The Baptism of Our Lord

The baptism of Jesus has got to be regarded as significant since the four writers of the Gos-pels each spoke about it. Martin Luther reflecting on Matthew’s account where a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17) commented …

This is the sermon preached by the most exalted Preacher from the highest pulpit and it reaches down from heaven to earth. And this is the most exalted ser-mon ever given. The Almighty Eternal, Merciful God is speaking of his almighty, beloved Son: “This is my be-loved Son in whom I am well pleased”. The greatest Listener to this sermon is the Holy Spirit, the third per-son of the Divine Majesty. (…) That is why the adoring angels remain mute and motionless, because they too are absorbed in listening to this most sublime Preacher: God, the Almighty Father. (…) At this point, however, you may well ask: what has all this got to do with me? Christ is God’s Son and without sin. As for me, I am a miserable sinner, con-ceived and born in sin; my own baptism is less glorious on account of my sin. But no, you should not think like this. Instead, you should enter into Christ’s baptism with your own baptism, so that Christ’s baptism is your baptism and your baptism is Christ’s baptism and thus there is one baptism. (Schriften, 51. Bd., S.111)

Luther’s question is pertinent in relation to all of the Bible. What has this got to do with me? It is the question that underlies much of the response – the stand-offish, the keep-at-arm’s-length-distance response when people fear being snared or captured. It is easy for people to suspect that all the words are written in the Bible so that ‘we’ll be good’ and be ‘more like God’. People fear change – or don’t like it at least – and religions seem about change – especially Christianity. And that Christianity is about change is not incorrect! But as usual we get it the wrong way round. If we want to talk about change then consider Jesus’ baptism. Luther could write what he wrote because the biggest change of all – is not us changing our behaviour or attitude – but in God becoming flesh. Now that’s a change! However, I think, people still tend to think of Jesus as ‘superhuman’; not like us. Luther said that Jesus was ‘without sin’. That is a faith statement! It is true, of course, but stop and consider the baptism of Jesus for a moment. When Luther’s ‘most exalted Preacher’ is preaching our ears are drawn to Jesus and what do our eyes see? A man coming out of the river Jordan having undergone a baptism of repentance! Repentance! Then and there, it would seem to anyone watching at the time and us now that this is Jesus is a … sinner!

Talk about change! What is God doing to himself?! Why? (Where will this end? Oh that’s right … a cross!) Christianity is about change – and it begins with the change of God to be sin (he who had no sin) so that you and I who are sinners (there’s no denying it!) can live away from those deadly shackles and live a new life – one day at a time, following Jesus. And how that relationship with Jesus changes us? Well, that’s the adventure of discipleship!  — GS