Sermon Outline On Mark 1:4-11
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 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 just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
“Did you hear what is going on down on the banks of the Jordan?”
“No, what’s happening?”
“There is this really strange looking guy down there. He is wearing a camel hair coat and leather belt, and he is baptizing people. The crowd is huge, even when he is telling them to stop their sinful way. He’s out in the middle of the wilderness, telling people that God knows they are sinners, and God is willing to forgive them.”
“Camel hair and a leather belt?”
“You know that sound a lot like Elijah. I hear Elijah was a hairy man who wore a big leather belt (II King 1:8). Elijah was a man of the wilderness. I just wonder if folks think this strange man is Elijah. Remember Malachi told us that Elijah would return. Maybe it’s Elijah. Maybe the end is near.”
“No, he’s not Elijah. They say his name is John, John the Baptist…Not only does he look funny, he eats strange stuff. He eats locust and honey.”
“Well, honey doesn’t sound strange. Locust on the other hand sounds strange, but don’t you remember what Moses told us in the dietary laws. Remember he said, “There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.” Leviticus 11:21-22 “Locust are kosher.”
“Wild honey and locust. He must be a prophet. Sounds like a prophet of old. Yes, this John the Baptist sure reminds me of the prophet Elijah.”
Ever since the days of Malachi’s prophesies, the nation Israel had been waiting for the return of Elijah. Elijah would return marking the beginning of the end. Elijah would come and then the Messiah.
Why did Mark and the other gospel writers give this strange description of John the Baptist? It could be they were painting a picture of Elijah. Maybe they were saying, “John is indeed the forerunner of the Christ.” Well before a word of the gospel was written, Jesus referred to John as Elijah.
Maybe, just maybe a camel hair coat and leather belt marked the beginning of a new day, a new season, the beginning of the end, that which the theologians call eschatological time.
John said, “I baptize with water.” Water is important. Water becomes an outward sign of an inward and spiritual change. John said, “Repent.” In other words, “Change your ways.” Turn from your sinful ways and follow God’s way.
John said, “I baptize with water, but the one who follows me will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” The way he said that you just knew that being baptized with the Holy Spirit was more important than just water.
Not only did a camel hair coat and leather belt mark a new day, the beginning of the end, it also marked the beginning of a new baptism. This baptism of John’s was new. There had been ritual baths and proselyte baptisms, but John’s baptism was different, it was a combination of what had been done in the past and yet more.(1) But the man in the camel hair coat and leather belt who eat locust and honey met Jesus in the river Jordan and baptism was changed forever.
After Jesus had risen from the grave and just before his ascension, Jesus told his disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit. They were not to do a thing until the power of the Holy Spirit was upon them. It was in Ephesus a few years later that Paul asked disciples of this same John if they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit.
That day in the Jordan, Jesus saw the heavens ripped open and the Holy Spirit descend like a dove on him. The text indicates that this vision was a vision of Jesus. It was something that only Jesus saw. According to Mark, this baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan was for the benefit of Jesus.
The question has been asked for centuries. “Why was Jesus baptized by John the Baptist.” After all the baptism of John was one of repentance. Why? Matthew in his telling of this story recognizes the paradox of Jesus being baptized. In Matthew’s telling, John the Baptist tells Jesus that it should be the other way around. It is Jesus who should baptize John. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus even gives a reason, but not so with Mark. Mark simply says, “Jesus was baptized by John.”
Mark doesn’t try to explain the why of Jesus’ baptism. That doesn’t appear to be important for Mark. Mark does make it clear that this baptism by John was unique.
Tony Campolo in his book, Let Me Tell You a Story, tells of a trip he made to the Dominican Republic. It reminds me of a trip I made to Ecuador. In the capital city of Quito, we were at 9,000 feet. During one trip we shipped pump part into the interior, into the Amazon jungle. A young man drove a truck through rough, unpaved mountain road. He had to climb over a mountain pass before he could descend into the jungle. The road was up and down.
While in the jungle, I had to ride in a jeep from the oil company base camp to a city in the middle of the jungle right next to the Amazon river. It was a rough ride, going up and down. But the Amazon river in Ecuador is much higher than the river when it enters the south Atlantic on the other side of South America.
As Campolo points out in his story, whether you are at 9,000 feet in the Andes mountains of Ecuador or at sea level in Brazil as the Amazon dumps into the ocean, there are ups and downs. But at 9,000 feet in the mountains the downs are still much higher than the ups near sea level.
Campolo summed it up this way. “All of this to say that in the Spirit you will still have down times. But personally, I would not trade the down times I have, now that I have been raised up by the Spirit, for the up times I had before the Spirit flowed into my life.”(2)
This story about the baptism of Jesus is not so much about water, or “why Jesus,” as it is about the Holy Spirit. John said, “I baptize with water, but the one who follows me baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
Martin Luther told his people to “remember your baptism.” For those of us who were baptized as infants that is impossible, if by that we mean remember the event. For Luther and for us it is not the remembering the event that is important.
What is important is to remember that with water we were marked as God’s very own. What is important is to remember that the water is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. What is important to remember is the water reminds us that with the water comes the gift of the Holy Spirit.
1. Richard Donovan, SermonWriter for Baptism B (Jan12) Mark 1:4-11.
2. Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story, Word Publishing, 2000, 50-51.