Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus with readings from Genesis 1:1-5, Romans 6:1-11, and Mark 1:4-11.
The Genesis reading for today’s celebration are the opening words of God’s self-revelation of Himself to us (Genesis 1:1-5). And, that’s really what the Bible is, isn’t it? God’s revelation to us of His actions for us. He tells us of His creation of all things through His Word, His redemption of all things through His incarnate Word Jesus Christ, and His ultimate restoration of all things, also through Christ, to the perfection in which He originally created it. The Bible is God’s revelation to us of all of these things He has done, is doing, and will do for His creation. So, who is our Lord God? Our God is He who is, who created us, redeemed us, and is sanctifying us.
Now in the beginning, God created all things “very good” and perfect; for the holy Lord to call something “very good,” means that it is perfect. So, what God does is perfect and good, while what we do is anything but perfect. In fact, death and evil soon intruded into God’s good creation through the sin of Adam and Eve. This was “not good” and made His creation no longer perfect. But, God promised a Savior who would reconcile us to Him and restore His creation to again make it “very good.” Thus, the Bible tells us of all of these things in order to reveal to us where we came from and where we’re going, as well as the reason for the fallenness we see around us. And in the Bible, we see our Triune God working towards this end: the reconciliation and restoration of His creation.
And so in Genesis, we see the Holy Trinity, our Triune God, working. We see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit creating all things. The Father speaks forth His Word, and the Spirit orders and sanctifies what is created through the Word. Thus, in Genesis 1 we see the Father speaking, His Word creating, and the Spirit hovering over the face of the waters: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And we see something similar in the Gospel reading when Jesus is baptized (Mark 1:4-11); we see the Holy Trinity, our Triune God, working. We see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus goes to see John to be baptized, and after coming up out of the water, the heavens open and the Spirit descends on him like a dove, and then the Father’s voice comes from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Again, here we see the Father, His Son (the incarnate Word), and the Spirit. And this is all happening in the presence of the water. This should give us a hint that what is occurring here is similar to God’s first act of creation. In Genesis, the Triune God created all things; in Mark, the Triune God is beginning the re-creation and restoration of all things.
For this is what Jesus came to do. He is the Son of God, the Word made flesh (cf. John 1:1ff), come to reconcile God’s creation to Himself and restore all things to the perfection in which God originally created them. He will do this by ultimately removing sin, death, and the devil from His creation. And so, just as God created all things in the beginning through His Word, so too does He send forth His Word to recreate all things, to restore creation to being “very good” again.
And this recreation involves the death of what came before. The old world must pass away in order to make room for the new. The apostle John saw in Revelation a new heaven and a new earth being created, because the first heaven and the first earth had passed away; and he heard the Lord say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). When Christ returns on the Last Day, the old will completely pass away and the new will come – the new, restored creation; and God will again call it “very good.”
And so what Jesus did in his baptism is to begin this act of recreation. He has brought into the world pregnant anticipation for what is coming as the old begins to fade away. For all creation longs for restoration; all creation longs to be restored and called “very good” by God, with no sin, death, or the devil to mar God’s good work (cf. Romans 8:22ff).
Likewise, you too have been incorporated into this process of re-creation through your own baptisms. You have died and risen in the waters as God claimed you as His child. Christ stood in your place at his baptism, just as he hung in you place on the cross. So, you have been connected with Christ’s death and resurrection when you were baptized, because Christ’s baptism itself is connected with his own death and resurrection; he promised in Mark 10, “with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mark 10:39).
This gets to the heart of why Jesus was baptized, then. He did this to begin the restoration of creation and in order for your own baptisms to be connected with his death and resurrection so that you may receive the benefits of what he did for you.
Think about what was happening when you were baptized. A pastor poured water over you and declared that he was baptizing you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is not the one with the power, but is simply the instrument through whom God acts through the Word of God. And when you came up out of the water, the Father said to you that you are His child and with you He is well pleased. He is pleased with you, because you have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and so you have the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection – namely the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. God has placed on you the mantle, the image, of Jesus Christ even as the old fallen image of Adam was drowned.
St. Paul makes this point very clearly in the text from Romans 6:1-11. He says that you are no longer enslaved to sin, because you have died to it. You have been killed in the waters of Baptism, just as Christ was killed. Your old self – the person you once were – was crucified, just as Christ was crucified. But, this death was not the end goal. God didn’t kill you in baptism to leave you dead. He killed you in order to make you alive again, a new creation in Christ. He’s putting the old away so that he may bring forth the new.
So, just as Christ rose to life, you too have risen to new life, up out of the waters of baptism, set free by Christ to live in him; you truly have been born again due to God’s work for you in the waters. God has re-birthed you as His own child, for He is the almighty Lord God “… who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17).
So, in Jesus’ baptism, we have two things: the beginning of the new creation and the connection of Christ’s death and resurrection with your own baptism. So now all of creation and you yourselves are awaiting for Christ to return to complete what he started, just as a woman endures the pains of childbirth, waiting for the new creation to emerge. Paul again makes this point in Romans 8, saying:
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23)”
You have the firstfruits of the Spirit, because you have been baptized by God. He has called you as His own and made you His children, but you don’t yet have everything in full. You still live in a marred creation. You still live in a world that has fallen from its perfect state of being “very good.” You live in the midst of things that aren’t so good, where you still stumble into sin, still suffer decay and illness, still die. And you still long for something better. And it’s not only you who long for something better; all of God’s creation is crying out for redemption from the Lord. You and all of creation are groaning together in the pains of childbirth, eagerly waiting for the new creation, the restoration of all things.
And it’s likened to childbirth because a new creation is most definitely coming. The Lord has promised a new heaven and a new earth, and it is coming. But, now we live through what Jesus called the birth pains: wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, and other things that are not good (cf. Mark 11:8ff).
These began long ago and will continue until Christ’s return, but he is with us in these struggles. We often talk about how the Lord is with us, His Church, through Word and Sacrament. We talked recently about the Lord’s Supper and how in the Supper the Lord is dwelling with us bodily, veiled in bread and wine, even as Simeon beheld the Lord’s Christ veiled in the flesh and blood of the baby brought to the temple by Mary and Joseph. The point is that the Lord is with you always.
And now this Sunday the focus has shifted to Baptism. For in Baptism, the Lord makes you His own. He connects you with Christ’s baptism and gives you the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. He gives you the firstfruits of the Spirit and recreates you as a new creation in Christ. So, in Baptism, the Lord makes you His own, and then in the Lord’s Supper He continually feeds you. The wonderful thing, then, about these two Feast Sundays is that they focus our eyes of faith on the Sacraments of the Lord as the promise and pledge that He is with us always.
So, we begin to see that not only is the Triune God working, but also that He is working for you. He created you, He redeemed you, and He is sanctifying you as His own. You are living through the birth pains of God’s coming new creation now. You experience sin, pain, suffering, sorrow, and death, but these things will not last. These things are not eternal. For when the Lord returns on the Last Day these things will be no more, because something better, something “very good” is coming.
The Church on earth is an image of what life will look like in the new heaven and new earth. In the Church we commune with the Lord and with each other through Word and Sacrament. This is an image of what God intended in the beginning with Adam and Eve as He dwelt in their midst and they lived with each other in perfect harmony. We have the firstfruits of this restored creation in the Church, but this restoration is not yet complete. We behold the Lord veiled through Word and Sacrament, and we do not dwell perfectly with him or each other, because sin still gets in the way. But, when the Lord returns for His Church, He will dwell with His people directly and His people will dwell with Him and with each other in a perfect communion.
The last book of the Bible, of course, is Revelation. And what’s significant is that it ends, in a qualitative sense, where Genesis began. In Genesis we see God creating all things. In Revelation we see God recreating all things. And in the Gospel of Mark today we see the beginning of this recreation in Jesus’ baptism. Everything is centered around Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. He truly is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.
So, you can be sure that God’s new heaven and new earth is coming, because He began to usher it in in Jesus’ baptism. The world is pregnant with anticipation, and the object of its anticipation is coming. We know it’s coming, because we have God’s Word on it and Jesus gave up His body and blood on the cross to bring it about. We know it’s coming because Christ rose from the dead, even as you rose from the dead in your baptisms, even as your bodies will rise from the dead on the Last day, and even as the old, sinful, dead creation will rise to a new creation. And on that day, the Lord will again look at you and all creation and say, “Behold, it is very good.” Amen.
(Image: Filialkirche St. Johannes der Täufer, Ermengerst (Ortsteil von Wiggensbach) Jakob Huwyler: Deckengemälde “Taufe Christi”, 1903/ By Photo: Andreas Praefcke – Self-photographed, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3182691 )