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Summary: Year A. The Baptism of our Lord January 13, 2002 Title: “Jesus’ Baptism is a model for understanding Christian Baptism.” Matthew 3: 13-17

Year A. The Baptism of our Lord January 13, 2002

Title: “Jesus’ baptism is a model for understanding Christian Baptism.” Matthew 3 (quickview) : 13-17

John baptizes Jesus after objecting that Jesus should be baptizing John. Afterwards, the sky opens, the Spirit of God descends on Jesus and the Father declares him to be his beloved Son.

The first two chapters of Matthew, called “The Infancy Narratives,” are a complete unit in themselves, really the whole gospel message “in miniature.” They are not merely attached to the front of Matthew’s main body of work, but are so artfully woven that chapters one and two, are like a musical overture to a concerto, announcing, previewing, hinting at what is to follow. That having been said, it remains true that beginning with chapter three Matthew parallels Mark. In Mark Jesus comes upon the scene as a fully-grown adult. John the Baptist is the dominant religious figure until Jesus begins his own public preaching. However, Matthew fleshes out Mark by using other traditional source material not found in Mark. We, theologians, rather unimaginatively call these sources “Q” and “M”. This scene provides a good illustration of how differently the evangelists utilize the same traditional material.

All four evangelists treat of the baptism of Jesus. Mark, the first, simply has John baptizing Jesus without further comment, except to say that John’s baptism was “for the forgiveness of sin.” That must have sparked some questions. If Jesus was sinless what was he doing participating in a rite whose purpose was the forgiveness of sin? So, Matthew omits the point about forgiveness of sin, saying only that the bartizans “confessed their sins,” either during or after baptism, keeping it vague. He adds the dialogue between John and Jesus about who should be baptizing whom. John says, in effect, “I need your spirit-fire baptism. You do not need my water baptism.” Luke is even more vague. In chapter three verse twenty he tells us the Baptist is in prison, not in the desert. Then he says in the next verse, “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized…” There is no mention of John’s name and Jesus baptism, in itself a “passive act,” is put in the passive voice! By the time John is written there is no mention at all of Jesus’ baptism. These variances, not contradictions, just variances, illustrate rather well how each evangelist kept within the tradition about Jesus but dealt with it in such a way as to highlight the point each wanted to make, or, more correctly, the point God inspired them to make. Thus, we must derive the “literal sense,” what the author intended to convey, before we can move on and derive from that the “fuller sense,” what is implied in that sense, which can be applied to one’s own present-day situation.

Matthew concentrates on Jesus, not the act of baptism and, once he has answered the objection why Jesus was baptized, he moves on to the meaning of the event for Jesus and for those who follow him. It marked the launching of his career by clearly identifying for him and others who and whose he was and what and how he was to do, what God sent him to do. He was simultaneously God’s Son and Servant. He was also David’s royal son, the long-expected Anointed One, Messiah. These are but some of the titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus was a magnet for all the hopes of old and there was a title attached to each one of them—King, Priest, Prophet, Steward, Shepherd, Suffering Servant, Redeemer, Messiah, Lord, Lamb of God, Holy One, Coming One, Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David. A reflection on each of these “titles,” builds into Christology,” an organized explanation of who Christ is and what he does. That began for Matthew in chapters one and two, and continues throughout his gospel. Chapter three, leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that this ordinary fellow, come to be baptized, is truly extraordinary, out-of-this-world, the divine Son of God. He will do his, Spirit-anointed, task in a humble servant way, just as the prophets, especially Isaiah, foretold.


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