Baptism of Jesus 2017 Epiphany 1 Matthew 3:13-17
“Then came Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized.”
When Matthew wrote of Jesus’ birth, the coming of the Wise Men, the jealous rage of Herod and flight of the holy family into Egypt, he relayed to us numerous names which our Lord to us through the water and the word of our baptism. These names tell us of the blessings we received. Jesus, God’s Savior sent to save us from our sins. Immanuel – God with us for rest of our lives and into eternity. King of the Jews, who draws Gentiles like you and me to come to him and worship him. The ruler, who shepherd’s us through our life. God calls him a child and my son, My beloved Son. Christ, the anointed one. With the grace of all those names upon us god changed the course of our life. A new person was born to live a new life as God’s own child, a child of paradise. St. Paul writes, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Today, Matthew helps us focus on Jesus’ baptism which was the first step in God’s plan of salvation. Today we see Jesus, carrying all his grace filled names, coming to the Jordan river, to John, to be baptized. Now the baptism John offered was different than ours. His was a baptism of repentance, of reconversion, of reentry into God’s people. The breaking in of the kingdom of heaven was near. The establishment of God’s reign was at hand. In those days when John was preaching in the Jordan wilderness, people were flocking to the Jordan river to baptized by John. They waded into the water confessing their sins, determined to turn away from their failure to live as God’s people and be reconverted as faithful children of God. This movement was something of a mass altar call. They vowed to bear fruits fitting for a people chosen by God as his own precious planting in the land of milk and honey. They promised to walk in the paths of the Lord as they prepared to welcome the Messiah. As they re-entered the promised land from the wilderness of the Jordan, they were determined to do better than their forbearers who had crossed that same Jordan river more than a thousand years before.
John warned that the coming of the kingdom of heaven would be accompanied by judgment for those who did not repent and turn from their ways. A mightier One was coming, so much more mighty that John didn’t even qualify to be his lowest servant. John spoke in vivid language. This mightier one would come as an axe swinging woodsman cutting off the branches, and the trunk down to the very root of the unrepentant’ s connection to God’s people. Picture a tree service cutting down a tree and grinding out the stump. He would come with a winnowing fork separating the grain from the chaff and letting the wind blow the chaff into an unquenchable fire. Like a combine mowing through a field of wheat at the end of June. This mightier one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
These threats of judgment were leveled against none other than the paragons of virtue, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who believed they were above walking into the muddied water with a bunch of unclean sinners. To be baptized by this shouting preacher dressed in camel’s hair and dining of honey and locusts? Give us a break. Who needs that? They didn’t want get near the likes of us, who are here once again this morning confessing our sins.
Then one day Jesus came from Galilee. He didn’t come as a cool observer of this phenomenon down in Judea. He didn’t come as a sceptic or a critic. He didn’t come expecting someone to carry his sandals. He brought no raging fire from heaven. The mountains did not quake, nor the wind blow. Oh, that would happen, but not until he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” and died, then the earth would quake. It would quake again when the angel of the Lord came and rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb. Then he would show that he truly was the mightier one, mightier than sin, mightier than death itself. The fire and Spirit and the wind would come, but not until Pentecost.
But I’m getting ahead of the story. When Jesus came to John, he simply waded into the water with all the other sinners to be baptized. John was stunned. He tried to prevent him. He needed to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. There always seemed to be people trying to prevent Jesus from doing what he was sent to do. Herod to kill him, the devil to tempt him, later it would be Peter trying to dissuade him, at the cross those challenging him to save himself, and finally the guards at the tomb.
There are times when we wish Jesus would act in power and take care of whatever is troubling us. However, Isaiah told us in the Old Testament lesson that Jesus would be a different sort of Messiah than John expected. He would be persistent, neither growing faint nor discouraged at what he would face. But he would not come yelling at people. If he came across a bent cattail, he wouldn’t break it. He would not snuff out a guttering candle struggling for oxygen. He would come as God’s instrument to heal a broken world; with the fresh air of the gospel.
Jesus tells John, “Do it, because it’s fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness?” John did it. Being baptized was in total agreement with God’s plan for the universe. In being baptized Jesus was taking the first step in completing all righteousness. That is, he would be obedient to God in doing what his name says. He would save the world from their sins. Righteousness here means “salvation.” Listen to psalm 71 “By your saving power rescue and deliver me, hear me and save me…Your might and saving power will reach the highest heavens…All day long my tongue will tell of your saving power.”
Jesus will make us “all right” again. Joseph Sittler, a great 20th century theologian, often told of the time his car broke down in Jerusalem. A mechanic fixed and started the car up so Sittler could hear that it was running perfectly. The mechanic exclaimed, “Zadik.” Zadik is the Hebrew word for righteous. But in that auto shop it meant, “it works.” Jesus righteousness is his actions in making us all right so that we can function again as God’s people.
Did you notice that word “us” when Jesus spoke to John? “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteous.” John played a part in this first step to making us all right again. As we play a part in telling that Jesus has made the world all right.
But then what happened after John baptized Jesus? The hope expressed in Isaiah 64, that God would at last tear open the heavens and come down, happened. As Jesus went up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and came to rest on him. A voice told the gathered people, “This is my beloved Son with whom I continue to be well pleased.”
God’s pleasured rested on him as it rests on us. Jesus would now begin his ministry. And baptism marks the beginning of our service to God. Baptized in the name of Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit we too are beloved children of God and are made all right.