Heavenly Father – we pray - for the baptism of Jesus, when He was made one with us, and for our baptism when we are made one with Him and one another, we praise you, O God. As we enter a new year, help us to remember whose we are, so that we might glorify and enjoy you forever. Amen.
Today is the closest day on the Calendar to what is understood to be the Baptism of our Lord
And so that will be our focus
This time of the year - we move fast in the church… just two weeks ago we were celebrating the birth of Jesus
Then last week, while Jesus was still a baby, we celebrated the visit from the wise men from the east – in what we call … Epiphany
And this week we have fast forwarded 30 years and are marking the Baptism of Jesus our Lord
…In many ways much of the same message of last week applies today – Epiphany – God’s revelation to all … carries with it the incredible message of God which is also shared with Christmas
The message of the Gospel – the message of the incarnation – that God has come into the world for us – for All Humanity – over all time – Our God walked amongst us
Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord all celebrate this incredible news
This week as I have been doing my home work, in preparing for this sermon the chorus of a Christian song kept running through my head:
Our God is an awesome God He reigns from Heaven above With wisdom power and love Our God is an awesome God Michael W. Smith - Our God Is An Awesome God Lyrics
When I was reading my notes, when I was studying the bible and reading the commentaries and reviewing other people sermons, I simply just had this thought rolling through my head - Our God is an Awesome God
You see we Christians have something that no other religion has – we have Jesus
When I was going to seminary, as one of my electives, I had the opportunity to take a ‘world religions’ course at the neighbouring Regis College
Now, it is fair say that through-out all high school, all college and then seminary, I have been a very average student
And at seminary, I came across some of the smartest people I have bumped into anywhere in my life – where I had work much harder then before just to be an average student
But for that ‘world religions’ course I got my only A+
I got it mainly because of my final paper, which was worth, I think 70% of the whole grade
The course’s focus was centered on the premise of studying world religions as ‘dialogue’ – meaning not for ‘comparison for the purpose of conversion’ but to understand each other peacefully
I tell you this because; my thesis for my paper potentially directly challenged this notion
My thesis was that dialogue was important and vital for so many of the societal wants and needs but limited because of Jesus
Because, we Christians, are based on Jesus the Christ, and Jesus is not some words of a prophet or some meditated idea or ideals… but a person
Jesus came in the flesh to live as one of us – to teach us who God is and what God is all about – because Jesus is God
…Our God is an Awesome God…
Today, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus
We worship a baptized God…. Wait a minute! … God got baptized?
What could that mean? Well, for one thing it means that God intimately knows the trials involved in being a humble servant working for a kingdom that has yet to be fully realized.
But, perhaps more importantly, Jesus in the Jordan demonstrates that the Christ will never ask us to go somewhere that he is not.
And so this week, as I was preparing for this sermon, I was trying to think of a story to illustrate just what it means that Jesus was baptized and I thought of the movie “We Were Soldiers”
It is a 2002 American war film that dramatized the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965 — the first major engagement of the United States Army in the Vietnam War.
The film was directed by Randall Wallace and stars Mel Gibson. It is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Hal Moore and reporter Joseph L. Galloway, both of whom were at the battle.
Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (played by Mel Gibson), a dedicated U.S. soldier, is deeply committed to training his troops, who are preparing to be sent to Vietnam.
The night before their departure, the unit's officers hold a party to celebrate.
Moore learns from a superior officer that his unit will be known as the 1st Battalion / 7th Cavalry Regiment.
He is disquieted because the 7th Cavalry regiment was the unit commanded by General George Custer in the 19th Century when he and his men were slaughtered at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Moore is also dismayed because President Lyndon B. Johnson has decreed that the war would be fought "on the cheap," without declaring it a national emergency.
As a result, Moore believes he will be deprived of his oldest, best-trained soldiers
Just prior to shipping out for Vietnam, Moore delivers a touching speech to his unit:
"Look around you. In the 7th Cavalry, we got a Captain from the Ukraine. Another from Puerto Rico. We got Japanese, Chinese, Blacks, Hispanics, Cherokee Indian, Jews and Gentiles -- all American.
Now here in the States some men in this unit may experience discrimination because of race or creed, but for you and me now, all that is gone.
We're moving into the valley of the shadow of death, where you will watch the back of the man next to you, as he will watch yours, and you won't care what color he is or by what name he calls God.
Let us understand the situation; we're going into battle against a tough and determined enemy.
I can't promise you that I will bring you all home alive, but this I swear, before you and before Almighty God: when we go into battle,
I will be the first one to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off.
And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me God."
This powerful and moving speech captures the deeply conflicted emotions of the moment and leaves one inspired by Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore
It is the closest thing I could think of, that was comparable to what Jesus is for us
The Lieutenant Colonel was declaring that he would not ask anything of his men that he himself wasn’t also willing and prepared to do.
…As wonderful as this is – it is but a mere glimpse of what Jesus did for all of us
Moore was a man and solider – Jesus is God
Moore inspired and affected the 7th Calvary regiment – but what Jesus did it was for all humanity over all time
…Our God is an Awesome God…
Today, in our worship – in our celebrations with God and to God – we celebrate that God was baptised
Let’s take a step back for a moment and consider some of the details that setup this story
This is Jesus' first public act and thus unquestionably important in the Gospel narrative. After all, the first two chapters of Matthew narrate events which happened to and around Jesus.
He is but a child in the travels from Bethlehem to Egypt and finally Nazareth.
Now that Jesus acts directly, now that he has stepped foot onto the stage as an adult, what tone does this scene set? Why is this first step in Jesus' earthly ministry so significant?
Secondly, Matthew’s gospel, to be understood more fully, is to understand the writer
He was a disciple; he was a tax collector, meticulous about details
And he was a Jew writing an account to fellow Jews – laying out a case as to who Jesus is
In fact, Biblical scholars point out that the first three chapters of Matthew are primarily concerned with defining the identity of "Who is Jesus?"
A reader can almost overwhelmed of what is listed by this point in the gospel:
· Jesus is the Messiah.
· He is the son of King David.
· The son of Father Abraham.
· He is also the child of Mary.
· The offspring of the Holy Spirit.
· He will save people from their sins.
· He is Emmanuel, God with us.
· "The King of the Jews," says Herod.
· He hails from Galilee.
· He is the Nazarene.
Next, lets consider John the Baptist… from Luke’s gospel account we are told
There was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. (Luke 1:5-6)
To them, in their old age, they have a son – He is named John
And although being born into a priestly family of some notoriety
He chooses to live out in the wild – living on bugs and honey
He preaches and baptizes a message of preparing – of getting oneself ready by repentance
And he prophesies of the messiah that is to come
John could have enjoyed all the luxuries of a well-known priestly family and yet he lived as he did and challenged anyone that came to him
He challenges the Pharisees and Scribes that come to him – even calling them a ‘brood of vipers’ – he challenged even the ruling King Herod for taking Herodias, his brother’s wife as his own wife
One would suspect John normally defers to no-one
It is to John that Jesus came
And in that moment we are told that John understood the significance of what was being asked of him – we read:
14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”(Matthew 3:14)
Yet, to the head-strong John, who renounced a life of privilege – in the end, John defers to Jesus.
Does it seem odd that Jesus felt compelled to be baptized?
What about the fact that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance – Jesus had no need of repentance
Like so often in scripture, God takes the bad, and even the good that we do and shows us more
Opens up questions that are deep and broad
We wonder if Jesus’ baptism was it to set an example?
Or was it to provide credibility to John the Baptist?
Consider that every journey has a starting point, and for Jesus, this event marked the first step in his public ministry.
This event marked both the identity and the inauguration of Jesus’ adult ministry
But for us, it becomes an image of Jesus being one of us, and so much more.
…Our God is an Awesome God…
When Jesus comes from Galilee to be baptized in the Jordan River by John, John’s first impulse is to resist the gift.
For John, it is all wrong. Jesus is the greater one, Jesus should be the one to baptize him, not vice-versa.
What John doesn’t yet understand, perhaps because Jesus’ ministry is just getting started, is what it means for Jesus to be the greater one is for him to submit to the lesser one.
Soon we will hear it everywhere Jesus goes: the last shall be first, the least greatest, the humble exalted.
In Jesus’ baptism, we don’t hear Jesus preach this message; we see him embody it.
Jesus’ gift to John is the gift of submission.
The long-awaited Anointed One allows himself to be plunged into the water by John and as a result, emerges from the water as the Beloved Son, the Suffering Servant.
It is Jesus’ submission that is pleasing to God, for it “fulfills all righteousness.”
“Fulfilling all righteousness” – that is certainly an expression laden with layer upon layer of meaning
Some understand that whereby the Israelites were the chosen people – called to be God’s ‘holy nation’ – as representatives to world
That Jesus, as the perfect fulfillment of the promise of the “holy people” must encapsulate their journey into His… and then, as we know, live out into completion what they could not
The early history of the Hebrew people was when famine occurred in their land – they went down to Egypt, a way prepared by God in the life of Joseph – they flourished there
There they lived for 400 years and after a while the Egyptians forgot their special relationship and made the Hebrew people slaves – and they suffered
Along comes Moses and after several stubbles along the road of his life, he answers the call of God to bring the Israelites out of bondage and into freedom.
Initially Pharaoh doesn’t want to lose his work-force, but after 10 incredible plagues they are released, only to have Pharaoh change his mind and chase them to the edge of the sea
Here God performs the most incredible escape route ever
God using Moses’ staff parts the sea and the people walk on dry land – going through the waters
The Hebrew people, the Israelites, were the chosen people – set to be a model – a witness to the world of the covenant relationship with God
They went down to Egypt and began their journey of freedom - going through the waters
And Jesus the Messiah, the perfect Israelite, having escaped after the Magi left, because of Joseph’s vision in a dream, to Egypt as a baby
Then coming out of Egypt and beginning the model life of the perfect Israelite
Going through the waters of baptism - to show us a life of freedom
Fulfilling all righteousness
Understanding this righteousness can also be seen as typical of what righteousness means elsewhere in Matthew:
It means doing what God wants without regard to how it might make us look.
Jesus' obedience receives much attention in Matthew.
His righteousness is not primarily about being right, but about doing what God wants and that is never unconnected from God's saving, compassionate purpose.
Divine pleasure makes special sense after Jesus chose not to comply with John's request, but to submit himself in humility to the waters of baptism.
…Our God is an Awesome God…
Jesus' baptism inaugurated his public ministry by identifying with "all the people."
He allied himself with the faults and failures, pains and problems, of all the broken and hurting people who had flocked to the Jordan River.
By wading into the waters with them he took his place beside us and among us.
Not long into his public mission, the sanctimonious religious leaders derided Jesus as a "friend of gluttons and sinners." They were surely right about that.
With his baptism Jesus openly and decisively declared that he stands shoulder to shoulder with me in my fears and anxieties. And with you and your fears and anxieties
He intentionally takes sides with people in their neediness, and declares that God is biased in their favour, Hebrews 4 declares:
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16, NIV)
God's abundant mercy, Jesus declared, is available directly and immediately to every person;
It’s not the private preserve doled out by the temple establishment in Jerusalem.
Lastly, I want to close with one last observation
Consider God the Father Words stated publicly for all present to hear
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Consider how different it would be if this declaration of God’s favour had occurred later in Jesus’ life.
It would sound very different if it were said only after Jesus had done various things like healing or preaching or even death on the cross
But God the Father’s words were at the beginning…
…And God’s love is like that
They are at the beginning for all of us too…
In our culture where “what have you done for me lately” is all too often the understanding of one’s value
Where praise is something you earn. Where you have to do something to be praised.
And when we seek praise often enough and receive it eagerly enough,
It can come to seem as if everything—even love—must be earned
But… But… God’s ways are beyond our mortal inclinations
God’s unconditional love… is at the beginning… and for ALL
…Our God is an Awesome God…
Thanks be to God - Amen