Matthew 3:13-17 (2017)
Isaiah 42:1-9 Psalm 29 Acts 10:34-43
As we think of the year ahead and today’s focus scripture of Jesus’ baptism, and his commitment to his call, it raises for us the idea of what we should be committing to or doing for our Lord over the coming year.
But with the thought of our call and Jesus’ call – there are aspects to Jesus’ baptism that raise different questions. But the 2 main questions are: Is it about our baptism or is it about Jesus’ baptism?
If it is about Jesus’ baptism then another question emerges: why does Jesus need to be baptized, wasn’t he divine and sinless?
In regard to the need for Jesus’ baptism, it is important to remember that Matthew’s Gospel was written near the end of the first century, and any questions of Jesus’ sinlessness or divinity were only debated around the fourth and fifth century.
But in regard to the first question, is it about our baptism, then I believe this scene is not directly about our baptism. The Gospel does not use Jesus’ baptism as the basis for urging disciples to be baptized like Jesus was.
When the Gospel does address the baptism of Jesus’ followers, it does so, on the basis of the command of the risen Jesus, in Matthew 28:19, and not by appealing to Jesus’ own baptism.
For me – Jesus’ baptism was an affirmation of his call and from that moment on he started his powerful ministry among the people. It was also like an assurance and commissioning by God the Father – through his baptism.
I believe that when Jesus stepped into the River Jordan to be baptised by John, He was stepping into the fullness of God’s purpose for His life.
But in thinking that Jesus was stepping into the fullness of God, have you ever stopped to wonder that when Jesus walked into those waters they were teeming with the sins of mankind?
John had baptised multitudes there, their sins figuratively passing from them into the sea of God’s forgetfulness just as the waters of the Jordan end up in the Dead Sea.
Now you might think: “How awful! Jesus is wading into sin.” But what Jesus was actually doing was to fulfil the purposes of God – redemption for you and me.
Jesus was exactly where God wanted Him to be, doing precisely what God wanted Him to do. That’s why heaven announced, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
The conversation that happens between John and Jesus, which if you read from Mark and Luke, is missing – and in some ways this conversation helps us clarify the significance of Jesus’ baptism.
We know that John has protested Jesus presenting himself for baptism, and while the narrative does not account for how John recognizes Jesus since he does not seem to know for sure who Jesus is, and in our reading we do know that Jesus imposes his authority with his demand for immediate baptism (“Let it be now”).
This follows this with an explanation, in that in Matthew 3:15 – the verb “fulfil”, signals that the circumstances of Jesus’ life accord with and are in line with God’s will.
Therefore Jesus’ baptism expresses his commitment to live God’s will which we know from Matthew 1 means being the agent of God’s saving presence (Matthew 1:21-23).
But what does all this mean for you and I?
Last week I mentioned the idea of giving our lists of things that we want to do for God to Him and then asking him to bless them – and that’s Ok to a certain degree.
But what Jesus’ baptism implies for us is that really it should be the other way around.
God impresses on our hearts the things he wants us to do for him and he then blesses us when we do them. The difference being – the presence of the Holy Spirit right from the start.
And the reason that is – is because of Jesus Baptism – so lets go back to it by asking a different question – What made the baptism of Jesus so important?
Over the centuries, Christian scholars have filled many pages arguing about just that question. Questions like – does it suggest Jesus was impure, and that he needed to “repent” and be cleansed? After all, “repent” was certainly the word John the baptizer used when calling people to baptism.
This leads us to the very important meaning of the word “repent” – or metanoia in the Greek – and a very common Christian misconception of what repentance is all about.
Rather than just meaning “feeling sorry for doing bad things,” or regret, or confession, metanoia means “go beyond the mind” or “go into the larger mind.”
Some scholars say that this going into the larger mind was Jesus’ central message: that the Kingdom of Heaven means reaching beyond the black-and-white dualities, into the larger heart and mind of God.”
One of the things I have learnt over the years in ministry is that there is not always a simple answer to problems we face. Sometimes it can appear like we can be “sitting on the fence” when it comes to the meaning of some parts of scripture – but in reality there is always more going on within us than sometimes we realise.
Like computer language – the binary code – for every action there is a response – and then that response brings another reaction – and this continues – forever.
So in regard to Metanoia – in English – repentance means more than just “Changing your bad ways!” to – we now hear God inviting us to a new way of seeing!
It’s like God is saying – come into the larger mind, see how God sees!” Or in other words, not only do our actions change and we try to stop making the same mistakes – but we actually consider our behaviours and our understanding of the effects of those behaviours become better understood.
To “go beyond the mind” or to “go into the larger mind” is no easy task, but the baptism of Jesus offers us some clues to how we might take steps to “repent.”
When John the Baptist let go of his way of thinking or his old way of seeing the world, remembering that as a prophet he would see things pretty black and white – no sitting on the fence for him, and this is expressed in the words of verse 14 -Jesus should baptize me – and allows for a total reversal of his beliefs -I must baptize Jesus – verse 15, then certain things happen.
In verse 14, he “prevented”, and in verse 15, he “consented.” Therefore John accepts the invitation into the “larger mind.” – Into allowing God to bless John through Gods plan and not John the Baptists plan and asking God’s blessing on it.
For John the black and white answer was – no I can’t baptise the messiah – but Gods response is opposite – and Johns mind id changed.
And all this was confirmed by a voice from heaven, and more importantly the coming of the Holy Spirit as a sign.
Again in many ways we could hardly want for a more perfect, physical symbol for metanoia, that is – the “larger mind,” than the opening of the heavens and the descending of God’s Spirit like a dove.
Another clue about how we might learn this metanoia, this enlarging or opening up of our minds to Gods way of doing things through Jesus’ baptism was the paradoxical nature of it all. By paradoxical nature, I mean that what seems incorrect for us – often is right for God.
As Jesus does and as Jesus shows so many times, the all-powerful Jesus will and does submit to those to whom he brings the gospel.
Therefore while his baptism is a rite of passage, it is not so much to cleanse, but to embody for himself and the world the seemingly upside-down way he will liberate humanity from the prison of sin and small thinking. He submits which seems odd to us as he is Lord.
Through the universal symbol of water, of cleansing refreshing, Jesus models his invitation for all to move from unconsciousness (for which water is an archetype) to consciousness – a deeper awareness of just how deeply loved we are by a good and gracious God.
For me this is expressed through our baptism – where we say that water is cleansing, is refreshing and is making new. Well in many ways the making new is the opening of our minds to the bigger picture of God.
Unfortunately we tend to be a little like John the Baptist, in that we limit our minds to the presence and power of God’s forgiveness, of his love and of his grace. And when we limit our minds – what we are really doing is limiting God and limiting the Holy Spirit working in and through us, and that is the last thing we should be doing.
Let me finish off with the words of Joy Cowley – from Aotearoa Psalms.
Prayers of a New People – Called Seeing
I need to see myself as you see me.
My own vision is fragmented.
I try to divide up my life and reject those parts of me I consider to be weak.
I waste time and energy in the battle of self against self and Lord, I always end up the loser.
help me to see myself as you see me.
I forget that you made me just as I am and that you delight in your creation.
You do not ask me to be strong; you simply ask me to be yours.
You do not expect me to reject my weakness, merely to surrender it to your healing touch.
when I can see myself as you see me, then I will understand that this frail, tender, fearful, aching, singing, half-empty, shining, shadowed person is a whole being made especially by you for your love.