Loosing More than Sandal Straps
Rev. Kurt Lantz Baptism of Our Lord Mark 1:4-11
January 10, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people baptized and confessing your sins,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Then, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John” (v. 9) and the narrative of Mark’s Gospel is all Jesus from then on. It is right in line with what John was preaching and what he was baptizing. “He was preaching saying, ‘The One mightier than I is coming after me, of whom I am not worthy stooping down to loose the strap of His sandals” (v. 7). John was baptizing “in water, but [the one coming after] will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” (v. 8).
I’m sure that as Christmas gifts many people got upgrades. Perhaps you went from one I-phone to the next with enhanced features. I received a non-stick frying pan. We look for and desire what is bigger, better, newer and, if we are able, we make the upgrade. The transfer from John the Baptist to Jesus may have looked like an upgrade to some, but it was no simple trade-in. John was not just handing over his audience, his disciples, his office to the younger, hipper, more relevant guy who knew better than to dress in camel’s hair and a leather belt.
John was fulfilling his entire purpose and calling. This is what the angel prophesied he would do, before he was born: “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17). John had accomplished what his father Zechariah sang about at his birth: “you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77).
It is incorrect to regard Jesus as just the next step in a long line of prophetic upgrades. That is the teaching of Islam and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but not the teaching of the Bible. John is the last model of prophetic device and he gave way to something different, something that he was preparing the people for. He would gladly step back so that the people could have, not another one of him, but what they were promised to have all along. And so, already I have talked more about John the Baptist than the entire Gospel of Mark, for Mark wants to get to the point of it all rather quickly. He only mentions John at all in order to show us more clearly who Jesus is, that He is not just an upgrade.
“All the prophets prophesied until John” (Matthew 11:13), then their prophecies were fulfilled as “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John” (Mark 1:9). Jesus was not the next great preacher. He is the preached. He is the content of what John the Baptist was preaching and what preachers today still ought to be preaching. Jesus was not just another baptizer. Jesus is the baptism. We are baptized in order to have Him. And so John preached the Mightier One. He preached Christ. And John baptized by pouring water, but it is Jesus who pours the Holy Spirit.
There has never been any other upgrade. Preachers and baptizers today can still only do what John did. They cannot do what Jesus does. Today preachers are still to preach Christ and still to baptize with the water and Christ is still to be the One given in preaching and baptism. And that is just what you have, dear people baptized and confessing your sins. You have Jesus in Word and Sacrament given to you. You have the Mightier One who forgives sins through the Gospel as He is preached to you, and who pours out the Holy Spirit with water and the Word at every baptism.
There is no upgrade. John was not worthy to loose the strap of His sandals. Instead John preached a baptism of repentance for the loosing of sins. He preached of Jesus the one who does the loosing of the straps that bind your conscience; Jesus, the Mightier One who can loose the bonds of sin, guilt, and shame; Jesus who could not be held by the tightly wrapped burial cloths of death is the one who looses the chains of the grave to set His people free.
There is no upgrade. Jesus is not a new baptizer, giving you something different and better than John gave. John was the one pouring the water, but Jesus is the one who pours out His Spirit. He did so for those baptized by John and He does so for everyone baptized to this day. The water washing over those who came to be baptized in the Jordan did not even do a good job of removing the outward soil of a tiresome life. But the Spirit that Jesus pours out with the water cleanses the conscience (1 Peter 1:21). He is the one who creates a clean heart within me (Psalm 51:10). “He saved us... according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly” (Titus 3:5-6).
This is the incomparable Jesus. None who came before were of the same brand. They pointed to something unique and one of a kind. None who come after are improvements or can offer more effective options. Jesus is the one to whom all of the prophets have pointed. He is the one whom all preachers ought to be preaching. He is the only one who can accomplish what needs to be done for us.
It was obvious by what happened when Jesus, the Mightier One, did come. At first He looked no different than anyone else. As all the region of Judea and all of Jerusalem were going out to be baptized by John in the Jordan River, so Jesus came and was baptized in the Jordan by John. But then all heaven broke loose. “And immediately coming up from the water he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending into Him as a dove; and a voice came from the heavens; ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:10-11).
The heavens were not seen split open at the baptism of anyone else, but through Jesus Christ the heavens are opened to us because our baptism gives us Jesus. The Spirit did not come down as a dove at the baptism of anyone else, but because our baptism gives us Jesus He pours out the Spirit upon us. A voice from heaven never sounded forth at the baptism of anyone else, but because our baptism is Jesus we become the children of God in Him.
Not only do these manifestations reveal Jesus to be the unique Son of God, our only Saviour, they also testify to what we have in Him. This man, baptized by John, is God to whom heaven is open and opened to man. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were present as one God in three persons for the purpose of showing us that forgiveness of sins unto salvation and eternal life with God are ours through baptism into Christ.
There is no mightier one than this Mightier One. There is no one else who can loose our sins as easy as we would loose our shoelaces. He loosed the bars of death. He looses the bonds of captivity to sin. He looses the chains of death and the grave. And He does this not with bolt cutters or dynamite or nitroglycerine. He does not use burglary tools or sneaky schemey wiles. He faces our greatest enemy and the forces that hold us in a death grip with nothing more than water and the Word. But He is the Word. He is in the water of our baptism. The Mightier One being in Word and Sacrament for our salvation conquers all that would try to hold us captive.
He has loosed us from every sin that so easily entangles. When you struggle with sin, remember you have the Mightier One in your baptism. He looses us from the grip of the strong man Satan, who tries to hold us captive in his house. When you feel like you are locked in the devil’s dungeon, look to your baptism, for there the Mightier One is active to plunder Satan’s house and carry you away from his tyranny. When death approaches and stares you in the face, haunting you with grief over what is lost and an empty future, remember that in Baptism the Mightier One who walked out of the tomb has united Himself to you, that you may walk with Him in newness of life.
Let us not look anywhere else but look to Jesus, the God-man who gives us Himself in Word and Sacrament to set us free. It is tempting to look for an upgrade when things are not as flashy as we think they ought to be. It is tempting to trade-in for something we think will work better and faster, that will pander to our preferences. But no one else can open heaven to us. No one else can pour out the Spirit upon us. No one else can make us children of God. Jesus is the only one, the Mightier One, mightier than even our sins of looking for someone or something better. Here is Jesus preached and poured out for your comfort, your strength, your victory.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.