“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:2-5).

The church of today lives in an ethically debilitating climate. A radio series of sermons on “The Protestant Hour” urged us to “Be Good to Yourself.” Lent begins with John the Baptist. His sermons could not be entitled, “Be Good to Yourself.” This prophetic “voice crying in the wilderness” appears “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). He was not the Christ. John was the one who gets us ready.

How shocked was the church to see its Lord appear on the banks of the Jordan asking John to wash him, too? How can it be that the Holy One of God should be rubbing shoulders with the naked sinners on their way into the waters? Why must our Lord be in this repenting bath? Jesus shows the radical way he will confront the sin that enslaves humanity. His baptism intimated where he would finally end. His whole life was caught up in this single sign.

Our baptism does the same. We may come singing “Just as I Am” but we will not stay there. The needs of the world are too great, the suffering and pain too extensive, the lures of the world too seductive for us to begin to change the world unless we are changed. Baptism takes us there.

Adapted from Bread and Wine by William Willimon