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Date: January 8, 2017 (The Baptism of the Lord) 1. Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9; Ps. 29; Acts 10:33-43; Matthew 3:13-17. 2. Subject: baptism of Jesus. 3. Topic: Jesus’ identification with humanity. 4. Aim: encourage, educate. 5. Proposition: “Jesus didn’t need to be baptized—we needed him to be baptized.”

 

OUR NEED, HIS BAPTISM Last week it was the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus at age eight days. This week it’s thirty years later and his baptism by his cousin, John. Please make no mistake about this: John the Baptist was not baptizing infants. John was baptizing Jewish adults. Baptism was primarily a Jewish rite of cleansing from sin so that the sinner may repent and live a changed life. This is not for infants. Irrespective of any question about original sin, infants can’t choose to repent, so a baptism of repentance such as John’s makes no sense. It is spiritually meaningless for them. John baptized only adults. So, Jesus was a thirty-year old man at the time of his baptism. He could choose repentance—but he didn’t have any reason to. This presents us—and presented John—with a problem. John recognized the difficulty: Jesus didn’t need to repent and John did, but Jesus was making John baptize him. So, what was going on? Jesus said, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” So, he provided an example for others about repentance and the transformed life which lead to righteousness. His actions proclaimed God’s expectations about repentance and the new life in the power of the Spirit. That’s pretty clear. But something even more fundamental appears to be going on. In his baptism Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. That sounds a little more complicated. Jesus was, of course, perfectly righteous in his own words and actions. There was nothing for which he had to be held accountable nor for which he had Page 2 of 4 -Jesus’ identification with our humanityto repent. The impact of his baptism was not on his righteousness. His baptism didn’t fulfill his righteousness—it must have somehow fulfilled ours. In his baptism Jesus was fully identifying himself with us. His baptism immersed him in our reality, in our need for baptism, in our need to be made righteous by God. His baptism both demonstrated and helped to forge his commitment to our righteousness, to us being made right with God by God. So, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. We needed him to be baptized. In his baptism our channel to the life of God is both proclaimed and opened. This is what we celebrate today. This is why we celebrate today. In Jesus God has taken on our human identity and all its realities. Jesus’ baptism most completely expresses the incarnation and declares that Jesus is ready to take on the burden of living our life. He identifies himself with us so that we might take on his identity. Right now, this is a fairly clear theological statement and it only lives on the edges of our minds. Theology is only worthwhile when it changes lives and the lives we’re interested in today are yours. So, what difference will it make to your life that Jesus has identified himself with you? First of all, the fact that Jesus submitted his life to John as an act of repentance is a model for your future. That is, as Jesus proclaimed the necessity of repentance, so your life should proclaim his forgiveness. Because of Jesus’ baptism, we know that our repentance will lead us to experience God’s righteousness. It might be helpful here if we made repentance a little clearer. Repentance is not the same as confession. Confession is only the apology. Repentance is the decision to change your life. Repentance takes the apology and uses it as the foundation for a new direction, a direction away from sin and towards God. Confession is about the past, about redressing injuries done. Repentance is about the future, about reorienting our lives in God’s direction. Page 3 of 4 -Jesus’ identification with our humanityJohn was baptizing for the sake of repentance. His goal was to change lives, not to address the past. Jesus chose to be immersed in our need to live transformed lives. His baptism not only demonstrates this, but then provides us with the path towards living those transformed lives. We find our transformation as we immerse ourselves in Jesus’ life just as he immersed himself in ours. The Christ who needed no repentance directs our lives of repentance. Now we have a glimmer of what the baptism of Jesus is all about. He was baptized not because he needed to be baptized, but because we need him to be baptized. In his baptism he immersed himself in our need to live the transformed life God intends for each of us. He took on our need for repentance and provided us with the channel, focus and power for our transformation. In his baptism Jesus took on our identity and in our baptisms we take on his. But now the key is for us to live that transformed life which God intends and for which Jesus was born and baptized. We actually have some clues as to what that transformed life will look like. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’… By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.1 Our transformation is demonstrated by this work of the Holy Spirit in us. Through this indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, we baptized disciples will express our transformation in our ministries: And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey 1 Galatians 5:13-14, 22-23. Page 4 of 4 -Jesus’ identification with our humanityeverything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’2 Ministry becomes the expressions of our transformed lives. This all looks like the abundant life for which Jesus was born: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” 3 Such abundance is demonstrated in the fruit of the Spirit which challenges others to become the disciples with whom we minister. So, our transformed lives result in the fruit of the Spirit which is expressed through ministry whose effect is to make new disciples who then share in the abundant life of Christ. All this is the supernatural result of Jesus’ baptism, in which he immersed himself in our lives so that our lives might be transformed by his life. What started out as a problem—the baptism of the Son of God by his cousin, John—has ended up in a tremendous expression of the good news. Because of the baptism of Jesus we know of God’s intent for our abundant and transformed life. We know the channel and tools of that abundance and we know what it looks like in the lives of those around us. The good news of God in Christ Jesus has been effectively proclaimed in the Baptism of the Lord. All you and I have to do is live accordingly. AMEN.