The Baptism of Jesus.
What do we do when things happen and they’re not what we expected? Like when we book a holiday with all the expectations of what it will be like from the pictures in the brochure – and maybe we search the internet for photos of the place and what we’ve got to look forward to. And when we get there we find that it’s not quite what we were expecting. And not necessarily in a negative way as of course it can work both ways – we can be disappointed or pleasantly surprised.
We’re just getting into the new year after the celebrations of Christmas and we’re thinking again about John the Baptist as we read about him through Advent. Foretold by the prophet Isaiah, he was “A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” But everything he’d been preparing for and waiting to happen – when it did, it wasn’t in a way he’d expected it to.
John baptised many in the River Jordan, day after day – calling for them to “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near” – and then one day Jesus was there. No fanfare, fire and fear inspiring awe – but just this gentle, ‘ordinary’ man. And he wanted John to baptise him. And John might have been just a bit confused at this point. He knew who this was and tried to deter him, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” This was the wrong way round. He must have thought ‘This isn’t how I’d expected it to be.’
Confused now, totally not what he’d expected, John’s head would have been working overtime trying to fathom it out. Jesus didn’t need to repent, he had never sinned or did anything wrong. John’s baptism with water cleansed people from their sins so they would be forgiven and made right with God and he had proclaimed that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire, so might have been thinking, “hang on, wait a minute, I need you to baptise me with the Holy Spirit and fire; you don’t need my baptism of water.” How could John, who had prepared the way for Jesus – the Messiah – baptise the one he’d heralded and proclaimed?
And there may have been other things whizzing through John’s head like what if the people got the wrong idea of who Jesus was and saw him as just another sinner who had come to be baptised. John wouldn’t want Jesus to be thought of as less than him. After all he’d proclaimed that the one who comes after him would be more powerful, whose sandals he wasn’t worthy to carry.
But for Jesus to begin the work his Father had set him to do and fulfil his role as the Messiah who would put things right between God and mankind, it was necessary and the correct thing to do to be baptised by John.
John’s baptism was a symbol of repentance but what did Jesus need to repent of? In John’s confusion, Jesus explains that he has to be baptised ‘to fulfil all righteousness’ or as the Message translation puts it as Jesus saying, “Do it!! God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now, in this baptism.”
John eventually consented and baptised Jesus. And as Jesus showed obedience to his Father’s will, God showed his approval. As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, Matthew tells us that “the heavens above were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God’s descending like a dove,” and alighting on Jesus. And a voice from heaven said “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Or again as taken from the Message translation, “This is my son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”
John’s work culminated at this point. Now, as it says in John 3:30 “He must become greater, I must become less.”
Jesus public ministry was now to begin. As he submitted himself to be baptised by John, this was his first act of obedience to his Father’s will and to all that he was to do. I have a book of lectionary reflections by Jane Williams, who is the last Bishop of Canterbury – Rowan Williams’ wife – and she described this willing acceptance by saying, “He may not know exactly what it will involve, but he knows it is the will of the Father, and he knows that it is symbolised by this act of solidarity with the state of all humanity.”
Jesus came into this world, in all its darkness. A world which is crying out forgiveness. Which also needs us to repent for our own contribution to that darkness in everything we’ve done that isn’t God’s will. Jesus chose to become part of our world. And as he willingly stepped into the water of the River Jordan, he also willingly accepting the cross upon which his earthly work and life would end.
Through the same baptism, we receive new life in Jesus, we die to all the evil and darkness which separates us from God. Jesus came ‘to fulfil all righteousness’. He was without sin. He didn’t make any negative contribution to the condition of mankind. And yet he paid the ultimate penalty for everything we’ve done. Through God’s grace we are saved and free. And God doesn’t keep a list of those things to bring them back up to remind us We’re good at doing that for ourselves when we can’t forgive ourselves and continually feel guilt when we remember the mistakes we’ve made and things we’ve done wrong. But it’s important that we don’t let it hold us to ransom – we don’t need to remember because God doesn’t.
There’s a simple message which Jesus came to share with us which asks – not forces us – to respond – by being genuinely sorry for all we’ve done wrong and start again. Jesus was the perfect man, our perfect example who was baptised. Let us remember and prepare ourselves to look ahead to the cross on which Jesus Christ died to pay for all our sins – the reason why we can each stand here today.Trusting, obeying and being open to what God wants to say to us.
As Jesus came up from the water and the skies opened, God said “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life” and so too are we the delights of God’s life, chosen and marked by His love. The only response that God wants from us is to choose Him, follow Him and love Him back.
“Our Heavenly Father has promised through our Lord Jesus Christ to hear us when we pray in faith, let us then pray for the church and the world and thank God for his goodness. Send down upon our Bishops and Clergy your Spirit of grace and pour upon them your blessing that by their teaching and lives they may proclaim your word.
We pray that you will fill congregations with your Holy Spirit to guide us in all we say and do to bring glory to you. Take away all pride, and fill us with humility that we will treat everyone with respect.
We pray for our country, Lord be close to those who rule, give them vision and courage. We pray that those who lead may not wish to seem great in the eyes of others, but genuinely serve in a manner which is for the good of all, especially the weak and vulnerable.
We pray for our world, for all races in every land that in fellowship with you they may understand and help one another, and that serving you they may find perfect freedom. We pray especially for Syria, may the power of your love overcome evil. Give courage to those who have had to flee their homes and now live in refugee camps in another country, give comfort to those who have lost loved ones in terrible circumstances and may your healing hands be upon the injured. Be with those of the Aid Agencies, protect them from harm and give them wisdom and compassion.
We pray for the sick the unemployed and the homeless and all who seek the prayers of the church in their time of need.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
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