Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 16, 2011 The Baptism of Jesus

Let me tell you about Jesus - His Baptism by John
Matthew 3:1-17

    This week, Dennis, a friend for 30 years or so, called me – all in a panic.  He said, “I just ran into you wife at the hospital.” I said, “That’s great, Dennis. I know she was happy to see you.”
    He said, “We were both leaving, so I walked out to the parking lot with her. We talked the whole way.” I said, “I’ll check with her later to catch up on the news.”
    He said, “You don’t understand. When I was leaving and saying, ‘Goodbye,’ I called her ‘Carol.’” I let this news sink in for a moment. I said, “Dennis, her name is ‘Celia.’”
    He said, “I know now, but at that moment, I just couldn’t think of it. I called her ‘Carol.’ Please tell her that I’m sorry.”
    Later, I figured out that because he has my number, not hers, in his phone, he called me to deliver the apology. I assured him that I would carry his regrets... to Celia.

    Who gets to name us? I mean, who gets to present us to the world: giving us a name or a title or by repeating out reputation to strangers? One of the challenges that Jesus faced was that people around him already had an idea what he should be and what he should do.
    +The prophets had been telling about a Messiah for years;
    +Under the oppression of the Romans, the popular idea of a Messiah was mostly looking like a military leader to overthrow the Roman occupation;
    +Of course, Jesus looked physically like an ordinary man, so other people expected him to do what every other man did;
    +And we are no different: we need Jesus to be and do certain things; other roles that meant a lot to Jesus might not mean anything to us.

We all carry around different pictures of what our Jesus should be and do, depending on our past experiences. In other words, when God takes human flesh in Jesus, our idea of Jesus may not be the same as his.

    [APPLIC:] This has a very personal application for us, too. Who gets to name you and me? Who gets to tell us and everyone else what we are supposed to do and stand for?
    Imagine that Jesus has come to walk among us.  What is your expectation of what Jesus should do or what Jesus should say? But wait! Is the job description ours to write? Or is it His job description to write? Let’s begin here: Who gets to name Jesus?

    John the Baptist breaks upon the scene. He is out in the wilderness at the Jordan River, preaching, whipping up expectations. Actually, he’s smart to stay out in that wilderness. If he comes too close to town with his talk of a Messiah, the Romans will put a stop to his work. They understand that the world he proclaims is a challenge to their leadership, but, as long as he stays out in the wilderness, he is not much of a threat.

        +First, John reminded them of an ancient prophecy: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” His words are the ancient words by which Israel called for the coming of the anointed King.
        +He challenged the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, for failing at their job of leading the people to faithfulness.
        +He called on people to bear fruit worthy of repentance.
        +He warned them that God can raise up the offspring of father Abraham from the very stones beneath their feet.

But, then John moved to a subject far more political in the eyes of the Romans and maybe in the eyes of the Jewish people who came out to hear him:
        “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

John did everything in his power to stir up expectations around this unnamed and unidentified Messiah. Israel has been watching for and hoping for such a Messiah throughout the years of occupation. But, everyone knows, including John, that the Romans will never put up with this challenge to their rule.

    But John is out in the wilderness – far enough out that they cannot nab him easily, though they will arrest and execute him soon enough. For now, however, he is stirring up the people and stirring up expectations.
And word is getting back well enough that people are going out to hear him and beginning to believe that he might just be right this time. The excitement is growing. He is stepping on toes, as they used to say in the country. He challenged the establishment – the Pharisees and Sadducees. Whether they took-it or not, we will never know. But the effect on the crowds was electric. They were in at a fever pitch of expectation, looking for the Messiah.

    Now, in this vibrant state of expectation, Jesus comes from Galilee to be baptized. To anyone along the way, he was just another earnest believer who came to hear John and maybe moved to seek baptism for himself. Maybe he would become a disciple of John; maybe he would just go home more earnest and committed to God than he came. To the people along the way, Jesus did not appear unusual in any way. If the people had been taught to expect the Messiah to appear, Jesus of Galilee did not fit the profile. He arrived along with many others, but no one noticed until John noticed him.

    John took one look at him, and all of John’s fire and excitement drained out him. When Jesus came close enough, John said to him, “I need to be baptized by you. And do you come to me?” What did John see that all the others missed? Plainly, John recognizes Jesus as the One who is to come.

    [REFLECT] Think about this encounter between John and Jesus just a moment. John has been telling the crowds that the Messiah is coming with power and with fire. But, when Jesus stands before him and he recognizes him as the One, John is strangely humble. After all this, we expect him to start whooping and hollering that he has found the Messiah. We have been taught to expect him to shout to the crowds that the very one that he has been announcing stands before him. How would you react if you met your hero?

    [PAT SUMMIT] I love the Lady Vols, and Pat Head Summit is one of my heroes. I watch her during the women’s basketball games as much as I watch the play on the court. But, one night in a restaurant near campus, I ran into her. She was sitting at the next table. I was as dumbfounded as any nine-year old. I just stared; I could not think of a thing to say to my hero.

But, when John met Jesus, I don’t read his response the same way. His response was not the deer-in-the-headlights look that I had the night when I encountered the Coach. He said to Jesus what he needed to say:  “I need to be baptized by you. And do you come to me?” There is a humility in John that knows he is suddenly not the main character on this stage; it is Jesus.

    Theologically, John’s humility is the right thing to do. John cannot name or define Jesus to the crowds and certainly not to Jesus himself. Jesus must through his life and ministry define himself. This is the reason the Gospel is the whole story of Jesus from beginning to the end. He defines himself, his work, his ministry, his role upon this earth.
[TEXT-3] So, why does Jesus need to baptized? 15 Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." There is a lot of debate over this response.
        +There certainly was no law that said that Jesus had to be baptized by John in the Jordan.
        +No one would say that Jesus was a sinner who needed forgiveness based on John’s baptism.
        +And yet, we are uncomfortable suggesting that this was merely a symbolic act with nothing of substance in it.
        +By going into the water of baptism, he identifies with the sinful humanity he has come to save. Leon Morris, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, says it this way:

    Jesus might well have taken a position up there in front standing beside John and called on sinners to repent. Instead, he goes down into the waters of baptism with the other sinners, affirming his solidarity with them, making himself one with them in the process of the salvation that he would in due course accomplish(2).

    [TEXT-4] Now, God the Father speaks from heaven:

    16 When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.**"

    This is one of the *Trinity places* in the Bible: the Spirit descending like a dove, the Father speaking from heaven, and the Son receiving this pronouncement of his identity.

    A. First, the Father speaks from heaven and says: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” If you ever wondered where Christians get the idea that Jesus is the *Son of God*, here it is. On the day of his baptism, Jesus came up out of the water and heard the Heavenly Father address him as “my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” It does not get any plainer than this. This continues and confirms his birth of Mary by the Holy Spirit. This will be confirmed again on the cross when Jesus will say, “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” Here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is affirmed by the Father as the Son.

    B. Second, the words we keep reading: "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased," are quoted from one of the “Songs of the Suffering Servant” found in Isaiah 42. Remember, Matthew writes his gospel long after the events he is reporting; he is reflecting on the life of Jesus which has changed his life. Later in his gospel, Matthew will quote this same passage more extensively in Matt 12:18-21.

18 "Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
    my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick
    until he brings justice to victory.
21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope."

    On the day of his baptism, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus cannot be defined by John, no matter how excited John and the crowds might be. He is the Messiah who must define himself. The only additional detail comes from Matthew’s choice of this quotation from the prophet Isaiah. Based on this prophecy, Jesus is the Messiah who is marked by *servanthood*. We will not understand what that means until he has gone to the cross at the end of his ministry. We definitely cannot understand what servanthood means here on the first day of Jesus’ ministry. We have to see the whole story of Jesus Christ unfold.

    [APPLIC:] The truth is that we hardly understand what the servanthood of Christ means. We are trapped in our expectations about power and authority.
    +We want to be there when the President comes to town;
    +We want to know the people who cast the votes that make the laws;
    +We want to stand close as the big decisions are being made;
    +We want to sit at the table and watch the operators in town make it happen.
    +Man! If I could just get an invitation to the Governor’s Inauguration!
Even John loves the signs of power just as much as we do. Remember what he told the crowds?

    "You brood of vipers!
        Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
    God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

    One who is more powerful than I is coming after me;
    I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
        He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
    He will gather his wheat into the granary;
        but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Like John, we are looking for a mounted conqueror who will ride in and take charge. But, Jesus is the Messiah who chooses to come as a servant.

[POEM: He Comes a Servant]
We watch the road for the rising dust of a thousand soldiers,
    But, he slips into town with no more ceremony than a street sweeper;
We demand signs and measure the crowd response with Gallup and MSNBC,
    But, he patiently kneels beside the one the crowd never even counted.
We demand charisma of leaders who represent our hatreds without a stammer,
        But, he is too busy to notice,
    quietly picking up the broken pieces of the ones trampled in the crowd’s stampede.
We raise a clenched fist against our enemies,
    but all he will raise is a bleeding, nail-scarred hand.
We expect the best place at the table,
    but on the way to the choicest seats, we stumble over him,
        already kneeling before us with nothing more than a basin and a towel.
We come looking for a conquering hero,
    But Jesus came, and he still comes, a servant.

[CONCL] Let me tell you about Jesus. He was baptized by John in the Jordan. He came on the day that John told the people to expect a raging, righteous, take-no–prisoners Messiah. But, he would not let John or anyone else in the crowd name him. His name, Son of God, came from the Father. And his task, Servant, was the name that he lived and died to fulfill.


2. Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary, p. 65.

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