17 February 2013
Week 1 - Rescued through water
Exod 14:21-30 Crossing the Red Sea;
Mark 1:9-13 Jesus is baptized and driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.
Discussion: ‘What does it mean to be a baptized Christian'?
Topic for local radio: A personal journey through the wilderness
For Jews, this is the story of how the descendants of Jacob (Israel) escaped from Egypt and became one people. The book of Exodus finds the Israelites living as slaves in Egypt. Their burdens have become too heavy to bear. God gives them a leader, Moses, with his assistant Aaron, to confront Pharaoh, and demand that he ‘Let my people go'. Despite terrible plagues throughout the land of Egypt, Pharaoh refuses, until the last and most terrible plague strikes down the firstborn children of the Egyptians. The Israelites are spared by observing the ritual which became that of the Passover: the painting of the blood of the lamb around the doors of their houses to protect them from death by plague and the sharing of the Passover meal. Then they make their escape, pursued by the Egyptians.
The passage describes a great miracle: at God's command Moses stretches his arm over the waters of the Red Sea. A way opens up for the Israelites to cross safely. The Egyptians follow and are bogged down in the mud. Then Moses stretches out his arm again and the waters close over the Egyptians. ‘Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians.'
The story of the baptism of Jesus comes in all four Gospels (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-13; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:32-34, which only hints that Jesus was baptized, though John 3:22 says that Jesus himself ‘baptized'). All the gospels link the baptism of Jesus with the ministry of John the baptizer, and with witness as to who Jesus is: in Mark, Jesus sees the heavens ‘torn apart' and the Spirit descending like a dove, and he hears a voice saying, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.' There are variations of this at Mt 3:16-17; Lk 3:22 and Jn 1:32-4. In the three other gospels, by the time we come to Jesus's baptism we have already been given a good deal of
information about him. In Mark, the story of John the baptizer and the baptism of Jesus opens the gospel. Unlike the other three gospel-writers, Mark gives us no pre-history. This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
Mark gives us a very brief account of Jesus's baptism, and then tells us that ‘the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness'. This mention of the ‘wilderness' or ‘desert' and the mention of his being there ‘forty days' (or ‘a long time') turns the story of the baptism of Jesus into an echo of the crossing of the Red Sea. It is clear that the time Jesus spent in the wilderness ‘tempted by Satan' is all part of the good news. The Spirit is guiding Jesus just as the Israelites were guided by God to pass through the Red Sea so that they might be rescued from slavery in Egypt.
From early days, the church made links between the rescue of the Israelites through the Red Sea and the rescue of Christians through the waters of baptism. When new Christians are baptized by total immersion, it's easy to see why. Baptism - passing through the waters - represents ‘death and resurrection' - death to the old life and the beginning of a new life in Christ (cf. Rom 6:4). In baptism, believers are seen to be adopted as children of the Father: this is the moment when God says to the new Christian ‘You are my daughter ...', or ‘You are my son ... the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased'. In that moment, our lives are opened fully to God's Spirit, who begins to guide and strengthen us in a new way through life's difficulties and temptations. It's the beginning of our journey towards the promised land.
Questions you may wish to use in discussion
- The story of the Crossing of the Red Sea is of great important for the Jewish people. Why do you think this is so?
- Why do you think Jesus chose to be baptized?
- Some Christian churches baptize infants and some baptize only adults. What is the advantage of baptizing infants, and what of baptizing only adults?
- How do you think an Egyptian Christian would read the story of the crossing of the Red Sea?
- It is said that when Martin Luther doubted whether he was on the right path, he wrote out in chalk the words ‘baptizatus sum' (‘I have been baptized'). Why do you think he did this and what can we learn from it?
- If you were in danger today, would you pray for God to rescue you?
- Are there ways in which the members of your group can see the stories we have discussed this week reflected in their own journey of faith?
Lord God, who led your people safely through the waters of the Red Sea and into the wilderness, give to all who have been baptized into Christ grace to trust you throughout our journey of faith, especially when our path gets harder and we are tempted to turn back, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who was baptized, tempted as we are, and never failed to trust in you. Amen