Sunday 24 January
Worship with Clean Hands
Mark chapter 1 verses 4 - 11
You can ask any of my children and I am sure they will confirm that I always ask them if they have washed their hands before they come to eat their meals. Good hygiene and now in the age of hand sanitisers everywhere you go, avoiding disease, viruses and avoiding passing them on have become crucial during this current pandemic.
The simple message of washing our hands has been repeated many times in the media and we are encouraged to do this every time we go out or come back in. Yet there is a far more serious pandemic in our world than coronavirus. The corona virus can cause physical death in some people, but the more serious pandemic I am speaking about can cause physical and spiritual death to every single member of humanity.
When Adam and Eve broke God’s one command, sin entered into humanity. So, from that moment on, every new human created arrived with this most deadly fallen nature, riddled with sinfulness bound up in our make-up. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote “the doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable Christian doctrine.” That is because we can see clearly in one another, and in ourselves.
We live in an age when many will deny it and even in church circles there are many who do not want to hear about or talk about it, or of the consequences of untreated sin. Many wrongly assume that since Jesus died, we will all be ok, no matter how deliberately sinfully we live. Whenever we feel let down by someone, invariably it is because they have sinned in some way and wronged us or others.
Thankfully, by God’s grace there is a permanent cure for sin. Therefore, once we understand our inherent sinfulness, the first step for us is repentance. Repentance is the action of being remorseful, turning back to our God, in order to change our mind-set from selfish and sinful to the mind-set of Christ. If our repentance is true, it will result in transformed behaviour and it awakens real faith within us as we invite Jesus to be our LORD and Saviour.
The doctrine of baptism is linked to repentance by John in our passage. It is a ritual, a sacrament for us to declare publically that we are repentant and saved by grace and an offering of our lives in worship.
The metaphor is of going down into the water as a sinner and coming up cleansed; or being sinful and being sprinkled clean by water acting in a sense as the precious blood of Christ, which truly makes us sinless in God’s sight.
Let us now look into our passage in more depth. Right away we see the backdrop is that this inherent need for repentance and publicly displaying it is necessary verse 4. This is for the remission of our sins which is to have them paid for and absolved forever. John’s gospel links Jesus’ baptism to the need to confess that Jesus is the lamb who takes away the sin of the world in those who truly repent and are baptised. As John is preaching this gospel of repentance and baptism, many come to him confessing their sins verse 5.
However, John is not seeking to grow his fame or status and he points to the mightier one who is to come in verse 7. How good is God’s timing? The one being spoken about has arrived and is present as John preaches. John goes on to say, I can give you the ritual sign of baptism with water, hoping that your repentance is genuine, but HE, Jesus, can baptise you with the Holy Spirit verse 8. This is not a ritual sign, but a physical and spiritual mark, a guarantee as Paul puts it in Ephesians 1:13,14
“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.” Notice there that it is only those who are the possession of God, those with this seal, they alone will inherit redemption from their sin. Of course, this is more than clean hands worship. It is all over spiritual cleansing. It makes us free from the burden of sin and frees us to worship all the more gratefully, knowing we need fear nothing but the loving gracious blessings of our God.
Now you may ask why Jesus was baptised – He was and is without sin. Jesus like any good master sets the example and shows the way to his apprentices. He is baptised to show us and to identify with us, for though He is sinless, He is fully human, as well as being fully divine. He is the one human who is sinless, but He is also God – the one who took on flesh for each one of us: The one who is the perfect sacrifice for our sin. “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin”
There is one other important thing to note here though; Jesus gives us this sign once, but we need to keep on repenting as sin always seeks to take hold in our lives – it is in our human nature. No Christian manages to be sinless, even with the Holy Spirit in their hearts. We do take on a new spiritual nature when we become Christ’s, but our old nature battles against us and the devil is still out to get us to sin.
So, we should regularly recall our baptism and the faith that was proclaimed on that day – even if it was our parent’s faith as they offered us when we were too young to appreciate the significance of that ritual.
Even more importantly, we should recall the moment of time when we came to living faith fully and was marked with this cleansing seal. That was the moment we were most perfect ever so far.
Perhaps some listening here have not being baptised yet with water? Perhaps some listening here have not yet been baptised with the Spirit? Perhaps some listening here have yet to truly repent?
The drama in our passage also gives us an image of the reality of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus. It would be wrong to think that our receiving of the Holy Spirit will always be as public and visible when it happens to us. Yet it would also be wrong to think that it is never as public and visible either. God deals with each of us in the most appropriate manner. (Paul on the road to Damascus)
We may not hear God say those spectacular words in verse 11 as a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. However, I like to believe that God says to us, “You are my believed child, in whom I am well pleased”. We may not hear His voice at that moment, we may or may not hear it as we travel though life, but when we stand at heaven’s gate, that is when those who have truly repented, and been baptised spiritually will hear these words from the Father.
Here is the crux: IF each of us knows the spirit’s promptings, we will find it sweet and easier to truly worship in Spirit and in truth. It will be our delight, our privilege and a blessing to others as well as for ourselves. Yet surely, mysteriously it will delight our LORD.
Awakened, cleansed, renewed, enabled, filled and filled again and again as we continue to repent and serve our redeeming Master – we have numerous reasons and joy in paying our homage, bowing in worship and Praising our Saviour.
Our worship becomes more informed as we learn from God’s Holy Word and are filled by His Holy Spirit and declaring our faith through public baptism. We discover deep reasons to see the Father’s plans orchestrated for our salvation by His Son, empowered in the Spirit to serve and please God the Father. It’s also an example for us to follow – worshipping God in our service, equipped and pleasing our all-knowing creator. Amen