Summary: Through our baptism, we become brothers and sisters in Christ and heirs to the kingdom.
Welcome to the Family
Being baptized means being welcomed into God’s family. Now, when you’re “welcomed”, that usually means that you are arriving someplace. You are just getting there, just beginning the visit. You aren’t “welcomed” as you are leaving after a visit, right?
Baptism is a beginning. Baptism is about beginning anew. Baptism is a fresh start, not a destination. And baptism is not a trial-free membership, but a rite of initiation into a way of life in which Jesus promised there would be trials. Along with Jesus, our ministry begins with our baptism.
In our scripture for today, Jesus and John the Baptist meet in the water. John is busy preaching and baptizing those that respond, and Jesus comes to him to be baptized. This is recorded in all the gospels, but different details are in each one.
Of the 4 gospel writers it is Luke who deals most directly with the role of John the Baptist as subordinate to that of the coming Messiah. We need to remember that there have been 400 prophetless years and John the Baptist, while a bit rough around the edges, is pretty charismatic. He brings some spiritual intensity to people eagerly awaiting the Messiah.
The crowds were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah and questioned him about that. Now this was a crucial moment in John’s ministry -- the test of his ability to be a voice proclaiming preparation for the One who is to come, while resisting the temptation to elevate his own message. Too many, with an ego problem and that much power, might fall prey to that temptation.
John has spoken with authority to one and all. He has been bold enough to address mixed crowds that contained people with social status far above his own. He didn’t back down from proclaiming his message, but when questioned about his identity, John the Baptist firmly separates himself from the long-expected Messiah whose coming he announces. He makes it clear that the Messiah will be superior to him in a number of ways.
John notes that the difference is so great that he is not even worthy to be his slave. The most menial job that a slave could do was to untie someone’s sandal before washing their feet. It was a nasty job because people’s feet would be dirty and their shoes would be caked with donkey and camel dung from the streets. John is saying that he is not even worthy to do this lowly job for Jesus.
I can relate to John the Baptist. I remember a similar instance my first year here. It was on a Sunday that happened to fall on Trick-or-Treat night, so during the children’s chat I wanted to help prepare them for what they needed to do to receive their candy. I asked them what they would say when they went to the door of a house. Of course, they all knew what to say, after which I gave them each a piece of candy and sent them back to their parents.
As I’m walking back up to the pulpit, I hear laughter, and after the service I found out what caused it. It seems Riley had gotten back to Shawn and said, “Look, Mommy. Jesus gave me candy.”
Just like John the Baptist said then and I say now, “Don’t confuse me with someone far greater than me.” I’m not Jesus. I’m not worthy to untie his sandals, either.
John the Baptist has been calling people to repent and be baptized. Jesus, along with many others, responds to this call by coming forth to be baptized. But have you ever wondered, why did Jesus need to be baptized?” Baptism means that we’re giving up our old ways, our old life, turning around and starting to live as God would have us live.
In our baptismal service I ask those desiring baptism this question. “Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and it’s power in the world?” So, according to what we believe, does Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God need to repent? Of course not!
This is why John is so surprised when Jesus comes to him asking for baptism. John is thinking, along with the rest of us, “What sin are you confessing?” And John, argues against this, saying, “No, I need to be baptized by you,” but Jesus responds, “It is proper for us in this way.”
Jesus had no need to repent of His sins by water baptism. He was sinless! He had nothing to repent of! Jesus had no need to be welcomed to the family. Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God and that he lived a life without sin.