The Word This Weekend – January 12, 2020
“His Baptism, and Ours”
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said:
“This is my Son, the Beloved,
with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
Epiphany Season, which each year begins with the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2) rockets ahead some 30 years, and in its second week moves us from a village hut in Bethlehem to the verdant shores of the Jordan River. There we once again see the striking figure of “Johannon the Washer” (“John the Baptist” to you and me), as the Son of Mary and ward of Joseph steps naked into the stream for John’s ritual of cleansing and repentance. “Me baptize you?” cries John, stunned by the recognition that he is in Messiah’s presence, as had been those Persian stargazers three decades earlier. “I need you to baptize me!” “Let it be for now,” says the naked Nazarene, “so that we fulfill all that righteousness demands.” And under the water he goes.
So goes Jesus’ baptism in that muddy river so long ago. Up he comes, spray from his arms and hair, eyes adjusting to the brightness of a Judean morning, as the heavens crack open and a dove-like light descends from above. And the voice, the VOICE, confirms John’s prophetic statement and the Magi’s worshipful conclusion: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Son. Beloved. Favored One. This first Sunday after the Epiphany lays out the identity of the Revealed One, manifesting the truth that John is recorded as speaking in the Fourth Gospel’s account:
“Behold the Lamb of God who remits the world’s sins!”
As will be announced later this month, I’m inviting people to travel with me to Israel in November of this year -- and I’m sure that our journey will include a visit to the Jordan River, to the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism. When I last swam in that ancient river in 2012, I must tell you that the experience of immersing in that water is one I will never forget. Because the Baptism of our Lord is more than an event in his life’s journey – it is available to any and all who will enter into his sacred flood – whether at its actual location, or wherever Water and Word coalesce to wash us into God’s promise of hope.
For I tell you this day, friend of the Savior, that this baptismal affirmation is not for Jesus alone, not restricted to the Nazarene, standing naked and wet in the Jordan’s current. This affirmation is for you as well and no less, and for all who are baptized into the Christ and his mission. As Paul will boldly challenge his Roman hearers some twenty years hence, long after the Savior has borne his baptismal identity from Galilee to Jerusalem, from Temple to Cross, from Tomb to Resurrection –
What then are we to say? Should we persist in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Don’t you know that all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)
Jesus’ baptism is our baptism! The promises, the Father’s blessing, the relationship of Parent to cherished Child – all this is ours in the water of cleansing and rebirth. So too is the calling, the vocation, the Way of the Servant. As the 20th Century prophet and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer would write in 1937, into the very teeth of demonic Nazism, “When Christ calls a person, He bids that person come and die.”
In Christ you are dead, dead to sin and immune from its terror and disgrace. In Christ you are alive, and alive beyond what the world could ever offer or ever take. You are Baptized – for Life!
Join me this weekend, as we claim anew the promise and peace won along the Jordan’s banks, secured upon Golgotha’s hideous Cross, and burst upon the world in the empty Tomb:
“My Child, My Beloved, my Favored One. Forever, and for Good: You are Mine!”
With You in God’s Good Work,