purple or Blue, or any time of the year, even after-Pentecost-green, we are never to lose a focus upon repentance.
John the Baptizer preaches a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Yes, but what does this mean? Was ist das?
Repentance is a change of heart and mind from sin and guilt to cleansing and forgiveness by God’s grace. It is not something you can do for yourself. It is brought about by God through the preaching of His Law.
Sin. The word for sin in the Greek here is “a missing of the mark.” We’re on the shooting range. How many bulls eyes are there? If even one out of a hundred isn’t right on the dot, you’ve missed the mark. And St. James reminds us that missing the mark once is enough to damn you. How are you doing so far today?
Remission of sins is the result of the baptism of repentance. It is not a result of your personal holiness, your sincerity, or your good deeds to rebalance the scale. God is doing the action through His servant, John, and today, His servants of the Word. Is Baptism just a symbol for cleansing? Look at the text. “A baptism of repentance FOR the forgiveness of sins.” This is more than a symbol. This is God in action. God acts to forgive your “missing the mark”—His mark—the perfection demanded in the law. God is in action in He Who Comes.
God is in action in Holy Baptism today. Baptism is not just plain water, but the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word, especially Jesus institution and mandate in Matthew 28. God has tied His promises to Baptism through His Word. Forgiveness of sins. Rescue from death and the devil. The Gift of eternal salvation. Washing. Rebirth. Renewal. The daily drowning of the Old Adam and daily rising of the New Man.
In the text, the mode of baptism, of applying the water, is not mentioned. What we do see happening is a rejoicing in the water connected to the promises of God’s word. When the Baptizer baptizes in the Jordan, we are located to the Jordan River and its water.
Purification rites were not new to Judaism. There was water for purification at the Temple, Qumran, and many other places. The uniqueness of this baptism was that it was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, that it was done at the instruction of the Holy Spirit, and done by God’s man on the scene, John the Baptizer.
Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Elijah the prophet prefigures John the Baptizer. In 2 Kings 1:8 King Ahaziah recognizes Elijah by his dress—identical to John as he was seen by the people. John is the Elijah who was to come, the forerunner of Messiah. He was not Elijah himself. He was not Elijah reincarnated—reincarnation is not possible according to Scripture. John the Baptizer was the forerunner, the voice in the wilderness.
He had a wilderness diet, too. Leviticus 11:22 allowed four varieties of locusts as food. They were eaten by the poor and in times of famine. The wings and the legs were torn off, and the bodies were dried or roasted or ground up and baked, seasoned with salt, and could be kept for a long time. Palestine was famed for its wild bees and abundant natural wild honey. He may not have looked or smelled too good, but the Lord provided for John and worked through him.
The Baptizer’s first direct words point to Jesus, the One more powerful who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. To show His deference to Jesus, John takes for himself the humblest slave’s or servant’s task—removing sandals. In the ancient world feet were a primary means of transportation. Socks hadn’t caught on with so many dirt roads, paths, and streets. Feet became dirty, and with more than just dirt. Consider such a one who stooped down to untie the thongs of sandals. Better yet, contemplate your servant-messiah who washed the feet of His disciples less than a day before going to the cross.
Occasionally in Christian circles once may hear about “Spirit Baptism,” often referencing Mark 1:8 as a proof text. This is unfortunately and unnecessarily misunderstanding what John says about water and Spirit. John baptized with water, true, but it was not mere water. With God’s command, it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Not just a symbol. There is no promise of the Holy Spirit connected with the baptism administered by John, but with this water, and the Word behind it, there is promised the forgiveness of sins.
With Jesus’ command to baptize, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit. John did not preclude Jesus from using water or forgiving sins in baptism, but He did say for sure that the Holy Spirit was given. After Jesus institution and mandate regarding making disciples by means of baptizing and by means of teaching, there is no baptizing in the Triune name where water and Spirit are separate. Therefore, there is no Christian “Spirit Baptism” apart from Holy Baptism!
In OT times, only certain servants of the Lord were given the Holy Spirit, like some Kings and the prophets. John is the last of the OT type of prophet. In Jesus’ coming & Jesus’ baptism, the spirit is poured out on all Christians.
Some of you may have noticed a temporal discontinuity. In the lessons appointed for reading this Advent season we have John, fully grown, preaching repentance when, from the perspective of the Church Year, Jesus has not even been born. John is only 6 months older than Jesus. Why are things being presented in this order?
There is a reason—a pretty good one. Besides, we should always assume competence as part of keeping the 8th Commandment. John speaks of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. And Advent means coming. John Mark writes about the Baptizer pointing to the public appearance of Jesus. We know that comes on Christmas, but the Gospel according to St. Mark doesn’t mention Christmas.
During Advent, as we prepare for the Advent of Christ on Christmas, we are reminded that we should be prepared for the Second Advent at any time, living in daily repentance, in Jesus’ Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and living in tune with the Holy Spirit.
Many times, we fail to take Jesus’ Second Coming seriously. “He is coming back, but I have things to do first.” “He won’t come back today or tonight; after all it has been over two thousand years since Jesus was born and Judgment Day has not come yet. “ “What are the chances, anyway?”
A pastor made an evangelism call on a man, a locksmith by trade, around forty years old. He was polite and listened as we told him the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. He told him that salvation was by grace alone and you could not earn or deserve it. We told him that Jesus died to pay the price for all the wrongs that all men had done. Jesus had won for him a place in heaven and offered it to him as a free gift. He was invited to believe in this Gospel. He mused for a moment and said, “ No, I don’t think so.” He proceeded to explain, “ I know that I am playing with fire here, but you see, I’m having a lot of fun right now, and I don’t want to give that up just yet. I like to hit the bars and I have a couple of girlfriends on the side. So I think I’ll say no, and I may not wait till I’m eighty. But a few more years of this fun is for me.”
Do you ever think like him? Have you, ever? “It doesn’t matter what I do today as long as I don’t get caught.” The issue is not whether someone on the outside catches us. What are you like on the inside? What do you really believe about the grace of God?
Planning to repent or reform later is a dangerous game. It truly is playing with the fires of hell. Consider again what the Lord called John the Baptizer to preach and do—a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That water with the word puts the fire out!
John speaks of coming. And with Jesus coming in the flesh, His birth, God’s plan of salvation itself is incarnate. The plan of salvation has been in motion since before the creation, before the fall, before the promise in Genesis 3 of one who would rescue Adam’s race and crush the serpent’s head
The Lord is coming, even today, in His Word, in His Baptism, in His Absolution and in His Supper—for you. In the Sanctus we sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of Your Glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who come sin the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed are you because of He who comes. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.