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.
It is like the little girl in the following:
"Mary was a little girl who was asked to run an errand for he mother shortly before supper. She dashed away to the store to get a loaf of bread. But supper was on the table and the family all gathered and still no Mary. Finally, she came skipping in with the loaf of bread. Her mother scolded her for fooling around on the way home. Mary said she had seen Susan and Susan’s doll just broke.
Her mother asked "Did you help Susan fix her doll?"
"No", Mary said, "I helped her cry!!!"
And I dare say that is what Jesus did with those people at the river. And that is what He wants us to do, walk with people in their human condition and help them cry.
A man fell into a ditch. A doctor walked by the and the man yelled out to him. The doctor walked on by and flipped a prescription into the ditch.
A priest walked by and the man yelled again for help. The priest stood over the man and offered a prayer.
Sometime later a man walked by, seeing the man in the ditch and hearing his call for help, the man jumped into the ditch.
The man in the ditch said,"How are we going to get out now that you are down here, too.
The man said, "I have been in this ditch before and I will lead you out. I know the way"
That is the mark of a true friend, one who will lead another out of the ditch.
The next characters at Jesus’ Baptism came almost at the same time. As Jesus came up out of the water the text says;
" 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."
The crowds saw and heard that Jesus was indeed someone special. The dove came upon Jesus and a voice coming from heaven saying that this Jesus was indeed the Son of God and that God was pleased with him. Jesus had not started his public ministry yet, but now he had sort of a seal of approval upon what He was embarking to do. The seal of approval from God Himself.
I think there is a point here in Jesus’ Baptism that relates to us. Jesus knew when he stepped out of that water that he was changed. Something happened to Him. He knew and understood that He was God’s Son and he had a ministry to do.
And in the same kind of way, our Baptism makes us special. We are no longer just Timothy Barton Zingale, but I am Timothy Barton Zingale, a Christian.
Our names are changed in our baptism. We are given the name that our parents have chosen for us, and at the same time we are given the name of Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, a person who has begun a relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. When we introduce ourselves, we might want to say, my name is Timothy Barton Zingale, a Christian. Now that tells everyone something special about us. We are God’s people. We are in a relationship with God. God and I are one.
One author says this about baptism, "Whether an infant or adult, the person baptized answers from that moment to the name Christian. No other loyalty comes before this and being a Christian should be the baptized person’s most distinctive characteristic."
A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20.00 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, "Who would like this $20 bill?" Hands started going up.
He said, "I am going to give this $20 to one of you, but first let me do this. He proceeded to crumple the $20 dollar bill up. He then asked, "Who still wants it?" Still the hands were up in the air.
Well, he replied, "What if I do this?" And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. "Now, who still wants it?" Still the hands went into the air.
"My friends, we have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what was done to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20.
“Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless.
"But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who DO love you. The worth of our lives comes not in what we do or who we know, but by WHO WE ARE.
"You are special - Don’t EVER forget it."
You may never know the lives it touches, the hurting hearts it speaks to, or the hope that it can bring. Count your blessings, not your problems. Never be afraid to try something new.
And remember: amateurs built the ark ... professionals built the Titanic.
We are special and our text reminds us of that unique stature that we have. We are God’s children through our Baptism.
This cast of characters in the drama of Jesus’ Baptism helps us to remember who we are. John reminds us of our need for repentance. The crowd of people remind us that we all fall short of what God intended for us to be. We are all sinners. And Jesus reminds us of His saving grace. The act of Baptism reminds us that we are indeed something special. We are God’s children. We are a Christian!
Written by Pastor Tim Zingale January 2, 2006
1 2from a sermon by The Rev. Canon J. Hugh Magers is the Evangelism Coordinator at the Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue, New York City. He and his family live in Ponder, Texas.