Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Baptism of Christ

This is the second Sunday in the season of Epiphany, and the theme in the lectionary for January 13 is the Baptism of Christ. The theme of Epiphany is presenting Jesus as the Christ, so it is understandable that his baptism would be part of this consideration. At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the voice of God was heard proclaiming "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Our worship bulletin for this Sunday is here.

But why was Jesus baptized? People came to John to be baptized "confessing their sins" (Matthew 3) and for "forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1). If Jesus had no sin, why was he baptized? There are several theories as to why Jesus was baptized.

Some scholars believed that it was at the baptism that Jesus became the Christ. If this is so, there would have been no need for the miraculous birth. If this were so, John would not have recognized Jesus for who he was BEFORE the baptism.

Some hold that John's baptism was part of the initiation rite for the ascetic group living in the area known as the Essenes. It is true that John was an ascetic, hermit-type character. But Jesus never was. In fact, the Pharisees and John's disciples questioned him about his lack of asceticism (Matthew 9.9-17).

Another view is that Jesus was baptized to connect his life and ministry with that of John the Baptist. This works to a certain extent. Notice in Matthew 3.2 the message of John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Then notice in Matthew 4.17 the message of Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” There is a significance to the connection between Jesus and John. The Scriptures are clear that John was the forerunner for Jesus; one who goes before and prepares the way. In our language, John was the advance man for Jesus.

I am most convinced by the idea that
Jesus was baptized to identify with us. Jesus was baptized not because of HIS sins, but because of OURS. When John objected to baptizing him, Jesus said, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus came to John to be baptized because he was identifying with us fully; with our human condition and need completely. As Jesus identified with us at his baptism, so we are identified with him. We are also now God’s beloved child in whom God is well-pleased (2 Corinthians 5.21, John 1.12). So, it can be said that the baptism of Christ is an extension of the incarnation. Jesus continued to show that he was truly “Emmanuel, God with us.” And as Jesus’ baptism identified him with us and our condition, so our baptism identifies us with Jesus and his condition (Romans 6.3,4).

I will elaborate on this Sunday!

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