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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, January 9, 2021  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  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.” (NRSV)

Although we (rightly) tend to focus on Jesus’ baptism and God’s proclamation that Jesus is “my Son, the beloved,” this passage is also overflowing with references and allusions to the Old Testament prophets, many of which help amplify exactly what this moment means. John the Baptist’s wardrobe may sound eccentric, but it is remarkably similar to Elijah’s (2 Kings 1:8), whose reappearance was believed to be a sign of the beginning of a new age. Same goes for the setting of the wilderness (Isaiah 41), John’s calls to repent (Jeremiah 31, Joel 2), and the idea of being made new by water (Ezekiel 36).

However, no phrase captures the importance of this moment more than John’s proclamation that “I have baptized you with water; but [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” The arrival of God’s spirit was a theme throughout several Old Testament texts—most notably in Ezekiel 36:27 and Joel 2:28–29—that marked the beginning of the final era in God’s relationship with humanity. This would be a time of great challenge but also a time of restoration and renewal in which God’s spirit would come to dwell in every heart.

Jesus’ baptism, then, wasn’t just the beginning of his public ministry. It was a signal that our collective relationship with God has been changed by Jesus’ presence. The prophets’ long-anticipated new era for Israel was here—not only for Israel, but for the entire world. As Joel once prophesied, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old will dream dreams and your young shall see visions.” On this Baptism of our Lord Sunday, let us give thanks for all of the hope that Jesus’ baptism—and our baptism—brings!

Loving God, on this Sunday when we remember our baptisms and are challenged to keep them holy, remind us that we have been gifted by your spirit and empowered to dream new dreams. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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