January 12, 2020, The Day God Spoke, Matthew 3:13-17 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
There is no recording available for this sermon.
Jesus traveled maybe 40 or 50 miles from Galilee to the banks of the Jordan River where John was baptising. John was preaching a fiery message of repentance, and people were drawn to him, coming from all over, by the hundreds, by the thousands. But when Jesus showed up to be baptised, John wasn’t at all comfortable with the idea. He really tried to talk Jesus out of it. He even argued with him. “Come on, I’m the one who should be baptised by you, not the other way around.” It reminds me of Peter, when Jesus knelt down to wash his feet. “No way, Lord, you’re not going to wash my feet. I should be serving you.” Jesus seems to have had a special talent for offending people’s sensibilities.
Finally, though, Jesus convinced John by telling him it was absolutely necessary in order to do things exactly according to God’s will or design. In a way it kind of leaves us hanging, because Jesus gives no other explanation than that. All the explanation that Jesus really gave John was to tell him that being baptised was an essential part of the divine plan. But that was enough for John.
We read today what God said about Jesus through the prophet Isaiah:
“Behold my servant, my chosen, in whom my soul delights…
I am giving you as a promise for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to lead the prisoners out of the dungeon, to rescue those who are sitting in darkness from their prison.”
And this baptism was a key part of that plan, because in order for Jesus to guide God’s people out of darkness he was going to have to go through the darkness with them. That meant Jesus was going to have to travel every dark and difficult road that we have to travel: from the hard, painful journey through the birth canal of his mother Mary, through the trials and tribulations of growing up, through the illnesses and weakness and fear and sadness that are part of being human, until finally he would travel the last human road of all, which is death. But now, on this day, it was the plan of God that Jesus walk through the humility of repentance in baptism. Because it was only by walking the way with us that Jesus could he lead us home.
I have heard that it is very hard to rescue horses from a burning barn. In the midst of all the smoke and heat and flames, horses will panic. They might even run right back into the burning barn out of pure fear if they are left loose. The only way to rescue them, then, is to go in to the burning barn with them, to calm them with a familiar voice, to put on their halter and lead rope, and so to lead them out to safety, one by one. It is very much the same with us. To lead us out of darkness into light, Jesus had to enter the darkness with us. He had to walk beside us in the darkness, step by step. His people had to hear his voice, they had to follow him if they were ever to reach the light. And going under the waters of the Jordan River in the hands of John the Baptist was an essential step of the way, according to God’s plan.
But I believe the most important part of the story of Jesus’ baptism was what happened when Jesus came up out of the water. The heavens opened up, Matthew tells us, not just the clouds parting to let the sun shine like it sometimes happens on a cloudy day, but the heavens themselves tore apart, so that in that moment there was an opening between the kingdom of God, and the realm of mankind. The Spirit of God came down to rest on Jesus like a shining bird. And God spoke, in a voice that John, and everyone who was there could hear, he spoke to Jesus. “This is my Son,” he proclaimed, “this is my Beloved. I am so very pleased with him.”
It was an expression very much like we might have felt at the graduation of our son or daughter, or some other momentous occasion, when we look at our child in wonder, just bursting with love and pride and awe. At Jesus’ birth the angels had come to the shepherds with their glorious announcement, “Glory to God, and peace on earth!” But at his baptism God himself showed up, and he spoke aloud his delight in Jesus. There is so much more that can be said, and has been said, about Jesus’ baptism. But in all our discussion and theologizing we should be very careful not to miss this moment of God the Father in his joy and delight.
And one reason we should pay close attention to this moment is because each one of us gets to walk this road in Jesus’ footsteps. Each one of us has gone under the waters of baptism as Jesus did. Each one of us, whether as a tiny baby or later as an adult, each of has received the Holy Spirit by faith. And every one of us has come up out of the waters of baptism into the revelation that we are beloved children of God. John says of Jesus, “To everyone who received him Jesus gave the right to become children of God, not by any human desire or plan, but because that’s what God wanted.” Paul wrote: “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” And he tells us that the Spirit gives us the right to call God “Abba!” which is like calling him “Daddy” or “Papa”!
And this morning, we have the joy of celebrating Lyanne’s baptism. Instead of the waters of the Jordan River where John baptised Jesus, on this icy morning we are very fortunate to have the warm waters of our baptismal font. But the symbolism is always the same: the waters that we bless are a sign of the cleansing and renewing power of God, who is at work in a fresh new way in Lyanne from this moment on. Because Jesus walked this way before us, the waters are a sign to Lyanne and to all of us who have been baptised that we also participate in his death, turning our backs on the priorities and values of this world, so that we can share in the new life of his kingdom. Paul wrote: “You have died,” – and he means, through baptism – “and now your life is hid with Christ in God.” Safe and secure forever.
But most important, today Jesus brings Lyanne to that moment of adoption, that moment when God declares his delight in her, as he has done for us, as he does for all his children. As we come up from the water, God says to us, “You are my child, my beloved. I am so very pleased with you.” I pray that every one of us will hear his voice today.