Thursday, January 01, 2015

Mk 1:1-13

To read Mark with some attempts at reading him afresh is good.  He will be done with his story before you know it, and there are many things a cursory reading might miss.  For example, his quotation gets critical attention, for essentially not having our footnote style.  If "Isaiah the prophet" is a scroll, containing all the prophets, then Malachi will be on that scroll.  Or perhaps he wanted to highlight verse 3 by direct mention of the source, and the other, Malachi quote, being from a "Minor Prophet," uncited for reasons of space.

But more important things than that are in this passage.  Let's not read church history into this baptism of John's, or even something current into the word "baptism," for that matter.  When the readers read "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" they were not compelled, as we tend to, think of ceremonies that forgive people.  The phrase is completely capable of being heard as "a complete immersion in a change of heart, looking to forgiveness of sins."  One hint of this is that the text says that John was "preaching" something, which emphasizes the content.  The common presupposition that the baptized were doing an act to get a result: that's reading into it.  Especially when the Lord comes and is baptized! We should realize that the Lord didn't come to a ceremony to get forgiveness of sins; but well might He attend and participate among those immersed in repentance, having a change of heart, regarding the forgiveness of sins.  No need to look for tit-for-tat magical ceremonies here.

Why then the confession of sin?  If you're dealing with forgiveness of sins, it will be no avail to not agree that they are there.  Admitting one's sins publicly is so foreign to the "modern world" that we don't even have a day in America for dealing with our sins, speaking socially.  We have days of sad remembrance, of wars fought, and other sad days for famous people's deaths, but isn't the closest thing in America something around Christmas time, "you better watch out ..." because of "Santa," or some kind of New Year's resolution tradition?  At least resolutions imply changes from the previous.  Nothing like the days of sackcloth and ashes in Nineveh, or the confessing of sins by those there in our text.

John however (John the Baptist) is making points from the details of the circumstance: now there's water, but the mightier One who is coming will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit."  One of the reasons this remark is so hugely impactful is precisely because the contrast he is making between what water can do and what God will be doing.  It is not "modalism" to identify "the Holy Spirit" as God.  Someone is coming who will be utilizing, employing someone ... God! (whom John characteristically named in the standard deferential Jewish way, by the way, not "directly," but with more impact!).  This mightier One will employ the Holy God in his ministry, just as the Baptist used water!  He will very-much-so immerse you with Him.  Fire emphasizes the holiness being present.  Water is quite weak, compared to fire.

Mark characteristically ends this section with a note of urgency and drama.  The Lord didn't come to hang with, and relax with.  The most serious of serious work was being done.

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