Water, John the Baptist, Jesus (isn’t it always?), repentance, our baptism, belonging, the start of something, salvation, the Cross, forgiveness, repentance, obedience and more besides! All are found in our readings today and undoubtedly some of these will appear in sermons people deliver today too.
Many of us have the image of Jesus and John in the river with the dove descending. This theophany (heavenly turning up) is the first time God speaks up regarding Jesus and it confirms to those then what we know now by hindsight and Bible. Having done Advent, where John the Baptist features large in the readings, we all know this strange and amazing man with his weird clothes and odd eating habits. The man who is, for us, a prophet announcing the present evil age would end and be replaced my the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus’ baptism is about. A new beginning and the ending of the old.
The old ways. The old habits. The old attitudes. The being in slavery to sin. 2 Corinthians 5 Speaks of the ‘the old going and the new having come’. That’s one of the aspects of baptism we consider today – and we should rightly reflect on our baptism and the hallmarks and effects that had on us.
In David Pawson’s book “The Normal Christian Birth’ we find reference to RBBR - Repent, Believe, be Baptised, Receive the Holy Spirit. John called those around him to people to repent and be baptised, not in the name of Jesus but for the forgiveness of their sins so that they might be part of that which is to come (ie. eternity).
Repent means ‘turning away’ – a 180 degree turn) from the old life – it is a binary act. It is more than just 'sorry' - it is a lifestyle change moment.
Life consists of two states; things are either 'on' or 'off' (‘0’ or a ‘1’) - 'good' or 'bad' - right or wrong. John’s baptism was more than a ‘wet witness’ it marked a change of life and lifestyle. It was a wiping clean of the slate and a public statement of intent (hopefully) and a looking, and preparation, for the ‘age to come’. It was then, and should be for us, the beginning of living life as a '1' and putting aside of the zeroes in our lives.
In the Luke 3:15-17 passage we are told that John is merely the signpost rather than the means by which this new age will come. And, perhaps ironically, it is Jesus (who is baptised by John) who will do the deed, baptising with the Holy Spirit and carrying out the final judgement with an ‘unquenchable’ fire. It is Jesus who will redeem those who God created ‘for His glory’ – and those who bear the name ‘beloved’ will be that same community as found in the Isaiah 42:1-4 reading. Those who are loved and redeemed from the ends of the earth. In this first of the ‘servant’ passages from Isaiah we learn much and see much that is fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus which, with the baptism, becomes public today.
There were four hundred silent years between Malachi and the coming of Jesus, the Christ, and today we look at Jesus and ask what His, and our baptism means. Jesus did everything in the light – in clear view of all, from His baptism to His death and resurrection. Can we say the same of the way that we live our lives and our faith? Are they one and the same or do we keep life in boxes labelled ‘Me, Church, Work, Family, Hobbies, etc.)?
Are we looking to the reality of a coming kingdom or warming a pew out of habit and a vague hope?
Where is our faith and how does it change us?
This is God’s Son with whom He (the Father) is ‘well pleased’ – can He say that of us and the way we act today? If you’ve answered ‘No’ somewhere in your head, what are you going to do about it?
The ‘well pleased’ speaks of the man and, more importantly, the mission – God is looking at the rescue mission the baptism begins and celebrates in it. Can we? Do we? The dove is a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality – but as we so often say, “Seeing is believing!’ so they saw it as well – just remember this doesn’t mean that the dove is the only way the Holy Spirit is manifested, it’s merely a visual aid for us – a people who are always looking for a sign!
And what sign dip people see in us? Today's Collect sums it up, and informs our prayers, rather nicely:
Heavenly Father, at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son: may we recognise him as our Lord and know ourselves to be your beloved children; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Family of Jacob, the Lord created you. People of Israel, he formed you. He says, “Do not be afraid. I will set you free. I will send for you by name. You belong to me.
You will pass through deep waters. But I will be with you.
You will pass through the rivers. But their waters will not sweep over you.
You will walk through fire. But you will not be burned. The flames will not harm you.
I am the Lord your God. I am the Holy One of Israel. I am the one who saves you.
I will give up Egypt to set you free. I will give up Cush and Seba for you. You are priceless to me. I love you and honour you. So I will trade other people for you. I will give up other nations to save your lives.
Do not be afraid. I am with you.
I will bring your people back from the east.
I will gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Let them go!’
And I will say to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from far away.
Bring my daughters from the farthest places on earth.
Bring back everyone who belongs to me.
I created them to bring glory to me. I formed them and made them.”
The apostles in Jerusalem heard that people in Samaria had accepted God’s word. So they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived there, they prayed for the new believers. They prayed that they would receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them. They had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then Peter and John placed their hands on them. And they received the Holy Spirit.
Luke 3.15-17, 21,22
The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I am will come. I’m not good enough to untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His pitchfork is in his hand to toss the straw away from his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his barn. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.” When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened. The Holy Spirit came to rest on him in the form of a dove. A voice came from heaven. It said, “You are my Son, and I love you. I am very pleased with you.”
Lord of all time and eternity, you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son: by the power of your Spirit complete the heavenly work of our rebirth through the waters of the new creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen