Summary: A sermon for the Baptism of our Lord, Series A
The Baptism of Our Lord, January 13, 2008 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to a deeper appreciation of your saving grace in Jesus, your beloved Son. As we reflect upon his baptism in the Jordan River, enable us to cherish anew our own baptism, through which you have embraced us with your redeeming grace, and made us children of your kingdom. Inspire us through the gift of faith to walk in covenant with you. This we ask, in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
During this season of Epiphany, our lessons have been selected to help us see that Jesus, this child born of Mary on Christmas, is indeed the Christ, the Son of God. In fact, the word “Epiphany” actually means “revealing” or “manifestation”, and this morning’s lesson from Matthew certainly reveals Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, who came to redeem us from our sins.
However, to gain the full impact of our Gospel lesson, we need to place it in context. Matthew begins this third chapter of his Gospel by telling us that “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Then, after a few verses in which Matthew describes John as the one whom the prophet Isaiah predicted would prepare the way of the Lord, Matthew states, “Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.” End quote.
Now, according to the commentaries that I read, the rite of baptism did not originate with John the Baptist. At that time, baptism was a Jewish rite of purification that was performed when a Gentile person decided to convert to Judaism. It symbolized the cleansing of past sin, enabling the convert to embrace the faith of Israel as a new person.
However, when Matthew tells us that the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to John and were baptized by him, “confessing their sins,” it indicates a new dimension to this religious rite. Matthew is telling us that it didn’t matter to John the Baptist whether one was converting to Judaism, or had been a Jew all their life. According to the Baptist, all people were sinful and in need of repentance and forgiveness, to prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom.
Then we come to our lesson for this morning. Here Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” End quote.
This raises some often misunderstood, but perplexing questions. Why did Jesus come to John to be baptized by him, with a baptism of repentance? Does this mean that Jesus was sinful? Does it mean that Jesus, whom we believe to be the Christ, the Son of God, and our redeemer, may himself, have been in need of God’s forgiveness?
Of course, our lesson gives us a hint in answer to these questions. Matthew tells us that John the Baptist would have prevented Jesus from entering the waters of his baptism of repentance, insisting that he, himself needed to be baptized by Jesus. Clearly, John did not believe that Jesus needed to repent and be cleansed from sin.
Still, Jesus insisted, saying to John, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” And it is here, in Jesus’ answer to John, in the very first words that Jesus speaks in Matthew’s Gospel, that we experience the grace of God poured out by Jesus for our redemption.
Jack Dean Kingsbury, Professor of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary, puts it this way in his commentary on our text, and I quote: “Why did Jesus have to be baptized at all? Matthew answers this question so as to avoid two badly mistaken notions: (a) that Jesus, like the Jewish crowds who flocked to John for baptism, has need to confess his sins, and (b) that Jesus is to be thought of as a disciple of John. To dismiss the latter notion, Matthew pictures John himself as saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you’… Customarily, the greater person baptized the lesser… [Thus] John declares outright that he is less than Jesus…
[Moreover] Matthew draws on the words of Jesus: ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Matthew is not content that John has already acknowledged he is inferior to Jesus. John must demonstrate in deed the truth of his words. Hence, when Jesus commands John to baptize him, John obeys. Such obedience shows that Jesus is in no sense the disciple of John.