Posted on Sun, Jan 8, 2017
January 8, 2017
Baptism of Jesus
Gospel Text: Matthew 3:13–17
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Sometimes we need clarity. Sometimes we just need someone to explain to us what is going on. On some days, we even find ourselves asking the question, “Who am I? What am I doing? What am I supposed to do?” It is important to know the meaning of what we do, why we do it; and as we journey through life, it is important to discover who we are becoming through our words, actions and especially our faith. When we cannot find meaning in our lives, we are lost. When we find ourselves saying to ourselves, “I don't know who I am” or “why am I hear?” this leaves us vulnerable and open to making terrible decisions. There was a Scottish theologian in or around 1925 who said, “the demonic is found in meaninglessness.” When we have no grounding, when we can just make up definitions to established words, leads to meaninglessness, confusion and loss.” We need to know that what we do, say and believe, are worthwhile and have meaning.
When John the Baptist came on the scene, he had one purpose to fulfill, to tell people to prepare themselves to meet the Messiah. We don’t use the word “Messiah” very much in our daily lives. Most people don’t even know what the word even means. It means “Savior,” or “One who can save,” But can you imagine seeing someone dressed in camels hair and sounding rather zealous about telling us to get our lives turned around because the Savior is about to arrive? I have seen some people in Waikiki screaming at me to turn my life around because Jesus is coming soon … Once I spoke to one of these guys and told him I was a pastor, and he went off on me like John the Baptist yelling at the Pharisees… more frightening than humbling.
But according to Matthew, people responded to John’s plea. The people didn't reject him at all. People didn't consider him crazy or outlandish, they seemed to associate him with the image of the prophets of old, almost as if they expected someone like John to come on the scene to give them direction in such a difficult era. Matthew states that, “all the people of Jerusalem and Judea came out to meet him.” There was something in his message, maybe his appearance, or his delivery, that seemed to resonate with the people. What was it that compelled the people to leave their homes and go to the place John was dipping people in the river Jordan? … His words were not really his own, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. ’ The very same words Jesus would use later. Then sounding like an Old Testament prophet John says, “3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Matthew 3:2-3)
What would those ancient words mean to the ears of a Jewish person living in or near Jerusalem 2000 years ago in their context? It obviously meant something important to make them come to the place John was baptizing and teaching. Were they listening with their hearts, and was it that John’s announcement of the coming Savior really gave them hope? John was telling the people that their “Savior” was coming, and that could mean someone who could free them from the Roman occupation and give them their land back … This might be the concept that attracted them.
But they also came individually. John’s proclamation for sure touched their heart and caused them to go to the place John was teaching. What was in John’s message that caused them to come before John to be baptized?
John’s words obviously had deep meaning for the people in those days, and the concept of personal repentance in order to welcome their savior was something that seemed to hit them in their hearts, because the people reacted.
Johns wasn't doing something that was magical or institutional, it was straight forward individual calling, come be cleansed, focus your hearts and minds on what God is about to do!
But then one day, life got complicated and confusing for John when Jesus stepped out from the crowd. Picture Jesus of the Nazareth coming face to face with John of the Jordan. Somehow John knew that Jesus was the One, but there was also some hesitation in the moment by John.
For me, because of what is written in the Christmas Story, when Mary went to tell Elizabeth all about the angels message that she was going to be the mother of her savior, and at the moment Mary arrived in Elizabeth’s house, John (still in vitro!) jumped in Elizabeth’s womb … It seems to me it would have been obvious to John for a long time that Jesus was the Messiah… There seems to have been a disconnect within the family.
But when they came face to face, John knew that Jesus was the one, and the first thing he longed for was to be baptized, to be cleansed by Jesus right then and there.
But God had a better idea when Jesus replied; “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” “To fulfill all righteousness?” What does that mean. It means God needed to make it clear, who this Jesus, and confirm his true mission and that Jesus’ purpose was to restore the relationship between God and all humankind through Jesus’ death and resurrection!
Remember, our understanding of baptism is two fold. When you are baptized you are forgiven, but you also receive a new name, “Child of God” for all the people to hear and understand. John’s understanding of baptism was only for spiritual cleansing.
Matthew states that, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
It was the time of clarification and confirmation. When Jesus emerged from the waters, image the Creation Story, the heavens were opened, meaning that for the first time, the chasm between God and Creation was now open. Then the Spirit Came down LIKE a dove, meaning Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. And then the voice of God said for the sake of everyone in the area, “THIS IS MY SON, THE BELOVED, WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED!”
Matthew is making it crystal clear who this Jesus of Nazareth truly was. God had arrived in Christ, and was walking among human kind.
The One who gave his life for us, is confirmed as God’s Son, and this fulfills all faith, all righteousness. Our faith yearns to be with God at all times, our faith yearns to praise God in all circumstances, our faith yearns to give us meaning as the Body of Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, all our faith is fulfilled and the promise of God’s eternal presence carries us throughout our life journey.
Therefore, do you have meaning? Of course you have meaning and value, because you are the object of God’s love and you are never alone forevermore. Because of your baptism, you have a name, and an identity and meaning. Amen
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