The Voice from Heaven – January 13, 2013
Psalm 27:1-14, Matthew 3:13-17
January 13, 2013
Today we celebrate the event called the Baptism of Jesus our Lord. And as we do, the first thing I want you to see is that this is really the first miracle story in Jesus ministry. I think that’s one of the big reasons it’s in here. In fact, this story is in all four gospels! So as I’ve said before, that alone makes it significant!
Now, I know what you’re going to tell me. I always say that the Wedding at Cana and the turning of water into wine was Jesus’ first miracle. And that’s true. That was the first miracle he performed. But this is the first miraculous, or supernatural, thing that happened, that people actually witnessed. But in this case, it wasn’t so much what he did or John did. It was what God did. And that made it an amazing event!
So, the first thing we need to notice is that Jesus’ Baptism was a public event. Back up a little to the beginning of this story, which we read during Advent. In the first part of this chapter, it says that John came on the scene preaching and baptizing in the Jordan river. Then verse 5 it says, “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea.” Now tweak your mental image here, my friends! That’s a lot of people! And they came from all over!
Some of them came a long way! According to the map in my Bible, Jerusalem was about 20 miles from the Jordan river! But if people came from all Judea, they could have come from as far away as Gaza on the Mediterranean sea. And that would have been a journey of almost 100 miles! And of course they could have come from any distance between that.
So, I can’t impress on you enough that John was a big deal! He had celebrity status! That’s because the people believed he was a true prophet, like those in their scriptures. And there hadn’t been any of those around for a long, long time! So his fame spread all over, and they came from all over to see him.
Now, one problem with that, which I’ve told you before, was that many people had a hard time understanding that Jesus was even more important than John. There are many places in the Gospels where the writers try to address that problem. The first is here in Matthew. Here John himself says, “One is coming after me who is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” That was pretty plain statement. But still people had a hard time understanding.
Think about the famous Prologue in Johns Gospel. We read those wonderful words on Christmas Eve. But as you read that passage, there seems to be a break in the flow of those lofty words. That’s because John (the Gospel writer) thought it important enough at that time to take a moment to explain John the Baptist. So right in the middle of his prologue, he wrote, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John… He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.” That “explanation” has a different tone. It was more “matter-of-fact” than inspirational. And then he continued with the much more lofty sounding words, “The true light that enlightens every one was coming into the world.” Have you ever sensed that change in tone as you’ve read that passage? Read it again some time. I’ll bet it will stand out like that for you!
Theres one other passage I’d like to mention. And it comes from a place later in John’s Gospel. In chapter 3, we find that John was still baptizing. Jesus and John were both preaching at the same time until John was arrested. And we’re told that John was now located near the towns of Aenon and Salim. I found those on my Bible map, too! They’re located about 40 miles north along the Jordan river, up towards the sea of Galilee.
Well, as the Gospel writer tells the story, we find John himself trying to explain Jesus’ importance. The people said to him, “Rabbi…” And its interesting that they called him that! “Rabbi,” they said, “that guy you baptized is now baptizing, too. And everybody is going to him.” And that’s where John says, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Maybe you remember those words. John understood Jesus’ importance!
John said,” One who is coming is mightier than I.” And at this time of Jesus Baptism, that became apparent! Because God showed up!! And with a whole crowd of people watching, the voice of God was actually heard! And I hope you see how important that was. All four of the Gospel writers chose to write about it. The Church chose to celebrate it. And so we celebrate it today, along with the other of our two sacraments, the sacrament of Holy Communion.
If you are familiar with the Roman Catholic tradition, you know that they have seven sacraments. On a good day I can name six pretty quickly. And eventually I can get all seven. Among them are ordination, confession, and confirmation. Even marriage is a sacrament in the Roman Church. Of course, we have those things, too. They are important to us! We just don’t consider them to be sacraments. For us, its these two that we celebrate today. And these two represent the beginning and end of Jesus earthly ministry. And as we celebrate them together we know that, because of who Jesus was, which was stated by God himself at his baptism, we can know the power of what he did, which is represented here at this table. That’s the beauty of this day!
Well, in recent years, we’ve been using this celebration of Jesus baptism to remember our own. And even though we may have been too young at the time to remember our Baptism vows, we said similar vows at the time of our confirmation. (Though I guess some of us may not remember that either!) So this has become for us a time of recommitment, a time when we consider and renew our commitment to Jesus Christ. And I hope you’ve taken that seriously!
What better time to do that than the start of a new year? New Years is a time of looking back and looking forward. And so I ask you to do that in your faith. And I know we do that in the season of Lent – which is rapidly approaching, by the way! In that season, we examine our faith. We try to see where we have failed, and where we can do better, and where we can grow closer to God. But here today I ask you simply to remember your spiritual beginnings, and to renew the commitment you made, or was made for you at your baptism, and confirmed in your confirmation.
So, we will do that in a few minutes, and then again I will re-introduce you to the waters of baptism! But remember, that baptism is a community event. It was for Jesus, and it is for us. It is a mark that we are part of the household of God. We’re together in this. Baptism is not just a sign that you’re saved and you’re going to heaven. It’s the beginning of a life of faith. Let it be that for you again today as with your brothers and sisters in Christ, you restate your Baptism vows.
Renewal of Baptism Vows and re-introduction of the waters of Baptism
Lord, help us to remember these words we have spoken, now and long ago. Help us to be true to our commitment to your kingdom. Together, help us to know the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ, and our relationship with him and with each other. For we pray these things in his name, Amen.