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Jesus' Baptism

This sermon series is based on the stained glass windows in our sanctuary. Last week we began with the window that depicts the birth of Jesus and the scripture from Luke 2. This morning we move to the window that depicts Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus’ baptism is recorded in all four Gospels so we know it is a key event in his life.

John the Baptist appears at the Jordan River preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And it says crowds of people came flocking to him, confessing their sins and receiving baptism. People exchanging their guilt and worries about how they stand with God for forgiveness and a clean slate.

And then Jesus comes. Mark tells us that he came from Nazareth in Galilee. He doesn’t have to tell us where Jesus came from but in someway Mark sees this as significant. Maybe because Nazareth was a back-water town, No-wheres-ville, and Mark wants it noted that the Messiah came from such a place.

Jesus comes to John and Jesus is baptized.

For the forgiveness of sins.

The Son of God. Why?

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism we find John trying to prevent Jesus from doing this. John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” And Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”[1] “Fulfill all righteousness” means to do what is right before God, to carry out all that God requires.

Jesus was without sin. But him being baptized shows two things:

1) it shows Jesus’ identification with those he came to save. He wanted to completely identify with those who needed the forgiveness that only he could accomplish. Jesus identifies with sinful people at the beginning of his ministry at his baptism. He does so at the end of his ministry on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2) Jesus was showing how baptism will become the way those who follow him are initiated into relationship with him and service for him. Jesus will say at the end of his ministry that anyone who is his disciple is to be baptized in the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Baptism was the right-thing - the God-thing to do. Anyone who has faith in Jesus, who wants to follow Jesus, and belong to Jesus must be baptized, too. We follow in the footsteps of our Lord.

When Jesus comes up out of the water we’re told that two things happened.

First, the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended like a dove. Mark says only Jesus saw this. In Isaiah 64:1 the prophet Isaiah cries for the Lord to tear open the heavens and come down to his people. We also see the Red Sea torn open for the people of Israel to move through and escape Egypt. The only other time this term is used is at the end of Mark when it says the curtain in the Temple was torn in two when Jesus died and gave his last breath.

Jews believed that the Spirit of God was no longer directly speaking to people since the prophets were no more. It had been a few hundred years since a prophet had been active. The opening of the heavens signifies the return of the Spirit and God speaking to people. Now God will speak through his Son, Jesus.

It says the Spirit descended “like a dove” not “as a dove.” Whatever and however the Spirit came it was gentle like the landing of a dove. The same Spirit that “hovered” over the waters in Genesis 1:2 at creation, now hovers over a person – Jesus. In Jesus God is beginning a new creation.

And then, the second thing: a voice. The Father speaks.

“You are my Son…

whom I love…

with you I am well pleased.”

In Psalm 2 God calls his anointed king “my son.” Psalm 2 was for the coronation of Israel’s king. Israel was called God’s son. In Exodus 4 Moses says to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is my firstborn son,” and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’”[2] That is the only time God the Father ever calls anyone his son. No prophet had ever been called a son by God. Abraham wasn’t called a son. Moses wasn’t. Nor Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah or David. Now Jesus comes. And the voice from heaven says “You are my Son.”

The Father says he loves the Son. He says he is well pleased with Jesus. In Isaiah the Lord says he delights in his servant whom he will send to suffer, but who will also be a light to people. God says, “I have put my Spirit upon him.”[3]

Jesus is God’s Son, a king, and the Spirit has been sent upon him. So, does this mean he will go around with a crown on his head, living in a beautiful castle, make great proclamations and having a banquet ever night? Does he tell everyone that since he is God’s Son they have to treat him nice and with respect. No.

The Son of God is called to be a servant. As Fred Craddock once preached to his congregation way down in Georgia, “Jesus left the Jordan and went about God’s business. Every crying person, every brokenhearted person, every hungry person, every diseased person, every alienated person, every suffering person was his business.”

That Jesus is the king, that he is God’s Son means he is about doing God’s business which is to serve. Jesus is a servant.[4]

In going down into those waters of the Jordan River Jesus was beginning a ministry for sinful, broken, needy people. He was identifying with us. His ministry ended on a cross for sinful, broken, needy people.

Jesus baptism is the “keystone” in his life and ministry. The empowerment by the Spirit and the declaration of the Father enable Jesus not only to speak and act for God but as God. Later Jesus is confronted by a group of Jewish leaders who question his authority to act and speak as he does. And Jesus points to his baptism as he answers their challenge.[5]

You see, baptism is a claim and call. We have too often made it into a nice spiritual ritual to give us a spiritual lift, or a lovely time to admire the cute baby who God loves. Baptism doesn’t mean we are part of some religious club that shelters us from harm. Baptism is God’s claim upon our life. When you check in your baggage at the airport you claim that baggage in the baggage area after you arrive at your destination. You claim it because it is yours. In baptism God says, “you are mine.” And yes, we are his in love and by grace, but we are his also to serve his purposes.

Jesus said to baptize disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In Hebrew “in the name of” meant “in possession of.” In baptism we come into the possession of God.

Notice that when Jesus was baptized, all three persons of the Trinity were present. Jesus, the Son, is baptized. The Spirit of God descends. The Father’s voice speaks. These are not three separate entities all with their own agenda. God is one. And the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one in how they move in this world and in our lives.

Baptism in the name of the Triune God is the standard and historic way of Christian baptism. There is no such thing as a Presbyterian baptism. There is no such thing as a Lutheran, Baptist, or Calvary Chapel baptism. Baptism is simply Christian baptism.

We aren’t baptized in the name of a church. We are baptized in the name of the Triune God.

That is why when someone comes into our church from a Roman Catholic tradition, Methodist, Assembly of God or some other Christian tradition we don’t baptize them again. Once you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit you are baptized, once and for all. You belong to him. You are claimed by him. You are to serve him.

What happens at Jesus’ baptism also happens in our baptisms. We are marked as sons or daughters of God. The Holy Spirit in some mysterious way does come upon us. The Father is saying – “This is my child, and I love him/her and am pleased with him/her.”

It is grace.

Some of us were baptized as infants or young children. Some of us were baptized as teenagers. Some of us as adults. Some of us were sprinkled. Some of us were immersed in a lake or river or in a large font in a church.

Some of us had no say, some of us didn’t understand too much, some of us were very intentional about receiving baptism.

Some of us have walked faithfully with God and some of us have had significant times of walking away from God since we were baptized. It happens.

But baptism isn’t what we do for God. It is what he does for us. Even Jesus’ baptism wasn’t about what he did. He was affirmed as being of the Spirit and as the only, unique Son of the Father. And this happened before he did anything. Jesus had done no miracles. He hadn’t taught. He had touched no one. Yet, the Father affirmed that he was well pleased and loved his Son. God’s love isn’t earned. It is.

The Father loves you already.

Baptism is the mark of Christ upon you. It is your spiritual tattoo. That’s an idea. Why didn’t God tell us all to get a physical mark to show we belong to him? Actually, under the old covenant circumcision was just that. It was a physical mark that you were part of God’s people and belonged to him. Paul taught that baptism corresponds to circumcision.[6] But it obviously wasn’t for everybody, and secondly, the Lord wants us to show we belong to him with our lives, what the Bible calls a “circumcision (or baptism) of the heart”.[7]

Baptism is more than an outward act. It is more than just something you do. It is something we are to live up to. The old Westminster Confession of Faith, which used to be a teaching tool for people in the Presbyterian tradition, speaks of “improving our baptism.” That means growing in faith, becoming more like Jesus, doing what God wants in our lives so that his claim on us gets stronger.

If you have faith in Jesus but have never been baptized, I would love to talk to you and help make that happen.

Baptism doesn’t mean you have arrived in Christian faith, that you never lose your cool or have an impure thought or get impatient or always have a smile on your face. We may walk away from Christ for a time in our lives and participate in all kinds of things that don’t honor him. But it doesn’t mean we have to go out and get splashed again.

Imagine if every time we sinned we had to get rebaptized. Might was well just have a regular, daily appointment at the church. I’ll have the water always on hand.

Baptized people still struggle with our old self. The new creation in Christ is still being created. The closer we follow Christ the more that happens. But we will fall.

That is why we have a Prayer of Confession in our worship each week. It is a time for repentance, grace and receiving forgiveness, because we need it. When we join in that prayer think of it as a time to remember and renew your baptism.

We easily forget that we are baptized. We forget the presence of the Spirit of God in us. We forget that God loves us. Our baptisms are like dusty relics that we were given once upon a time, then put on a shelf in the basement, tucked away in some faraway corner. We forget about it.

We need to take out our baptisms from time to time, dust them off, and remember this crucial part of our relationship with the Lord.

We need to take hold of our baptism and say, “I belong to God. I am loved by the Father. I am his child. I have the Holy Spirit living in me. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am called to serve so that his love, justice, peace, and mercy come to others.”

We need to remember that we are baptized. We belong. We are loved. We are forgiven.

That is what I want to do this morning. After we sing our next hymn I am going to lead us in a Reaffirmation of our Baptisms.

[1] Matthew 3:13-15 [2] Ex. 4:22-23 [3] Isaiah 42:1, 49:6 [4] Fred Craddock, The Cherry Log Sermons, pp.10-11 [5] 11:27-33. See James Edwards, Commentary on Mark, p.38 [6] Col. 2:11-12 [7] Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:28-29

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