Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is both a brilliant and disturbing film. Science fiction meets Art House on the streets of Glasgow. Scarlet Johanssen plays an alien (stay with me) who has clothed herself in human skin in order to seduce and consume humans for energy. The interesting thing about the film is that it isn’t about aliens at all it’s about humanity. It’s about what’s under the skin. The alien - callous, devoid of emotion and weakness begins to encounter humanity - in it’s weakness - we get cold, we buy food, we eat, we sleep, we experience pain and tragedy; in it’s tenderness - we love, we sacrifice, we lay down our lives for others. but she also encounters the dark side of humanity when she is the victim of a horrific attempted rape.
The film is asking questions we all ask about identity. Who are we as human beings? Capable of such great good and yet so dependent, so lost and so deeply deeply flawed. What is our future? What is our hope?
Christianity says there is a hope for humanity.
Because God our creator, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth entered our humanity. And this wasn’t just putting on skin. He became fully human. Everything that is under the skin. God entered our weakness, to share our joy and our pain and to bear our darkness for us.
This is what the baptism is about. Jesus was baptised into our name so that we could be baptised into his name. Jesus unites himself to our humanity inorder to redeem it. He enters our hopeless situation inorder to lift us out.
It’s quite a shocking passage we had read for us isn’t it? The preaching of John the Baptist.
Imagine if you walked in here this evening and i began my sermon.. You brood of vipers - literally snake children - who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Judgement is coming, the axe is at the root of the trees, the unquenchable fire is being stoked and you haven’t got a leg to stand on, preaches John. And then Luke comes out with this extraordinary summary in v18 “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them!” ??
But you see - it is good news - because John is not preaching that you are only a snake, he is not preaching that you are irreversibly unlean, he is not preaching that you have to change and be prefect - which we all know is impossible. No… look at v3 John is preaching a baptism of repentance for …the forgiveness of sins
Fundamentally - and we’ll at what baptism and repentance means in a bit - but fundamentally John is preaching - forgiveness. forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
a gift that we must receive and hold and go on accepting. Jesus has entred our hopelessness inorder to lift us out. That’s Good news. But in order to see his salvation you have to realise the darkness of your predicament. That’s what John points out and that’s why his warnings, his exposure of the darkness while difficult to face is part of the good news.. because it leads us to turn to the saviour
Warnings are loving aren’t they
Children are young - shout - Stop! Don’t walk there!. Child bursts into tears - you shouted at me. To which i answered, yes but you were about to walk into the road!
Warnings are loving.
So First, let’s look at our hopeless situation out of which Jesus comes to redeem us.
Why were the crowds coming to John the Baptist willing to hear these things? Because the word of God had come to him v2 and as he spoke they recognized our hopeless situation and they longed for rescue.
Here are humanity’s deepest problems:
To be lost. To be outside.
Are you familiar with the event in Israel’s history called the Exile?
In around 597BC Israel were invaded by Babylon and taken into Exile. Away from their home.
The shock of it all was that God said he had caused this. He’d allowed it. As a physical representation of a spiritual truth. That spiritually the people were far from God. They didn’t seek him or honour him. They rejected and ignored him and were not at home with him. And so God sent them far from their home.
And when the l exile ended 70 years later. The people returned to Israel, to Jerusalem but everyone knew that actually the Exile somehow remained. That sense of lostness, of distance from God. And the people who come to John the Baptist recognize that problem. John the Baptist is identified in v4 with a quote from the prophet Isaiah which speaks of a time when the spiritual Exile would end with the coming of the LORD. And John goes to preach v3 in the region around the Jordan. the border lands of Israel. The people come to be baptised by him in the Jordan river - the crossing back into Israel. We want to come home, these people were effectively saying. We’re lost, rootless.
Do you know that human problem, that human longing?
We can feel secure at times. When all is going right. Good job, nice house, stable family. But we don’t have to be alive very long to know the vulnerability of those things. Our roots are weak and we can quickly find ourselves adrift. a bewildering sense of helplessness and lostness.
This is the experience that flows from a humanity that cuts itself free from its creator. We are lost.
Unless the one who ends the Exile comes.
2. we are unclean
Here’s what people did as they came to John:
v7 they came to be washed by him.
That’s what baptism means, it’s a washing. A baptism for the forgiveness of sins. that’s what these people were saying, I need to wash my life clean. I feel dirty on the inside.
Do you ever feel that? “I wish I could open up my heart and have it washed, cleaned out, rinsed out.”
Tom Ripley is a fictional character in a series of crime novels by Patricia Highsmith. Ripley is a murderer and a criminal almost devoid of conscience. But at the end of the first novel, The Talented Mr Ripley. The character says this:
Dont you just take the past and put it in a room in a basement and lock the door and never go in there? That’s what I do, And then you meet someone special and all you want to do is to toss them the key and say; open up, step inside, but you can’t, because it’s dark, There’s demons and if anybody saw how ugly it is… I keep wanting to do that, fling the door open just let light in and clean everything out.
crowds came to John to be washed because we feel unclean. Of course the baptism was only symbolic. water only washes the outside of the person. But John tells us v16 That someone is coming who will wash you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
I keep wanting to do that, fling the door open just let light in and clean everything out.
Jesus can do that. Without Him we remain unclean.
Lostness, Uncleanness, thirdly …unfruitfulness.
Notice all the fruit language from v8:
8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. and do not begin to say to yourselves, we have abaham as our father, for i tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Jesus speaks to people who are proudly relying on their spiritual heritage. We have Abraham as our father. No says Jesus. Your’e not children of Abraham, you’re snake children. See they’re proud in their status and goodness but there’s no fruit of love in their lives.
Being a good person is deadly.. It’s just another way of keeping God at arms length. I don’t need God. And so being good is just as God rejecting as being bad. It’s just another form of our darkness: Good works that are full of self righteousness and death. Look at v17, John the Baptist says all your good works are nothing but chaff - the husk around a grain of wheat, you couldn’t even use it as animal feed - they are insubstantial, weightless, worthless.
And why does fruitfulness matter? Because - the last of our human problems - there is going to be a judgement. a wrath to come v10 the axe is at the foot of the trees v17 the LORD will come with a winnowing fork to test us all. unquenchable fire.
This kind of language is very unpalatable to our modern ears. We recoil from this medieval God of judgement we want a God of love. But we need to stop and think because Love and justice go together. Imagine a high court judge who, in the name of love, refused to ever punish the guilty… just let them off. A denial of justice is the opposite of love isn’t it. The fact that God will judge and bring perfect justice is great news. He is right to do so. The real reason that this is so uncomfortable is not to do with him but with us as the subjects of judgement.
Because we are lost, unclean and unfruitful
That’s the human predicament into which Jesus comes..
When all the people were being baptised JESUS…..was baptised too !!
This is a crucial verse in the whole bible
This is a great shock and a mighty relief
Because we’ve just had tthis great build up from John that the judge of all the earth is on the way his winnowing fork and axe are in his hands. And these people in stead of running for the hill are admitting their guilt, their lostness, uncleanness, unfruitfulness - that they are sinners
and now - he’s here! the judge of the world and what does he do?
He doesn’t judge. Not yet. He joins the sinners. He is willingly “numbered among them” He joins the queue at the Jordan River. In fact he jumps to the head of the queue and He gets baptised.
What is going on? The LORD sees us perishing in our lostness, our uncleanness, our unfruitfulness, and He doesn’t zap us with judgements. And He doesn’t lecture us from the river bank. He joins us. And He goes through the waters at our Head. Isn’t it stunning?
God the Father thinks so: v21 as Jesus was praying heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven” You are my son whom i love; with you i am well pleased” Jesus according to his humanity, in his humanity growing in favour with God - as he submits himself to God’s plan.
Jesus comes and in his baptism he joins/unites himself to sinful humanity he stands with us and then he goes out for us. The champion of humanity. Humanity summed up in him that he might turn our fortunes around.
You know the story of David and Goliath? That is the model Biblical story that teaches us this principle of Jesus: humanity’s champion. Just like King David who was anointed as the peoples King (in a ceremony very like baptism) before he then went out as the peoples champion single handedly killing Goliath, winning their victory for them while they just stood and watched.. So Jesus is anointed (in his baptism) as our King before he goes out not as an example that we must then follow but as a gift to be received and trusted in; as our champion who does life and death for us. He lives the life we ought to live FOR US and he dies the death we deserve to die - he takes the judgement- FOR US. And we only stand and watch and receive his victories.
Jesus baptised into our name so that we might be baptised into his name.
How wonderful this is…
it is a gift to be received daily and lived out in lives of thankfulness and worship
john’s baptism is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins
when John preaches the darkness of our situation
people say to him v10 well what should we do?
and it’s strange - he doesn’t say simply come to Jesus and be forgiven
he urges repentance
a turning around (that’s what repentance means - an about turn) of our lives
have a look
vv 10-14 “…”
what’s John saying to these people?
turn away from the besetting sins of your situation. the patterns of selfishness and lovelessness that particularly affect you. instead ..learn to love, learn to be generous.
i hope that we understand that the forgiveness of christ is offered to us absolutley freely
it is not earned! it is free
but for a sinner to come and find that forgiveness. that sinner will have to find the things that we have clung to dropping out of our hands because we cannot get a firm grip on Jesus Christ when we are still firmly holding on to the characteristic patterns of our sinfulness
we cannot receive from Christ if we are constantly turning and walking in a direction away from him.
we need to turn back - daily..
all of life is repentance
a daily pattern of
confessing our sin, turning away from it and endeavouring to live to please Jesus Christ
receiving his bounteous forgiveness