The Baptism of Our Lord; Year C (1/13/2013)

Lessons:Isaiah 43:1-7 Psalm 29 Acts 8:14-17 St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son. Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” [18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.] 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  

St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

One, More Powerful

Channel surfing a couple of nights ago, I stumbled upon the Martin Scorsese movie based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” I was a young pastor when this movie came out, and I still remember the controversy it stirred up. It is a provocative film, both in its story line and in its portrayal of Jesus and his followers. But what struck me the other night was the scene where Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. It is a mysterious, even frightening scene — quite a contrast with the bucolic images presented to me when I was a boy in Sunday School class! If John’s ministry was anything at all like Kazantzakis and Scorsese imagine it to have been, it would be easy to understand why it made such a strong impression on those who came out to experience it.

If an average day with John was an inspiring experience, then this particular day would be off the charts. Following the baptism of Jesus the heavens open up, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, and a voice thunders out, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Believers have long wondered why Jesus thinks he needs to be baptized by John. After all, John’s baptism is, as he describes it, a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (St. Luke 3:4) It is predicated on the belief that people are by nature sinful, and that human sin distances the sinner from God. John speaks clearly about that sin, and challenges his listeners to turn their lives in a new direction. Once they accept that challenge they make their way out into the waters of the Jordan River with John, where he thrusts them under the surface, symbolically putting their old life to death, before dramatically raising them up to a new life. If, as the Bible and the church profess, Jesus is the one human being who is without sin, then he clearly has no need to turn his life in a new direction. So why does Jesus think he needs to be baptized by John?

St. Luke leads us toward an answer with this week’s text. He describes the people as being “filled with expectation” and “questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” Despite John’s insistence that, “One who is more powerful than I is coming…” it seems that many of them still don’t get it. They continue to wonder if John is the Messiah.

Until the day Jesus is baptized, of course. Then the heavens break open. Then the Spirit descends. Then the very voice of God speaks, and the people hear: “You are my son, the Beloved.” The baptism of Jesus leaves no doubt whatsoever: He is the one anointed by God (in Spirit and in voice) to be the Messiah, and John is the one sent to prepare the people to experience him.

There will be many other signs along the way which help people to discover who Jesus is, but this is  among the first (and, arguably, among the most dramatic) of them. It reminds us of the central theme of our faith: that in Jesus of Nazareth we find the very presence of God, whose life, death, resurrection and ascension give us new life. This is God’s good news for us; for each and every one of us.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do people experience when they come into contact with John the Baptist?
  2. How does the ministry of John prepare people to experience the ministry of Jesus?
  3. How is the ministry of Jesus distinct from the ministry of John?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have repentance and a new direction in life been helpful for me?
  2. What has helped me to become more aware of my sin, and more grateful for God’s forgiveness?
  3. With whom might I share this good news?