What was the significance of Yeshua’s* baptism? Is God “up there” or “in here?”
Mark 1:4-11 4 John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 5 Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. … 9 About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.][Image: “Creative Commons Baptism of Christ 10” by Waiting For The Word is licensed under CC BY 2.0]
Mark 1:4-5, 9-11
John was in the limnal, chaotic space between God and humankind inviting people to claim God’s forgiveness of their sins. He was overwhelmingly popular with the masses who thronged to him. In the midst of the crowd, Yeshua* emerged to be baptized. He arose from the water discerning God’s affirmation in the form of a dove and a voice saying, “You are mine, which is beginning to delight me.”
Musings on Mark
John, a throw-back to the prophets of the First Testament, came preaching the gospel of an apocalyptic Messiah who would establish God’s reign of Goodness on earth, banishing all evil. In order to prepare for this Messiah, John baptized people into a repentance and a new obedience to God. While he baptized with with cleansing waters of the Jordan (the unifying waterway of the people of Israel), he anticipated the coming of the One who would baptize with Spirit. While water might cleanse the surface, only the Spirit transforms the inner being. It was the coming of God (God’s reign) that John prepared Israel for. It was God who baptized Yeshua* with spirit.
We don’t know what motivated Yeshua* to come to John’s baptismal liturgy. His decision to do so, however, signaled the beginning of a new era in human history. Something new was afoot, brewing in the inner being of Yeshua*. His descent into the waters of baptism was likely similar to that of all the others who came to John — some combination of curiosity, a sense of incompleteness, a desire for change and renewal, a longing for deeper connection with God, and/or hope for the restoration of Israel. His resurrection out of the water, coupled with his wilderness experience, could best be described as one of the “hinges of history.” The world would never be the same again. As he came out of the water he experienced the beginnings of a shaping of his calling, an insistence in the name of God. Perhaps.
Yeshua’s* experience was three-fold: First, he experienced the tearing open of God’s very being. God was now vulnerable to human experience. Secondly, Yeshua* encountered the presence of Spirit (God, mystery, divinity) as an inner reality (a shift from heavenly realms to the human psyche). Third, he discerned an affirmation of a calling to a messianic vocation (though not the apocalyptic Messiah that John was awaiting.) It is likely that there was great intra-psychic conflict within Yeshua at this point. It was that conflict that led / drove him to the wilderness where the shape of his messianic vocation would be completed.
Today’s scientists tell us that humankind is the universe’s capacity for consciousness and self-reflection. Prior to Yeshua’s* baptism / wilderness experiences, God had been perceived as the dynamic power of the universe that acted upon human beings – a mysterious Other that interposed itself in and through the nations of the world (with a special perceived relationship with Israel). Beginning with Yeshua’s* baptism / wilderness experiences, a theological, spiritual quantum shift occurred. God was now to be experienced within the depths of human consciousness — Yeshua being the first fruits of this mutational shift. God now had consciousness — a shift from awesome (magnificent and terrifying) power to a weak force best described as ‘love.’ God was the ‘Thou” which is to be experienced within and in relationship with others (especially the poor, distressed, and suffering). The world could never be the same thereafter.