Baptism of Jesus

Sermon at St James, Colwall, 12 January 2020

Matthew 3: 13-end

To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:

A week is a long time in politics but it is an even longer time in the Church’s Year. Last Sunday we were thinking about the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem when Jesus was a newly born baby and today we hear of Jesus being baptised by John – perhaps 25 to 30 years later. Someone has pressed the fast forward button and held it down.

The problem, of course, is that we have no information about those silent years between Jesus birth and his public ministry except for the incident in the temple when he was 12. It is strange and rather tantalizing that the evangelists give us so little on the early years of both John the Baptist and Jesus. They were, after all, cousins and would surely have seen each other from time to time. Did they have a normal upbringing?  Did they have friends and play mates?  What kind of education did they receive?  What about their teenage years?  Questions pour into our minds to which there are no answers and we have to accept that.

There is one statement perhaps that we can make and that is that both of them were men of conviction and that surely that conviction had been growing within them. Both had a powerful vocation which drew them to meet at the river Jordan – John as the one announcing the Messiah and Jesus as the Messiah.

John was persuading people to be baptised as a sign of repentance. This would not have surprised his hearers because the Jews were familiar with the idea of baptism. Converts to Judaism were often baptised and there were other rites of purification which were like baptism. So John’s call would not have surprised people although his urgency might have. Anyway Jesus appears in the queue waiting to go down into the Jordan and John recognizes him and immediately wants to reverse their roles. The Messiah, the sinless Son of God does not need a baptism of forgiveness and John knows this, but Jesus insists that he must be like everyone else to fulfil all righteousness.

As Jesus steps up and out of the water he sees and hears confirmation of his calling. Whether this is an entirely private, inner experience for Jesus or whether it was shared with John, isn’t clear, but Jesus is at once accepted and anointed by God. “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”.

His public ministry is about to begin. A period of reflection in the desert first and then teaching and healing with the consequences we know but he may not have expected at this stage. And for John the Baptist his role as the voice crying in the wilderness is essentially over. It is a climactic event for both of them.

Now John’s baptism of Jesus and all that it entails is a kind of model for each of us as we come to worship God, here in church. It is symbolic of our worship before our God Sunday by Sunday

First of all there is a meeting – Jesus meets John at the river and they also meet  with God who approves their work. For us when we come to church there is usually a meeting – a meeting with our fellow worshippers symbolized in the Peace and there is a meeting with God and his son in the bread and wine of communion. We meet in his name and share his peace. There is a meeting of minds and spirits.

Secondly there is a forgiving. John offered a baptism for the forgiveness of sins and Jesus took up this offer. God forgives us when we repent and any burden of guilt for shameful things we have done is taken away. So we make a general confession in our worship and the priest announces God’s full absolution. We are forgiven. We are accepted as we are. We are loved and we are welcomed. So there is a forgiving.

And thirdly there is a response on our part as there was for our Lord. Gratitude, certainly, and a sense of relief and freedom but also a determination to dedicate ourselves – to dedicate ourselves in the service of others and to God. God gives us the power to be his sons and daughters. His spirit is with us as we come away from worship to lead our everyday lives.

So we might usefully think of the Baptism of Jesus as first a meeting. Then as a forgiving and followed by a dedication. We meet in worship with God and each other; we receive the gift of forgiveness and we dedicate ourselves for another week.