Baptism of Jesus
| Psalms 29
|Sun, January 14, 2001
|Through Jesus we receive the love of God.
As Janice reminded us last week in her sermon, in the season after Epiphany, which follows our Christmas celebrations, we revisit the stories of Jesus that show signs "trying to plainly point out to all that there is more to Jesus than meets the eye when you look at the babe lying in a manger."1
Today we explore the baptism of Jesus. It begins with the announcement of John the Baptist that the Messiah is coming. You've got a good memory if when listening to the gospel today you heard echoes of Ed's voice explaining the text. For we just heard this preaching of John the Baptist on the 17th of December - the third Sunday of Advent. So why does it come up so soon again? Well this time we have the conclusion to the story. Not only is the announcement given that someone greater than John is coming, but at the end of our reading Jesus enters onto the stage.
I spent this week, Monday to Friday 9-4, in a class on mission and evangelism. Our teacher was Jim Cruikshank whom some of you may remember as the Vice Principal of VST through the 1970's and more recently the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Cariboo. One of the first things he said as we began our classes was "never let the second best be the enemy of the best." This might have been a slogan John the Baptist would have used. At the beginning of our reading we discover that people are getting excited about what John is talking about. They begin to ask whether John might be the Messiah - the one appointed by God to lead God's people.
In Luke's gospel John replies with an emphatic "no way." He stresses that he would "not be worthy even to untie the thong of his sandals. Untying sandals was such a menial duty that is was expected only of slaves; disciples were not expected to untie their master's sandals."2 In no clearer terms could John have said, this coming kingdom isn't through me, but keep a watch out, for the one through whom these things will come true is coming.
There are not very many incidents that are recorded in all four gospels, but the baptism of Jesus is one of them. In Mark's version there is no birth narrative, so Jesus' baptism introduces who he is. Matthew tries to explain why this sinless one submits to a baptism of repentance. In John's gospel, it is John the Baptist who says he witnessed the Spirit descend upon Jesus.
Luke doesn't really seem to be interested in the baptism itself though. He rushes through the four words it takes to convey that it has happened to tell the reader what happens afterward. Jesus turns to God in prayer. Jesus arrives in humble obscurity and without presumption to prayerfully await the will of the Father. Luke loves to picture Jesus in prayer. He shows him praying at all the crucial turning points of his life: at the selection of the twelve apostles (6:12), at Peter's confession (9:18), at the transfiguration (9:28) in Gethsemane (22:41); on the cross (23:34). He tells us that Jesus went repeatedly to the wilderness to pray (5:16) and that he spent whole nights in prayer (6:12).
Here too Jesus' prayer is at a crucial moment. Luke writes that after all were baptized and Jesus was baptized and praying, then (then the amazing thing happened) then the heaven was opened, the Spirit came and God spoke. The opening of heaven alerts us that something of great importance is happening. In Biblical apocalyptic writing, the opening of heaven signals God's blessings, God's power and mercy are about to be unleashed. And unleashed it is. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove.
"The Holy Spirit comes to empower Jesus for his ministry. Right after he is baptized he is led by the Spirit into the desert and endures temptation, then he returns "in the power of the Spirit into Galilee."3 Luke takes great care to point out that the work of John the Baptist and then Jesus and finally of the apostles was empowered and guided by the Spirit. For they were carrying and living God's message.
The voice from heaven declares, "You are my Son, the Beloved." This voice confirms both the angelic annunciation at the time of Jesus' birth, as well as the words of the precocious child in the Temple who calls it 'my Father's house.' But these words would also echo in the minds of the Jewish people. For "the affirmation of Jesus as God's Son resonates with declarations of sonship throughout Israel's history."4 In times of old, the king of Israel had been acclaimed the Son of God. And after the monarchy Israel itself was designated as God's son. This Jesus stands in this impressive lineup, as God's chosen one, and he is named "beloved."
The phrase "in whom I am well pleased" encourages us to understand that Jesus is applauded for his obedience to God's commands. In his baptism Jesus commits to begin his public ministry. Through receiving the baptism of water, Jesus aligns himself with the people who turn from sin and trust God.
Often we celebrate baptism during our worship on this day. Ed reminded us on email last week that three years ago Angela O'Donnell and Sean Vanderluit were baptized. Not only a turning from sin and a trusting in God, baptism also signifies our union into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And part of that means sharing in the promises of God first extended to the Hebrew people. Janice reminded us last week that through Christ, "the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (vs. 6) Through the actions of God in Christ, Gentiles - you and me - have now been invited into covenant relationship with Yahweh. When Christ is revealed as beloved Son of God, we hear our own name called through our union with Christ in baptism. In our baptism or confirmation we are given a new identity.
We heard in the passage from Isaiah this morning the deep love that God has for his covenant people. (Read some if you want). Isaiah is addressing a people who have been torn from their homeland; finding themselves exiled in Babylon. To the best of their knowledge, God stayed in Jerusalem and abandoned them here in this strange land. Their harsh experiences threaten to deaden their hearts even to the possibility of deliverance from their distress. The sole ground of Israel's confidence is stated clearly in verse 2 "I will be with you." From this most central of all biblical promises is birthed again in the gospel: Immanuel, God with us.
The passage from Isaiah is a great scenario of homecoming for the benefit of the displaced who are the beloved. In the middle of the passage we hear a moving personal confession of God. "Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you." (v.4) Claus Westermann writes that in this imagery, "a tiny, miserable and insignificant band of uprooted men and women are assured that they - precisely they - are the people to whom God has turned in love; they, just as they are, are dear and precious in his sight. And think who says this - the lord of all powers and authorities, of the whole of history and of all creation!"5 And if God remembers them, if God loves them then they are able to imagine the time when their exile will end, when those from the north, south, east and west will be regathered together as God's people.
In class Jim challenged us to think of the importance of "I am" statements about ourselves. - Molson commercials (t-shirts, conversations, new identity)
For the identity that we claim profoundly affects how we live our lives.
- Jesse Jackson - gathered church - what to do disparity and poverty of their
peoples. Chicago. I am black. I am beautiful. I am a beloved child of
God. Allowed them to stand up to economic abuse in the poor neighbourhoods
and it grew from there.
We're not accustomed to thinking of ourselves as outsiders because of our designation as "Gentiles." In fact I didn't even know I was one until I went to church. But we may well know what it feels like to be an outsider for some other reason. And we need to hear the message from Isaiah.
You are named by God.
You are called by God.
You are precious.
You are honoured.
You are loved by God.
This is the identity offered to us in Christ Jesus.
Isaiah's passage ends by saying we are created for God's glory. We are reminded that while we reach our highest purpose in praise of God, we are not the creator of our own doxology. Isaiah calls us to look to God as the only One who can give us wholeness when we surrender to his will. Paul Hanson writes, "God's confession that we are precious in God's sight, even honoured, and most astonishing of all, loved, draws forth as its only fitting response the fervent desire to submit obediently to God's will and thereby to find genuine freedom and fulfillment."6
On this Sunday of the baptism of Christ may we hear our names echoes in the voice from heaven. We too are beloved. Thanks be to God.
1 Janice Love, sermon January 7, 2001
2 New Interpreter's Bible, Luke, 85.
3 Interpretation, 52.
4 New Interpreter's Bible, Luke, 91.
5 Westermann, Isaiah, 118.
6 Hansen, Interpretation, 61.