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Baptism Of Our Lord A Sermon
Matthew 3: 13-17
12, 2020


Sermon Archives


Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Today we begin the Season of Epiphany. This liturgical time is bookended by the Baptism of our Lord today and the Transfiguration of our Lord on February 23. Epiphany literally means, “an experience of sudden and striking realization,” and is generally used to describe a scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can be used in any situation where an enlightened realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new or deeper perspective. Over the course of the next seven Sundays we will hear of many people having epiphanies as they encounter Jesus – John the Baptist who tells his disciples, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;” Fishermen, who are told that they will soon be fishing for people; Anna and Simeon who are in the temple when Jesus is presented; and those who are gathered on the mount to hear that famous sermon that Jesus shared early in his ministry.
We are introduced to this season at the river Jordan where Jesus is baptized by John, albeit reluctantly. And the most important part of this baptism for us is the proclamation of God’s voice as the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in that water – “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Similar words will be heard from the Mount of Transfiguration at the end of this season, bracketing these stories that lead us into a deeper understanding of who Jesus is with divine announcements. As we travel between these announcements, we join the disciples and other witnesses of Jesus’ ministry in the process of being enlightened.

That is an interesting word, isn’t it? “Enlightenment.” The Age of Enlightenment ran roughly from the late 1600s to the early 1800s, and it was a time when philosophy and the sciences began to rely more heavily upon human reason than upon spiritual inspiration for discovering important things about life. To be sure, it was an important time in the development of the human species to come to these discoveries, as it helped us in important fields of medicine, mathematics, astronomy and others scientific fields. Unfortunately, a side effect of the enlightenment was that humans began to think that we are the source of all knowledge and reason, not only in the sciences, but also when it comes to finding meaning in life. It is important that alongside of scientific enlightenment we also remember that we human beings are in need of spiritual enlightenment in regards to our relationships with God and with all of God’s creation. Indeed, Martin Luther says that the work of enlightenment is a work of the Holy Spirit. In his explanation to the third article of the creed, Luther says, “I believe that I cannot, by my own understanding or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him; instead, the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified me and kept me in the true faith – just as he calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus in the one common, true faith.” There was that word there – enlighten – and it is the work of the Holy Spirit when it comes to matters of the faith, not of our human minds or intellect.

So it is that in today’s passage, when Jesus comes up out of the water, it is the spirit of God that descends and a voice that enlightens all who are within earshot of this baptism: This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” As Jesus lives and moves about in Galilee and Jerusalem, the light that the Holy Spirit shines on him as God’s Son helps those who were first-hand witnesses of his life to experience God’s word dwelling among them, full of grace and truth. Not only that, but it also helps those who heard these stories that were passed down orally for decades after his ascension as followers gathered in homes and other places for a meal and to tell of Jesus’ life. On top of that, we who still read these stories thousands of years later are enlightened as to the identity of Jesus Christ as God’s beloved Son, and we experience that word today.

Identity is, after all, the reason why Jesus was baptized in the first place. It wasn’t out of a desire to be cleansed from sinfulness and made worthy to participate in the religious rituals of his day, which was what John’s baptism was all about. By insisting that John baptize him, Jesus is identifying himself with us – all of God’s creatures, part of the family of God. Some see it as a passing of the baton from John to Jesus, or as the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry - there is something to both of these notions. What this event brings to light for me personally is that in baptism, I am identified with Jesus as a child of God, a member of God’s family, called to live among a community of like-identified people as servants of the servant king. In the simple and even mundane act of pouring water over someone’s head, or even of dunking that person, God is at work to inextricably bind us to the crucified and risen Son of God, so that as we all one day will day in Christ, so also one day we will all live in Christ.

It is good for us to start this journey together during this season of enlightenment to allow the Holy Spirit to continue to reveal God to us as beloved children of God. It is also appropriate that this season always happens in the months of January and February, as the time of daylight will slowly but continually grow longer each day – by the time we hit Transfiguration Sunday, the sun will shine in this part of the world for a full hour and a half longer than it shines today, and in the same way we trust that we will come to fuller experiences of the Holy Spirit as we continue to be enlightened by God’s word.

In the weeks to come, may we be open to God’s word speaking to us in new ways to help us to understand God’s gracious relationship with us and our call to love as Jesus loved. May that selfless love be made more and more obvious to us as we read, pray, worship and live together as a family of God. And may the Holy Spirit continue to enlighten us as only the spirit can – to inspire and encourage us as baptized children of God, to love our brothers and sisters as Jesus loved us. Amen.