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The Baptism of the Lord, Year B

Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

Now, the question we want to ask here is: Who is John speaking about? Now most of us when we read the Gospel, we think, “Oh, he’s talking about Christ.” And of course, that’s true. But if you want to ask yourself also: Who would his first Jewish listeners have thought he was speaking about? Who were the people being baptized by John in the Jordan have thought or assumed he was speaking about?

And again, most of us, if we read the Gospels frequently, our default answer to that question would be, “Well, John is talking about the Messiah. He’s the forerunner of the Messiah.” And that, of course, is also true. But if you look at his words in context, although that of course, both of those are true—he’s speaking about the Messiah and he’s speaking about Jesus—in a first century Jewish context, you can make the case that that’s not the primary meaning of his words, for two reasons. First, he doesn’t say the word “Messiah.” You’ll notice he doesn’t say, “After me is coming ho christos”...the Anointed One, the Messiah. He just says, “one mightier than I,” who I’m not even worthy to untie His sandals. He is coming after me.

But a case can be made that in context of John’s ministry, that John is actually preparing people not just for the coming of Jesus, not just for the coming of the Messiah, but for the coming of God Himself. And the way you can see this is by looking at the Old Testament background of the Baptism. So if you back up to Mark 1:1-2, Mark begins his instruction of John the Baptist by saying:

“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
who shall prepare thy way;
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight—”

Now that’s an allusion to Isaiah chapter 40—very famous prophecy of a new Exodus in the book of Isaiah 40. What’s fascinating, though, if you go back and you read all of Isaiah 40 in context, you’ll see Isaiah 40 doesn’t say anything about the coming of the Messiah. What it talks about is the coming of God. So I’ll just read two verses from that to show you. It’s Isaiah 40:3:

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings..

Literally, “Good News”...

...lift it up, fear not,
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes...

So yes, John the Baptist is preparing the way in the wilderness. Yes, he’s preparing for the coming of one after him. But in context, if he’s the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, if he’s the figure in Isaiah 40:3…if you read the entire prophecy in context, the figure that that voice prepares for is nowhere said to be the Messiah but is said to be the Lord, the Lord God coming in person to Jerusalem—the Good News of the advent of God.

So a number of scholars have actually pointed to this verse as one of the first implications, one of the first pieces of evidence in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus is being depicted from the very beginning as not just the Messiah, not just the Christ, not just the Savior, but God coming in person...the one God of Israel who has come to inaugurate this new exodus that John the Baptist is the herald of.

SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

However, I’d like to home in on the opening section of this passage and draw some of its implications out, because it’s one of those texts in the New Testament that is easily misunderstood and needs to be situated in context...and actually, it has some real implications not just for the Baptism of Jesus, but the sacrament that flows out of His Baptism in our Baptism, and whether it’s necessary for salvation or not.

So in Acts 10:34, that opening verse, Peter here says:

Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Now I have seen this verse used as a kind of biblical foundation for a kind of universalism. In other words, some people will point to this text and say, “See, look, all religions are equal really before God. God has no partiality to the Jewish people, for example, or to the Christian Church, for example. But everyone in any nation who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” So in other words, this can be used for a kind of universalism or relativism—or it’s sometimes called indifferentism, where you have an idea that all religions are basically created equal and none of them has any absolute claim to the fullness of truth and to an exclusive way of salvation.

Now, the only way to interpret that verse in that way is to rip it completely out of its context. So I want to look at what it actually means in context. So if you back up—you won’t see this in the lectionary for this week—but if you back up a few verses in Acts 10, the context of Peter’s statement here is the famous vision of the sheet that comes down from Heaven and the revelation to Peter by God, through the vision, that He has accepted the Gentile people...that salvation isn’t just for the Israelites, but that it’s for the Gentiles as well.

So if you might remember in Acts 10, a centurion—a Roman centurion, a pagan, Cornelius—has a dream where he’s told to seek out Simon Peter, who is one of the leaders of Jesus’ disciples. So while Simon Peter is there in Caesarea, he has a dream in which a sheet descends from Heaven with all kinds of animals on it, including some animals that were unclean—so for example, lizards were considered unclean. I don’t know why you would want to eat one anyway, but they were considered unclean so they were forbidden to the Jews.

And in the vision, God says to Peter, “Rise, kill, and eat.” And Peter says, “Well, I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” And then the vision comes again. It happens three times. God tells him, “Rise, kill, and eat.” And the explanation of the vision is given to Peter, and what God says here is in chapter 10:15:

“What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”

And then the sheet is taken up into Heaven. Now what does that mean? What it means is this...that when Jesus goes to the cross, He doesn’t just die for the sins of Israel. He dies for the sins of all humanity. In other words, through His passion and death, all of humanity is cleansed of sin. All of humanity is offered the gift of redemption. And so the vision of the sheet is given to Peter to show him that there’s no longer clean and unclean, there’s no longer a division between Israel and the Gentiles...but God has, so to speak, cleansed the Gentile peoples through the death of Jesus, and therefore, the door is now open for them to come into communion with the beginning of the new Israel, which is represented by Peter and the twelve apostles. And of course that’s going to happen primarily through them beginning to baptize Gentiles.

Up to this point, Peter has baptized thousands of people, but if you look at Acts, it’s very clear—these are all Jews who were going to Jerusalem for Pentecost. He hasn’t...they haven’t begun baptizing non-Jews. And so in Acts 10, God says, “No, the Gentiles are going to be included.” So it’s in that context that Peter says, in the wake of his vision:

Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

So who’s he talking about there? Well, he’s talking about Cornelius, who has come to faith in God and who is actually praying to not just any God, but the God of Israel, and to whom a vision from an angel comes and appears to him and says:

“Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God…go and seek out Simon Peter.”

Now as all of this is happening, once Peter finishes his speech, if you skip down to verse 44 in Acts, it says:

While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.

...so the centurion, Cornelius there, and the others with him…

And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

So the context here—again, the lectionary doesn’t give you everything—but the context here isn’t just Peter pointing back to the Baptism of Jesus and talking about how that was the beginning of His public ministry. It’s also the moment when we have the first Baptism of the first Gentiles. Cornelius and his companions are baptized after God pours out the Holy Spirit upon them, and they begin to speak in tongues. They receive...in other words, they receive the same gift of the Holy Spirit—these pagans—that Peter and the apostles received at Pentecost.

Now I say they’re pagans, but they’re pagans by nationality but not by belief, because it tells us that Cornelius had already begun praying to the God of Israel—that the God of Israel heard his prayers. So there’s some context there too for you. So when Peter says:

...I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

What he’s not saying there is that if the Egyptian person worships their Egyptian gods, and the Greek person worships the Greek gods, and the Roman person worships the Roman gods, that they’re acceptable to God and they’re okay—that as long as they do that and they do what is right, they’re acceptable to Him. No, what he’s saying is, when a Gentile like Cornelius fears the God of Israel and prays to Him and does what is right, He is acceptable to God. And that’s why the vision came to Cornelius, to come to Peter and seek what? The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, which comes to him, above all, in Baptism.

So far from being a kind of text that can be used here to endorse a lax universalism that doesn’t have any vision of a Christian mission because everyone’s going to be saved through their different religions, Peter’s words here is saying, “We can’t keep the Gentiles from receiving Baptism, because those of them who fear God and who live according to the commandments, are acceptable to God. And they’re so acceptable that we have to bring the Good News of peace by Jesus Christ and offer to them the gift of Baptism, which will cleanse them from sin in the name of Jesus Christ.”

So, this is going to be the beginning of the Gentile mission. It’s very important. A lot of people think that Paul was the one who came up with the idea of baptizing the Gentiles and the door being open to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles being saved, and the Good News going to the Gentiles—not according to Acts. According to Acts, in Acts 9, Paul is still persecuting the Church. In Acts 10, it’s Peter who first opens the door of salvation, through Baptism, to the Gentiles.

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Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


***Subscribe or Login for Full Access.***

GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

Now, the question we want to ask here is: Who is John speaking about? Now most of us when we read the Gospel, we think, “Oh, he’s talking about Christ.” And of course, that’s true. But if you want to ask yourself also: Who would his first Jewish listeners have thought he was speaking about? Who were the people being baptized by John in the Jordan have thought or assumed he was speaking about?

And again, most of us, if we read the Gospels frequently, our default answer to that question would be, “Well, John is talking about the Messiah. He’s the forerunner of the Messiah.” And that, of course, is also true. But if you look at his words in context, although that of course, both of those are true—he’s speaking about the Messiah and he’s speaking about Jesus—in a first century Jewish context, you can make the case that that’s not the primary meaning of his words, for two reasons. First, he doesn’t say the word “Messiah.” You’ll notice he doesn’t say, “After me is coming ho christos”...the Anointed One, the Messiah. He just says, “one mightier than I,” who I’m not even worthy to untie His sandals. He is coming after me.

But a case can be made that in context of John’s ministry, that John is actually preparing people not just for the coming of Jesus, not just for the coming of the Messiah, but for the coming of God Himself. And the way you can see this is by looking at the Old Testament background of the Baptism. So if you back up to Mark 1:1-2, Mark begins his instruction of John the Baptist by saying:

“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
who shall prepare thy way;
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight—”

Now that’s an allusion to Isaiah chapter 40—very famous prophecy of a new Exodus in the book of Isaiah 40. What’s fascinating, though, if you go back and you read all of Isaiah 40 in context, you’ll see Isaiah 40 doesn’t say anything about the coming of the Messiah. What it talks about is the coming of God. So I’ll just read two verses from that to show you. It’s Isaiah 40:3:

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings..

Literally, “Good News”...

...lift it up, fear not,
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes...

So yes, John the Baptist is preparing the way in the wilderness. Yes, he’s preparing for the coming of one after him. But in context, if he’s the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, if he’s the figure in Isaiah 40:3…if you read the entire prophecy in context, the figure that that voice prepares for is nowhere said to be the Messiah but is said to be the Lord, the Lord God coming in person to Jerusalem—the Good News of the advent of God.

So a number of scholars have actually pointed to this verse as one of the first implications, one of the first pieces of evidence in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus is being depicted from the very beginning as not just the Messiah, not just the Christ, not just the Savior, but God coming in person...the one God of Israel who has come to inaugurate this new exodus that John the Baptist is the herald of.

SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

However, I’d like to home in on the opening section of this passage and draw some of its implications out, because it’s one of those texts in the New Testament that is easily misunderstood and needs to be situated in context...and actually, it has some real implications not just for the Baptism of Jesus, but the sacrament that flows out of His Baptism in our Baptism, and whether it’s necessary for salvation or not.

So in Acts 10:34, that opening verse, Peter here says:

Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Now I have seen this verse used as a kind of biblical foundation for a kind of universalism. In other words, some people will point to this text and say, “See, look, all religions are equal really before God. God has no partiality to the Jewish people, for example, or to the Christian Church, for example. But everyone in any nation who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” So in other words, this can be used for a kind of universalism or relativism—or it’s sometimes called indifferentism, where you have an idea that all religions are basically created equal and none of them has any absolute claim to the fullness of truth and to an exclusive way of salvation.

Now, the only way to interpret that verse in that way is to rip it completely out of its context. So I want to look at what it actually means in context. So if you back up—you won’t see this in the lectionary for this week—but if you back up a few verses in Acts 10, the context of Peter’s statement here is the famous vision of the sheet that comes down from Heaven and the revelation to Peter by God, through the vision, that He has accepted the Gentile people...that salvation isn’t just for the Israelites, but that it’s for the Gentiles as well.

So if you might remember in Acts 10, a centurion—a Roman centurion, a pagan, Cornelius—has a dream where he’s told to seek out Simon Peter, who is one of the leaders of Jesus’ disciples. So while Simon Peter is there in Caesarea, he has a dream in which a sheet descends from Heaven with all kinds of animals on it, including some animals that were unclean—so for example, lizards were considered unclean. I don’t know why you would want to eat one anyway, but they were considered unclean so they were forbidden to the Jews.

And in the vision, God says to Peter, “Rise, kill, and eat.” And Peter says, “Well, I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” And then the vision comes again. It happens three times. God tells him, “Rise, kill, and eat.” And the explanation of the vision is given to Peter, and what God says here is in chapter 10:15:

“What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”

And then the sheet is taken up into Heaven. Now what does that mean? What it means is this...that when Jesus goes to the cross, He doesn’t just die for the sins of Israel. He dies for the sins of all humanity. In other words, through His passion and death, all of humanity is cleansed of sin. All of humanity is offered the gift of redemption. And so the vision of the sheet is given to Peter to show him that there’s no longer clean and unclean, there’s no longer a division between Israel and the Gentiles...but God has, so to speak, cleansed the Gentile peoples through the death of Jesus, and therefore, the door is now open for them to come into communion with the beginning of the new Israel, which is represented by Peter and the twelve apostles. And of course that’s going to happen primarily through them beginning to baptize Gentiles.

Up to this point, Peter has baptized thousands of people, but if you look at Acts, it’s very clear—these are all Jews who were going to Jerusalem for Pentecost. He hasn’t...they haven’t begun baptizing non-Jews. And so in Acts 10, God says, “No, the Gentiles are going to be included.” So it’s in that context that Peter says, in the wake of his vision:

Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

So who’s he talking about there? Well, he’s talking about Cornelius, who has come to faith in God and who is actually praying to not just any God, but the God of Israel, and to whom a vision from an angel comes and appears to him and says:

“Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God…go and seek out Simon Peter.”

Now as all of this is happening, once Peter finishes his speech, if you skip down to verse 44 in Acts, it says:

While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.

...so the centurion, Cornelius there, and the others with him…

And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

So the context here—again, the lectionary doesn’t give you everything—but the context here isn’t just Peter pointing back to the Baptism of Jesus and talking about how that was the beginning of His public ministry. It’s also the moment when we have the first Baptism of the first Gentiles. Cornelius and his companions are baptized after God pours out the Holy Spirit upon them, and they begin to speak in tongues. They receive...in other words, they receive the same gift of the Holy Spirit—these pagans—that Peter and the apostles received at Pentecost.

Now I say they’re pagans, but they’re pagans by nationality but not by belief, because it tells us that Cornelius had already begun praying to the God of Israel—that the God of Israel heard his prayers. So there’s some context there too for you. So when Peter says:

...I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

What he’s not saying there is that if the Egyptian person worships their Egyptian gods, and the Greek person worships the Greek gods, and the Roman person worships the Roman gods, that they’re acceptable to God and they’re okay—that as long as they do that and they do what is right, they’re acceptable to Him. No, what he’s saying is, when a Gentile like Cornelius fears the God of Israel and prays to Him and does what is right, He is acceptable to God. And that’s why the vision came to Cornelius, to come to Peter and seek what? The gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, which comes to him, above all, in Baptism.

So far from being a kind of text that can be used here to endorse a lax universalism that doesn’t have any vision of a Christian mission because everyone’s going to be saved through their different religions, Peter’s words here is saying, “We can’t keep the Gentiles from receiving Baptism, because those of them who fear God and who live according to the commandments, are acceptable to God. And they’re so acceptable that we have to bring the Good News of peace by Jesus Christ and offer to them the gift of Baptism, which will cleanse them from sin in the name of Jesus Christ.”

So, this is going to be the beginning of the Gentile mission. It’s very important. A lot of people think that Paul was the one who came up with the idea of baptizing the Gentiles and the door being open to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles being saved, and the Good News going to the Gentiles—not according to Acts. According to Acts, in Acts 9, Paul is still persecuting the Church. In Acts 10, it’s Peter who first opens the door of salvation, through Baptism, to the Gentiles.

For full access subscribe here >

 



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