Gospel: Mark 1:4-11 (The Baptism of Our Lord: Series B)

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In the season of Epiphany, we focus on the revelation of who Jesus is. From a clearer understanding of who He is, we will be in a better position to know who we are.

“What is Baptism?” That was the name of our twelve-week Bible study this past Spring. I sent out an email the Monday before we started and invited our people to participate. And they did! People showed up... lots of them (probably about a 30% increase, which was consistent throughout the whole study). They brought their questions, and they brought their assumptions. There were lots of questions and lots of assumptions.

We searched the Scriptures and asked questions of the text and of one another. Many times, we sought to listen, both to Scripture and to one another. And many times, we sought to be heard and to share what we had previously heard. The room was passionate, and it was clear that life-long Christians had lots of questions and lots of different ideas.

The Baptism of our Lord provides a good opportunity to teach as well as to proclaim. I am going to suggest a few different sermon structures that lend themselves to a didactic sermon for this preaching occasion. I would also suggest holding two different goals together. First, aim to address the real questions your people have related to the baptism of Jesus (which are likely buried under various questions and assumptions they have about their own baptism). Second, aim to focus on the text of Mark 1:4-11. Resist the temptation to say, “Well, speaking of baptism, let’s jump on over to 1 Peter 3 and Romans 6,” in your opening paragraph.


A Comparison/Contrast sermon helps your hearers see similarities and differences between two topics. You could compare John’s previous baptisms to his baptism of Jesus. You could compare John’s baptism of repentance to Christian baptism. You could compare Jesus’ baptism to our baptisms.

Once you decide on which two to compare, you will need to select the points of comparison, and decide whether you want to compare the whole-to-whole or part-to-part.

Here are several points of comparison you might consider:

  1. Location—Where the baptism takes place and what the attached significance is.
  2. Repentance—The role of repentance in each case.
  3. The Water—The role, amount, application, function, necessity of the water.
  4. The Spirit—The part the Spirit plays, the work the Spirit accomplishes.
  5. The Father—The relationship between the Father and the baptized before and after the baptism.
  6. The Son—Jesus as the eternal Son, Jesus as Israel (the son of God), all of humanity as God’s children, our adoption into the family.
  7. The Mission of God—The way this baptism connects to God’s larger mission (sequence, logically, causally).

Pick a couple or a few key points of comparison, arrange them intentionally, and proclaim God’s saving work in Christ as you model thoughtful exegetical and systematic theology.

 Pick a couple or a few key points of comparison, arrange them intentionally, and proclaim God’s saving work in Christ as you model thoughtful exegetical and systematic theology.


A Definition sermon allows you to focus on the text of Mark. Perhaps begin by acknowledging our many questions about Christian baptism today. Commit to finding a time and space to dig into those questions in the near future, and clearly limit the scope of this week’s message. You can say:

“Those are all great questions, but today, today we are going to look at one singular moment, a baptism that is connected to all our baptisms, but a baptism that is also absolutely unique. Today, we want to see what the baptism of Jesus is really all about.”

This fits nicely in the season of Epiphany, as we focus on the revelation of who Jesus is. From a clearer understanding of who He is, we will be in a better position to know who we are.

From the text of Mark, what are the key characteristics of Jesus’ baptism? What is most essential to the narrative and theology in the text and as this text applies to our lives of faith? Your simple sentence frame, which could build bit-by-bit as your progress through your chosen points, might be: “The baptism of Jesus...” Deductively, you could repeat that frame and build the next moment.

Here are a few components of Jesus’ baptism you can consider.

The baptism of Jesus...

  • Fulfills ancient promises.
  • Is part of God’s plan of salvation.
  • Marks the beginning of His ministry.
  • Is unexpected and seemingly out of place.
  • Is tied to the need for repentance.
  • Takes place with physical water.
  • Empowers Him with the Holy Spirit.
  • Confirms His identity.
  • Reveals a hidden identity.
  • Sends Him into battle on our behalf.

Take or modify any of those, add your own, and intentionally arrange your definition in a way that makes logical and/or experiential sense for your hearers.

Question Answered[3]

What is the most important question you would want to answer for your people related to this text? It might be a question they are already asking. Or it may be a question you wish they were asking. In the latter case, it will be your job to help them see the relevance of the question you are presenting and how you have chosen to shape the question.

The basic outline here is to consider a couple possible answers which the people in your pews likely hold to. In each moment, you can affirm what may be helpful about that perspective but then guide them toward a careful look at the answer through what God’s Word reveals. By the end, you will be in a position to share a Scriptural answer that addresses why this question matters for your hearers and how the Scriptural answer is good news in and through Jesus.

What does my baptism have to do with the baptism of Jesus?

  1. I am doing the same thing He did.
  2. His was ceremonial and mine was spiritual.
  3. The baptism of Jesus reveals His identity, which is where I find my own.

Why did Jesus get baptized?

  1. That is where He was adopted as God’s Son.
  2. That is when He found out His mission.
  3. That was part of God’s plan to fulfill all righteousness.

Some other questions could be: Why does Mark spend so much time on John the Baptism? Why does Mark’s Gospel keep Jesus’ identity such a secret? What does it mean that the Spirit descended on Jesus?

What questions are your people asking? What should they be asking? Where has their thinking, believing, and behaving been shaped by unhelpful ideas? How can God’s Word lead them through the possible confusion to a clear hope in Jesus?

Each of these structures can serve your teaching and proclamation. In addition to your people’s questions, be open to your own limitations this week. Where does God’s Word humble you? Are there aspects of Jesus’ baptism which especially confuse or bother you? Do you find yourself shying away from asking or exploring a particular angle? That might be just the place where you, your people, and God’s Word intersect this week.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Mark 1:4-11.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 1:4-11.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 1:4-11.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 1:4-11.


[1] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/comparisoncontrast/

[2] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/definition/

[3] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/question-answered/