January 8th & 12th, 2020.
Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
“Baptism of the Lord”
We had such a wonderful holiday a few weeks ago. We decorated for Christmas, gathered together with family members, exchanged gifts with one another, and had a fun time with family traditions. Now, all decorations are gone, and family members were gone. Even though it is a new year, it is comparatively calm. I mean that nothing looks like new.
All decorations of Christmas were back into the box. Those will be put away until next Christmas. How carefully they are stored! We may use them for more than five years.
However, we have something that cannot store until next Christmas. Guess what those are. Yes, those are gifts from family, friends, and beloved ones. We may want to use them before next Christmas. No, we might use them right now, or we used them already.
In today’s scripture, we hear about John, who God sent to prepare for the way of Jesus. The scripture says, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” This John, is who is called the Baptist John because he is the first person who baptized people. No one knows about baptism until that, but John began it at Jordan River.
First of all, let us think about baptism. What is baptism? Why would John begin baptizing people? Why we need to be baptized? Baptism is according to Book of Discipline of United Methodist Church, “to signify entrance into the household of faith, and is a symbol of repentance and inner cleansing from sin, a representation of the new birth in Christ and a mark of Christian discipleship” (¶104, The Book of Discipline, 2016). Therefore, baptism is 1. “Entrance into the household of faith,” means that become a member of a faith community; 2. “A symbol of repentance and inner cleansing from sin,” means repentance for sin before baptized, and washing sin off through baptism; 3. “A representation of the new birth in Christ and a mark of Christ discipleship” means to need a decision for a new life in Christ as a disciple of Jesus Christ. In summary, baptism is a sacrament to be a Christian through repentance, washing sin off, and acceptance to a faith community [forgiveness by God].
The Baptist John began his ministry to prepare for the way to go to Jesus in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt.3:1-2). And many Pharisees and Sadducees came to John for baptism (Matt.3:7). Technically, the Baptist John’s ministry was to make Jewish convert to Christians, who belong to Jesus’ community and who follow Jesus. “The kingdom of heaven,” the Baptist John mentioned, is a sort of a new world, which Jesus reigns.
We have another curiosity here about Jesus’ act to be baptized. If John’s baptism was a call to repentance, and an introduction to the new kingdom, Jesus’ action seems not to make a sense at all. First of all, Jesus is the Son of God, so he doesn’t need to be baptized. The second, Jesus has the authority and power to choose people by himself. Finally, he doesn’t need to be baptized by John, as John thought.
That’s why John prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” However, Jesus says, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” And then, John consented.
For thirty years, Jesus had lived in Nazareth as a common person, waiting for the time when the Father would direct Him to begin His public ministry. Jesus’ act of being baptized by John was a complete and full identification with the Kin(g)dom that John was announcing. Baptism is a symbol to turning from the old to the new. Jesus’ baptism was His own identification with the new, of participation in the Kin(g)dom of God. Jesus’ use of the word “righteousness” is significant because it denotes a right relationship. Therefore, Jesus’ action of being baptized was a witness to the rightness of His relationship in the Kin(g)dom, and it was to have His right relationship with God. Furthermore, our baptism would be our decision to have a new life with the right relationship with God and with Christ.
The other reason Jesus need to be baptized is to show us Jesus’ identification and involvement of the Holy Spirit for baptism. In verses 16-18 of the Gospel of Matthew, says, “When Jesus had been baptized, just as He [Jesus] came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him [Jesus], and he[John] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him[Jesus]. And a voice from heaven said, this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” John says in the Gospel of John, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him [Jesus]. I did not know him, but the One who sent me to baptize with water said to me, He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God” (John1:32-34). The Baptist John was granted the visual symbol of the Spirit of God lighting on Jesus in the fashion of a dove alighting. At Jesus’ baptism, Jesus is given this divine confirmation from the Father as the Son of God. Through Jesus’ baptism, we may think that our baptism is also the presence of the Holy Spirit and the acceptance of God as the children of God.
Go back to the Christmas gifts. Most of Christmas gifts we received may break them out or be gone somedays, and we need gifts again. However, among Christmas gifts we received, there is a unique one. Even though we do not store it in the box, and we just use it every day, it does not tear/break it out, or be gone at all. Guess what it is. It is Jesus Christ. When we are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit, we received a unique gift in Jesus Christ by the grace of God. Christmas reminds us that Jesus Christ is with us. When Jesus tells us that He is with us always, do we think, “He is too busy for us? Do we put Him in a box for later as we put all the decorations in the box for next Christmas? Don’t be delate to invite Jesus to your lives. The Baptist John thought Jesus should not be baptized by him. However, beyond his thoughts, Jesus collaborated with the Baptist John to initiate the Christian community, to be a reality. I encourage you to invite Jesus in your daily lives so you may collaborate with Jesus in a new year to be reality your dreams.
When John baptized Jesus, he saw heaven open. And he heard God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” When we use God’s gifts every day, we also hear God speak to us. He tells us how God loves us. God guides and protects us. Don’t put Jesus in a box. Don’t keep Him stored away to be used later. He has something for you now. Baptism of the Lord shows us how important baptism is as a Christian. When you were baptized in Jesus’ name, remember He became a part of your daily life. Please collaborate with Jesus, whatever you work, or whatever you plan, so God may answer you with well pleased.
Thanks be to God.