Summary: A Sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany The Baptism of Jesus
First Sunday after the Epiphany
The Baptism of Jesus
"The Cast of Characters"
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey.
7 And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
9 ¶ In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove;
11 and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased."RSV
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus who is the Christ. Amen
While I was in college, I spent my first 2 years as a drama major. The play was Six Characters in Search of an Author. The play begins as a group of actors are rehearsing a new drama. In walks six characters, who say, "We bring you a drama," They say, "We are six most interesting characters but we have been sidetracked. "
"Well. that is interesting," says the stage manager, "but what do you want here, what do you want with us?"
"Why," came the reply from the six "we want to live in you."
The characters around Jesus’ Baptism are different from us in many ways, but at the same time, they are like us. These characters in Jesus’ Baptism are like the six characters in the play in that in unique ways they live in us.
The characters in this short play are John the Baptist, Jesus, the people who came to John, the voice of God, and the dove.
We begin with John. John was a rough character. "He lived in the wilderness " beyond the Jordan River." He wore a camel’s skin, or more likely, a rough, coarsely woven camel hair garment. He ate locusts and wild honey. If he was from Nazareth, and it seems likely that he was, tradition says his hair would never have been cut. If John were around today, he would likely be institutionalized. His message was not one of comfort. He called for repentance. He referred to those who came out to the Jordan River to hear him speak as a "brood of snakes." When he announced to the crowd the coming of Jesus, he described Jesus as one who would baptize us, who would immerse us in a baptism of fire." 1
In our cast of characters today, I see John the Baptist in each of us as our consciousness. John, I think, is in each of us calling us to repentance each day. He is our little voice inside that says, don’t do that. It is that voice that reminds each of us that we are less than God intended for us to be. We are sinners and we daily need to ask for forgiveness.
The next group of characters at Jesus’ Baptism was the crowd.
"The people who came to John to be baptized for repentance were so desperate about the condition of their souls that they were willing to go to a man as strange as John was. They were sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. They were people who were doomed. They were condemned by the larger society. Those who were religious scorned them. They were the dregs."2
The people who came to John were people who understood their human predicament. They knew they were sinners and they knew they needed help. And John offered that help with the Baptism of repentance. John asked them to repent, to turn away from sin and turn to what? Turn to Jesus.
Jesus is the next character in this short drama. Jesus came and had John baptize him. Why? Why did Jesus need to be Baptized? He was without sin, right? I think he was Baptized so that the folks at the river could identify with him and he with them. Jesus wanted the dregs of society to know that He understood their predicament of sin. He wanted those at the river to know that he cared, he knew where they were coming from.
Jesus wanted the crowd to know that he had empathy for them. He understood their human condition.