The Baptism of Christ : Mark 1:9-15

the baptism of christ
The Baptism of Christ

A sermon delivered by Mary Rathbone on 18th February 2024

Often, important Old Testament characters are pointing us towards Jesus, and this morning’s readings brought two of them to the forefront.

They are both pointing us to the special kind of peace that Jesus offers.

Noah’s Ark

We all know the story of Noah and how he built a huge ark under God’s instructions, to save him and his family (and all God’s animals) from the flood that was coming to cleanse a world that had become corrupt.

When the rains finally diminished, Noah sent out a dove to test if there was dry land yet, and the dove eventually returned with an olive leaf in her beak, signifying that vegetation was growing.

The first thing Noah did when back on dry land was to make an altar and sacrifice a few of the animals in thanks to God for bringing them all through the flood alive.

Then we heard in the reading this morning, God made a new covenant with Noah which was the start of a new era.

We heard how God sealed the covenant with the sign of a rainbow in the sky which, still today, is universally accepted as a sign of God’s mercy and love and the ultimate hope of peace all humankind, has in Jesus.

In our second reading this morning, we heard how the Apostle Peter, the rock on which Christ built his church, described how the great flood can be understood as a foreshadowing of Christian baptism.

Meaning, whilst an ark saved Noah’s family from the water and physical death. So too, through Jesus, we are saved by the waters of baptism and are delivered from spiritual death. 

As Noah obeyed God by building a boat to save a few, so too, Jesus obeyed his Father by accepting death on the cross to save many.

St Mark’s Gospel

All of this splendid imagery and symbolism is on display in our Gospel reading from Mark this morning.

In which we heard that after Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist the heavens were torn open, and a Spirit-like dove came to rest upon him and the words were heard;

‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased’.

The Prophet Elijah

At the beginning of his ministry, when John baptised Jesus, it was believed by his followers that he was working in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah and identifying the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

The mighty prophet, Elijah was a zealous firebrand.

During a turbulent time in Israel’s history, he was totally committed to worshipping the God of Abraham, whilst others were beginning to worship the pagan gods of Baal.

Because of Elijah’s great faith, God promised his help in defeating his pagan enemies and performed many miracles in this cause.

Elijah did not leave this world in an ordinary manner either, because, when his time came, he was swept away in a whirl wind, on a chariot of fire.

Memories of the enigmatic and mystical Elijah and his great passion for God evolved over the centuries and became a symbol of redemption for Judaism.

A hope in the return of Elijah eventually developed and it was believed would signal the imminent coming of the Messiah.

But, many of the Jewish people could not accept Elijah in John the Baptist and still today, at every Passover supper, they set an extra place at the table in anticipation that he will finally appear.

However, Jesus, and the early Christians, credited John the Baptist as the fulfilment of hope regarding the reappearance of the mighty prophet Elijah. 


Today is the 1st Sunday of Lent and the beginning of our journey of reflection on Christ’s ministry, and our relationship with God.

Whilst the Jewish leaders at the time of Christ’s baptism did not accept John the Baptist in the spirit of Elijah, many of the Jewish people did, in fact, all of Jesus’s disciples were Jewish.

As the Jewish leaders did not accept Elijah in John the Baptist, so too, when Jesus, in his final days, entered Jerusalem on a donkey, presenting himself as the king of righteousness, and of peace, they could not accept him as such either.

Perhaps, they were expecting something more like a military leader?

Spiritual Peace

But, whilst world peace is obviously of paramount importance, what Jesus offers is so much more than that.

The peace Jesus spoke of was a peace that passes all understanding. Meaning, it was a spiritual peace.

Biblical peace is so profound that no amount of money could ever buy it, and we cannot steal or beg it from someone else.

We cannot take up arms and fight for it, or campaign for new laws demanding the right for all to experience inner peace.

Because Christ’s peace is completely intangible, it cannot be seen, or touched, it cannot be grasped at or forced upon others.

It can only be felt in the hearts of believers …

Developing Peace in Our Lives Today

The message I would like to leave you with today is the possibility of developing real peace in our lives today – through being in a right relationship with God.

St Peter, in his letter we heard this morning, offered an insight into the ritual of baptism as an act of faith in Jesus and his resurrection.

He also said words to the effect that it should be accompanied by a sincere conscience with God, and that these two things would demonstrate our faith to others.

It naturally follows, that we need to keep an ongoing clear conscience with God, and this is an essential component of our faith which helps us achieve the ultimate spiritual peace Jesus often spoke of.

A Clear Conscience with God

And we really can achieve a good conscience when we work at it by regularly reflecting on our relationship with God and identifying where it might fall short.

Because we are promised that when we are aware of where we have fallen short and confess this to God then the blood of Christ will wash those errors away.

And we will be free to further nurture and strengthen our spirit through an ever-deepening relationship with God.

We can never underestimate the positive effect we can have on others when they discern God’s peace authentically dwelling within a Christian heart.

It’s a bit like the air steward telling passengers that in the event of the oxygen masks being lowered, to first fit their own, before fitting one to a child,

So as we develop our relationship with God, our faith shines out for others to experience.

At the beginning of our Sunday service, we are invited to confess our sins, accept the absolution offered and make ourselves right with God.

Then, shortly after this sermon, we will hear the words of The Peace spoken.

As we put ourselves right with God at The Absolution, so too we put ourselves right with our neighbours, as we offer one another a sign of Christ’s peace before partaking in Holy Communion.

The purpose of sharing the Peace is to strengthen the ideals of peace among us before we come to God, before accepting Holy Communion, with a clear conscience and open heart.

It also demonstrates unity in the church and body of Christ.


As God keeps his promises made to Noah and Elijah, so too he keeps the promises of peace Jesus made to us.

As we strengthen our relationship with God with a sincere conscience, then Christ’s harmony will be felt more and more in our hearts for others to discern and accept.

Then eventually we will arrive at a day when there will be no more desire for bloodshed or discord.

And this is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like and how true world peace and freedom will be achieved … Amen.

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