"From the Pulpit" - Reflections on the Weekly Texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’ ”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Matthew 3:1- 12
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.
Happy New Year! How was 2022 for you and yours? Good? Great? Not so great? Other? Hoping that this new year brings you good news of great joy, whatever that may look like for you.
So, this Sunday is the Baptism of our LORD Sunday. All four (4) of the gospel writers offer some version of Jesus' baptism. I like Matthew's (above) although he offers more of Jesus' baptism beyond what we read in our gospel for Sunday (Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved,[d] with whom I am well pleased.’)
The italicized part above is not included in Sunday's reading, and yet is so integral to the whole baptismal event, not only for Jesus, but for us as well. As Jesus comes up out of the water (Jordan River), a voice from the heavens says, "this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.") Did you ever see the movie "The Lion King"? At the very beginning of the movie, all the creatures from the surrounding area come to watch the infant lion king be baptized. As they gather, the proud parents are around the baby lion, and the elderly "priest" of the community cracks a coconut, and pours the water from the coconut over the baby's forehead, as the proud parents look on. And just then, the heavens open up, and all is good with creation. A very biblical scene.
Check it out at the link here... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYsvH9cj66M.
Copy and paste this link into your browser and it will take you to that amazing scene from "The Lion King". I used to use this clip as a baptismal analogy for my Confirmation kids in my prior congregations. If for some reason that doesn't work, just go to YouTube and type in Lion King movie baptism and you'll find it.
So the question is why? Why did Jesus, the one without sin, need to be baptized? John the Baptist, who baptizes Jesus, says, "You come to be baptized by me? I should be baptized by you", in essence. In other words, John doesn't feel worthy or qualified to baptize Jesus. Who would, right!?
We often aren't told "why" Jesus does things in the bible. "To fulfill the Scriptures" is one reason often given. But the gospel writers are silent on this one. A clue may be in where in Jesus' life his baptism comes. For a hint, look at Chapter 4 of Matthew's gospel. What happens next for Jesus? Jesus is out in the desert, being tempted for 40 days by the devil. Hungry, thirsty, alone, no doubt frightened, Jesus is tempted by Satan himself. It's a ridiculous analogy, but go without food or water for a few days, and sooner or later, you'd do anything for a cool glass of water, or a big slice of pizza, right? The analogy is similar here, I think.
The baptism of Jesus comes before Jesus is sent out, likely as an adult, into a dangerous world. Into a world full of temptation. Into a world of death. Into a world that in many ways, we ourselves face in our lives, although maybe not literally, but at least figuratively. We live in a world full of temptation, and evil. A world just itching to pull us away from God.
I think the baptism of Jesus is a reminder to us of his ongoing journey as one of us. A journey that begins in the womb of a young woman, and proceeds through his less than idyllic birth, his young days in Nazareth, throughout his ministry, and ending with a mock trial and crucifixion. Jesus, the anointed one of God, comes as one fully human, and yet fully divine. And so, in his baptism, and throughout his life, he feels what we feel; experiences the emotions we experience; even death itself. Maybe in some way, it's a preparation, or an anointing to prepare Jesus for what lay ahead for him. You parents, when you had your child baptized at whatever age, no doubt you were thinking something like this as you watched it all unfold. "Please God, protect this young girl or boy!" Or some version of that.
But we know that death is not the end for Jesus, nor for us. Baptized into the same waters as Jesus, having similar words spoken over us as Jesus at that baptismal scene in the Jordan River ("I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son...") we too are brought into communion with the same God as Jesus is. We, too, are named and claimed by God in these waters, and with those words. We, too, are then sent into the world - this unsafe and dangerous world, to live into our baptismal call to be people of God.
So next time you think about Jesus' baptism, think about your own as well. We die to one thing in those waters, and daily become something new - a "new creation" as Luther often said. And like Jesus, God is well pleased! Thanks be to God.