We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lectionary, Epiphany 1, Year B

I.Theme –  Meaning of Baptism for Jesus and us

 "Baptism of Christ"- Fra Angelico (1450)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm – Psalm 29 Page 620, BCP
Epistle –Acts 19:1-7
Gospel – Mark 1:4-11

Genesis – God parts the waters, transforming darkness and turmoil into light and hope.

Acts – Baptism is linked with descent of the Holy Spirit in the developing Christian community. It is the story of Paul baptizing some of John the Baptist’s disciples. They understand the need for repentance, but they do not understand that God through the Holy Spirit is now at work in their life. They had not heard about the Holy Spirit, and they did not understand how they could participate in the reign of God now.

Mark – This is beginning of the ministry of Jesus, which actually begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, the voice coming out of the wilderness, as God’s voice hovers over the face of the deep. God calls forth light, and therefore life; John the Baptist calls forth repentance and forgiveness, and through baptism, a new life is born. Jesus comes to John to be baptized in the River Jordan. Jesus baptizes Jesus, the heavens split apart and the spirit descents affirming Jesus as both messianic King and Spirit filled servant. 

As Jesus’ head rises above the waters, breaking through into our world, God breaks through from heaven as well. Baptism is the re-entry of God into our lives, and the re-entry of ourselves into God’s intended goal for creation: goodness and life. Repentance and forgiveness is our way of turning back, of re-breaking into the reign of God on earth.  

Psalm – Psalm 29 is hymn to God as God of storm to overcome pagan worship of Baal as thunder god. God alone is source of strength and blessing for the people. It is a song of wonder and amazement towards God our Creator, where the voice of God thunders over the waters .

Baptism is a time of transition. Jesus moves from the obscurity of Nazareth to larger stage. His gifts become public. God is not making demands but delights in his son. For Jesus as with us the mission begins in gift. Hearing that affirmation must have strengthened him for his trials – 40 days in the desert.  

II. Summary

Old Testament –  Genesis 1:1-5

The Old Testament lesson is part of a creation narrative, and the New Testament text is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry marked by his baptism. This week gives us the unique opportunity to explore both of these texts together in order to speak of what we believe and why we believe it.

The context for the writing of the Old and New Testament texts have much in common. First and foremost, God’s people are suffering. During Jesus’ time, Israel is controlled by Rome. It is not an independent state. The people cannot determine their own destiny. Rome is a great world power and the people long for a Messiah who will rise and take back the throne of David so Israel can live free again.

Similarly, Genesis one was written as a statement of faith in the midst of horrific times, not as an answer to the question of how God created the world. The time was either the exilic or the immediate post-exilic period. Jerusalem, the temple, and major cities in Israel had been attacked by Babylon, and its leaders had been taken off into exile. Even the fall of the Babylonians did not spell freedom, just domination by another group, the Persians. In that time, the country that won the war and conquered the area was seen as the one with the strongest and most powerful god. Questions hung in the air. Is our God strong enough to protect?

Our focus in Genesis 1 is on the description of chaos before God commences the act of creation. It is described in watery terms – ‘the deep’ and ‘waters’. This not only makes the link with the waters of baptism but specifies creation in Genesis 1 as a matter of bringing order to a watery chaos. The words in Genesis which represent the disorder before creation are translated ‘formless void’ in the NRSV

Vv. 1-2 are the when clause, and v. 3 the then. “Heavens and earth” is a way of saying everything. Vv. 3-5 are the events of the first day. His first priority is to overcome darkness: he creates light. Rather than destroying darkness, he relegates it to night-time: it too becomes part of the good, godly world, and is declared so by God. Naming night and day show God’s mastery of them. Jewish feast days begin at sun-down, so “evening” is first.

The chapter begins with the creation of ‘heavens and earth’ and the ‘heavens and earth’ were completed in Gen 2:1. Light” is a dominant concept in the whole Bible, especially in Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, and the Gospel of John in the New Testament. Light is a source of life and growth. You can’t have life without light

The repetition of the refrain, "And God saw that it was good" emphasises that this creation is supreme and approved by God. As God’s spirit was present at the creation of the world so God’s spirit was present at the baptism of Jesus.

The baptisms of Jesus by John, and of new Christians in the name of Jesus, are thereby connected back to creation itself. Baptism into the community of Jesus is a fulfilment of God’s intent in creation itself.

There is a correspondence within the days in this creation account. Days 1 and 4 (vv. 3-5 and 14-19 respectively) correspond with light, day and night brought into existence and named on those days. Days 2 and 5 (waters, air and sea creatures) and days 3 and 6 (land/sea and vegetation, animals and humans) also correspond.

The light mentioned in Gen. 1:3 does not just refer to that light which has its origin in the sun and stars, as we might explain it. Light is also a quality of the gods in the ancient world. Isa. 60:1-3 reflects this belief. I

Thus, the light spoken of in Gen. 1:3, which comes into being at an ‘illogical’ time well before the sun and moon appear, is a supernatural light emanating from the Lord. Just as light is life giving, so all that is necessary for life and for the maintenance and fulfilment of creation comes to us from God

This emphasis on light recalls the theme of the feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the shining forth of God in Jesus Christ. What is celebrated in baptism shares in the coming of the Lord to his creation, and proclaims that coming. It is part of God’s granting of life to all creation as he brings creation to fulfilment.

The Gospel of Mark for the day extends this symbolism in the description of the coming of Jesus the Christ into the chaos of the world. He has come to bring life to those who have been through the waters of baptism by John (Mark 1:5). Jesus will then ‘baptize’ them with the creative spirit of God – the Holy Spirit. Into the formlessness and chaos of their lives will come redemption and the divine creative purpose. 

Psalm – Psalm 29 Page 620, BCP

Many scholars believe that this Psalm is among the oldest in the Psalter. This psalm is probably based on one to the Canaanite god Baal, the storm God, who brings the annual thunder-storm, the source of fertility for the land

There are various types of Psalms in the Psalter (praise, thanksgiving, lament, and wisdom to name a few). Psalm 29 fits the ‘praise’ category, though its structure and content are unique.

By sheer repetition, the Psalmist focuses the attention of the reader squarely on what matters most here: the voice of the Lord. Six times in the eleven verses of the Psalm, the divine voice and its effects are the center of attention. So it seems that faithful exposition of this text ought to focus there as well.

The voice thunders over the waters. The voice shatters trees and lays forests bare. It causes earthquakes and shoots forth flame (likely intended to be lightning).

The voice does not break just any little, scrubby tree but rather the cedars of Lebanon – the largest, strongest, and most famous trees in Israel’s experience.

The voice does not cause just any old piece of land to shudder and shake but rather Sirion, also known as Mt. Hermon, the largest, tallest mountain in all the Levant, and the wilderness of Kadesh, the anvil on which Israel was forged.

Verses 1-2. Call to Worship. Yahweh is the God of glory, power, and holiness

Verses 3-4 preview the coming storm as if it is still over the sea. But, the sounds and sights are not just natural phenomena. They disclose Yahweh’s glory and power

God created the world and rested in seven days in Genesis. Here, God’s voice speaks seven times, shaking and destroying the world, shining forth in the storm, stripping the forest bare, and leading all to cry "Glory."

Just as there was perfection in the "seven" of creation, so the "voice" of God, speaking seven times in these verses, is perfect.

From Genesis we learn that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (1:2). Here we learn that "the voice of the Lord is over the waters" (29:3

Verses 5-7 see the storm come inland and wreak havoc in the mountain forests

Verses 8-9 describe the movement of the storm further inland, into arid lands which usually are anxious to soak up downpours

Verses 10-11 Lastly the postlude sets the entire universe at rest. God sits enthroned above the waters and above the firmament. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He who displayed his power and glory, which so moved heaven and earth, now shares his strength with Israel and blesses them with shalom.

God’s enthronement above the dangerous flood waters is an eternal enthronement (v. 10). But, most of all, it is an enthronement for the benefit of God’s people. This God doesn’t just flash forth with signs of power. This God blesses and gives strength to the people

Epistle –  Acts 19:1-7

This episode in the Book of Acts stands as a sequel to the account of John the Baptist’s ministry, including the baptism of Jesus, that is narrated in the Gospel for the Day (Mark 1:4-11).

Apollos of Alexandria, already a Christian, was preaching in Ephesus (18:24-28). Apollos was a disciple of John the Baptist.

So, what does Priscilla and Aquila do for him? They invite him to their home and explain to him the Christian way more adequately. They tell him how Jesus has completed the ministry of John.. One of the things lacking in his understanding was a fuller view of baptism, for "he knew only the baptism of John. They explained the role of the Holy Spirit

It is after Apollos has moved to Achaia (Southern Greece) that Paul comes to Ephesus. Here Paul meets a group who, like Apollos, are disciples of John the Baptist. The word "disciple" is most often reserved for believing Christians, but here it is obviously being used of John’s followers. They also have inadequate understanding of baptism

The word "baptism" means "immersion" and it is very likely that the immersion that is being referred to here is an immersion in information, in teaching, instruction. These "disciples" had received instruction in the teachings of John, but were yet to be immersed / instructed into "the name", into the person of Jesus. They were short on information, not liturgical rites.

Paul then asks the twelve disciples of John whether they have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, whether they have been born anew of God’s Spirit. Their answer seems to imply that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Yet, John the Baptist taught that the coming Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit, Mark.1:8.

So obviously, it’s not that they have never heard about the Holy Spirit, but rather that they are unaware that the promised Spirit has already been poured out. So, the "disciples" are not yet believers since they have yet to hear the good news about Jesus, respond in faith and so receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Subsequently, Paul baptizes them into "the name of the Lord Jesus" and lays hands upon them. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they speak in tongues and prophesy

It becomes clear that baptism "into Jesus" or "into the name of Jesus" is accompanied by the gift of the Spirit. Paul rebaptizes those who are already called "disciples" (19:1), but who have not yet received the Spirit, in order to bring them into the fullness of life in Christ.

Two takeaways

First, For Paul, the way to determine whether or not a person had trusted in Jesus for salvation was to discern whether or not they had received the Holy Spirit. And when they believed, they received the Holy Spirit, in the same way as those at the Jerusalem Pentecost (Acts 2), and at the Samaritan (Acts 8) and Caesarean (Acts 10) Pentecosts.

Secondly, we are reminded that being baptized entails the use of whatever gifts one has to witness to what God has done in Christ.

Baptism was a way of submitting oneself to something which God is doing. It became a way of entering the influence of the story of Jesus, his life and death and resurrection. Forgiveness of sins belongs to such love (as does much else!) and, addressed to adults in John’s time, the call to baptism certainly entailed a total turnabout in direction of life with ethical consequences (emphasized strongly in Luke’s account)

Gospel –  Mark 1:4-11

The birth of Christ a very important and special event, but only two books in the Bible give us the Christmas story — Matthew and Luke. In contrast, there are at least six books that talk about Jesus’ baptism — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Romans. In scriptures, it would seem that Jesus’ baptism is a more important event than his birth

In Mark’s prologue, we have wilderness themes, water-passage themes, temptation themes, prophetic themes—all themes from the Old Testament history of redemption. The advent of Jesus is the beginning of the lifting of the curse—lepers are cleansed, the lame walk, the palsied are healed, the blind see and the dead are raised. In the heart of Mark’s gospel, Jesus brings the eschatological gifts—the eschatological gifts of the kingdom of heaven—no more sickness, no more death.

John the Baptist was of the patriarchal line of Aaron, the priest of Moses and his message drew an overwhelming response from throughout Israel.

The Chief Priests of John’s day were “set apart” by luxury and comfort not by their commitment to justice. They had the choicest houses in Jerusalem and lived fatly off the skin of their people. In direct contrast, John chose to live in austerity

John may well have been a product of the Essene priests, given to austere living and ritual bathing. His choice of clothing was simple, but not dirty. He didn’t wear rags, he intentionally wore the garment of the Jewish prophets; camel hair; the toughest and coarsest animal hide that one could find. It was obvious that John didn’t want to be known among the priests but among the prophets. He had little time for maintaining ritual for he was busy proclaiming the coming of the Messiah  

John’s baptism had two components — repentance and forgiveness (Mark 1:4). When read in the original Greek; the words of repentance that flow from John’s lips are neither angry nor fiery. They are incredibly invitational and gentle. When he preaches the forgiveness of sins, the word that Mark uses is "aphesis". By itself the word means not only forgiveness and remission; but also freedom, deliverance, pardon and liberation. 

Combined the words speak of the compassion of our Lord to embrace the captive, seek the lost, and search for those who cry out in abandonment.

The gospel text can be divided into three sections: the appearance of John in the wilderness (1:4-6); his preaching (1:7-8); and Jesus’ baptism (1:9-11).

1 The entrance of John the Baptist in the gospel of Mark occurs right after a recitation of Isaiah, indicating that this messenger’s proclamation of Jesus is the fulfillment of scripture. Indeed, the allusion includes not only Isaiah but also Exodus and Malachi as they describe the coming of a messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord (see Isaiah 40:3, Exodus 23:20, and Malachi 3:1).

Although the other gospels begin at earlier points in the life of Jesus, an account of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist is the first glimpse of Jesus that Mark provides. The scene establishes Jesus’s identity as the Son of God, a theme which is repeated throughout the gospel

The theme of wilderness found in both the Isaiah reference and the appearance of John the Baptist reminds believers that God is often at work in times of desolation. Just as God led Moses and the people in the wilderness, so God will lead the people once again through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

For Isaiah, the wilderness is to become a place of new beginnings. Isaiah’s wilderness is the reverse of the wilderness of Sinai. The Sinai wilderness was a place of rebellion, failure, death for God’s son Israel. But in Is. 40 and later chapters, the wilderness is a place of rejoicing, abundance, life and blessing for the Israel of God

Now, in Mk. 1:2-4, John the Baptist appears to signal the inauguration of the new exodus projected by Isaiah. In the wilderness, a new beginning occurs in the history of redemption. This John the Baptist—this final prophet of the former era declares the end of the old the dawn of the new.

This Jesus—this Israel of God—God’s Son appears in the wilderness at the end of the age in order to submit himself to the ordeal by water: through the waters Jesus goes signaling the end of the old and the beginning of the new. The new beginning—the new age is before us from the time of Jesus’ ordeal by baptism. He passes through the waters—the heavens are split asunder and God himself declares this one is Son of God as no other.

There is no birth narrative in Mark like Matthew and Luck. But here is Mark’s birth narrative—the rending of the heavens by the Father is a declaration that the One on whom the Spirit rests is the Son out of the heavens. The Son of God has pierced the barrier between heaven and earth; he has shattered the cosmos in incarnation

In Mark’s gospel, the incarnation of the Son of God is declared by the revelation at the baptism. Dramatically, abruptly—voice, dove, split-heavens—all announce that now the kingdom of God is at hand;

John is the last Old Testament prophet—the last figure of that era. But John the Baptist is also the first to proclaim the new age—the era of fulfillment.

But he is not the only witness, is he. The heavenly visitor—the visitor with the voice from above—the heavenly visitor also testifies. The Father declares his Son. But the voice of Jesus is not heard.

Jesus was the Son of God, but his baptism gave him the verbal assurance that he was indeed God’s son. He was born of the Holy Spirit, but his baptism gave him the visible assurance that the Spirit was certainly present with him. Jesus baptism gave him the positive assurances that he would need during his temptation and time of ministry, his sufferings and death

Christian baptism is not just a washing away of sin as John’s baptism was; but it is the baptism that brings the power of the Holy Spirit and a special relationship with God. 

2. 1:7-8 also focus on the person of Jesus. He is stronger. He is more worthy. Again the baptismal scene tells us why. He is the bearer of the Spirit; we are enabled to see that. Then we hear: ‘You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’ In these words there is a flood of allusions.

3. Jesus Baptism

This is different. Although the event is a means of public disclosure in both Matthew and John, only Jesus knows that he has been claimed by God in Mark’s version of the story.

Jesus simply appears, without parents or antecedents. Mark places the parting of the heavens, the manifestation of God in the form of a dove and the voice—

This parallels Moses at the burning of the bush – Then the manifestation of God; the voice; the commission; Moses, the servant of the Lord; Israel, God’s son—the exodus. And now at the Jordan: the manifestation of God; the voice; the commission; Jesus, the servant of the Lord; Jesus, God’s Son—the new exodus.

If John had had any doubts about whether Jesus was the One, they were dispelled by the words which came from heaven: You are My Son, the Beloved; My favour rests on You.”

The opening of the heavens symbolizes the start of a new mode of communication between God and humankind. Perhaps “like a dove” (v. 10) is an allusion to the spirit hovering in Genesis 1:2. To Mark, the “voice … from heaven” (v. 11) confirms the already existing relationship between God and Jesus

The word beloved -. It is spoken by God at Jesus’ baptism, which is immediately followed by the temptation; it is spoken by God at Jesus’ transfiguration (9:7) after which Jesus talks about his many sufferings (9:12); and it is spoken by Jesus in a parable to refer to a king sending his "beloved" son to the wicked tenants who will kill him (12:6).

The use of the heavens torn apart foreshadows curtain ripped at the crucifixion 

The word indicates God’s dramatic activity in the world.

The Spirit descends "into" Jesus. John’s prophecy being fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry

There is, however, a clear allusion to Isaiah 42:1, ‘You are my servant in whom I am well pleased’, which links Jesus to the prophetic calling often associated with the Spirit (also in Isaiah 42:1; see also Isaiah 61

There is a certain irony in Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism being chosen as the text for the first Sunday after Epiphany. In the church’s tradition, Epiphany is the season when we recall the manifestation (epiphaneia) of Jesus to the world. Yet Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism, like his gospel as a whole, has an air of secrecy. It is declared as it were a private transaction between God and Jesus

Mark’s "different agenda" arises in a rich theology of baptism. God’s words to Jesus, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased," allude not only to Psalm 2:7, but also to Genesis 22:2 (Isaac as the only beloved son of Abraham), Isaiah 11:2 (God’s spirit resting on the king of Israel), and Isaiah 42:1 (God’s spirit resting on the servant in whom he delights). Thus, Mark is subtly telling us that, already in his baptism, Jesus’ future course is laid before him: he will be the servant of God, who will offer his life as a sacrifice

Jesus’ baptism is fulfilled in his death and resurrection. According to Peter, in his resurrection Jesus received the Holy Spirit from the Father, and his installation as messiah was complete (Acts 2:32-36). Moreover, because Jesus has received the Holy Spirit from the Father, he can give the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him (Acts 2:33), sharing with them this precious gift

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, which his baptism already foreshadows, the new creation is fulfilled. For us,we are baptized into Christ, and we all have the possibility of sharing in the new creation that Christ brings. 

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

Old TestamentGenesis 1:1-5

PsalmPsalm 29  

Epistle  – Acts 19:1-7 

Gospel  – Mark 1:4-11