Sermon – 02-21-21 – Lent 1 – Cycle B
Scriptures – Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
Sermon Title: “What Value is Baptism?”
Did you ever think of Noah and the Ark being connected to baptism? I confess that I did not until I read our 1 Peter 3 passage. Being completely surrounded by water were the eight members of Noah’s family not to mention pairs of every animal under the sun.
Is baptism a reward for being good or does baptism lead us to be good or neither? I think of baptism in several ways. One way is to picture ourselves being born with a thin cobweb-like thread connecting us to God. If we are baptized as infants the thread grows a bit thicker. As we are taught about God, as we go to church, as we pray to Jesus, as we read God’s word, the thread becomes thicker and stronger. Likewise, when we are baptized as adults, instead of infants, our thread increases in width and strength. When we become a member of a church family and we are active and regular in attendance, the thread grows thicker until it is like a rope. By the time we are called to our heavenly home, the rope is like a cable.
Another image of baptism is the infant floating on the outer edge of a huge circle in a body of water. Each action, such as being in a nurturing environment, praying, singing to God, seeing good models of lives lived in love, brings us closer to the center of this huge circle. Gradually, we arrive in the inner circles with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Either way – thread becoming a cable or a person moving from outer circle to inner circle, the very significant point is baptism, whether infant or adult. We read in the story of Jesus’ baptism, in the New Revised Standard Version, that “when he came up out of the water” a voice spoke from the heavens. So we think that Jesus was immersed by John the Baptist. Immerse means to be totally under the water including the head. It represents dying and death. Being lifted from the water signifies new life.
You may be thinking about your own baptism and the baptisms that we do here in our sanctuary. We do not immerse. We use symbolism instead of actual immersion. Just as the bread and wine are symbols of Christ’s body and blood, the sprinkling of water in our style of baptism is a symbol of being immersed and experiencing temporary death. Jesus died. The symbolism is that we die also. We say we die in Christ.
So here we are: a dead Jesus and a dead person. That isn’t why we signed-on! It is temporary. It is only for a little while. But while Jesus is dead, he does something strange. It is believed that Jesus goes to Hell of all places. Why does he do that? People have expressed various scenarios. I believe Jesus goes there to make sure that the people there have actually heard the good news and to give the people who are there a second chance to repent and be moved to heaven.
Recently, I heard another good explanation. It would be great if I could remember what it was. Maybe it was this. Jesus came to earth for several reasons. One was to be a model life for us to emulate, for us to know what is desired behavior and thinking. Another reason was for Jesus to experience all things human. This would include knowing what Hell is like.
You may be holding your breath waiting for me to say that when we are baptized we go to Hell temporarily like Jesus did. No! Breathe, please! That is not part of our baptism experience. Our symbolic temporary time of death is the tiniest time measurement that can be. It is a symbol. You know when you are under anaesthesia how it seems you just were given the anesthesia and you become awake and wonder when they are going to start whatever is planned. How surprised we are when we are told it is all over – complete!
The water is the symbol of the death before the new life. New life! Just what we want – or not? Do you want a life change or do you not want a life change? Well, when we accept Jesus as our Savior and willingly become baptized we are no longer in the same control that we were earlier. It can be a little like riding on a roller coaster or riding on a wild horse. The great news is that we are protected by the love of Jesus and the Father and the Spirit.
Noah and his family are in the water but they are protected by this huge ark. Some of you have seen, and been in, a life-size copy of the ark. So Noah’s family and the animals are protected, not floating in the water with each person or animal for himself or herself. That is how it is for Jesus in his baptism. Starting this new life. It could be very scary. But this voice from heaven assures everyone in the vicinity that Jesus is the Son person of God and he is loved by the Father person..
Mark is brief with his writing – not much for details. Short and immediate. Here is Jesus newly baptized and authorized. Immediately he is swept into a desert or wilderness setting. We like to think that the Father would not lead us into temptation but here with Jesus, it seems that the Father leads Jesus to Satan so Satan can polish his temptation skills.
Mark does not give the details of the wilderness experience. Matthew and Luke give the details. Satan tried three times to tempt Jesus. One was about food. One was about having everything he could see from a high place. One was about jumping from a high place because angels would protect Jesus. Jesus said, “No!” to all three. And he used words from the Old Testament to refute Satan’s temptations. Finally, Satan gives up. At that point, angels do come to minister to Jesus.
This is part of the good news: Jesus came to earth to be a model so we could know God more fully. There’s more! Jesus came to be the sacrifice for our sins. He wants us to accept this forgiveness and live lives using him as an example. This way Jesus does not need to appear in Hell to save us. We are saved simply by saying that we believe that Jesus is our Lord, whether we are baptized or not. But . . . baptism gives us the extra closeness to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Baptism gives us the new life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Once baptized, baptized forever! Let Jesus lead us in the paths of righteousness and love. The more of us who follow in the path of Jesus, the better the whole world will be. Let us not wander from the path and become useless to God and the world. Let us join our steps and our voices and be ready for change where it is needed or be ready to hold fast to that which is good! Amen