Blog / Book of the Month / “A World Without Sin” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Sermon January 7th 2024 - Mark 1:4-11 & Romans 6:1-11

“A World Without Sin” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Sermon January 7th 2024 - Mark 1:4-11 & Romans 6:1-11

“A World Without Sin” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Sermon January 7th 2024 - Mark 1:4-11 & Romans 6:1-11

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Monday January 7th 2024: Baptism of our Lord / Mark 1:4-11 & Romans 6:1-11 “A World Without Sin”

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. 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.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on [Jesus] like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:4-11)

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-11)

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Today we remember the Baptism of our Lord, and we remember our own Baptism.

First we start with Jesus’ Baptism: What is going on in Jesus’ Baptism? If Jesus is perfect and without sin, and He is, why does Jesus need to be baptised? These are some good questions, questions that people will often ask, lets look at them: The big answer for this is wrapped up in the season that we are in; Epiphany – What is an Epiphany? Lots of people will think of an epiphany as a flash of insight, a sudden revelation, a eureka moment (this is a good way of looking at it), an unexpected understanding of the big picture. Maybe you have had that moment. It would be like working on a puzzle without the picture on the box, then while putting it together you pick up a piece and place it to suddenly figure out what the puzzle picture is.

John the Baptiser had a job: He was to prepare the way of the Lord. All through the Old Testament God had provided prophets who pointed forward to the coming messiah, who pointed forward to the coming Christ. There were many, many of these, for example you have people like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Obadiah. John was the last of these. He is like an Old Testament character in the New Testament and John preached the coming of the Christ and baptised, that is what he did.

While John was baptising he was looking for something: It is recorded in the Gospel of Saint John that John the Baptiser said “I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptise with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptises with the Holy Spirit.’”[1] Each person John baptised was baptised into the expectation of the coming Christ, as the water flowed over them John was thinking about the Christ, as they came up out of the water John knew that the Christ would come to save the lost, as they stepped onto the bank of the River Jordon this John the Baptiser knew that they stepped forth in repentance and in the forgiveness of sins because of the love of God. Over and over and over again John baptised and baptised and baptised watching for the Spirit to descend and remain, John preached and preached and preached and more and more and more people came out to John to hear what John had to say and to be baptised in the Jordan River and all that time John watched.         

Then one day as the Gospel of Mark recounts it – John the Baptiser is baptising in the Jordan River and a Jesus of Nazareth is there and when Jesus comes up out of the water something happens that confirms what John already believed to be true.[2] Suddenly the moment of Epiphany arrives, the big picture becomes crystal clear, the all important puzzle piece is put in place, and [John] saw “the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on [Jesus] like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, [speaking of Jesus saying] “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”’[3]

This is not something that mankind would have been able to discover about Jesus on their own. This Truth is one that was first known in the realm of heaven, it is known to every thing that is not man or woman – we as men and women and children need to be told this amazing thing, to us it needs to be revealed – without being told we would never know it to be the Truth. In Saint Mark’s Gospel, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit together as One with Christ Jesus provide the Epiphany, the flash of knowledge that Jesus is the Christ (the heavens torn open, the booming voice, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word made flesh, God incarnate).

The rest of the account of Jesus as the Christ is unveiled in Mark’s Gospel in a similar sort of way. God the Father declares Jesus, as Christ from Heaven, we see this in His Baptism and then as Jesus’ three-year ministry continues at first it is only the demons that confess knowledge of who Jesus is. This may seem peculiar at first glance but there’s something to think about here. They know who He is because they were created by Jesus and when they were still good angels they both knew Him and dearly loved Him before they fell into evil. So in Mark 1:21-27 we hear this account: “on the Sabbath [Jesus and some of His first disciples] entered the synagogue [at Capernaum] and was teaching. And [the people there] were astonished at His teaching, for [Jesus] taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing [the man] and crying out with a loud voice, came out of [the man]. And [the people there in the synagogue] were all amazed,” Epiphany!

Later at the Transfiguration, its God the Father who again speaks like He did at Jesus’ baptism and Peter, James and John hear the words concerning Jesus, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.”[4] Peter, James and John Epiphany!     

Finally in Mark’s Gospel at the foot of the cross, as Jesus breathes His last breath, dead because of our sin, dead for the forgiveness of our sins, at that moment the Centurion, the soldier confesses these remarkable words, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”[5] Saint Mark’s Gospel is an account of the ever-expanding Epiphany. There’s that soldier Epiphany! The Gospel of Saint Mark provides again and again unexpected revelations of the long expected Christ.

So what is going on in Jesus’ Baptism? If Jesus is perfect and without sin, why does Jesus need to be baptised? Jesus’ baptism was a moment in which Jesus was being revealed. It is the official start of His public ministry and when we are baptised we are baptised into Him as Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans. In Jesus’ own baptism He is an example to us. In His baptism and in ours we have solidarity; a unity is formed between Jesus and us. In His baptism we are given an unexpected understanding of the big picture.

In Matthew’s Gospel it is recorded that “John would have prevented [Jesus], saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then [John] consented. And … Jesus was baptized,”[6] This was not to fulfill His righteousness but to fulfill yours, to pave the way for unity, to make straight our path to God in Christ Jesus who is The Way.

Let’s talk a little bit about your Baptism: At the beginning of the Service we are called to remember our baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” We regularly start our services in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because through the waters of baptism we entered into the Church, into the family of God, this is what Saint Paul is driving at in our Epistle from Romans today. We call this moment ‘the Invocation.’ 

But what does it mean to remember our baptism? Do you remember your baptism like you remember your first kiss, or the first time you shot a gun, or the first time you burnt yourself on a stove? For the majority of us the answer is no. Most of us were brought to the fount when we were just little and we could not yet remember much of anything. I was baptized on July 30th 1975 when I was just 10 days old – I don’t remember my baptism the way we generally think of remembering things. (Some of us were baptised later in life, so for those of us who were there will be more to remember from the day)

The kind of remembering I’m talking about for most of us is twofold 1) we remember our baptism the way we remember Jesus’ baptism; we remember that it happened, like we remember that World War I happened or the Lutheran Reformation, we remember it in history as a historical event, like we remember our own physical birth. We do that every year and every year we remember Jesus’ baptism in the same way.

2) When we remember we’re being called to return to it —this is kind of like reminiscing — to turn back to it, to come back to the waters of baptism, there’s an active part to this – most often what follows the invocation in worship is the public confession and absolution of sin. You receive forgiveness.

And it’s all linked up with baptism. Our baptismal font has been at placed at different spots over the years, in the last number of years it’s been sitting in the chancel between the pulpit and the lectern which happens to be the spot the pastor stands when he speaks the invocation and we proceed with the confession and absolution of sin. When the font sits at the back of the church we are called to remember that through baptism we enter into the Christian church as a result of our baptism, so regardless of where it’s placed, the very baptismal font itself, constantly provides opportunity for us to remember our baptism and what it means for us. And as Christians whether we are looking at the font or not we are called back to the waters of our baptism constantly, always to be washed, to be forgiven. It is in those waters where the original sin of Adam was drowned made dead by the power of God. But like you have heard before the Old Adam is a good swimmer and he works in our flesh to come back out of the water and push me around in my life. He is drowned again and again this happens when, with a repentant heart the waters of baptism are remembered, and we return to them.

God is gracious and merciful and does not demand that you remember this on your own, He gives you the remembrance of Jesus’ baptism to remind you, He puts baptism into the public worship of the church so that you can see it repeated with your own eyes, He puts children into your arms so that you, like your own parents, can bring them to the waters of baptism. He asks you each day, in the morning and at night, to remember it and to return to your baptism.

(As an aside for those of you who are baptismal sponsors, godparents, when was the last time you reminded your godchild that they are baptised into the Christian faith, into Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? When was the last time you did that? If it’s been a while take heart, repent of you inaction and take up again this gracious and merciful work you’ve pledged before God to do on their behalf)      

Now when you remember your baptism you are not to remember it as something you did for yourself, or something that you did for your children, it was the Holy Spirit working in you that brought you to the waters, it was the Holy Spirit in you that brought you with your child to the waters. When we remember our baptism we remember what the Holy Spirit has done for us, we remember that the Father sent His only Son; we remember that Jesus [the Christ] died upon the cross to secure forgiveness once and for all with the sacrifice of His Body and His Blood.

Again this is what Saint Paul is getting at in his letter to the Romans; God uses Saint Paul to tell us this because He wants us to remember, “That all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[7] Recently I had a conversation with someone about death – and as a Christian it’s in the rear-view mirror – it happened at their baptism–the thing I reminded them was that in Christ they’ve already gone through it, which means in the mean time in life they and you don’t have to live in the fear of death, you don’t have to live each day worried about death, you don’t have to obsess about it, or think about it as much as the World might want you to or you might be tempted to because now you’re free to live: free to live your life to the glory of God, to live your life to good of your neighbour.

On The Last Day, when we are raised from the dead – body and soul reunited in the resurrection what will it be like to walk in that perfect newness of life? On That Day the Old Adam will never try to swim up to the surface of the waters of baptism. On That Day you will be changed and the physical struggle with sin will be over. You will physically enter into a world without sin, just as it was in the Garden of Eden before the fall. Have you ever really thought about what it will be like to be living in a world without sin? Where no one will ever sin against you and you will never be tempted into sin, where you’ll never have the eureka moment that you’ve done it against another person. It will just be not there, completely absent. So, “now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.”[8] The Epiphany of our Lord sheds light on this: Just as John looked upon Jesus and knew Him to be the Saviour even though the cross had not yet come, we who are baptised into Christ Jesus likewise–through our baptism–have the now not yet relationship to the cross: through baptism the cross is the location of our death in Christ the place from which we are forgiven, yet we still struggle with sin even though the victory is won in Christ. Now as baptised children of God we live our lives now knowing, trusting, and believing that on The Last Day there will be no more struggle, in the meantime however we learn what it means to live in Christ and to live in this world today with our neighbours – Welcome to Epiphany, we’re going to go through more and more of how Jesus was revealed both to the Jewish people around Him and to the nations and eventually to you and I. Amen.     

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.”

[1] John 1:33
[2] Matthew 3:13-15
[3] Mark 1:10
[4] Mark 9:7
[5] Mark 15:39
[6] Matthew 3:14-16a
[7] Romans 6:3-4
[8] Romans 6:7-8

Photo Credit: Main photo adaption of a photo by Jean Louis Mazieres of Ottavio Vannini's (1585-1644) "Le baptême du Christ" (1627), Nantes Musée d'Arts, from flickr.