Baptism of Our Lord
Behold, the former things have happened and I declare new things. I tell you about them before they come up.
The weather reports for the coming days are threatening bad weather in some parts of the nation. These threats aren’t winter storms as you might expect in January, but tornados. We live at the very southern tip of Tornado Alley, and though we have experienced the worry of watches and warnings, though none have ever materialized in our neighborhood. We have had to deal with the damage from hail and wind, however. While we desperately need the rain that could come with the weather this weekend, we really do hope that it is not severe.
There are people out there who chase after these storms. Several television shows have shown what life is like on the road, what it is like to be in the middle of one of these storms, what the world looks like after they’ve hit. It is devastating to the communities where a tornado has leveled house after house and destroyed businesses and other buildings. One show used to star two sisters who took tours into tornado watch zones to give guests an adventure and possibly a glimpse at the storm in action. I think these storm chasers are out of their minds. They pull right up to the storm, park their cars and get out to watch as a tornado forms right in front of them. At times they park so near to the storm center that they put themselves in danger. Of course, the television programs edit the footage to give us the most exciting parts of the chase. I imagine that most of the video is dropped to the cutting room floor because it is so boring. So, we only see the parts that thrill the people and the viewers.
I think what is most amazing is that the guests on that tornado tour choose to do this for their vacation. They choose to put themselves into danger as a way of relaxing and enjoying themselves. The hardest part is when the tornado does real damage. It is heartbreaking to them to see a house, or a town, that has been destroyed. They help if they can and cry along with the victims when they can’t. Some of the storm chasers are scientists who are studying the storms in the hope of understanding what happens. They keep in contact with the National Weather Service: it is often their calls that prompt warnings and watches that help keep us safe.
I suppose I wouldn’t mind seeing a tornado as long as I knew it would never be close enough to hurt me. The fear of the watches and warnings have been more than enough for me. In Little Rock, a tornado warning came about the time that Victoria and Zack were dropped off by their school bus. The bus driver had to pull over and asked if the children who were still on the bus could stay in our house until the threat passed. A very small tornado briefly touched down about a mile from our house. Late one night in Texas I woke to the sound of fierce winds. When I looked out the window, I saw a child’s plastic pool fly by our house. There were tornado warnings that night but nothing materialized near our home. It is frightening to be in the midst of the storm.
A little fear can be healthy and life-saving. For those who storm chase, it is the fear of the tornado actually catching up with them that keeps them at a safe distance. It is the fear that makes them get in the car and drive away when there is a chance that the tornado will turn. It is fear that makes a bus driver take his kids off the bus and into a safe place during the threat. It is fear that puts us in our safe room during a warning so that if a tornado comes, we will get through it. Fear is a healthy and life-saving thing at times, but through our storms we can look to the One who will be with us. God is in control. He is more powerful than the most dangerous tornado. He is stronger than the trees, deeper than the oceans. He can shake the deserts. Through it all, He gives us strength and gives us peace. He deserves our praise.
God is far more than we can even imagine. By His Word, the world exists. By His Word, we have life. His Word gives us all we need to live and serve Him in this world to His glory. Yet, with our words we still try to make God fit into a box that suits our needs and desires. The Psalmist knew that God is bigger than human reason and understanding; the psalm praises God by singing of the awesome power of His Word. We should do the same, using God’s Word to lift them out of their tiny box into a greater understanding of His Love.
In the Psalm David writes, “And In his temple everything says, “Glory!” In the sanctuary of God’s presence, the people need not tremble with fear despite the apparent turmoil on earth. Jesus, the living and breathing temple in which the fullness of God dwelt on earth, is the sanctuary in which we can take refuge. This is the kind of life Jesus lived, the life we see modeled in the scriptures.
Jesus was who He was. He was the incarnation of the living God: Christ, Messiah, Son, Emmanuel. He did not need a baptism of any sort, yet He went to John to be baptized, a baptism for repentance. He had no sin to be forgiven or separation from the Creator which needed reconciliation. He was the living Word of God in flesh. Yet, Jesus was also man. His baptism was far more than just an act of example for the rest of us. His baptism defined His identity, as God reached out of the heavens to claim Jesus as His own Son. By going to John, Jesus demonstrated His humble obedience to the will and purpose of God. It was right for Jesus to be baptized, even if John thought it was wrong.
John was not willing to do as Jesus asked. “But John would have hindered him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?’” We don’t see the nuances of this conversation in the English: John did not just say “No,” he argued with Jesus. Finally Jesus answered, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is how God willed it to be, so John gave in to Jesus’ request.
John, who recognized that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world, knew he was not worthy even to touch Jesus’ sandals. How could he possibly baptize the One whom he knows has no need of baptism? Jesus did not need to repent, so what purpose did it hold for Jesus to be buried in the Jordan? John had to submit to God’s will and accept that God sometimes calls us to do things we do not want to do and that we do not think we are worthy of doing. It is through weak, broken vessels that God fulfills all righteousness.
God made covenants with His people throughout history. He made a covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses and with David. Those covenants were accompanied by signs, such as the rainbow for Noah and circumcision for Abraham. Jesus Christ is the ultimate sign for all the promises. He is the sign that God will remember His promises, that we are made children of God, that the Law has been fulfilled and that we will have a King forever. He came to fulfill all God’s promises, to be the covenant that will last.
The new covenant was different than the old because it was given for everyone. It was given for the whole world, even those beyond the edge of the world. It was given for unknown people in unknown places, and at unknown times. It is a lasting covenant. He is a lasting covenant, given for us as He was given for them. It is Jesus who stands between the holiness of God and the godlessness of this world. We are not worthy of God’s grace, but Jesus is the sign that God will favor us with mercy and forgiveness. He makes us righteous. He gives us life. We are His and as His, we are also children of God.
It wasn’t enough for Jesus to be born. He had to complete the work that God sent Him to earth to do. That included opening the eyes of the blind, making the lame walk and the deaf to hear. He was sent to minister to the crowds and tell them the Good News. He was sent to teach and heal and forgive. He was sent to die. But before He could do all these things, He had to identify with the people He came to save. By identifying with them, He could serve them from a place of empathy and kindness.
When Jesus was baptized, the water poured over Him. When He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit poured over Him. It was at that moment when Jesus became His ministry. We know so little about his life before that time – a few stories about his birth and childhood. His life between thirteen and thirty is a mystery. Some have made claims, including some who say that Jesus spent those years in England, learning from the Celtic druids. There are also claims that He went east to the Orient to learn. We simply do not know. There is no authoritative record of that time. All we know is that at about age thirty, He appeared before John the Baptist to be publically anointed for ministry.
The anointing did not come from human hands, it came from God Himself. The Spirit poured out of Him in word and deed as He spoke about the Kingdom of God and healed the sick. The Spirit continued to be poured on the apostles who told their stories and passed on their faith to others. Generation after generation, the Spirit poured out on to people all over the world, on people like Augustine, Adrian and those who shared it with us. Their love, knowledge and faith poured out upon us so that we too might be taken to the waters of baptism and made a son or daughter of God. Jesus was just the first and it is through Him that we join in the fellowship of God, reconciled and forgiven by His grace. In Jesus, God started something new, a new covenant through Jesus Christ. It all started at that river and continues to today.
Jesus presented His message with gentleness and love. He did not bring further hurt to those who were wounded, but rather spoke healing into their lives. He did not snuff out the passion that burned in the people, but fanned it with the truth so that it would burn brightly and rightly. He did not force His message on any; He simply spoke the truth and moved on. Those who did not listen to His words suffered the consequences of their rejection. Our passage from Isaiah describes the one whom God has chosen to lead His people. Jesus was not expected to be a man with a sword, but with an even more powerful weapon: love. Jesus brought justice with gentleness. May He give us the ability to do the same.
We are called to live in our baptisms. We are called to live a life in which we are daily reminded that God is with us, walks with us and helps us to serve Him in this world. We are called to live the life that Jesus Christ modeled for us in the scriptures. His baptism was far more than just an example for the rest of us. He went under the waters of the Jordan because it fulfilled the purpose and plan of God. In that baptism, Jesus identified fully with humankind. He took on our brokenness. He became like you and I. There, in the Jordan, Jesus made a public confession of faith and God made a public acceptance of Jesus as His Son.
Jesus did a great many things in private. He prayed in private. Some of His most incredible miracles were done behind closed doors with few witnesses to tell the story. He often told the recipients of His grace to be silent, to not tell anyone about their healing. Though there were a few visitors, His birth was relatively unknown. There weren’t great crowds at his circumcision. He slipped away into hiding as a child and then we have no reliable record about His life between twelve and thirty.
It is no wonder that people wondered whether or not Jesus was the one for whom they were waiting. He came out of nowhere one day to be baptized by John. John recognized Him, but what is it that he saw in Jesus? Later, in the eleventh chapter of Matthew, John asks Jesus “Are you the one?” John, a relative of Jesus, must have known about His life before that moment. Perhaps John saw Jesus as a righteous man, right with God and right with man. He knew that Jesus was not like the others who came to be washed of their sin.
At His baptism, Jesus became a public figure. He began His ministry. He made known the will and purpose of God. The things He said and the things He did were not always what the people expected. There was room for doubt because He did not follow their expectations. They thought they knew what they were waiting for; they thought they saw it in Jesus. They heard the voice of God. But it is easy to doubt. It is easy to forget. It is easy to assume we are wrong. That’s why we are called to live in our baptism daily, so that we won’t forget. God claimed Jesus and He claimed us, too, when He called out our names at our baptisms.
“Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” After Jesus was baptized, a voice called from heaven claiming Jesus as His own Son. What did this sound like to the crowds? What kind of voice did they hear coming from the heavens. It was an audible voice because God’s words address the people. He announced and identified the man Jesus as His beloved, His chosen One. Yet, as we look at the description of the voice of God in the Psalm for today, I can’t help but wonder how it sounded to those listening. David writes that the voice of God is like thunder. It breaks the mighty cedars, brings forth fire and shakes the wilderness. The voice of the LORD is like a tornado, tearing apart the forests. Such a voice would make me tremble. What must it been like to be at the Jordan when Jesus was baptized? The heavens opened up and they heard a voice from heaven. Did it bring the people to their knees in fear and awe?
Perhaps the voice of God that day was like thunder, but Jesus was there to bring peace and joy to the world.
His voice may make us tremble with fear, but His love calls us to sing His praise. Through faith in Christ we enter into the Temple of God and join with the heavenly beings singing “GLORY!” The Almighty God has done everything necessary to reconcile Himself to His people. He sent Jesus to finish the work of salvation that was begun even at the first sound of His voice. He sent Jesus to be the fulfillment to every promise. Through Jesus, He claims us as children, anoints us with the Holy Spirit and then sends us into the world to share His grace with those who do not yet know Him.
It seems to us that we are not worthy of such a calling. We are tempted by so many things, and it can be very difficult to overcome when we constantly face that temptation. Our Father knows how difficult it is for us to walk away from those things that are harmful to our spiritual life. Jesus Christ came in flesh and was tempted so that He could truly identify with the failures of our flesh. However, Jesus did not fall into the temptation; He remained perfect and true to the Word of God no matter what Satan offered Him. His understanding of the grace and mercy of God was so perfect, that He was able to keep from sin. By His death and resurrection, we are forgiven our failures and given the freedom to live in His grace and mercy.
Paul asks in his letter to the Romans, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”
We can go out and overindulge in the temptations of this world, knowing that the blood of Jesus Christ forgives us. Yet, Paul answers, “May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer?” By our baptism we are dead to sin, no longer bound to death and the grave. We have been given the greatest gift: through Jesus Christ every promise of God has been fulfilled. How can we continue to live according to the world when we have been adopted into the Kingdom of Heaven? Will you take advantage of the opportunity to overindulge? Or will you be trustworthy and walk in the light and life of God, glorifying Him every step?
The baptism of John was one of repentance, but Jesus made it something new. Today all those who come to the font of baptism in a Christian church are cleansed and forgiven, but we also experience baptism like Jesus. We are claimed as children of God, anointed with the Holy Spirit and then sent into the world to share the grace of God with those who do not yet know Him. At the Jordan Jesus did not need to be forgiven, He was sinless. He did not need to be claimed, He was the Son of God. He did not need to be anointed; He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He did not need to be sent, for His purpose was always to do the will of God.
Though Jesus was God’s Son, the living Word in flesh, I imagine He needed some assurance of His identity. That day at the Jordan, when Jesus went forth in faith to begin His ministry in the world, Jesus received what He needed. He was given a word from God: “You are my beloved.” He was washed with the waters of change and anointed by the Spirit. He then went forth to do everything that God promised that He would do. If He ever had a moment of doubt He could remember His baptism and the promise that came when the heavens opened and God claimed, anointed and sent His Son into the world.
We may have very real reasons to fear in this world, but through faith in Christ we have the same assurance as Jesus. In His New Covenant, we need not fear because God is faithful. As we read through the scriptures, we see the story of a man who was living in His baptism. Jesus woke and slept in the promise of God and lived every moment in between doing what God was calling Him to do. We can live as Christ lived even when we think we are unworthy or unable. When we are tempted or feel unworthy, we need only say “I am baptized” and we’ll know that God is with us, helping us to do His work in this world. This is living in our baptism, dwelling in the covenant that is our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we will truly find peace and joy.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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