“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.” (Mark 1:4 -5)
Being curious about this, I did a little bit of research. Baptism, that is the immersing one’s self in water, was part of the Jewish life. And was not “once and done” but daily or twice daily as a ritual of purification. This resonates with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples – not a washing of dirty dust laden traveling feet but purifying them for what was to come. Peter said if that was the case, wash all of him! But I am straying from the point I want to make. Going out and immersing one’s self in the river would have been seen as part of cleansing one’s self along with confession.
“Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Verse 6)
I have wondered at times why this sentence and statement was included. But in doing my very brief research I discovered that Jewish religious sects that lived more humbly and simply, as John did, were also very big on ritual bathing. It is background and explanation for why John exhorted those who come to him to cleanse themselves.
“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.” (Verses 7- 8)
For most Christians, baptism only happens once and is the outward sign of inner transformation and commitment to a new way of living. So too the baptism of the Spirit; once and that sets you up for life. The reality is that the inner transformation, re-commitment, and renewal can happen several times over. Sometimes because you are being led deeper into faith; sometimes when there has been a break or lapse in faith a person may want to signify a coming back to faith. There is no one linear or predictable line/journey of faith. The ebbs and flows just happen. I remember one time I tried to do a mini-retreat that fall flat, and I obsessed for several days what I did wrong. Other times epiphany moments came without warning and was caught by surprise. To me, the practice of ritual “washing” when needed makes a good deal of sense.
“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.” (Verses 9 – 11)
One of the gospel accounts (not this one from Mark apparently) has John stating that Jesus should baptize him and not the other way around. But Jesus had his own purpose and reason. One could try to discern the reason or reasons by pausing and asking the Holy Spirit to inform your thinking. Do so, if it seems right to you.
The Divine was evidently pleased that Jesus placed himself before John to be ritually cleansed. After this baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness and was tempted by the Evil One. Perhaps this baptism fortified Jesus to undergo this testing – not that Jesus would have failed the tests. But it tells young (and old) Christians that readying one’s self for difficult times is a wise and Godly thing to do.
We are within the very beginning part of the New Year. It might be a good time to renew your commitment to the Lord God, asking for the blessing & baptism of the Holy Spirit, and maybe even “wash away” any bits of “grime” that the old year has left on you, beloved reader. Shalom & Selah!