The Baptism of Jesus
I want us to look this week at the Baptism of Jesus, it is the lectionary reading for Epiphany 1. Why was Jesus baptised?
This week I was in Spain, I went there for New Year, strange to be
walking on the beach on New Years Day in sunshine at 20 degrees.
Whilst I was there I went to Valencia cathedral and saw the withered hand of the martyred saint Vincent. I also saw the painting showing the entrails of Saint Erasmus being wound around a drum from his open stomach whilst a man cut him with a huge knife.
I also saw the real chalice of Christ, which Valencia Cathedral boasts. The cathedral was great for a visit and Valencia is a beautiful city, well worth much longer than I could spend there, sadly we had to come home before Epiphany. Another relic which I saw close by the a splinter of the 'true cross' at Caravaca de la Cruz. There is a feeling around these religious places in Spain which we don't get here and of course Spain is very different of course in the way that it celebrates Christmas and New Year.
The big feast starts on January 6 and celebrates the Epiphany
the coming of the three kings. That is the day upon which they have their
big celebration and give each other presents. I felt that it was a shame
really that I was only there for e few days, I wanted to stay longer, not
just to walk on the beach, but to share in the Epiphany.
Imagine my distress therefore to come home and realize that we were following the common lectionary which cuts out the Epiphany altogether. The three kings are remembered if you have a service on Saturday. However we don’t, so we go straight into the baptism of Jesus.
This year perhaps more than any other I was conscious of just how short we have made our Christmas celebrations. We spend months preparing for Christmas, it lasts a day and then the shops are open for boxing day sales and everybody is trying to sell us Easter eggs.
It is something of a madness, dictated by the commercial imperative, we have taken all your money off you for Christmas, but we won’t let you just be and enjoy it we are going to move straight off into more spending and doing. So next year we will try and remember to have a real three kings epiphany service in the liturgy after Christmas and leave the baptism story for later in the year.
That all said, there is a reason why the lectionary has done this. The lectionary has moved like the shops, very quickly away from Christmas.
Jesus has been born, so now what -
Who is Jesus ?
And why is he here ?
The move to establish in our minds who Jesus is has very quickly taken centre stage and the way to do that is to move into the baptism. The baptism of Jesus gives us a very clear picture of Jesus, his person and his purpose. As religious experiences go, the baptism was for Jesus a high point. This is why was Jesus baptised.
So who is Jesus ?
Part of establishing who Jesus is, is to make it perfectly clear who John
is, or more properly who John is not. We can be fairly sure that Jesus was
baptised by John, the gospel writers would not have told us unless it was
true, since it seems to make Jesus subservient to John.
The evangelists want to make it perfectly plain that John is not the Messiah. The Jews had experienced 400 prophetless years. Now John's ministry brings the kind of spiritual intensity that they have known only by reading long-dead prophets. It is no wonder that people might have thought John to be the promised one − the Messiah.
Is John the Messiah and Jesus the disciple ?
Some of the disciples of John have become the disciples of Jesus, Jesus has been under the shadow of John.
No the answer most forcibly made is that John is only the forerunner.
John is heard to say that he is not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus.
This was a nasty task, so much so that even servants were excused doing.
The point made by the Gospel writers is – do not confuse John and Jesus, they are as different as chalk and cheese. John baptizes with water, Jesus baptize with fire!
And isn’t it interesting that Luke records that it was
'when all the people were baptized' (v. 21).
Then and only then was Jesus baptized. Luke’s statement that
Jesus was last to be baptized...is strategic.... Luke succeeds in making a
clean break between the end of John's ministry and the beginning of Jesus'
Then we get the quote of what happened at Baptism
And a voice came from heaven:
"You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Luke's is concerned about the endorsement implied by the opened heaven. Jesus has the seal of approval from God.
What is his purpose ?
So why has Jesus come? If Jesus is God’s Son , why is he
It is critical to establish the reason for Jesus coming, what the appearance of God on earth was going to entail. This will be shown in the temptations, in the ministry of Jesus and his teachings. But it is clearly shown here also.
When all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized too.
We get a real glimpse of who Jesus is by the fact that he was baptized. This is the kind of Messiah that Jesus will be.
We know that Jesus will in many ways be different from John. He is a real contrast from the austerity of John, the anger of John and the harsh teaching of John. Jesus is a man who eats and drinks and loves to be with people, enjoying their company. There is none of the remote prophet seen in John, wearing coarse clothes and living in the desert.
Indeed so different was Jesus from John and what John expected, that it is little wonder that when John was in prison he sent word to say, are you the Messiah or should we expect another!
Nevertheless, in spite of all the differences between John and Jesus, there is in the baptism of Jesus a recognition that Jesus wants to be associated with john, not with the religious authorities. Jesus is not found in the palace of the king, he is in the same river as the ordinary people, who were acutely aware of their own poverty, both spiritual and material.
In the baptism Jesus gets into the river with ordinary folks and the scene is set for a Messiah who will having nothing to do with the trappings of the religious and social elite.
The Holy Spirit
I want to say something about the Holy Spirit, because the
Holy Spirit is important in this passage and important throughout Luke’s
writing. Luke is a writer who wants to tell his readers about the Holy
Spirit and we find references to the Holy Spirit throughout Luke-Acts which
Even in the very earliest chapters of Luke, there are several mentions of the Holy Spirit:
Zechariah In the announcement of John's birth, the angel tells Zechariah that John "will be filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:15).
Mary In the announcement of Jesus' birth, the angel tells Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you" (1:35).
Elizabeth, "filled with the Holy Spirit," sings Mary's praises (1:41-45).
Simeon, "guided by the Spirit" comes to see and praise Jesus in the temple (2:27-32).
So it is that at the baptism we are told
And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.
This is Jesus' anointing − his preparation for service − his empowerment.
But John is telling us something about what happens when we seek out God’s way and when we commit ourselves to following that way. When we do so we will be empowered, we will find strength.
The heaven opens, not at Jesus' baptism, but during his prayer following his baptism.
Luke is showing that as we turn to God and seek to be obedient to him, so we are given grace to accomplish that which God has set before us.
Prayer is important for Luke. He frequently portrays Jesus at prayer (5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41-45; 23:34, 46) or encouraging his disciples to pray (6:28; 18:1; 22:40, 46). He also portrays the church at prayer (Acts 1:14; 6:4; 8:24; 10:9; 14:23; 16:13, 16; 26:29).
We are therefore given a model of a Jesus, disciples and a church which seeks God’s will and is empowered.
In chapter 4, Jesus will tell us the nature of his ministry:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (4:18-19).
After Jesus' baptism, Luke will mention several times that Jesus is filled with − or led by or empowered by the Spirit (4:1, 14, 18) − or that he rejoices in the Spirit (10:21). He tells his disciples that they can expect to receive or to be guided by the Holy Spirit (11:23; 12:12; Acts 1:5, 8). He relates many instances of the fulfillment of that promise (Acts 2:4, 33; 4:8, 31; 6:3-5, 10; 7:55; 8:17-18, 29; 9:17, 31; 10:19, 44-47; 11:12, 15-16, 24; 13:2, 4, 9, 52; 15:8; 16:6-7; 19:6; 20:22-23; 21:4).
The Bible reading today teaches us a great deal about Jesus
and his self – understanding. We see Jesus pointing himself in the direction
of a particular ministry. As Jesus does this he receives God’s blessing and
is empowered for service.
From this we also receive a model for our own spiritual journey. There is a marvellous passage in Corinthians, where the writer says this
‘To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 2 Cor 12:7
It is a piece of intimate writing in which the writer
confesses to personal weakness of some sort, we don’t know exactly what.
However they are able to say from bitter experience that when they entrust
their path in life to God, then it is God who empowers them to complete the
task which they have been set.
As Jesus found the Holy Spirit of God to provide the strength to go, so we can be persuaded that he is able to keep that which we have committed unto him, until that day. Amen.