I agree with Charlie Brown
There are days when I could use a document like this.
Having grown up in church and spent my adult life in ministry, I have seen my share of unique baptisms. On one occasion, the baptistery was so hot we were dumping in pitchers of ice in between the worship services in an attempt to cool it down. On another occasion, the heater was turned off too early and the water cooled down to the point where it took your breath away when you stepped into the water. On still another occasion, I baptized three gentlemen in Lake Sammamish on a rather brisk Sunday afternoon in November. I told them, “I only have to go in up to my waist. You have to go in all the way.”
But in all my experience, I have never seen a baptism quite like the one described in the opening verses of Mark’s gospel. When Jesus was baptized by his cousin John, the heavens were torn open, the Holy Spirit descended, and God voiced his approval.
Mark opens his book by declaring that Jesus is the Son of God (1:1). This fact is attested by Scripture (2-3), proclaimed by John the Baptizer (4-8), and confirmed by God the Father (9-11). So begins the “good news,” the “gospel,” the truth that Jesus came to earth to die for our sins.
The gospel begins with a forerunner (2-8). Neither Jesus nor John appeared out of the blue. They didn’t step out of the pages of history and make a cameo appearance in the drama of redemption. John quotes the prophets Isaiah and Micah to demonstrate that they came according to God’s plan (2-3).
John understood his role to be one of a road grader. He was to smooth out the path for the coming of the Messiah (4-8). He gave a very simple, but straightforward message: “Separate yourself from a sinful culture, repent, and live a life focused on God.” John knew that he was the warm-up act, not the main event. In his humility, he stated that he wasn’t even worthy to lace the sandals of the coming Messiah.
John painted a contrast between the baptism he practiced and the one that the Messiah would usher in. John focused on seekers while Jesus would target believers. John baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism was an outward sign while Jesus’ revealed an inward reality. John’s baptism was ceremonial and temporary while Jesus’ would be supernatural and permanent. John’s baptism prepared people to receive the Messiah while the baptism of the Holy Spirit resulted in power for living.
Not only does the gospel begin with a forerunner (2-8), it also begins with a baptism (9-11). The question naturally arises, if Jesus didn’t sin, why was he baptized? His baptism was an act of obedience, showing he was in agreement with God’s plan. It was an act of identification, revealing solidarity with the nation of Israel. It was an act of dedication, showing commitment to his messianic task.
Three things made Jesus’ baptism unique from all other baptisms. The heavens were opened. Literally, it says the heavens were torn apart. It demonstrated that God was breaking into human existence. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. God voiced his approval of Jesus. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were visibly and audibly present at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
If these events mark the beginning of the gospel, how should we practice them today? We can start by applying John’s message by separating from sin, repenting, and living a life focused on God. We should practice believer’s baptism by obeying God’s command, identifying with Christ and his people, and dedicating ourselves to serving Jesus. We can follow John’s example by smoothing out the path for others to come to Christ. We should hear the gospel, live the gospel, and share the gospel.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 21, 2014. It is part of an ongoing series in The Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
If you, like me, want a better understanding of ISIS–the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, read the New York Times article, “How ISIS works.” It provides a helpful overview of the organization, territory, financing, governing, military, and weapons.
Do you lean more towards a scarcity mentality or an abundance mentality? Truth be told, I’ve encountered more people in the church who seem to embrace a scarcity mentality. “There is only so much money, people, time, resources to go around. Once you spend it, it’s gone. We can’t do it because we just don’t have enough.” is the refrain sung by far too many.
I was challenged and encouraged by the sentiment expressed by Chris Willard & Jim Sheppard in their book, Contagious Generosity: Creating a culture of giving in your church.
When a church operates out of the belief that there are limited resources for the work of ministry, it operates at less than full capacity. It places limits on the dreams that are pursued. It restricts the ability of its people to think beyond what is currently believed to be possible. It minimizes ministry potential to the limits of available resources. This creates a “scarcity” mindset, rooted in a fear that one day we will run out of resources. Worse, when church leaders operate with this sense of scarcity, their behavior trickles down to the person in the pew. During recent times of recession, we heard many leaders talk about holding on to what they had. Sadly, we saw some congregations embrace their financial fears and stifle their faith. Instead of asking what God might do in the midst of challenging economic circumstances and dreaming up new opportunities to proclaim Christ, they limited their dreams by cutting budgets and scaling back ministry–and limited their potential for spiritual growth and community impact.
Churches that practice a contagious level of generosity don’t see or acknowledge limits. They begin with a foundational belief that we serve an all-powerful, all-knowing, and always-present God who creates resources when they don’t exist. Contagious giving is rooted in faith, and it remains open to the impossible. The paramount question is not, What do we need to cut to survive? It is, What is God calling us to do next? If the God we serve is not bound by our human limitations, then he certainly isn’t limited by our cash flow–or lack of it! We must remember that when God calls us to do something, he has already equipped us with the resources we need to do what he asks of us–even if that means depending on him and growing in our faith.
Scarcity or abundance is the difference between living in fear and living by faith. It goes back to the core of our theological convictions–what kind of a God do we believe in?
Last night began a new year for Awana at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. We had over 80 students and teens involved in our Wednesday night ministries. We even began a new group – Puggles for 2-3 year olds. The place was hopping with energy, fun, learning, and growth. It was a great start. We’re encouraged and excited about what God has in store for us this year.