The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday, the Baptism of Our LORD, comes from the first book of the Torah, Genesis (בְּרֵאשִׁית— “In the Beginning” in Hebrew). The text is Genesis 1:1-5, and there are some questions that present themselves immediately. Why is this pericope concerning the beginning of creation chosen for the Baptism of Our LORD? Why would you, how could you preach this text and talk about baptism, especially the baptism of Jesus?
The first question, “Why this text for the Baptism of the LORD?” is not so difficult to understand. In this text, note the mention of water and the Spirit of the LORD hovering over these waters. This is how the creation event begins and in the baptism of Jesus we see the waters of the Jordan and the presence of the Spirit in the form of a dove. We see the same in the Flood account with waters and the dove as the world is cleansed and re-created. The second question may be more complex: “How would you preach this pericope as a baptismal text and point to Jesus?” Again, the presence of water in both events and a focus on the “water motif” is very helpful, but as we consider the totality of the creation account, as well as the whole of Mark 1, important connections are revealed. Certainly, we should not miss the presence of the Word of the LORD as well. With the water and the Spirit God speaks and life results—creation/new creation/re-creation.
With the water and the Spirit God speaks and life results—creation/new creation/re-creation.
The creation of our world takes place in 6 days and with a 7th day for rest. “7,” therefore, is understood as the number of creation, even of fullness and completion. However, due to the Fall of man, creation has been deeply disturbed by sin. Restoration of creation, or even a new creation, is needed and God begins to put this need into play. Instead of 7 days, however, the number of re-creation or new creation becomes 8. Eight people are saved by the Flood, circumcision is on the 8th day, etc. All of this foreshadows what Christ will do for us on the cross and through His resurrection. The Church understands Jesus not only rises from the dead after three days in the tomb but that this is also the first day of the new week, or the 8th day. Not only do we worship on Sunday (the 8th day) as a result, but we also see “8” as the baptismal number—new creation! Older baptismal fonts have eight sides and some older Lutheran churches (my first parish included) had a tradition of baptizing on the 8th day after birth, regardless if it was a Sunday or not. This changed when churches realized that every Sunday is the 8th day!
In preaching this Old Testament pericope we can incorporate both the Epistle and the Gospel. The three together provide a beautiful picture of what God has done in restoring His creation through His Son. Christ has come to make all things new, and water and the Spirit are used for His new creation just as it was for the original.
1:1 בְּרֵאשִׁית; (be-re-SHit) “In the beginning” (not “when” as is supported by the verb ברא (ba-Ra) “to create”) Only God can ברא (ba-Ra) – make something out of nothing.
1:2 תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (to-hu va-Vo-hu) This is a very rare phrase in Hebrew and only found elsewhere in Jeremiah 4:23. It is usually translated as “formless and void.”
עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם (al-pe-Nei te-Hom) “Upon the face of the deep.”
מְרַחֶפֶת (me-ra-Che-fet) root רחף (raw-khaf) Piel, participle: “hovering” In the Qal it means to tremble but the Piel has the idea of hovering. Note also the וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים> (ve-Ru-ach E-lo-Him) “Spirit of God.”
1:3 In this verse we “hear” the voice of God which is His creating Word. “And God said, ‘Let there be… and there was…’” God speaks His creation into existence. One can also see a Trinitarian aspect to these three verses: God the Father who creates, the Spirit of God hovering upon the face of the deep, and the Word which John 1 clearly identifies as the Son. Note the similarities of the Persons of the Godhead in this account and the Persons of the Godhead at Jesus’ baptism.
1:4 וַיַּרְא (vai-Yar) root ראה (raw-aw) “to see.”
וַיַּבְדֵּל (vai-yav-Del) root: בדל (baw-dal) Hiphil/Piel: “to separate; divide out; divide from.” If this “I” is taken as a Hiphil form it is easy to see the causing agent who is God. “God caused the light to be separated from the dark.”
1:5 קרא (kaw-raw) “to call” (2X’s). The Hebrew יוֹם (yome) “day” receives a lot of attention from those seeking for a way to justify the Genesis creation account with evolutionary science. How long is a “day?” יוֹם (yome) can be used to indicate longer periods of time, however, in these verses from Genesis, bookends have been placed on “day.” There was evening and morning… tells us these were 24-hour periods.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Genesis 1:1-5.
Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Genesis 1:1-5.