Saturday, January 8, 2011

Baptism of the Lord (Matthew 3:13-17) God among us, as one of us

I had the privilege of living and studying in Rome for three years.  It was a great experience although not easy either.  Living in a different culture can be quite a strain as just about everything you can think of is done differently.  People think and behave in a completely different way.  You cannot take anything for granted and you also find it is easy to insult people without realising it.  It gave me a lot of sympathy for people who come here from other countries and try to settle down.  It can be quite a strain.  One thing it also taught me is that it is important to do as the locals do.  ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’, as the saying goes.

It is a strange thing that Jesus came to John for Baptism.  Up to that point the Jewish people themselves never went in for baptism.  It was only for those who were converting to Judaism from another religion.  But then John the Baptist began telling the people to come for baptism as a sign of repentance and a new beginning.  And then something very unexpected happens.  Jesus himself lines up with the other people and comes to John to be baptised for the forgiveness of sins.  As soon as John sees Jesus he recognises that he is the one sent by God, the one John himself had been preaching about without realising it.  And of course he says to Jesus ‘I can’t baptise you; you need to baptise me!’  But Jesus convinces him to let it be that way, who knows why exactly.  Perhaps one of the reasons was that Jesus is showing us that he is here as one of us, walking among sinners and living as one of us, doing what all the people were doing.  It is a very powerful way of Jesus showing that he is with us in everything, although of course he is without sin.  But it says that Jesus is not afraid to identify with us as we are, in our sinfulness and not just coming among us as a great powerful leader who everyone bows to.  Instead he lives and walks among his people as one of them. 

The way of God is not the way of the world, which is a way of power and making your presence felt.  Instead it is an almost hidden way which can be easily missed.  He is also showing us that God’s power is accomplished through the path that involves suffering.  This is something we find very hard to understand, because we instinctively draw back from any kind of suffering.  However, it is through the cross that Jesus atones for all human sin and reopens the way to God for us.

Just after Jesus is baptised a voice is heard saying ‘This is my Son the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’  This simple sentence says two very important things about Jesus.  The first part: ‘This is my Son the Beloved’ is also found in Psalm 2:7 which the Jewish people knew referred to the Messiah.  The second phrase: ‘My favour rests on him’, is from the prophet Isaiah 42:1, which refers to the ‘suffering servant’, the one God would send to free his people through suffering.  So this sentence is saying that Jesus is the Messiah and that he will free his people from their sins through suffering, and not by the ways of the world.

If an adult came to me today and said they wanted to be baptised, I would say ‘wonderful’, but first they would have to learn about the Christian faith.  Then when they had learnt enough about it they would be baptised.  Obviously you don’t commit yourself to a way of life that you know nothing about; it wouldn’t make any sense.  When we baptise an infant—and we do it because we want them to belong to God from the beginning of their life—we baptise them on condition that they are taught about the faith as they grow up.  Otherwise it would be hypocrisy.  Being baptised is a way of saying that we know we are sinners and we want to belong to God and accept all that He has done for us. 

Most of us here were baptised when we were infants and someone else spoke on our behalf.  But now we are adults and we must take responsibility for our own faith.  Although having to follow a particular path as a Christian may not always seem that attractive, remember Jesus coming for baptism himself.  He accepted the culture and traditions of his time and lived in it.  We too are being called to accept this particular path to God and all that it involves.  It is not always easy to do this, and God knows there are many things about it which can be very frustrating, but it is the path that God has shown us and so let us not be afraid to keep going and do our best to live it as well as we can.

This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased

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