Download or listen to The Baptism of Our Lord: “Identity” (Mark 1:4-11)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the very beginning of the Gospel according to Mark, you—the hearer, the reader—you know exactly who Jesus is. From the very first verse: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). And here, at His Baptism: “Immediately, while He was coming up from the water, He saw the heavens torn open and the Spirit as a dove coming down upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens: ‘You are My Son, the Beloved, with You I am well-pleased’” (1:10-11). You, hearing this, know exactly who Jesus is. The fascinating thing is that no one else in the Gospel seems to know. The disciples never call Jesus the Son of God in Mark. The Jewish religious leaders certainly don’t call Him the Son of God. The only ones who do are God the Father, the demons (twice), and a Roman soldier. No one else sees or recognizes. But Mark wants you to know, without a doubt, who Jesus is. He doesn’t want you to miss this. Though the people of Nazareth, among whom Jesus lived for 30 years, don’t seem to know; though no one at the Jordan looks at Jesus and says, “There goes the Son of God”; though it seems that the only ones on earth who know are the demons and the Roman soldier, Mark wants you to know that Jesus is the Son of God. Right here, in the Jordan River, being baptized among a bunch of sinners, looking no different, just another man: this is the Son of God. The heavens are torn open and the Father says it. And then Mark hurries you through until you get to the point of the Son of God being on the earth: the cross. And there, when the Son of God has finished His work, the Temple curtain is torn open, from top to bottom, and in the very next verse, the Roman soldier echoes God the Father: “Truly this was the Son of God!”
You think God is hiding in heaven, separated from you by the sky? No, the heavens are torn open, and God is on earth. You think God is hiding in the Temple, hidden from you by the curtain? No, the curtain is torn open and God’s sacrifice is exposed to the world. There are no more barriers, no more walls, no more separation between God and man, because God has become a man. But that’s not necessarily as good as it sounds. Because if God is walking around on earth, if God is standing right next to me in a body like mine, that might mean that I have to confess my sin. That might mean that I have to give up my sin. I might have to stop living my life the same way I lived it before and never go back. I might have to look at other people differently. I might not be able to say what I want, think what I want, do what I want with other people. Not because they were made in God’s Image; we messed that up a long time ago. But because God has become one of them. We don’t have to ask what if God was one of us; He is one of us. We know what would happen, what He would do. The Gospel tells us. He’s come to take our sin away. That means you can’t have it anymore. You can’t do it anymore. You can’t keep it. He’s come to kill it; in fact, to kill you.
When I was in high school, I used to draw the logos of my favorite sports teams, and the names of bands I liked, on my notebooks and binders. It’s easier now, because we have things like Facebook. Now it’s much easier to construct any identity you want. You can present whatever face you want to people and to the world. You pick what you like and don’t like. You make your page the way you want, and you get to invent your own identity for your own self. But we do this in other ways, too. I don’t think there’s anything sadder than a man who has so wrapped up his identity in his job, and when he retires, he’s got nothing left to live for. I don’t think there’s anything sadder than a husband or wife who has so wrapped up his or her identity in the other person, that when the spouse dies, the living one has nothing left to live for. I don’t think there’s anything sadder than parents who have so wrapped up their identity in their children, so that when their children leave, their marriage falls apart because they have nothing to live for. We’re not even talking about the evil things with which we construct our identities; these are all good things. But good things will kill you if you make idols of them. Jesus has come to kill your old self; what you’ve invented for yourself. The identity you’ve constructed and imagined and presented to the world as “who you are.” He’s come to kill that. Either He kills it, or it will kill you.
But He’s not going to leave you dead. Because Jesus is not an idol. He’s the Son of God. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? You were buried with Him by baptism into death. Buried. He comes down and buries Himself in the midst of your sin, buried by your sin, and now, after His resurrection, you’re buried with Him in His death. But just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so He raises you to live a new life. And if you have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, you will certainly be united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection. You know who Jesus is; this is who you are. Your old identity, your likes and dislikes, the front you’ve constructed for other people: none of that will last. It will all be torn from you, little by little, until it ends in death. But this identity is not from you; you didn’t make it, you didn’t earn it, you didn’t create it. God gave it to you in His Son. And that’s good news. It means your identity is certain; it cannot be stolen, or broken, or lost. It’s Jesus’ promise, Jesus’ Name, Jesus’ identity. There’s a reason why the catechism says that when you get up in the morning, make the sign of the Cross. It’s not optional. I don’t mean the making of the sign of the Cross, but recognizing who you are, to whom you belong. Baptism is everything, from beginning to end. It’s everything, because it’s Jesus, and Jesus is everything.
This identity is as hidden as Jesus’ identity. No one can just look at you, and say, there’s a baptized child of God; just as no one looked at Jesus, and said, “There’s the Son of God.” But God sees it; God declares it. He says to those in His Son, to you: “You are My Son! You are My beloved one! With you I am well-pleased!” Not because of what you have done, your job, your family, your marriage, but because of Jesus. Because you’re joined to Him by baptism. And that changes everything. It changes how you see the world, how you see your job, your spouse, your children, and how you see yourself. You see other people as ones for whom Jesus died, whose sin is covered by Jesus’ blood. You see your brothers and sisters in Christ as baptized children of God, confessing the same sin, being given the same forgiveness, eating and drinking the same Body and Blood. You are who you are because Jesus is who He is. And that is true now and forever; death no longer rules over Jesus in His Body, so death no longer rules over you in yours. Your identity in Jesus is unbreakable and eternal.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/7/12