Summary: Baptism is God's sign and seal that Jesus was made one of us and that through faith we become one with him.
One of Us, One with Him
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
March 9, 2003
1st Sunday of Lent
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a season of preparation – a time in which we observe spiritual disciplines to prepare for the joy of Easter. A part of that discipline is reflecting upon the life of Jesus Christ – his ministry, his suffering, his death and resurrection. We contemplate our Lord’s life so that we can draw nearer to him – so that we can know him more fully, love him more deeply. We gaze intently into the face of our Savior throughout this season, noting the sorrow and the pain our sin has caused him to suffer so that our attraction and commitment to him is strengthened.
A great place to begin our “lover’s gaze” is in Matthew 3:13-17 – the baptism of Jesus. I must say that as a young Christian – new in faith, but brimming with excitement, a babbling brook of living water – I used to pass over this text with just a cursory glance. It seemed such a small matter in the greater scheme of things. This Jesus who would heal the paralytic with a word, use mud to heal blind eyes, cleanse lepers, feed five thousand out of one lunch bucket – this Jesus who would do things which amaze and astound – was baptized. Big deal. It hardly seems worth mentioning. In fact in Matthew, the whole episode takes four very short verses to explain – just seven sentences. Mark does it in five sentences; Luke in three. The apostle John doesn’t even record the baptism, just John the Baptist telling his disciples what he saw when he baptized Jesus. The baptism of Jesus garnered so little attention in the gospels that I simply acknowledged that it happened and hungrily read on. After all, a real juicy part – the temptation of Christ – came next. Now that’s reading for a thrill seeker!
But what my early Christian zeal overlooked and what I am tempted to do even today – when my faith is much more like river, deep and wide, calm on the surface but churning beneath with the presence and prompting of the Holy Spirit – is that while no gospel writer treated the baptism of Jesus exhaustively, each gospel writer felt it crucial to include. Amazingly, it is one of the events in the life of Christ that made it into each Gospel. Now maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal until you begin looking into how many events make it into all four Gospels. Surprisingly, prior to the Triumphal Entry you count events held in common for all four Gospels on one hand.
So in the minds of the Gospel writers – minds under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, remember – this event in the life of Christ was pivotal. Why? Let me offer you two reasons in answer.
The first is what Christ proclaims in his baptism. One of the troubling things about reading of Christ’s baptism is the associations we make with baptism. In baptism we see evidence of sin cleansed, of purification – a removal of the dirt and grime that we are caked in from slogging through the mire of unrighteousness. John called his baptism a baptism of repentance and suddenly Jesus pops up and says, “Baptize me.” Did Jesus need to repent?
The short answer is no – but let’s flesh it out a little bit. In the first part of chapter 3 Matthew tells us (and Jesus later confirms this) that John came to prepare the way for the Messiah. John was the forerunner who would be like the prophet Elijah, who came calling the people to repentance and to lives in keeping with that repentance. In other words lives of obedience, lived to bring pleasure to the gracious and loving God that forgives their sin and redeems them from the pit.
So John is out in the desert proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand and the people better get ready. He is offering a baptism of repentance – what is this baptism about? It is about identification. In receiving John’s baptism a person was proclaiming that they not only repented of their former lifestyle – the desires and unrighteousness that kept them separated from God – but also proclaimed that they were aligning themselves with the coming Kingdom. By taking the baptism, a person said that they wanted to be part of the new thing God was about to do. This is why John criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:7-10 so roundly for coming out to be baptized. He knew they had no intention of abdicating their prominent place in society in favor of the one that was coming. He knew that they had no intention of changing their lifestyle – there would be no fruit in keeping with repentance coming from them. They would continue to rely on their biological connection to Abraham.