“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” From the Gospel according to St. Mark 1:1.
If you ever watch any detective shows at home, you may have heard this question and answer.
Question: “Where should I start?” Answer: “Why don’t you start at the beginning?”
The Gospel according to St. Mark starts at the beginning. It is reminiscent of the opening words of the Book of Genesis”
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Remember how I characterized the Bible last week? It’s a love story between God and his people.
The first story of the Bible is about how he created us. He created us in his image. What does that mean? Do I look like God? No, but it’s not about looks, or your gender for that matter.
It’s about who you are in your very soul. Each of us were created in the image of our parents, too, whether we are male or female, but we don’t look exactly like them.
Some lady in England recently said she didn’t want to call God “Father” because as a female she didn’t think she was looked like the image of a male God. That is such limited thinking.
The word ‘image’ may be confusing to some in this instance. It does not mean an exact copy. It means a likeness in ways other than just appearance. It means we are conscious, we can think, and we can act.
That was the beginning of the Old Covenant or relationship between God and mankind.
The quote from the Gospel of St. Mark is the beginning of a New Covenant, a new relationship. The word “Gospel” is also translated a “Good News” in some other versions of the Bible.
It is Good News, because it means the kingdom of God has come to us. As I said last week, in the Old Testament, people were looking for God, and in the New Testament, God has come looking for us.
Mark begins by quoting one of the great prophets who we find in the Old Testament, Isaiah.
Isaiah wrote this: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
- who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
- `Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”
- Isaiah prophesied about John the Baptist, or the Baptizer, as Mark wrote.
- We regard Baptism as a Sacrament of the Church. A sacrament is a visible sign of the invisible Grace of God, given to us by Jesus.
- Baptism is the Sacrament of new birth. It marks the regeneration of the person to new life in the Body of Christ.
- Justin Martyr, a Doctor of the Church, wrote that new converts were (quote) “brought by us where there is water and regenerated in the same way that we were regenerated,” he adds, “For Christ also said, ‘Unless you are born again, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven'” (First Apology 61).
Justin is referring to the words of Jesus in the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 3; “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Being born of water refers to the water of Baptism.
For a large segment of Christians, baptism is not effective unless is involves the total immersion of the body of the convert.
However, their pastors are familiar with an instruction book called the Didache, which means “the Teaching” of the Twelve Apostles, from about 100 AD.
It says “Concerning baptism, baptize in this way: After you have first said all these things [i.e., the teachings in the first part of the manual, about 2 typewritten pages], baptize into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in flowing water. If you don’t have flowing water, baptize in other water, and if you cannot use cold, use warm. If you don’t have either, pour water three times onto the head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism is spiritual cleansing, and the regeneration to new life in Christ.
We do it because Jesus commanded the Apostles to do it in what we call the Great Commission, in the last paragraph of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, in chapter 28:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Baptism is necessary for salvation, but would we tell someone that if they died without being baptized, would they be condemned by God? I would hesitate to say that to someone. It makes God out to be a terrible judge who does not love his people very much. I think the Father would judge each person on their merits at that point.
But I am not the authority on what the Father would or would not do. For that I have to look to Holy Scripture. There is a tendency today to twist the plain words of the Bible into something that fits in with a persons feelings.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
That sounds fairly plain to me. I also know that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”
I cannot deny what Jesus said, and he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (St. John 3)
So with this in mind, we baptize those who come to us seeking to be joined to the Body of Christ.
In our Baptismal service, we pray this prayer in thanksgiving for this new life
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works. Amen.
Did you notice the words, “[you] have raised them to the new life of grace?”
It is indeed new life, and it is a changed life, from one dominated by sin and death, to one of the new life of grace.
We here who have been baptized into new life celebrate that new life every day, and especially on the Lord’s Day, and we are so thankful that we want to share that with everyone we meet. For many of us it has been many years, and maybe the fire is dim, but the spark remains. Don’t let your light go out, but let it shine wherever you are, and with whomever you meet, so they too can know the new life of grace through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.