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Epiphany 1, Yr A,
1.9.2008 (Baptism of Christ)
Isa 42.1-9: Servant song
Ps 29: God’s mighty works by voice, ending w. ‘strength to his people...blessing of peace’
Acts 10.34-43: ‘all the prophets testify about him’
Mt 3.13-17: ‘proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness’ –almost as if apologetic for Mark’s account (1432)
Heavenly Father, at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son: may we recognize him as our Lord and know ourselves to be your beloved children; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
(Like Jesus, we as God's Beloved are called to be lovers)
celebrate the baptism of Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist.
Matthew, Mark and Luke, all have the story of the baptism, while the
Gospel of John omits the story but alludes to it by having the Baptist witness
to Jesus with the words, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove,
and it remained on him’ (1.32). This
morning we have heard Matthew’s version which he has repeated from Mark with a
You may wonder
why was Jesus baptized? The answer
lies in the Jewish practice of baptism in Jesus’ day.
As you know, there was the customary washing as a ritual cleansing from
impurity, but baptism was also associated with becoming a Jew, the so-called
proselyte baptism. Male converts to
Judaism obviously underwent circumcision. However,
in order to join in the Passover meal all converts, both male and female, had to
undergo baptism before they could enter the
So when John
comes preaching a baptism of repentance, he is calling the Jews to admit the
need to start over, that is to admit that they have, so to speak, no leg of
their own to stand on. Thus when
Jesus comes to be baptized by John he is joining in this, he is putting himself
wholly in God’s hands. In effect,
it is the opposite of the person who proudly boasts that he is a self-made man.
To which the reply is that at least he does not blame God for it.
Therefore, we might well say that it is only because Jesus submits to
John’s baptism that we can call him sinless.
This also explains Matthew’s addition to Mark of the conversation
between John and Jesus, with John claiming the need to be baptized by Jesus, to
which Jesus replies, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to
fulfil all righteousness,’ -- for real righteousness lies in obedient
dependence upon God.
that Matthew changes the story is that in Mark’s account the heavenly voice
speaks privately to Jesus alone: ‘You are my son, the Beloved, with whom I am
well-pleased’, but in Matthew the voice publicly proclaims to all: ‘This is
my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased’.
Why do you think Matthew has done this?
In Mark Jesus’ sonship is not openly revealed until the Centurion’s
confession at the cross. But in
Matthew the disciples acclaim Jesus as God’s son early on.
In Mark the disciples are an obtuse lot, who will only learn who Jesus
truly is by following him in the way of the cross.
But in Matthew the disciples know who he is, but what they are lacking is
full trusting obedience, as when Peter, seeing Jesus walking on the water, is
invited by Jesus to walk to him on the water.
He starts to do this and then his faith fails and he starts to drown.
When Jesus raises him up again, he admonishes Peter with the words,
‘Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt?’
And in Matthew’s Gospel it is only disciples who are ever said to
doubt. And it is always when they
see the Lord. Seeing is not
believing. Only trusting obedience
is true believing.
Mark’s baptismal story fits his insistence that the only way to know Jesus is
by following him, then Matthew’s version fits his warning that to know about
Jesus isn’t enough.
We may well
recite the Nicene Creed on Sunday, but Matthew and Mark would agree that it is
what we do on Monday that shows whether or not we truly intend to be disciples
of Jesus of Nazareth as Christ and Lord.
So, on what are
we to base this trusting obedience?
At his baptism Jesus is called the Beloved, which not only marks out
Jesus but also tells us that God is a lover.
As the Beloved Jesus shows us love.
It is striking that in both the letters of Paul and of
other writers in the NT frequently those bring written to are addressed
as ‘beloved’, for that is what we are.
Our reading from the Prophet Isaiah is one of the so-called Servant
Songs. In these songs in the book of
Isaiah the servant of the LORD is most likely envisaged as being God’s
covenanted people, Israel. Our reading from Acts includes the
words, ‘all the prophets testify about him’, and it is Luke alone among the
gospel writers who clearly applies the Servant Songs to Jesus, as, e.g., in the
Book of Acts, in the story of
Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The
eunuch has been reading one of the servant songs, and Phillip tells him it
applies to Jesus. We are called to
follow in Jesus’ steps, and so we, too, are called to be the servants of the
The impact of
Jesus on those around him changed their lives, for it had been this tremendous
sense of being loved and enabled to love. It
was, and can be today, so intense that when they came to write of it, the Fourth
Evangelist expressed it as Jesus saying, ‘A new commandment I give you: that
you love one another as I have loved you’.
In the same gospel, when Philip says, ‘Show us the Father’, Jesus’
reply is ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father.’
In the same community the author of 1 John puts it even more boldly as
‘God is love’. And they are all
agreed that Jesus on the cross is the full embodiment of this love.
Paul not only
says in 1 Cor that ‘I would know nothing among you save Christ Jesus and him
crucified, spelling out the content of that in 1 Cor 13, the spelling out of
In the OT we
find the figure of Wisdom. Wisdom is
spoken of as a person, a person next to God, God’s agent, through whom God
brings all things into being. In
short, we may say that Wisdom is God’s will and way.
Our psalm today speaks of God’s word being effective, and so Word and
Wisdom are combined. The NT witness
to Jesus in effect says that Jesus is God’s Wisdom, the Word of God.
And that Word is Love.
I believe we
are on the right track when we substitute the word ‘Love’ for ‘Word’
when we read the beginning of John’s Gospel:
In the beginning was Love, and Love was with God and Love was God. Love
was in the beginning with God. All
things came into being through Love, and without Love not one thing came into
So what we know
of Jesus is love unbounded; what we know of the Father is love unbounded, and
the guidance and power of the Spirit is, again, the urgings and guidance of love
It was this
same intense conviction of love that Charles Wesley experienced when his heart
was strangely warmed. I believe it
is also the deep experience of those who suddenly find themselves accepting
Jesus at the centre of their lives, even if the rest of us grow into it more
How do you
express this impact? Only by almost
breaking the boundaries of human language, by speaking in metaphor and poetic
language. I believe it was such a
tremendous sense of release, of a new start in life, that it was natural in a
Jewish context to express it as forgiveness.
Thus Paul speaks in terms of
dying to one’s old self and now living a new life freed from one’s old life,
which very often in the NT is spoken of in terms of forgiveness of sin.
But I think we
can look at this from another angle. If
God is love, then he has always loved us. So
God’s love has always been there and when we accept that, then we know
ourselves to be given a new start, with our sins forgiven.
In other words, God does not forgive us in Jesus Christ; rather in Jesus
he supremely makes his forgiveness known.
Now we, as the
Beloved, are those who have been enabled to show forth that love, the divine
love, in all that happens. In
the words of our Prayer for Today, let us
know ourselves to be God’s beloved children, and go forth with
confidence in his love.