Summary: A sermon for a Covenant Servie based on the baptism of Jesus
The gospel reading for today is the baptism of Jesus. We are only given a brief account of what happened in the passage we heard from Matthew’s gospel so we have to try to imagine the scene. I doubt though if it even began to approach the woman in Liverpool who arrived on the doorstep of a vicar, handed the baby over and said to him ‘Please could you christen him while I do the shopping.’
Then there was the minister who, during a baptism, rolled up his sleeves, dipped his hands in the font, smiled at the baptismal party and said ‘He should be in there somewhere.’
And the little girl who shouted to the minister in a loud voice in the middle of the baptism of her baby brother ‘be careful, he bites.’
The Message of John the Baptist
The baptism of Jesus has always been a difficult subject to think about. John the Baptist had come with a message for the people as he called them to repentance and we heard in the first part of today’s gospel reading of this call. John offered people a way in which they could receive forgiveness through baptism.
John lived his message. It was not only his words but also his actions that showed up his life. He lived in the wilderness, he wore clothes made out of camels hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
And the message that John brought and proclaimed as he travelled was one that struck right at the heart of people’s lives and hearts. He was confronting people with a choice and a decision that they knew deep down that they had to make. People knew that they had slipped from God’s way, they knew they needed to change so John was only telling them what they already knew. Turn around, repent, and start again.
But if Jesus is the sinless one as traditional theology tells us he is, then he has no need for baptism for forgiveness. He hasn’t sinned so he doesn’t need to repent and receive forgiveness.
So I guess that John would have been startled to say the least when Jesus approached him and asked for baptism and he tried the deter Jesus from baptism. John was clear in his own mind that it he was he, not Jesus who needed to be baptised. If it was not for forgiveness, then why did Jesus come to John for baptism?
An opportunity for God to identify Jesus as his Son
First and foremost the baptism of Jesus was a revelation by the Father to Jesus and to all people who Jesus really was. The baptism enabled the Father to proclaim loud and clear to Jesus and to all people that he was the Son of God, the Messiah, the long promised one. Here standing before the people was the very person that the prophets had talked about long ago, the one longed for and hoped for, the one who would fulfil all the hopes and dreams of the people. In a very real, public, obvious, personal and intimate way God pronounces Jesus as his Son.
In the different gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus we different aspects set out. In Mark and Luke’s accounts the very personal part of the baptism is stressed whereas in Matthew’s account we see it as a demonstration to those around who Jesus was. In Matthew God says ‘This is my son’ as God told the whole world who Jesus was. While in Mark and Luke’s gospel God says ‘You are my Son’ a very personal and intimate revelation.
So in the baptism of Jesus we have both a private disclosure to Jesus of his identity and a public testimony to him. And God speaks to us in the same way as he reminds us that we too are his loved children. God reminds us that he loves us and cares for us, holds us in his loving arms and will never let us go whatever we go through in life. And this is something important in today’s world where so often we are just a number or a reference. People today need to know that they are loved, special, cared for.
I thought the other day when I went on to Tesco Online banking and looked at my account. To get on I had to put in four different reference numbers, passwords and so on. Not once was I asked for my name. And that’s true of so much these days. We are numbers not names or people. If you have a query with British Gas they ask what your account number is. In a world where we are seen as numbers it’s important to know that God knows each one of us through and through and calls us by name and not by a number. God loves you. God cares for you and you are special to him.