Each of the gospel writers introduces Jesus in a different way. St John, for example, begins at the beginning of time, with the word, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John introduces Jesus as the word of God made flesh.
Luke, however, introduces Jesus as a baby. It is from Luke’s gospel that we get the most intimate and human picture of Jesus. Jesus is born in a stable and worshipped first by the shepherds. Away in the heavens the angels were singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all on earth.” But Jesus is introduced to us as a baby in a stable, wrapped in cloth.
Matthew’s gospel, which I hope you read last Sunday, at Epiphany, has no shepherds or angels, instead the wise men from the east introduce Jesus through the gifts they bring – gold for the Prince of Peace, Frankincense for the Son of the Most High God, and Myrrh for the one who will give his life for his friends.
Today we hear how St Mark introduces Jesus to his readers. Mark does not mention Jesus’ birth at all, no angels, no shepherds, no inn-keepers and no wise men. St Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus by John. This is how Mark establishes the identity and authority of Jesus of Nazareth.
St Mark tells of an event, a baptism in the river Jordan, where along with people from all over Judea and Jerusalem, Jesus was baptised. One person among many. But them something happened which made this baptism unlike any other baptism. Jesus had a vision. The Greek words translate literally, As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens in the process of being ripped apart. Something awe inspiring was happening, terrifying almost, as when Mark reports later that the veil of the temple was ripped apart from top to bottom, when Jesus died. What has been sealed up is now torn open – The prophet Isaiah prayed “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Well now Isaiah’s prayers have been answered.
The second part of the vision is the Holy Spirit – coming like a dove to settle on Jesus. We can understand the Greek to mean that the Holy Spirit took the form of a dove, or that it moved, fluttered and settled in the same way a dove does. It reminds us of the Creation, when the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters. In the translation we heard today, a wind from God swept over the waters. Here again we are reminded of the heavens being ripped apart by a mighty wind – the voice of the Lord which breaks the cedars of Lebanon and whirls the dust-storms of the desert of Kadesh – it is the wind of the spirit which came rushing on the disciples at Pentecost, but which also brooded over the waters when the world began and came to Jesus like a dove descending.
The third part of the vision is the Voice – the Word of God which calls all things into existence. At the beginning of time, the Word said, Let there be light. And there was light and God saw that the light was good. Now in Mark’s gospel the Word says, You are my Son, the beloved – and God saw that this was good and said, With you I am well pleased.”
In Mark’s gospel, unlike Matthew and John’s account, both the vision and the voice are for Jesus alone. Nothing in the text suggests that anybody else noticed anything. The reader is let into the secret, but Mark’s unfolding story is what reveals the identity of Jesus to the world. At the end of the Gospel, the centurion who saw the way Jesus died on the cross will confess publicly what we are told privately: Truly, Jesus is the Son of God!”
Now most of us here have been baptised. We have been splashed with water or immersed, either when a baby, or as an adult; and the world has continued as before. A bit like the Millennium really, (remember that?) there are still twenty four hours in a day and seven days in a week, and so forth. Nothing different really, just as Jesus’ baptism was no different from the baptisms of all the people from Jerusalem, we might think.
But there is a difference. Just as the baptism of Jesus establishes for him his identity, just as his baptism affirms who he is – in the same way, our baptism establishes who we are. Jesus is who God says he is. So also we are who God says we are. At our baptism we are given a Christian name, and we claim for ourselves our identity as sons and daughters of God, just as we are marked with the sign of the cross to show that we belong to Christ for ever.
And so our story, like Mark’s gospel story of Jesus goes on. By listening to what Jesus says and watching what he does, others come to know who he is. And when others listen to what we say, and see what we do, they will come to know who we are.
I want people to know that we are followers of Christ, that we are who he is, children of God. Let us pray that we may live lives true to who we are.