Jan. 9, 2022 Baptism of Our Lord The text is Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.
1 5As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 2 2and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
The four gospels differ in a great many ways; in which events of Christ’s ministry they speak to and in also in the specifics that they include. The narrative of Jesus’ baptism is one of a relative few that appear in all four accounts of his life and mission. That said, there are in fact a few dissimilarities in the details of this most important event in Christ’s ministry. In Matthew, John the Baptist physically immerses Jesus in the Jordan River and the voice from heaven declares that “this” is my Son in who I am pleased. Mark also writes that John personally baptized Jesus, but his gospel tells us that the heavenly voice proclaims directly to Jesus that “you” are my Son and that God is pleased. In the gospel of John, we read that the Baptist “testified” that he saw the spirit from heaven descend upon Jesus and that Jesus will baptize others with the Holy Spirit.
But there is no mention that John the Baptist actually performed Jesus’ baptism. And, just to make things a bit more confusing, this morning’s assigned reading from Luke recounts that Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit bodily descended upon him in the form of a dove, and that God declares he is pleased with Jesus. And like we find in Mark, the voice from heaven states that this pleasure is directed at Jesus, again as “you” are my Son. And, in the three verses that are skipped over by the people who decide what each Sunday’s readings should be, it is noted that at the time of Jesus’ baptism, that John the Baptist was in prison. You may recall that Herod ordered John’s imprisonment because of John’s condemnation of Herod marrying his brother’s wife. Are these proclamations by God that “this” is my Son, which was obviously intended for the ears of the people present at Jesus’ baptism, or God’s expressing his pleasure to Jesus as “you” my Son, intended only for Jesus to hear; do these different gospel accounts matter? And the presence or absence of John the Baptist, is this significant to how we understand the meaning and importance of the event itself?
The consequence of Jesus’ baptism is that it signifies the fulfilment of God’s righteousness, that of entering into a righteous relationship with humanity. This is only possible through the action of Jesus being baptized, of standing in for a sinful humankind, of substituting his sinless self for a sinful people. Jesus becomes identified with a fallen humanity, with us. His baptism sets his ministry and mission in motion and this pleases God. So much so that God announces that he is pleased with his Son by this event. In order that a righteous relationship with God might be renewed, the divine Jesus is born of a mortal Mary, walks among us as a human being, is baptized to fully identify with humanity, and is eventually raised from the dead to fully accomplish this restoration between God and God’s people. So, no I don’t thank the minor disparities found in the gospels matter at all; what counts is that God’s people have been restored to a right relationship with the Father; through the totality of Christ the Son’s entire birth, baptism, life, death, and resurrection. Humanity is reconciled to God through the work of Christ Jesus, the sinless sinner. The One baptized in order that he might begin his walk on the road to the cross, from which he will rise to pay our debt.
Let’s come back to Jesus’ baptism for a bit. What is it that Jesus has done prior to this that God should be pleased with him? It must be simply that the Father is glad that his Son is now embarking on the start of his mission. Let’s not forget that up until this point Jesus hasn’t preached a word, taught a lesson, healed a single illness, or performed even one miracle. In fact, he hasn’t yet called a single disciple to accompany him in his ministry. Yet, God is pleased. And like the grace that God bestows upon us, this pleasure which he expressed toward Jesus is likewise a gift; given simply because God chooses to grant this to Jesus. If God is pleased that Jesus chose to be baptized even though it wasn’t necessary for him to do so, imagine the joy that God feels when we, the sinful ones who are in need of baptism to be cleansed are made new with water and the Holy Spirit. It’s rather as if each time a baptism occurs, each of us may imagine we hear the voice of God saying, “you are my child, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
At our baptism, through the action of the Holy Spirit, we are claimed by God; and through his adoption, we are set apart from the world. As members of God’s family, we are made holy; the old Adam and Eve in us are no more and they replaced by new, holy persons. Now, before we get too carried away with this prospect of our own holiness, let’s explore the biblical meaning of the word. Both the original Hebrew, “qadosh” and the Greek translation, “hagios” share the same meanings. When used to describe God they refer to God’s sacredness, purity, worthiness. When used for the description of God’s people, the meaning reverts to the broader translation of “set apart”, “righteous”, “acceptable to God”. So, therefore, my holy friends you are in a righteous relationship with God, who is pleased that you have been set apart from the world as his children.
In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet was struggling with a thorny problem and he realized that there was a particular part of his issue that he knew would need to be dealt with. “There’s the rub”, Hamlet said as he discovered the other side of the coin; and there is also a second component to our baptism, rather like there was to Jesus’. His baptism served as the event that set his ministry and mission in motion; for us, our acceptance into God’s family, our being made holy, is accompanied by our also being commissioned. We have been tasked with striving to attain and retain the holiness, the separateness from the world that is expressed through living lives grounded in faith in God and in service to others.
Our baptism sets the stage for a lifelong process of growing, striving, and yearning for greater faith, deeper understanding, and a closer relationship with our God. And, if this seems daunting, we mustn’t forget that we have a constant helper in our individual missions, our personal ministries. This same Holy Spirit that John the Baptist promised that Jesus would ensure we are baptized with, accompanies us in our efforts to maintain our holiness. And, when we stumble, we must remember that the initial acceptance into God’s family at our baptism was reinforced and made eternal by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Whenever we feel that we’re acting in less than holy ways, when our human weakness lets us down, all we need do is remember that the Holy Spirit that was present at our baptism is with us always. And, that no matter how much we fall, through the Spirit, God always thinks of us in the same way; “we are his children; in us he is well pleased.”
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, at Jesus’ baptism, you proclaimed him your Son and expressed your pleasure in him. We ask that you help us to live the faithful, servanthood lives that you wish for us and that in spite of our brokenness, you will be pleased by our attempts at holiness. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the Holy One whose example we strive to imitate.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.