First Scripture Reading Isaiah 42:1-9
Second Scripture Reading Acts 10:34-48
Third Scripture Reading Matthew 3:13-17
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, 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, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
by Pastor Cherie Dearth
We are in the second week of our sermon series, The Wisdom of God. We will be looking at what the wisdom of God is as compared with the wisdom of the world, or even what we might think are rational and logical ways to do things. And yet, God’s ways always turn out the way God intends. We may not understand when we are in the midst of things, but when we look back, we go, “Ahhhh, that’s why ….” Or, we may not understand until we see God face to face, understanding that God’s perspective is one that is beyond our comprehension.
Today, we’re looking at baptism, specifically Jesus’ baptism. When you think about it dunking yourself in water … or having it poured over you or sprinkled on you is kind of strange. Why would a physical washing take away our sins or give us new life? Does it really do that? Why would a sinless man have to do that anyway? Was that the purpose in Jesus’ baptism?
When we think of the last three weeks, the last three Sundays, what have they been about? Identification. At Christmas we have the celebration of Jesus’ birth, of course, but when we look at the Scripture for that day, what was its purpose … or at least one of its purposes?
At Christmas Jesus is identified this way by the angel, “Today, in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Jesus is not only the Savior but the Christ, the Messiah. But who does the angel tell? Shepherds. They may be highly regarded here, but at the time in first century Palestine, they were considered a disreputable group. They were considered little better than vagrants or thieves. However, an interesting point is that of all the people we hear about up to this point, they are the only ones to receive the message without question. Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father asks upon hearing the news that he is going to have a son, “How can I be sure of this?” (Luke 1:18) Even Mary asks, “How will this be?” (Luke 1:34) Contrast that with the shepherds who upon hearing the news say, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Luke 2:15b).
Then last week, we talked about the Magi. Upon seeing a great celestial event, they made the arduous journey to Jerusalem to ask, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” (Mt 2:2) Though the shepherds had been told up to two years prior and went around telling people, the Jewish government, leaders, and academics still have to be told by people from other lands.
This is who Jesus is … a Savior, Christ the Lord, King of the Jews.
This week at Jesus’ baptism, God speaks to all those present. Not in Jerusalem, still in an out of the way area, near the wilderness at the Jordan River. Sure there were plenty of people there, including some Pharisees, but one would think that an important announcement by God would be make at the Temple in Jerusalem with much fanfare. Instead, it is here at the Jordan River where God tells everyone, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17).
In the wisdom of the world, all this would be announced in Jerusalem at the Temple by the high priests or perhaps better yet in Rome, but no, these announcements happen to the least, the last, and the lost, sometimes both literally and figuratively.
What would that look like today? You would have to have a press conference in New York City, Los Angeles, or Washington D.C. It would be running live on all the television networks and cable news channels. Lights, camera, ACTION! The introduction done by George Clooney or maybe someone related to Billy Graham. You would want the greatest publicity, reaching the largest number of people possible.
Instead, it happens at some little river in the middle of nowhere like the Chattahoochee in Georgia or the Pecos in Texas, if it has any water in it, or even the Wallowa River. Some regular people around who are just trying to get right with God. There’s a little commotion as the preacher and one of the people there to get baptized have a little discussion about who should be baptizing whom, and everybody there (all thirty of them) hear this voice announcing, “This is my Son …” They all tell their friends, but no one thought to get out their phones, so there is no video to put on Youtube.
Moving back to the first century … People remember about this incident later, after hearing about Jesus’ death and resurrection. They say something like, “Yes, I remember when I saw him at the river a couple of years ago. Maybe it was three, when we were all getting baptized. It was so amazing. I’ll never forget it. We thought we must have been dreaming because we thought we heard the voice of God, but you know now I think we really did.”
This is how God communicated the news. Jesus is the Savior, the King of the Jews, the Son of God. Despite this strange way to spread the world, seemingly to very few people, the message has made its way around the world.
The next question is why would Jesus need to be baptized in the first place? If Jesus was sinless, why would he need a baptism of repentance and forgiveness? I understand it’s a pretty common question, but I really hadn’t considered it before. I pretty much took Jesus at his word when he told John, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15).
But this is really the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This is the first thing we hear about in the gospels since Jesus was a child. When he was twelve, he got separated from his family group when they were in Jerusalem for Passover. His parents found him in the Temple, and following this Luke says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Then, nothing until at about age thirty, he shows up at the Jordan River to be baptized.
Here Jesus stands up, publically committing himself to the will of God. This is the moment when Jesus declares that his is completely on board with God’s plan. And, God responds with words and the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove.
I read a story about doves recently by Anne Carter Florence. What do you imagine when you hear that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove? I don’t know about you, but I picture a gentle fluttering like a leaf that falls off a tree, coming down gently and softly, and landing on your shoulder. That’s what Anne thought too until she was educated by her eleven year old son. Apparently, doves swoop fast like a hawk and then lands like a helicopter.
The Holy Spirit went after its target, Jesus, and BAM!
Think about how the Holy Spirit may “target” us. Are we even aware that we may be targets? Whether or not we are aware, Jesus certainly was. He commits, and he submits, “to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15).
How would it be if we saw our baptisms or our lives with Christ as an act of surrender rather than a choice? Or that the Holy Spirit targeted us long ago and will swoop down to us to bring us to him as the proper way “to fulfill all righteousness”? It feels like a choice, our choice, but is it? As in The Silver Chair, but C.S. Lewis, Aslan (also known as Jesus) says to one of the children, “You would not have been calling to me if I had not already been calling to you,” which is another way of saying that it may be our choice, but we were invited by God before we even knew there was a choice to make.
So in the wisdom of God, Jesus commits to God’s plan, and God names and claims Jesus. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). While the nature of Jesus’ baptism and ours is very different (Jesus’ is an earthly baptism, but with ours, we are baptized into Jesus from death to life. If you want to learn more about what that means, see me after the worship service.), so while ours and Jesus’ baptisms are different, here is a point of connection.
Through baptism, God communicates who we are and whose we are. It is an indicator that God is working in us. When we make our baptismal vows, we talk about the relationship from our side. If we were baptized before we can remember (like I was), promises were made on our behalf, promises that we have or had to acknowledge or accept to continue the Christian life. This may have happened through a confirmation process or a remembrance of baptism ceremony, like we will do in a little while. Maybe you never have done this (or were going through the motions because everyone around you was doing it). If you want to, you will have a chance to do it shortly.
The thing is, whether we have made or accepted these vows or promises or not, God has remained with us. Humans drift over time and need to recommit or refocus. God doesn’t have to do this. God is constant. God is faithful. No matter what we do, these things about God don’t change.
That’s why a person never has to be re-baptized. God did everything that was necessary the first time. We might need some refreshment, but through baptism, God names us and claims us, just like he did with Jesus. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). Through baptism God says to us, “You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Do you have to be baptized to be a Christian, to receive salvation? No, but baptism is an outward sign of an inward transformation. As David Lose puts it, “Baptism announces God’s inclusion of us into God’s family.” It is a claiming and an allowance to be claimed. It is a surrender.
This is part of the Wisdom of God that we see in baptism, in Jesus’ or our own. In a world where strength and independence are prized, Jesus stands up to surrender and submit to a greater power and will, and he calls us to do the same, not as an indication of weakness but as a sign of courage and strength.
As it says in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, Lord “You are my strength when I am weak. You are the treasure that I see. You are my all in all.” (“All in All”, Dennis Jernigan)