Summary: Baptism reveals that Jesus is God’s Son, the world’s Savior and it reveals that we are God’s children.
What do the waters of baptism and the waters of a tsunami have in common? At first glance it wouldn’t seem like they have much in common. The 2004 tsunami that hit South-East Asia snuffed out 250,000 lives and did billions of dollars worth of damage. Baptism, on the other hand, saves souls for eternity. Still the two have at least one thing in common. In parts of India, the tsunami of 2004 unearthed previously unknown archaeological sights. In that sense you could say that the tsunami was revealing. So is the water of baptism. Our text teaches us that baptism reveals that Jesus is God’s Son, the world’s Savior. It also reveals that we are God’s children. Let’s learn more.
There is, perhaps, no one better suited to teach us about baptism than John “the Baptist.” Besides the camel-skin robe and organic diet of locusts and honey, the thing that set John apart from the other preachers of his day was his baptizing (this is not to say that other forms of ritual washing were unknown at this time). The opening verses of Mark’s Gospel make that clear. Mark wrote: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
Although John chose to preach in the wilderness instead of the cities and villages, his message found a large audience. We’re told that all of Judea, including the people of Jerusalem, went out to hear John (Mark 1:5). Josephus, a 1st century A.D. historian, estimated that as many as 300,000 people heard John preach! Among those in attendance were religious leaders from Jerusalem (though they only went for show), fishermen from Galilee (John and Andrew, disciples of John the Baptist and later disciples of Jesus), and one 30 year-old carpenter from Nazareth.
While the religious leaders from Jerusalem would have stood out with their flowing robes and haughty manner, the carpenter from Nazareth, a man by the name of Jesus, looked like just another guy come to take in the wild-eyed preacher of the desert. That’s surprising considering what John had been saying about Jesus. John told the people that there was one coming who was greater than he, whose sandals John was not worthy to stoop down and untie (Mark 1:7). That reality about Jesus, that he was someone very special, was revealed at his baptism.
As Jesus came out of the water after having been baptized by John, all heaven broke loose, literally. The skies parted and the Father who had first spoken at Creation spoke again saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). The Holy Spirit who had once hovered over the primordial waters of an infant earth now descended above the waters of the Jordan River in the form of a dove. At the center of this spectacle stood that carpenter Jesus. What was going on? Heavenly realities were being revealed to earthlings: Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Son of God (Thomas Van Hagel, Concordia Pulpit Resources 16:1, p. 30)!
If Jesus is indeed the Son of God, why did he get baptized? Even John the Baptist struggled with that question. When Jesus first requested baptism, John refused and correctly stated that he needed to be baptized by Jesus. John was a sinner while Jesus was not. What was Jesus doing getting baptized? Think back to the time when you first slept in a tent. Did you do that all by yourself? No. I’m sure your dad or an older sibling slept in the tent with you. It was their way of assuring you that you had nothing to worry about. If lions and bears were going to attack your tent, well, your tent mate was there to protect you. You were in this thing together. When Jesus asked to be baptized, he was doing something similar. He was taking his place among the people he had come to save. Jesus was letting the world know that he, the Son of God, had come to stand with sinners, not stand in judgment of them. Actually he came to stand in our place, to take on our sin, and to bear our punishment. Jesus’ baptism, therefore, not only reveals that he is the Son of God, it reveals that he is the Savior of the world.
Jesus not only marked the significance of baptism by being baptized, he commanded baptism for all people of all ages (Matthew 28:19-20). And baptisms that happen today are as revealing as Jesus’ baptism, for what happened at Jesus’ baptism still happens in our baptism. When the water is poured over a sinner’s head and God’s Word is pronounced, all heaven breaks loose as the Holy Spirit descends on that person to create or to strengthen faith (Acts 2:38, 39; Titus 3:5-7; John 3:5, 6), and God the Father says: “This is my child whom I love. I am pleased with him. I am pleased with her.” The holy God can claim us sinners as his children because baptism really washes away sin (Mark 1:4). The forgiveness we receive there is as real as the water dripping down the forehead.