Baptism of Jesus

augustana-altar

Baptism of Jesus, January 12, 2020

Campus Pastor Matthew Stuhlmuller

  1. An interesting question has stumped theologians and curious Christians for almost 2000 years: What was Jesus doing between his birth and the moment that he was baptized as an adult?
    1. The four Gospels tell us virtually nothing about this period.
    2. The first time that the Gospel of Mark mentions Jesus, Jesus is an adult approaching John the Baptist at the Jordan River.
    3. The Gospel of Matthew gives us stories about the birth of Jesus and how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the violent rage of King Herod, but then Matthew jumps ahead to Jesus’ baptism.
    4. The Gospel of John entirely omits any details about Jesus’ childhood.
    5. And the Gospel of Luke gives us one brief story about Jesus. Luke says that, when Jesus was twelve years old, he astounded the people in the temple with his wisdom.
    6. But that’s it. We otherwise know nothing about his childhood, teenage years, or twenties.
  2. It’s certainly tempting to speculate about what Jesus might have been up during those years.
    1. In the end, though, it’s all conjecture. Nevertheless, I would be willing to venture a guess for one possibility.
    2. Whatever Jesus was doing during those years, it is highly likely that a significant portion of this time was spent learning.
    3. In his adult life, Jesus displayed an extraordinary grasp of the law and the prophets, and he frequently quoted the Hebrew Scriptures.
    4. He clearly was immersed in his Jewish religious heritage, so he must have spent a significant amount of time absorbing the tradition.
  1. But regardless of whatever happened during those intervening years, one thing is clear throughout multiple Gospel accounts: when the moment was right and Jesus was ready to embark on his mission, he came to John the Baptist to receive the sign of baptism.
    1. In those days, a man named John the Baptist was living in the desert, preaching a message of repentance in order to prepare people for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
    2. He was telling people to turn their lives around because God’s promised messiah would soon be coming, and as a sign of this repentance, John was baptizing people in the Jordan River.
    3. When Jesus first came to John, the Gospel of Matthew reports that John balked at the idea of baptizing Jesus.
      1. John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
      2. But Jesus said to him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
    4. Righteousness can be defined in a variety of ways, but most basically, it means doing the will of God. It means being obedient to what God has commanded.
    5. Jesus saw his baptism as an act of obedience toward his Father in heaven.
    6. By being baptized, Jesus was publicly demonstrating his obedience, showing his full participation in this message about God’s Kingdom that John was proclaiming.
    7. John finally consented to performing the baptism, and just as Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened up and the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove upon Jesus.
    8. A voice from heaven also called out, declaring, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
  1. With these words, Jesus is receiving an anointing, a mark of distinction.
    1. The heavenly voice is declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, a title that sets Jesus apart from the crowd.
    2. And with these words, it’s as if Jesus and everybody around him is receiving a glimpse of God’s Kingdom: the heavens are opened; a voice comes from heaven; the Spirit is given.
    3. God’s declaration of “my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased” echoes an important passage from the prophet Isaiah: Isaiah 42, which we heard a few minutes ago.
    4. Jesus here is being identified as God’s chosen servant. As Isaiah says, this servant will bring justice to the nations.
    5. And by faithfully bringing forth justice, God’s covenant promises with the Israelites will be fulfilled. Israel will be a light to the nations, heralding a new creation: the eyes of the blind will be opened; the prisoners will emerge from their dungeons; light will shine into the dark places.
  2. In short, Jesus’ baptism is a moment that announces his identity to the world.
    1. This is God’s Son, the Beloved.
    2. This is God’s chosen servant, the one in whom God’s plan will be carried out.
    3. We don’t know what happened to Jesus in those intervening years between his childhood and adulthood, but when the moment was right, when Jesus was ready to embark on his mission, he came for baptism, and in this extraordinary act, he received these words about his identity.
    4. [pause]
  1. Think for a moment about your own identity.
    1. It takes a number of words to describe all aspects of ourselves. What words describe you?
      1. Husband, wife, or partner?
      2. Mother, father, sister, uncle?
  • Physician, engineer, homemaker, teacher?
  1. Extroverted, introverted, gregarious, reserved?
  1. None of us can be summed up in a single word or phrase. A family member may describe you in one way, while a friend may see you in another way. Both can be right, because we’re all multifaceted beings.
  1. But whoever we are, each of us possesses a core identity.
    1. When Jesus came for baptism, he heard these words about his core identity as the Son of God.
    2. The title “Son of God” is not everything that could be said about Jesus, but it’s the center from which everything exudes.
    3. Similarly, there are many ways to describe each of us, but we each have a core identity from which everything exudes.
  2. When we receive the gift of baptism, we hear about our core identity.
    1. We hear that, above all else and before all else, we are beloved children of God.
    2. In baptism, we are forever marked and set apart as children of the most high God.
  1. When we’re washed in the waters of baptism, something life-changing happens.
    1. That’s not to say that there’s magic in the water, but God uses the water as an occasion to speak a word to us.
    2. It’s a word about our lives. It’s a word about who we are and whose we are.
    3. God says, “This is my child. This is my beloved.” But just as important, God says, “This is my This is my beloved.”
    4. God’s words forever identify us as children of the divine. Whatever else can be said about us, we are defined by the fact that God has reached across eternity to lay hold of our lives and establish a bond of love with us.
    5. It’s a bond that cuts across every identifying marker that we or the world places upon us.
    6. And even if we don’t recognize this bond of love or turn away from this bond, the bond is inviolable from God’s perspective. God always regards each of us as a beloved child.
  • Over the 2000 years since Jesus was baptized, the church has come to ascribe additional meaning to baptism.
    1. One of the key ways of talking about baptism is that it’s a cleansing from sin. Baptism washes away the sin that is inherent to our human condition, thus making us a new creation as we’re joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
    2. This is true, but it’s true precisely because baptism is a word about our identity.
    3. It’s a word about who we are and whose we are. It’s a word that we are beloved children of God, and because we are beloved children of God, God graciously cleanses us from our sin.
    4. Because we are beloved children of God, God shows us mercy and reconciles our broken relationship with God.
  • Whether we’re infants or adults, we constantly need to hear about who we are and whose we are.
    1. There are plenty of voices and forces in the world that would gladly define our lives for us if we let them, but baptism is God’s gift whereby our entire lives are framed in a new light.
    2. We no longer see our lives from our perspective or somebody else’s perspective; we now see who we are from God’s
    3. Amidst the transience and finitude and limitation of life, we now see who we are from the perspective of eternity.
    4. Whether we are just being baptized or we’re remembering our baptism years ago, we see that there is a part of us that cannot be changed.
    5. We see that, no matter who we are, or where we go, or what we do, one thing is constant.
    6. One thing cannot be taken from us. One thing remains: we are beloved.