Baptism of Our Lord / Jan. 13, 2008 / Text: Matthew 3:13 – 17 / Rev. Carol Kniseley
Baptized by John
Names can be very revealing. I say that because over the past few weeks, Pastor Jim and I have been a bit preoccupied with our newest member of the family who is all of four months old and already driving us nuts, not to mention our dog Bailey. Besides running through the house with lightning speed…and grabbing onto every single thing that moves…our 4 month old orange and white kitten is a bit confused about his identity. He seems to be unsure as to whether he is a dog…or a cat…since he follows our dog around as if he were the mama cat. Since our kitten is obviously in need of counseling…we decided to call him Frasier after our favorite TV show about a psychiatrist who lives with his Father and has a dog named Eddie. I think you get the picture.
The picture that we really want to turn our attention to took place the day that Jesus showed up at the Jordan to be baptized by good ole John the Baptist. The place was teeming with sinners who hoped against hope that John could clean them up and turn their lives around. Or at the very least make them look respectable again. If you have ever read the arrest record in the newspaper, then you know the kinds of things they were guilty of: driving under the influence, passing bad checks, petty larceny, even assault. No doubt some had stood in these lines more times than they dared to admit…while for others it was for sins they had committed only in their heart. Either way the offenses were serious and each person knew they needed to be made clean.
Then Jesus showed up and got in line with them. No one really knew anything about him yet since he hadn’t begun his ministry. To everyone standing there that day…he was simply one of them. He took his place in line and waited his turn. But later, when the heavens opened and the voice from heaven made it clear who he really was…that’s when the accusations began to fly. What was he doing in that crowd of sinners, looking and acting like one of them? What did he have to be sorry about…and why was ‘God’s beloved’ showing submission to someone like John the Baptist? All good questions…and ones that have continued to be asked for centuries on end. Why?
Because the Christian church has never been comfortable with the baptism of Jesus. Compare the accounts of it in each of the four Gospels and one can’t miss the unease of the situation. Matthew elaborates on Mark’s version by adding that John tried to talk Jesus out of being baptized, while Luke doesn’t even acknowledge that the Baptist was there at all. All John’s Gospel will confess is that he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon Jesus, being careful not to mention that a baptism even took place. And to cap it all off, Bible scholars will tell us that all of this embarrassment over Jesus being baptized is our surest proof that the event really did take place.
If Jesus had listened to his public relations people he never would have done what he did. Surely they would have advised him about how important it was to be seen with “sinners” just as long as he wasn’t construed as being one of them. It would have been fine for him to stand on the shore and cheer all of the other folks on as they made their way down the slippery bank and into the Jordan. He could have even held out his hand in a gesture of being helpful to those with soaked garments weighed down from the sheer weight of the water as they struggled for footing to come back onto shore.
Even if Jesus really was innocent, even if his intentions were nothing but good, it was ruinous to his reputation…surely he knew that. Who was going to believe that he was there just because he cared about “those kind of people”…and refused to be separated from them? Why gossip being what it always is…who was not willing to believe that even he had just a few minor things that he needed to get off of his chest before entering into the ministry?
I think we all can see the problem. We spend a lot of our time inside the Christian church talking about God’s love for the real sinners of this world…and yet, when push comes to shove, we dare not be accused of being one of “them”. Guilty by association, I believe it’s called. Funny thing, though. Jesus didn’t seem to be too concerned about that at all. In him, God with us meant God being in the river with us come hell or high water. Whether the water was running low or cresting over our heads, what Jesus seemed to be indicating by his actions here today…was that he was personally in it for the long haul.
So what if he didn’t have anything of his own to come clean about? By virtue of his baptism, he was aligning himself with our sorrow and our need to repent and to be made clean. In other words, what he did here today, he did not do for himself…but instead, he did it for you…and for me. Suddenly, everything had become personal. It was an epiphany moment for sure in Jesus’ life as he heard his name affirmed by God as “the one who would save his people”. How? Just as he told John: by making things alright between us and God. That’s what it means to fulfill all righteousness.
And yet, that’s not the only thing it means. For as soon as he stepped one foot back onto the shore, even he had to admit that everything had changed. He would now turn his face toward the cross…and begin his ministry as the suffering servant / King. And so today, as we celebrate one of the defining moments of Jesus’ life…let us always remember that he was indeed baptized in the Jordan River. Becoming one of us while at the same time remaining Emmanuel. Thanks be to God! Amen