People- when you’re part of a crowd, what’s that like?
Imagine it. Mums, dads and kids. All kinds of people, all very different. Some are known and are recognised. Some are recognised by a uniform or a mannerism. She/ he’s a priest. Or he /she’s comes from another country, culture or religion.
Some you can see are just everyday folk- some are a bit or a lot bent and some you can tell are on drugs and some are old and not so fit and some are young and healthy and some are in new relationships and some are on their own. All kinds of people! Men women and children.
I remember reading a book once about a crowd of Russian pilgrims going to the Holy Land for Easter. Some were deeply religious and looking forward to connecting to the places where Jesus lived and died. Some were old and hoped to finish their lives in those places. There were younger folk as well who joined the pilgrimage because they were inspired by their faith and then there were others who were on the journey for so many other reasons. Some were pick pockets who hoped to get what they could from tourists, some were poor using up the last of their livelihoods for this one special pilgrimage. All of them journeyed together on this special trip where together, they slept in large halls and journeyed across waterways in barges. And here they were going from place to place where Jesus had lived and died and all participated in the worship and life one way or another.
[A bit like the minions, altogether for a common purpose but all doing it their way because they’re so different].
These kinds of crowds could have been the crowds John the Baptist preached to. All kinds of people with all kinds of motives, peasant farmers, educated city dwellers, religious leaders and Pharisee’s, soldiers and tax collectors, thieves, women and children, all expectant as they listened to John preach and went forward for the baptism of repentance- a baptism of turning life towards God’s will and purpose.
John preached “Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here.”
5 From Jerusalem and all Judea and from the Jordan River Valley crowds of people went to John. 6 They told how sorry they were for their sins, and he baptized them in the river.
John said: 11 I baptize you with water so that you will give up your sins. But someone more powerful is going to come, and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His threshing fork is in his hand, and he is ready to separate the wheat from the husks. He will store the wheat in a barn and burn the husks in a fire that never goes out. Matthew 3
And from this crowd of people Jesus emerged and went to John for baptism.
One of us- one with us, he walked down to the water and asked to be baptised. John, refused. He seemed to know who Jesus was, or at least thought he did- John also knew himself- ‘I should be baptised by you, not you by me’.
The sinless one asking for baptism seems ludicrous. Jesus’ answer is clear on one level, but on another it remains beyond our comprehension.
15 Jesus answered, “For now this is how it should be, because we must do all that God wants us to do.”
And so, John baptised him with the ritual washing for sin! That’s what John’s baptism was all about. The washing away of sin and the beginning of a new life, being lived in conformity to God’s will and purpose. In John’s worldview, living according to the Law of God.
Jesus, is not a sinner, but as the perfect Son of God he is in total solidarity with the sinful crowd, with all of humanity, with you and me. His role as the servant of God is to make many righteous, or redeemed, or restored in God’s eyes. This was achieved on the cross where in total solidarity with all of sinful humanity, including you and I, he died and the later, rose from the dead.
What happened next as he came out of the water at his baptism, set him apart from us as well.
The opening of the heavens, signifies the restoration of the relationship with God, the door had been closed when Adam and Eve were driven from the garden because of sin.
The descent of the Spirit like a dove takes us right back to the beginning of creation in Genesis 1.2 where creation begins with the Spirit hovering over the face of the deep.
In the beginning God
created the heavens
and the earth.
2 The earth was barren,
with no form of life;
it was under a roaring ocean
covered with darkness.
But the Spirit of God was moving over the water.
3 God said, “I command light to shine!” And light started shining.
Thus, Jesus’ empowerment with Spirit for his Messianic role is the beginning of a renewal so profound as to amount to being a new creation. His Spirit powered ministry reclaims human lives for a new humanity to be lived out in a renewed people of God.
The high point in the baptism is the voice of God from heaven.
“This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.”
A public acknowledgement of the identity of Jesus as the ‘loved Son of God’.
This has resonances with the Song of Isaiah 42 which we heard this morning.
Here is my servant!
I have made him strong.
He is my chosen one;
I am pleased with him.
I have given him my Spirit,
and he will bring justice
to the nations.
All this connects directly to all that Matthew has been saying thus far in his Gospel, identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, Emmanuel, - ‘God with us’. King in the line of David, a new Moses who will lead his people out of slavery. He is ‘The One’! We may not understand him fully, but can we understand God? If we could get our heads around God, then God would not be God!
So, what does all of this say to us today? To us here at Christ Church in Melton?
Well first, we see Jesus as truly the God man, in total solidarity with us in our humanity, but also in total solidarity with God in his divinity. That’s what we mean when we speak of the incarnation.
Another thing we see is Jesus united with the Father and the Holy Spirit-the Trinity,- in the mission he is to fulfil. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all united in this moment when Jesus is about to set off into his ministry.
Next, we have to appreciate that John’s baptism is not the same as Christian baptism. The key thing to appreciate about Christian baptism is that Christ was in solidarity with us and with God, in his baptism, and we place ourselves in solidarity with Jesus in our baptism. This means that in our baptism, we affirm that Jesus, in his life death and resurrection for us:
is the source of our forgiveness
in our baptism, we are united to him
we publicly say that we belong to him
we publicly say we will entrust our lives to him
and we receive all the gifts he has to offer us
forgiveness of sins,
membership into the family of God,
the Holy Spirit
a new identity in Christ as God’s beloved Child with whom he is well pleased.
A ministry or mission which is tied to Jesus’ ministry in some way, and takes it forward in our world.
And eternal life.
Finally, there is one more really significant take home in this story. You don’t have to understand God to obey him, you just have to do what God says. It’s not easy, but living with questions is part of what life is about. God in his fullness is beyond our comprehension- a mystery, and truthfully if it was any other way, I’d not be here. I do not want a God who I can control. I want a God who I can trust and give my life to, and this is the God I see revealed in the person of Jesus at his baptism and in the Gospels.
Thus Jesus, the Beloved Son of God, in his life, including his baptism, his death and resurrection is united to me, in order to enable me to be joined to him and so to God. Out of obedience I am baptised, in order to be united to him, so as to make his life emerge through my life. This is an awesome mystery- what we call a sacrament. An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual truth. Amen.