A sermon by the Right Rev’d Chris McLeod, Dean
Text: Luke 3: 15 – 22
It was a natural question, really. The person who asked it, wanted to know. It was a genuine enquiry, a real concern, and, in the end, the question was perfectly valid. ‘Why was Jesus baptised if Jesus was the Son of God; did he do something wrong?’ – this was the question I was asked by a former parishioner. It was probing and insightful. It was a good question and haven’t we all wondered the same at some time. If Jesus is who we say he is, and if he is what he claims to be, and if the Bible declares him to be without sin, then why did he submit to a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
- The Baptism of Jesus as commissioning
So, the question was perfectly valid. The baptism of Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist raises some challenging thoughts. I think the answer to this is complex, and there is, to be honest, a degree of speculation to it, but here are some generally agreed upon thoughts on the subject.
Firstly, I think it has to do with Jesus’ growing awareness of his own identity. It is at his baptism that he receives the acknowledgement that he is God’s Son. It is at his baptism that he receives the Holy Spirit. It is after his baptism, and ‘Temptation’ that he begins his public ministry.
For Luke the commissioning of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus is what captures the evangelist’s imagination. The Gospel of Luke wants to make it quite clear that Jesus is the anointed one. Jesus is the one who is the coming messiah and judge, and that he is God’s Son. The voice from heaven confirms that Jesus is taking the right steps. Jesus’ is on path to fulfil the Father’s mission. The long-awaited messiah has come.
- The humanity of Jesus
I think we also need to take into consideration the humanity of Jesus. Jesus came to baptism with the crowds, those who were looking for repentance and forgiveness. Jesus did not place himself above those who came to John the Baptist.
In Jesus we have a saviour who is fully human . In his baptism, Jesus identifies with all of humanity. He goes to the ‘water’ with all the others: the sinful and the outcast. Jesus identifies with those who need to be saved (all of us). Jesus identifies with us because he was one of us. The Epistle to the Hebrews (4: 15) puts it this way: ‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin’.
- Connection with John the Baptist.
Thirdly, Jesus identified, and agreed, with the message and ministry of John the Baptist. John was announcing the coming reign of God, and, with it, God’s judgement, which was coming into the world in the person of the true King, that is Jesus himself. Jesus was affirming John’s message whilst fulfilling it in himself. Jesus continuing the message of John the Baptist with the reign of God now inaugurated in his own ministry and mission.
- Jesus’ humanity does not negate his divinity, but we have a Saviour who in every way is one of us. Jesus associated with all those who being rejected by the religiously pure of his time. It is easy for us as Christians to be judgmental of those whose standards we feel are not what they should be. We cast a disapproving eye over others, but this is not the way of Jesus. He went with the crowd to be baptized – those who were regarded as sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, those who were lost and seeking a sense of forgiveness and salvation. It is reminder that we are all in this together; we are all sinners in the eyes of God. We are all in need of forgiveness and salvation.
- Like Jesus, and before him John the Baptist, our role is to invite others into this experience of salvation. All of us have a role to play in this. Some of us are good at talking about it, proclaiming it; others prefer to model this salvation in their lives more quietly and reach out to others with kindness and love; others still try to stand up for those who are often forgotten, to stand on the side of those who are oppressed or downtrodden by the uncaring side of our world. We are all gifted to proclaim the reign of God in some form. The Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that anointed Jesus, anoints us, and gives us the necessary gifts for mission (Acts 8: 17) – we are ‘baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire’. We are all unique and God gives us the gifts to match our personality and to participate in his mission.
- During this time of uncertainty, yet again, the world needs to hear these words of solidarity and comfort – words of salvation. Jesus is one with us!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.