Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Baptism of Christ - Luke 3:15-22

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, your voice proclaimed the sonship of Jesus, as he humbly submitted to the baptism of John; help us now, as your children, to be humble and open to your Spirit and to your Word. Amen.

The Christian year moves quickly, doesn’t it? Beginning with the start of Advent at the end of November, we’ve travelled the journey to the Incarnation and the Epiphany, and suddenly in a flash, Jesus is 30 years old! Here we are, spectators at his Baptism which kick-starts Jesus into the ministry of his mission.

It’s appropriate that his Baptism is placed within the season of Epiphany because it falls into category of ‘manifestation’, which is of course what the word Epiphany means. All three members of the Trinity are manifest at this baptism. Jesus, the Son, is present in human flesh. The Father is present by his voice, declaring his approval of the Son. The Spirit is present, appearing as a dove which descends upon Jesus, empowering him at the beginning of his public ministry.

This baptism was a decisive point in Christ's mission: it was his inauguration as the Messiah, ready to bring God's salvation in fulfilment of the prophecies. God is for us; redemption is his work, and we are blessed as witnesses through these Holy Scriptures to his divine action, at its very inception.

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is described in fair detail in Matthew 3, more briefly in Mark 1, and only just mentioned in our reading from Luke 3; in John’s gospel it is not mentioned at all, but presumed in ch. 1. A fundamental element of all the narratives, though, is that at his baptism Jesus was anointed with the Spirit; and this event propels him into his ministry.

Immediately after the experience of the Spirit, the voice comes from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love." The significance of the ‘sonship’ of Jesus is one of service to the Father rather than a reference to Jesus' divine nature. It is to do with his mission rather than his nature of being.

So Jesus submits to the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Why did he do that? John’s mission was to call a sinful and self-righteous people to turn quickly before the coming judgment: "The axe is already at the root of the trees", John says in Luke 3:9. But Jesus was not a sinner. He did not need to repent! In Matthew's gospel, John the Baptist protests at the inappropriateness of Jesus coming to be baptized by him. But the reason Jesus insists is because one of the functions of his baptism is to mark his solidarity with his people. By this act, he takes upon himself their condition and their predicament, because the Incarnation was not just about his coming to earth but also about his assuming the burdens that we have of life in the flesh. Because of this, Jesus is able to intercede for us. The Father's Son speaks to his people through Jesus, and he also speaks for his people to the Father. He is our mediator. By his baptism, Jesus is identified with the Father, with the Spirit, and with us.

Let’s think now about the water of baptism. Traditionally, even before Jesus, baptism in water was practiced by the people of the Old Testament, as well as people who belonged to pagan religions. The universal symbolism of immersion in water is that of being cleansed, to start anew; of dying to the old and rising to a new fresh way of life. Water cleanses, refreshes and sustains.

When Jesus immersed himself in the waters of the Jordan River, it was an immersion into the Father’s will for a new start. In his baptism, Jesus identified himself with the Father’s will to secure our redemption. Jesus was obedient to the plan and the will of God. When he went under the water at his baptism, it symbolized his death on the cross and his burial, the ultimate expression of non-power. And when he came up out of the water, it symbolized his resurrection. For that reason, the baptism of Chris symbolises his mission to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world and be raised from the dead in victory over sin and death. No one else will ever undergo the same kind of baptism that Christ went through – his baptism was unique.

How about our baptism? Our baptism symbolises our identification with Christ: with his death, his burial and his resurrection. In Romans 6:3-4 it says: 'All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.'

When a believer is baptised in water this symbolises being placed into Christ. When the believer comes up out of the water, it signifies being born again into new life, which is most powerfully acted out in full-immersion baptisms. Christian water baptism identifies us with Jesus Christ in his death, his burial and his resurrection, standing for what has already been accomplished through Christ. It’s an acknowledgment of our faith and trust in Christ; when we rejoice in what he has done for us, and we make some serious promises to God. We die to our old way of life and rise to a new way of living. We accept our commission into his service.

This is why the practice of infant baptism is controversial in some areas of the Church. To me it underlines why it is so important for parents and godparents to understand well the deep significance of baptism. And it underlines the importance of Confirmation, and pre-confirmation teaching, as those who were baptised as infants become able to take on their baptismal vows for themselves, with a firm commitment to follow Christ’s calling for a new life.

That new life begins whenever we say ‘yes’ in faith – to the hand Jesus holds out to us, and to the invitation he gives us to participate in the mission of God. What did Jesus do after his baptism? Jesus wasn’t a party-pooper, but I doubt if he had the kind of party that follows many baptisms today. It says in Luke chapter 4 that he was ‘led by the Spirit’ into the desert – where he went through temptation, again out of solidarity with us, but he resisted, and moved forward - forward in his mission and ministry.

Just a bit further on in Luke 4, we find Jesus in the synagogue, reading out from the scroll of Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’. And to those gathered around him, he says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. From here on, what Jesus does is to invite participation, as he proclaims something new, revealing the freedom created by the Spirit, and speaking judgment upon the old system, whose only fruit was oppression. And that must be our solidarity with him.

Our baptism is the acceptance and acknowledgment of our solidarity with the ministry of Jesus and the mission of God in Christ, charged by his baptism. Thankfully, the Lord of our new life is also our brother on the road. He has walked the way before us; he is alongside us and within us, when we move forward in trust and in the knowledge that we are loved by God, anointed and empowered by the Spirit, to live by faith with hope.

Let us pray: Beloved Son of God, baptised by John, we praise you and marvel at your humility. You are one with us in baptism: take us with you into the kingdom. You are one with us in humanity: lead us into the love of the Father, to whom be thanksgiving now and always. Amen.


  1. It's always good to see an alternative perspective. I preached (and posted) on this Gospel too.

  2. Thanks for stopping by the cafe, DP! Interesting to read the similarities and differences between our sermons on this!

  3. Can anyone nutshell the difs and sims?

  4. We both expressed the reason that the baptism of Christ falls within the season of Epiphany, and we used similar terms to describe our response to what his baptism signified - i.e. that it reflects on the meaning of our own baptism as our commission to participate in continuing the ministry of Christ.

    My focus was that Jesus' baptism was a sign of his solidarity - with the Father's will and with us. And our baptism is a sign of our solidarity with Jesus, in his death, burial, resurrection and new life - mission/ministry.

    DP focussed on the similarities and differences between the character of Jesus' and John's mission and ministries, rounding this off with what our response is - again, like I also said, that our baptism is our commission to continue the ministry of Jesus.

    At least that is what is in my nutshell! Others might put different things in their nutshell!

  5. Thank you! Awaiting other possible nutshells *:)


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