Have any of you ever been a marked man – or woman?
I mean, have you ever had the feeling that someone is just out to get you?
Maybe you had an enemy who was hell-bent on tracking you down and seeing you brought down at whatever cost, or maybe you feel as if you have a big X marked all over you.
Though you wouldn’t guess it to look at me, I am a marked man. Not was a marked man – am. I am a marked man. Now you might be thinking: “Just who is this guy who I thought was a godly priest.” But let me explain.
You see, I’ve been a marked man all my adult life, and I remember the day and hour I became a marked man. It’s really my own fault. It’s something I volunteered to do – well, sort of. It was towards the end of my freshman year in high school, in the spring. I remember my twin brother, Danny, was with me: we had been singled out from a group of teenagers. I think maybe there was one other guy as well.
They made us come forward in front of everyone and face a large crowd of adults. And that’s when they marked me.
That’s when the minister took his hand, placed it in water, and marked my forehead with the sign of the cross.
The day I was baptized was the day I became a marked man. And the day you were baptized was the day you became a marked man as well.
You and I – all of us who are Christians – are marked men. You see, God puts the sign of His name upon us at baptism and claims us publicly for His own.
At that moment, even if we don’t realize it, there are a lot of amazing things that begin to happen to us. Suddenly, the stakes for our life become a lot higher. God declares Himself for us, but Satan is out to get us: he is the hunter. With every decision you make from that moment you will either be confirming the mark that is on you, or you will be denying the One who put it there.
When you are baptized, you become a part of the Church. And when you become a part of the Church, you are united with Jesus Christ in all of His life.
I want us to try to understand what Jesus’ baptism has to do with us. When Jesus was baptized, it was easy for everyone present to see the earthly and physical aspects of His baptism – how the water was placed on Him by John the Baptist. But there was a heavenly aspect as well: God is always working behind the scenes in baptism.
Three heavenly things happened to Jesus when He was baptized: the heavens were opened; the Holy Spirit descended; and the Father was well-pleased. But here, if you’re like me, you might have a question about baptism. If baptism for the Christian is being made a part of the body of Christ, as well as a dedicating of one’s life to God, then why was it necessary for Jesus Christ to be baptized? What did it signify for Him, and why did God act so dramatically?
In baptism, Jesus was anointed to three offices. He was anointed (“Messiah” or “Christ” means “Anointed One”) to be a prophet, one who proclaims the Word of the Lord, the Good News of salvation. He was anointed to be a priest, our High Priest who offers up the perfect sacrifice that truly took away the sins of the world. And He was anointed as a king, in fact, the King of Kings.
Immediately after, and only after, His baptism, Jesus began the work for which He was born. We rightly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas, God made man. But God was made man in the person of Jesus for a purpose. This is the connection between the baptism of Jesus Christ and your baptism: when you are baptized God is equipping you for ministry, to serve as Jesus Christ served, for it is His ministry and life into which you are baptized.
There’s another reason Jesus was baptized: Jesus was baptized so that He might baptize us. Jesus was baptized that He might serve us and baptize us with His Spirit, that we might be united to Him in all things.
In the Church year, we celebrate and rehearse the life of Christ: God became man that man might come to God or become like God. In baptism, we put on Christ, and we are united with Him and are made a part of His body. We think, act, and speak as Jesus thought, acted, and spoke.
In fact, in baptism, we are given our eternal identity: baptism makes us Christians and identifies us to the world, both visible and invisible, as Christians. Everyone today is looking for an identity: we’ve all heard of people having identity crises. You can see it in the way people change their hair or cars or even their lifestyles, searching for their “true” identity, when all along the identity of each human is to be one created in the image of God
When you are baptized, three heavenly things happened that marked your new identity, as they did with Jesus. First, the heavens were opened: you now have access to God. Second, you were given the Holy Spirit who equips you for spiritual battle and life in Christ. Third, God is well pleased with you as His adopted child.In baptism, God makes you one of His sheep. He puts His mark on you and claims you as one of His own: He brands you! Then He cares for you like a shepherd cares for His sheep. He feeds you and clothes you; He protects you and blesses you in every way. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
But when you accept the mark of God upon you, you have taken a vow: when you were baptized, you signed your life away. You signed up for God’s army, the Church, and agreed to submit to the rules and discipline, as well as the rewards, of life in Christ and in His Body.
Like Jesus, in your baptism you were anointed to three offices. You were anointed to be a prophet who speaks the word of God. You were anointed as a priest who is to make spiritual sacrifices with your lips and life to God, a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. You are to worship Him! And you were anointed as a king who is to rule over your body and whatever else God has given you.
Once baptized, you are marked men and women. You have entered a spiritual war, and baptism makes clear to the enemy which side of the battle you are on. Just as Jesus was immediately led into the wilderness to be tempted after He was baptized, you will be tempted as a Christian. You have a glowing cross on your uniform which Satan and his minions see as a big, fat target.
You will be tempted to do things your way, which is too often Satan’s way. You will be tempted to forget that you are a Christian, signed with the name of the Holy Trinity. You will suffer in this life, and God’s enemy will seek to use this to make you question God and your identity as one of His children.
But the God who has marked you as His child and made you a member of the body of His Son will protect you from all evil if you are faithful to Him.
In the midst of a pagan nation to whom he had come in order to make them Christians, St. Patrick knew who he was. He could have been discouraged by how hard his life was and how often he must have been rejected and dejected. But everywhere around him he saw a world that reminded him of the presence of Jesus Christ.
He saw clearly that he was in Christ and that Christ was his life. He knew that being baptized into Christ was what made Him a Christian, marked before God and man as being the property of Jesus Christ.
When St. Patrick rose in the morning, he awoke with a sense of his Christian identity: he arose by invoking the strong name of the Trinity, into whose name he was baptized. When he rose each morning, he put on Jesus Christ and used all of creation to remind him that he was a Christian. He arose each day with a sense that he was identified with Jesus Christ through baptism
Just as the life of Christ guides us through the Christian year, it guides us through each day:
I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation; (Christmas)
his baptism in the Jordan river (Epiphany)
his death on the cross for my salvation (Good Friday)
his bursting from the spicèd tomb (Easter)
his riding up the heavenly way; (Ascension)
his coming at the day of doom: (Second Coming)
I bind unto myself today.
St. Patrick’s identity in Jesus Christ is what gave him strength, which is why the hymn from which these words are taken is called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”.
When Jesus Christ was baptized, He was anointed to begin His ministry of salvation for you and for me. When you were baptized, you were anointed to a life in union with Jesus Christ and His ministry. When you were baptized you became marked men and women, marked by God as one of His.
May we choose to live our lives as St. Patrick lived his, with a sense of his Christian identity and with a sense of Jesus Christ in every part of his life.
Prayer: Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger. Amen. (From “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”)
Points for Meditation:
- Sing St. Patrick’s Breastplate today (hymn #268 in the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal).
- In which of the three anointed offices is God calling you to work more faithfully?
- How can you practice binding yourself to Christ today so that He is your breastplate and your identity?
Resolution: I resolve to find one specific way to put Jesus Christ on today.