(sermon note: 01-10 sermon note)
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 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. 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.’
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and 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.’
Our reading this morning reminds me of the one about a farmer who was out walking his land one day. He happened upon a group of people standing down by a creek watching a local pastor perform a baptism on a young man. After the pastor raised the young man from the waters, he turned to the farmer and asked him, “Are you ready to find Jesus?” Excitedly the farmer agreed and stepped into the waters. The pastor leaned him forward and dunked his head under the water. After a few moments, the pastor brought the farmer up and eagerly asked, “Have you found Jesus, brother?!” “No, sir, I have not!” responded the farmer. The pastor dunked him in again and held him there a little longer. He brought him up and he thrashed around a bit. “NOW have you found Jesus?!” “No, sirree, not yet!” The pastor rolled his eyes and dunked the man one more time, this time holding him under for a good long time. He violently yanked the farmer out of the water and screamed, “HAVE YOU FOUND JESUS YET?!” Coughing up water and gasping for breath, the farmer sheepishly replied, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?!”
“Are you sure this is where he fell in?”…gotta love that response! WE know it wasn’t where Jesus “fell in.” No, Jesus “fell in” the river Jordan a long time ago with the help of his cousin, John. And it wasn’t as if he slipped or was pushed in as the expression, “fell in,” suggests. Yes, Jesus deliberately chose to enter the waters and allow his cousin to baptize him. And for a reason unlike the reasons of anyone else gathered at the waters that day. Jesus had no sin to atone for like everyone else. Nor did he need to be claimed as a beloved child of God. He was and is the MOST beloved child of God! So both of the primary gifts of baptism, forgiveness and adoption, weren’t bestowed on him through John which ultimately begs the question, “why?” Why did Jesus choose to enter the waters for baptism? What did he get of it?
We can answer those questions a couple different ways. Recall that this event was the second of what I consider to be his two main “coming-out parties.” As we heard last week, the first “coming-out party” occurred when he was 12 years old and he chose to stay behind at the temple in Jerusalem to teach the rabbis about God. Clearly he proved to have extraordinary wisdom for a boy of such age. Fast forward 18 years and we have Jesus presenting himself to his cousin for baptism. Not in itself an extraordinary thing to do…plenty of people had sought the forgiveness of the baptismal waters both before and after him. What makes it an extraordinary event was the voice coming out of the heavens declaring Jesus’ sonship and pleasure in Jesus. For the second time, Jesus was revealed to the world to be someone truly special. He was more than the average rabbi, more than the average sinner in need of forgiveness. His life and behavior were singled out as most pleasing to the Father. That simple statement, “you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” was a statement that had never been heard from our heavenly Father before or since. It is a statement of revelation, of validation, and of affirmation. Boy, wouldn’t we all love to hear such a statement from our heavenly Father?! Maybe not the claim to be a son or daughter of his but certainly the affirmation. Who doesn’t love to hear that they have pleased their parent or made their parent proud?! We all want to please our parents or make our parents proud, even those of us who aren’t particularly proud of our parents. We want to please those around us, especially those who have invested a lot of time and effort into us. It’s just a product of being social creatures, we want to please. And along with that need to please comes an equally strong need for our actions to be affirmed. We need others to recognize and acknowledge how we work to please. Many parents have failed their child by not acknowledging their pleasing behavior. We simply need to hear when we’ve done well in pleasing those around us: “Good job, Mike,” “Pretty impressive, Betty,” “I appreciate that, Bill,” “That’s what I wanted, Mary, thank you.” We need to hear these words, our actions need to be affirmed…WE need to be affirmed, just as the Father affirmed Jesus at his baptism. We’d be wise to use such affirming words in our daily interactions with others.
But besides providing an arena for the Father to reveal who Jesus is and affirm him, Jesus’ baptism has another extraordinary aspect of it. So if Jesus is without sin and he doesn’t need to be claimed as a beloved child of God, why did get baptized at all? Sure, it prompted the Father to reveal who he is but I’m sure he could have simply asked the Father to do that without the baptism. So why did he do it? For the same reason he did everything: to be an active participant in the human experience, to actually do what we do. In baptism as in death, there is a change. We are changed from an old being into a new being, there is new life. Many of us cling to the joy and hope of that new life to help us get through that change. But there are many who can’t or won’t cling to that joy and hope. They’re terrified of the process of change itself. Or maybe they simply don’t want to be changed, they like the life they have. It is for these people that I believe Jesus was baptized. He wasn’t changed but rather revealed. Recall the wisdom of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8) We might change in life but Jesus and God stay the same throughout. Neither baptism nor death could change who Jesus is so we can place our hope and trust in him. He is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow and forevermore.
So Jesus entered into baptism with two extraordinary goals in mind: for his extraordinary identity to be revealed and his extraordinary mission to be established. He is the Son of God AND an unchanging rock in our lives. Life is full of changes. Baptism itself is a changing ritual. But there is also a constant in life: God and the love of God, affectionately known as Jesus Christ. We ought not be afraid when facing times of change. We have a rock that has been through them all. Recall what God spoke to Joshua as he was setting out to lead the Israelites in the wilderness after Moses’ death: “I hereby command you: be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:9) Jesus was baptized because he needed to go where we go, plain and simple. He needs to be a rock in all aspects of our lives, especially during times of great change. Instead of clinging to the joy and hope of new life, let us cling to the joy and hope found in him and him alone. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.