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January 7, 2018

Sermon Mark 1:4-5  . . .“Bible places:  the Jordan River”

“Bible places:  the Jordan River”

Mark 1:4-5

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Rivers, it seems, are important to us.  As one author wrote, “Throughout the ages, these watercourses have provided sustenance for crops and have kick-started exploration, enterprise, and even empires.”  And he wrote, “They’ve shaped the world as we know it and played a starring role in stories, songs, and spiritual beliefs along the way.”

We sing about rivers—think of “Moon River,” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Cry Me a River,” “Down by the River,” “Run Softly Blue River,” and “’Ol Man River,” from Showboat.  “Dat ol’ man river just keeps rollin’ along.”

And what are the most iconic rivers in the world?  The longest is the Nile, stretching from eastern Africa all the way to the Mediterranean, a distance of more than four thousand miles.  Egypt wouldn’t be Egypt without her.

Then comes the Amazon, coursing through six South American countries before losing itself in the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s three hundred feet deep and is the home of three thousand species of fish, including the eight-foot-long river dolphin and the piranha!

And let’s not forget about the mighty, muddy Mississippi.  It covers more than a million square miles and has witnessed history in the making.  Explorers, fur traders, and settlers have all forged their way up and down that river by canoe and paddleboat, changing the face of America.

Even more, Russia has its Volga, England has its Thames, India its Ganges, and China its Yangtze--all of them important rivers, vital rivers, rivers that serve as borders, boundaries, and a means of life and transportation.

But of all the rivers in the world, the most sacred, the most famous, and the most important of all is the river Jordan.

The Bible mentions it nearly two hundred times, from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament to the book of John in the New.

Just think, for a moment, of the things that happened there.  It’s where Joshua and the people of Israel once crossed on dry ground to enter the Promised Land.  That’s what it says in Joshua chapter 3:  “The waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap…and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan.”

It’s where Naaman, the commander-in-chief of the Syrian army, was healed of his leprosy.  That’s what it says in II Kings chapter 5:  “So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan…and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child.”

It’s where Elisha once made an iron axe head float on the water.  That’s what it says in II Kings 6:  “The man of God said, ‘Where did it fall?’  When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float.”

And it’s where Elijah was taken up into heaven.  That’s what it says in II Kings chapter 2:  “Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water…till the two of them could go over on dry ground.”  And it says, “Behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them.  And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”

And it’s where Jesus was baptized.  For thirty long years, he had lived as a son of Mary and Joseph, and worked as a carpenter too.  But now it was time to do the work His Father had sent Him to do.

Please turn in your Bibles to page 1063 as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at Mark chapter 1, verse 1:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight,”’ John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Then go with me to verse 9:  “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

Now He would take His place among sinners.  Now His work of salvation would begin.

It’s good to hear these words, because they remind us, for just a moment, of how important our own baptism can be.

It wasn’t just some rite of dedication, nor was it a sign or symbol the pastor performed over your head.

Instead, this is what happened to you.  Your sins were forgiven.  You were made part of the kingdom of God.  And instead of a home on earth, you were given an everlasting home in heaven.  

How do we know that?  Because that’s what the Bible says.  When Peter preached his sermon on the festival of Pentecost, he finished his message with the words:  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.”  When he was done, three thousand people believed.

When Ananias commissioned the apostle Paul for his work in the church, he said, “Stand up and be baptized and wash away your sins.”

And when a jailer in Philippi felt the earth shake and saw chains fall and prison doors break open, he was afraid for his very life.  In the darkness of midnight, he cried, “What must I do to be saved?”  And Paul baptized him and said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”

Through simple water and the powerful Word of God, God is your heavenly Father and you are His dear child.

Pat Summerall was a well-known football player and television sportscaster.  For more than forty years, he worked for CBS, FOX, and ESPN.  He announced football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, and tennis, as well as sixteen Super Bowls, more than anyone else.  In 1994, he was even inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.

But he had a problem.  He was an alcoholic.  His friends begged him to get some help, and so did his bosses and co-workers.  Even his daughter, Susan, wrote in a letter, “Dad, the few times we’ve been out in public together recently, I’ve been ashamed we shared the same last name.”

Finally, when he was sixty-two, hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer, he agreed to get help.  And that’s when he discovered the grace of God.  

He wrote:  “My thirst for alcohol was being replaced by a thirst for knowledge about faith and God.  I began reading the Bible regularly at the treatment center, and it became part of my daily routine.”  And he wrote, “The more I read, the more I felt a void in my life that needed to be filled.”

And when he was baptized a short time later, he said, “Now, I felt I was truly part of God’s family.  I felt ecstatic, invigorated, happier, and freer.  It felt as though my soul had been washed clean.”

Today, there’s one thing I ask you to do.  Bring your sins, your faults, and your failings, whatever they might be, to the Jordan, and lay them down, lay them all down, at the water’s edge.  Then take one step, two steps, and plunge beneath its sacred flood.  

And as its water rushes over you and through you, you’ll hear, not words of judgment, but words of promise—“I will wash you.  I will make you clean.”

How is all this possible?  Because the sin that once drove our Savior into the waters of the Jordan would drive Him to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would pray and sweat great drops of blood.  It drove Him to stand before the Sanhedrin and remain silent even though men lied about Him, spit on Him, and slapped His face.  And it drove Him to the cross where He was crowned with thorns, where nails pierced His hands and feet, and a spear pierced His side.

And why would He do all this?  So that you might be washed clean of every sin and every stain.  

In the words of John:  “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”


We thank You, Lord Jesus, for revealing Yourself not only as the sinless Son of God, but the obedient Son of Man.  And we thank You for the testimony of Your Father and Spirit from heaven.  Grant that we today may remember our baptism as we die to sin and rise to new life in You.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen


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