Sermon - 1 Epiphany
In the Name...
After attending his baby sister's baptism, little Johnny was sniffling and sobbing in the car on the way home. "What's wrong?", asked his mother. Little Johnny replied, "The minister said she was going to be raised in a Christian home. But, I want her to stay with us."
We've enjoyed some beautiful services these past couple of weeks, and today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord by John at the Jordan.
John the Baptist. If you thought we left him behind in Advent, sorry, that crying Baptist is back. But, he's here today because we celebrate the beginning of the adult Jesus' ministry and John has to get things going.
Now, John was at the Jordan performing the Jewish ceremony of baptism. This was a ceremony similar to our sacrament of reconciliation. People confessed their sins and as a sign of making a clean start in life, immersed themselves in the river as John prayed over them.
And, one day, among the people coming to confess, John sees Jesus.
Now why was this? Jesus didn't need to confess anything. He was the Holy One of God. And, as we heard, John was horrified and objected. What are you doing here? But, Jesus answered by saying that it was necessary "to fulfil all righteousness." To fulfil all righteousness.
You see, Jesus was not being baptized for sins he had committed. He was baptized for the sins committed by all people of all times; for you and me. The work of the Saviour is to save and for Jesus to save us he must take on the penalty of sin itself, mortal life and death, so that we can share his immortal life. It is indeed a fulfilment of all righteousness.
And it also means he must bring to completion what his Father started a thousand years before with Moses.
Comparing the lives of Moses and Jesus we see that they have a lot in common. Moses' family had to hide him because Pharaoh was killing all the male babies of the Hebrews and baby Jesus' family had to flee because Herod was seeking to kill him. Moses had a time of testing in the desert and so did Jesus. Moses gave the Law and Jesus gave the Summary of the Law. And there are many other points of similarity, but, the one we need to focus on today is that Moses brought his people out of slavery into freedom by having them go through water and Jesus also brings his people out of slavery into freedom by having them go through water.
In other words, there is a direct connection between the Hebrew Exodus and Christian Baptism.
The escape of the Hebrews was nothing short of miraculous. They were up against the Red Sea, Pharaoh's army was approaching. And then God made the sea part and the people walked between walls of water to emerge on the other side in a place where they were safe. It's a great story. We've all seen the movie. But, the Exodus wasn't an end in itself and it wasn't just about the Hebrews. We use the word "prefigure" to describe what God was doing that day and what he was doing was preparing the world for a future event.
The escape of the Hebrews from a land of slavery prefigures our escape from a world enslaved to sin. When Jesus goes under the water and rises out of the water, he is re-enacting the Exodus and he is enacting both his own rising after death and our own rising after death. The whole purpose of Jesus' coming, his passion, death, and resurrection, is prefigured right there at the Jordan.
The Red Sea was a place of renewal and promise and the waters of Christian baptism are not only waters of renewal, but, also of the fulfilment of the promise. For what happens when Jesus rises from the water? The heavens open.
Actually, in the Greek it's more dramatic than that. It says the heavens were torn open. Torn. And it's the same word used when it says that as Jesus died on the Cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two. The veil, the barriers between God and Man were abolished and we give thanks for that. Thanks to Jesus, we can go to heaven. But, when a barrier is lowered it opens the road to two-way traffic and today we are reminded that heaven has also come to us. The Holy Spirit descends, and that is the deepest lesson of Jesus' baptism - the arrival of the Holy Spirit as something for everybody.
In the Old Testament, the Spirit makes a few appearances when he's sent to special people at special times. Jesus said, however, to all of us "John baptized with water, but, you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Now, there's a lot of discussion as to what "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" means, but, one thing generally agreed is that it is the presence of the Spirit in our lives which makes us credible as Christians. He is the one who allows us to do the spiritual works which set us apart. Without Him, we wouldn't be who we claim to be - children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ.
There's a story told of Pablo Picasso. He was traveling through Europe and at a border crossing discovered he had mislaid his passport. When he tried to tell the guard who he was, the guard was not impressed, but, he handed Picasso a piece of paper and a pencil and told him to draw something. Picasso did and the guard was so convinced he let him through. Those were simpler times. But, the point is that it was the work that was done which proved his identity and that is true for us Christians, as well. The works we do prove we are who we say we are.
The voice from heaven at the Jordan two thousand years ago spoke a message for all who have been baptized since and call themselves Christians. As sons and daughters of God, it is we who are beloved and pleasing to the Father. Just consider that. The Father's words are literal. Not just Jesus, but, you are his beloved son, you are his beloved daughter. Christ identified himself completely with us and the Spirit allows us to identify ourselves completely with him.
There aren't many events mentioned in all four Gospels. Not even Jesus' birth makes that list. But, his baptism does. That alone should inspire us to reflect all the more on our own baptisms.
For, we are people of flesh and blood - and of water and the Spirit. Beloved and loving. May we all have truly Christian homes.
In the Name...