The Baptism of the Lord

Matthew 3:13-17

Baptism of Jesus

13 At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River so that John would baptize him. 14 John tried to stop him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?”

15 Jesus answered, “Allow me to be baptized now. This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”

So John agreed to baptize Jesus. 16 When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. 17 A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

If you read the scriptures at times it feels like there are two competing streams when it comes to salvation.  One stream pushes the idea that our actions matter when it comes to salvation.  In Matthew 25 for example, people are judged (and rewarded or punished) by their actions, specifically whether they cared for the least, the lost, and the left out.  On the other hand, you will find ample texts that emphasize that it is our belief in Christ and that alone which grants us salvation.  What is needed for salvation?

John Wesley would argue that both are necessary.  He placed an emphasis in his ministry on both personal piety but also social holiness.  Our faith in Christ is important, but as scriptures points out, that our faith without works is empty or dead.  We need to put our faith in Christ for our salvation, but we also need to live out that faith.

How we understand baptism is heavily influenced by our larger understanding of salvation.  If salvation is grounded solely in a confession of our sins and a trust in Christ for grace, then baptism becomes a sign of that unique moment where we become saved.  For us, as United Methodists, we do not see baptism as the end of our faith we see it as a beginning of something new.  In baptism, we celebrate God’s saving work in our lives and recognize the grace that is made available to us through Christ.  We are born into a new role as brothers and sisters of Christ, as children of God.  With this new identity comes new responsibility.  Our life of faith is just beginning.

There is a reason that Christ’s public ministry begins with his baptism.  It marks the beginning, not the end of the work that he is doing in the world.  In the same way, our own baptisms are meant to mark not the end but the beginning of the work that God has for us in the world as well.

There is a line in our baptismal liturgy that sticks with me often, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”.  I often find myself convicted by this question because I know that the honest answer is too often I do not resist evil in whatever forms it comes in.  Instead I am guilty of taking the easy road, the quiet road, the less-conflicted road.  When I was in fencing in high school there was another member of the fencing team who was at the bottom of the social hierarchy.  First, let’s be honest, this was the fencing team, we were all towards the bottom of the social hierarchy.  Still, even in our ranks he was uncool.  The best I can say for myself is I never picked on him to his face.  I am not sure what the worst I can say is, that I made a joke or two at his expense behind his back or that I never stood up for him when others were making the jokes.  Either way I know that I failed in my baptismal vow to resist evil, injustice, and oppression.

The dangerous part of that vow is the line “whatever forms.”  It is not resist in evil in the convenient forms or the popular forms, it is whatever forms that evil comes in, we must resist.  There is a story in the latest Family Promise newsletter.  It talks about how a family found itself homeless and stranded in Lake Lillian.  The United Lutheran Church there opened its doors to house them for two nights and then rented a van to drive them back to Oklahoma where they had family.  Here are people who did not stop with what was easy or even practical.  They saw an injustice and they worked with all their might to fix it.

If they had knocked on our doors would have been as ready to help?  I would want to say, yes, but I worry that we would get caught up on questions of budget, or practicality I worry we would be too busy with the other things we are doing, we would not have the time.  The reality is we all have times that we rise to the occasion and we join with God in doing amazing things.  There are also times that we fall short and fail to resist evil, injustice, or oppression when we see them.

We can only be baptized once, but that does not mean that God’s grace is not there for us any time we need it.  When we fall short we need to remember our baptism and remember that God loves us.  Maybe it did not happen in the same dramatic way that it did with Jesus with the skies opening and a dove, but when we are baptized the Spirit descends on us as well and God whispers into our hearts “This is my child whom I dearly love; I find happiness in them.”

Questions to Ponder:

How is God calling you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in your life?

When is a time you failed to live up to your baptismal vows?

How have you experienced God’s grace continuing offer your new life?

Prayer:

God, your love washes over us each and every day.  You bless us and care for us and call us your own.  Help us to find the strength to live into the great work you have for us.  Forgive us when we fall short and empower us to try again and again to be part of your saving work in the world. Amen