Summary: The Spirit gives us all the gifts we uniquely need to share our faith.
Introduction: In his commentary, Matthew for Everyone, Tom Wright uses an excellent analogy to explain the baptism of Jesus. He writes:
Imagine we are going to a huge concert hall, packed to the doors with eager and excited music-lovers. We all have our programs in hand, waiting for the thunderous music to begin. We know what it ought to sound like. This will be music for a battle, for a victory, thunder and lightning and explosions of wonderful noise. The concert manager comes on the stage and declares in ringing tones that the famous musician has arrived. He gets us all on our feet, to welcome with an ovation the man who is going to fulfill all our expectations.
As we stand there eagerly, a small figure comes on the stage. He doesn’t look at all like what we expected. He is carrying, not a conductor’s baton, to bring the orchestra to life, but a small flute. As we watch, shocked into silence, he plays, gently and softly, a tune quite different to what we had imagined. But, as we listen, we start to hear familiar themes played in a new way. The music is haunting and fragile, winging its way into our imaginations and hopes and transforming them. And, as it reaches its close, as though at a signal, the orchestra responds with a new version of the music we had been expecting all along.
Now listen to John as the concert manager, whipping us into excitement at the soloist who is going to appear. ‘He’s coming! He’s more powerful than me! He will give you God’s wind and God’s fire, not just water! He’ll sort you out – he’ll clear out the mess – he’ll clean up God’s farm so that only the good wheat is left!’ We are on our feet, expecting a great leader, perhaps the living God Himself, sweeping into the hall with a great explosion, a blaze of light and color, transforming everything in a single blow.
And instead we get Jesus. The Jesus we have only met so far, in Matthew’s Gospel, as a baby with a price on his head. A Jesus who comes and stands humbly before John, asking for baptism, sharing the penitential mood of the rest of Judea, Jerusalem, and Galilee. [Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004) 20-21]
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.” Then John consented. And 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Prayer: Gracious God, open the heavens to us that we might experience the Spirit of the Lord opening us to the Word of the Lord and calling us to Your service. Amen.
Frederick Dale Bruner in his commentary on the first 12 chapters of Matthew called The Christbook, says that Jesus’ first miracle was not at Cana. His first miracle was His humility. Jesus joins us in all our humanity. He has chosen sides and the side he chose was our side. Although He was the Son of God, He did not choose the powerful. He chose us. He didn’t choose the wealthy. He chose us. He didn’t choose the brilliant. He chose us. Actually, you may be brilliant and He still chooses you.
The world encourages us to choose those things that look good on the outside, but Jesus chooses based on the inside. He chooses the humble. When I was at Marble Collegiate Church in New York, we went on many retreats. It was the best way for people living in New York to explore their faith. We would go to the Warwick Retreat Center in Warwick, New York.
I wasn’t too worried about being in trouble with the authorities. Jesus was always in trouble with the authorities, so I figured I was in good company! We’re all in good company because Jesus chose us.
There is another important thing to notice about the baptism of Jesus. He was open to the gifts of others. We need to do that, too. We need to be open to the gifts of everyone here. There are some great talents here.
On Friday when I visited my Mother, I asked her if she remembered anything about my baptism or my sisters’ baptism. She immediate said, “Yes! At your baptism, your sister, Maisie, sang ‘Happy Birthday to You.’ We couldn’t get her to stop. That was her talent—singing and what better to sing at a baptism than ‘Happy Birthday.’ Isn’t there something about baptism being your new birthday—your birthday in the church?”