The Baptism of Our Lord

January 10, 2021


When the ears and eyes differ 

4John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the  river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his  waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the  strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water, but he will  baptize you with the Holy Spirit. 

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he  came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like  a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:4-11  ESV) 

Last week Jesus was under 2 years old. Today he is about 30 years old. A lot can happen in a week! While Jesus  lived each day in between 2 and 30, the accounts about him can skip days and decades – and we so often wish  these accounts would provide more details but we have what we have – and it is what we need to live with God – to know who Jesus is and what he has done for us. And the Church has learnt to tell the stories in a sequence and  emphasis – and you tend to find that the stories of Jesus after The Epiphany emphasise or point to Jesus as the  Son of God and culminating – spoiler alert! – in our church calendar with his Transfiguration shining like the sun  before he sets his face for Jerusalem and the throne and crown of the King of kings – made of wood and thorns. And so between now and Lent we tend to meet ‘powerful’ Jesus, ‘performing miracles’ Jesus, ‘enigma’ Jesus  and today, the Church talks about Jesus’ baptism culminating in a wet Jesus in the river Jordan – heaven being  torn open, the Spirit visible like a dove descending on him, and the voice speaking – and Mark suggests that only  Jesus is aware of this but his account lets us eavesdrop “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”  (Mark 1:11). 

Are you excited? You should be! It is not usual for the Son of God to be walking around.  

Are you confused? Possibly. There is so much we don’t know – the psychology or self understanding of Jesus at  that moment perhaps. And a lot has been written and there has been much speculation about how Jesus can be  the Son of God. I’m not so much interested in that because, I think, it is an unknowable exercise trying to  understand or psychoanalyse Jesus – but I can ask this question … 

Jesus! What are you doing in the water?! 

The preparation of that camel haired leather belted apparelled man with the locusts and wild honey diet was  noticeable for its single focus – repentance, prepare the way of the Lord, forgiveness – in fact John the Baptist  even puts him and this coming Lord on scales – and the difference is stark – John is so low down he’s not even  worthy to bend down and untie the coming Lord’s sandals! So … Jesus … what are you doing in the water?! 

That’s the weird moment – not the miraculous – but how the ears hear one thing and the eyes see another! Jesus,  get out of the water! But no, there he is wet in the River Jordan and my eyes are telling me Jesus is a sinner  having apparently repented and received forgiveness but my ears are saying that he is God’s Son and God is  pleased with him! 

Who is Jesus? Which one is Jesus – the real Jesus? Is he the Son of God? Is he the sinner? How can he be both?  

And Jesus had three years of public ministry where those types of questions were asked about him. The final  verdict was the religious establishment and the eyes now behold blood and guts and judgement and pain and  finally death. Ok – now he definitely looks a sinner! Except why are we bothering to talk about one sinner? This  sinner? 

Because there is an empty tomb and the account is told with the message – two words – you might have been  expecting three – FOR YOU. That’s how Jesus’ story should be told so that those who hear him or hear about 

him hear that whether he looks like a sinner or sounds like God is pleased with him, this Jesus is FOR YOU – not against you. 

We look back at that baptism of Jesus and find both messages – Jesus is in solidarity with sinners – he is one of  us – and he is doing this FOR YOU – and he is God’s Son – with whom God is pleased and that implies no sin – and why is this Son of God here? FOR YOU! Baptism is that moment when words and sight seemingly  contradict – send mixed messages – and we have to work out who and what we are seeing and when it comes to  Jesus it is best to hear him as here FOR YOU. To rescue, to forgive, to give life, to bless is Jesus’ goal and  purpose and he is one of us to take the bullet for us, the judgement for us, the attacks of the Evil One for us, the  death for us. And this rescue publicly began at his baptism. That’s why Jesus is in the water looking like another  sinner – beginning the rescue of sinners. 

Baptism remains controversial in Church history for the same reason – the eyes and the ears don’t match. Jesus  wasn’t a sinner but in baptism looks like one to rescue us – and is declared God’s Son. 

In Christian baptism, people are sinners and are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection in baptism, declared to be  God’s children – but what we see suggests that the baptism doesn’t work – because the baptised person – whether child or adult – still sins, still regrets, still needs to say ‘sorry’, still comes back to God asking for  forgiveness. It is this incongruity and, for some, an inability to explain what is happening that has caused differences in baptismal teaching – about the age of the baptised, about the amount of water, about who is doing  what in baptism – and these differences come about to try and align what we see with what is said.  

So when baptism is our commitment to discipleship and following Jesus then what do we do when we don’t  follow Jesus in this or that aspect or time of our life? Are we still disciples? 

Or when baptism is God’s gracious gift and we are the beneficiaries but live without a relationship with Jesus in  any real sense, how should we be regarded? Are we still disciples? 

Those are big questions and more details are needed to be known to give specific answers but this truth remains  that salvation is only in Christ and if someone is saved then that is solely because of God in Christ Jesus and if  someone is lost, then that is their own fault.  

And the best way to walk between the despair of sinning and the lack of any desire to relate or respond to Jesus  is to see Jesus – today in his baptism – the Son of God appearing in the likeness of sinful flesh and using that as a  lens to look at ourselves. We might use the phrase ‘saint and sinner’ as the water drips from your head – because  that is what the baptised person is – ‘saint’ declared first(!) – a child of God – but also still a ‘sinner’ – seen by  others and also known in the heart of the person baptised. So what happens when we are confronted by  competing words – saint? sinner? – or by the tension between what we hear and what we see or experience? Paul  (in Romans 7) described it as the bad he didn’t want to do he keeps doing, and the good he wants to do, he  doesn’t do – wretched person – but his only hope and salvation is Christ Jesus, his Lord. 

And that is how followers of Jesus live – no matter the words or experiences that scream at our sins from outside  of us or come from within us – it is to Jesus we turn – this sinful wet Son of God, this crucified criminal Son of  God – and he reminds us of our baptism when we are joined to him and see that everything Jesus went through  was FOR US – and that is the only real and long term help that can help us live each day with the sins and  selfishness that plague us. We cling to Jesus’ forgiveness – we are God’s children through baptism – we say we  are ‘saints’ – and yet we acknowledge at each Divine Service and each time we say the Lord’s Prayer that we are  also sinners who behave in ways that hurt and ruin life for us and for others. 

It is Jesus who doesn’t tire of coming close to us because all he ever does is FOR US never against us. And so  we marvel today, yet again, at God’s love in Christ – in this wet Son of God – and want to follow him still,  again, this time, always – the struggles and sins and fears won’t go away throughout our life – but neither will  Jesus. And his promise is your baptism – and each day can begin with his mercy and strength – the heavens open  and we are not alone in this world. 

Bible References

  • Mark 1:4 - 11