Given January 12, 2020 – The First Sunday of Epiphany, Baptism of our Lord
- Isaiah 42:1-9
- Psalm 89:1-29 or 89:20-29
- Acts 10:34-38
- Matthew 3:13-17
This Sunday on the church calendar is the second Sunday of the Epiphany – the feast day of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. This celebration has typically been a part of the Epiphany even before Christmas was celebrated on December 25. The Epiphany, which we celebrated last Sunday, included the birth of Jesus, the visit of the Magi, and the baptism of our Lord.
Jesus’ baptism is the start of his ministry. It is after his baptism that he was led out into the wilderness to be tested, and then after went around preaching, teaching, and healing.
The story is only told in five verses in Matthew, three in Mark, and two in Luke. In John’s gospel is it only mentioned in passing by John the Baptist. Despite the text length of Jesus’ baptism, the significance of this event is huge.
Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. The Baptist was proclaiming a baptism of repentance – a turning away from sin, doing things your own way and doing things God’s way. He was preaching about a kingdom that was coming, God is doing something new, and people need to believe the good news and turn towards God.
But John was surprised. He said, “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you, so why are you coming to me?”
Jesus said, “Let us do this now, for we must do all that is right.”
The story of Jesus shows us he never sinned. He lived a perfect life free from sin. He had no need to repent – he was the kingdom of God come! John finally consented.
Just as John had baptized hundred of others before, he dipped Jesus into the water and brought him out. But something extraordinary happened. Jesus coming out of the water, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and lighted upon Jesus. A voice coming out of the open heavens saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
It is no accident the baptism of Jesus has been traditionally celebrated with the Epiphany. The word Epiphany means, “to reveal from above.” The Eastern Orthodox Church calls this feast, “Theophany,” a “revelation of God.”
This event gives us a fuller revelation of God – a new revelation – that is only hinted at in the Old Testament – the Triune nature of our God. In the baptism of Jesus, we see all three persons of the Trinity – God the Father, the voice from heaven – God the Holy Spirit descending bodily like a dove – God the Son in Christ Jesus. God’s very being is triune existing as three persons yet existing as one God.
The Father is God but is not the Son or Spirit. The Spirit is God but is not the Son or the Father. The Son is God but is not the Spirit or the Father. God is one substance and three in persons. All three are seen together here at Jesus’ baptism. And all three are teaching us something about Jesus in this story.
God the Father
Let’s first look at the Father. He says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Jews who witnessed this event would know exactly what the Father was alluding to. The phrasing that the Father used is a combination of two Old Testament passages concerning God’s coming messiah. One passage is from our reading today in Isaiah (42:1). He said:
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.”Isaiah 42:1 ESV
The second is from Psalm 2:7 where the psalmist says: “I
will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;”
These two passages combined in the words of the Father is a declaration to all who would hear. God the Father is proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth as his chosen son, his chosen messiah. This is the messenger that was promised of old. This is the prophet like Moses who will come to lead his people into a new exodus. This is the one in whom the nations will be conquered, Israel’s sins are atoned for, the one in whom would bring salvation.
This is not the only time the Father has spoken this declaration over Jesus. Later in Jesus’ life, he hikes up a mountain with three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John. On this mountain Jesus is transfigured: “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” Jesus’ disciples were scared. A cloud covered the area, and from the cloud, a voice called out, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
God had declared Jesus as his own son. He declared him as the messiah. He also declares Jesus has the ultimate revelation – having more authority than Moses – having more power than Elijah. Between Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, we hear God saying, “Listen to my Son!”
God the Son
So, let’s listen to Jesus. What does Jesus have to say about his baptism? When he first came to John the Baptist, John initially wanted to turn him away. However, Jesus said, “I should be baptized, for we must carry out all that God requires.”
The story of Jesus is he never sinned – he was sinless. There was no need for Jesus to be baptized, to repent of sin. Even so, Jesus wanted to be baptized, he needed to be baptized in order to be faithful to God who calls upon all to repent – to turn from their own way and follow his way.
It is about faithfulness. Jesus’ faithfulness, his one righteous act, makes peace with God and humanity. The gospel tells us that Jesus, who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.
At his baptism, Jesus was identifying himself as a sinner, even though he was not a sinner. He is participating in this world as if he was just like you and me, sinners. He is saying, “I stand with you, I am joining myself to you, I am with the sinner. I will go down into a watery grave and rise a new creation. Not so that I will be made new, but so that you, the sinner, whom I identify with, will be made new.”
At his baptism, Jesus is joining our team against the forces of darkness so that he can fight those forces for us. The baptism of Jesus Christ foreshadows the cross. You have Jesus becoming like a sinner, immersing himself into water signifying his death, and rising signifying his resurrection. This is a picture of the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross; where he will be nailed to a cross like a criminal, take upon the sin of the world, and that sin will be punished in Jesus’ body. Then those sins will be buried with Jesus’ body. But then Jesus rose again leaving those sins in the grave. Now those sins no longer have a hold on you – the forces of darkness have no weapon that can prosper.
Jesus is saying, “I will fulfill all righteousness for you.”
God the Holy Spirit
We have God declaring Jesus as our messiah, we have Jesus participating with us as our brother, now let’s see what the Holy Spirit has to say.
All our readings today spoke about God anointing his servant Jesus.
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
Isaiah 42:1 ESV
I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
so that my hand shall be established with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
Psalm 89:20-21 ESV
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. Acts 10:28
The word anoint in Hebrew is mashach, from which we derive our English word, messiah, which in the Greek means Christ. God declared Jesus his messiah, his anointed one, who will save his people from Sin. And this was accomplished by the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus and empowering him to do the works that he did.
Jesus used this works as proof he has been anointed by the Spirit.
Jesus had said after this:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”Luke 4:18-19 ESV
Jesus identified with the sinner; he came to participate in our world as a mere human. He came to be one of us. He emptied himself of his power and privilege to become a mere human and slave. All his works: his miracles, his good works, his teachings, were not his own – they came to him by the Holy Spirit. Even his own resurrection was brought about by the Spirit of God!
Why did Jesus do all of this? In order to show you can be that we too can walk in the Spirit of God. You see, the anointing from God is not just for Jesus – but for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord.
The same Holy Spirit that empowered Jesus dwells inside every believer. The Holy Spirit allows us to identify with Jesus. The Holy Spirit declares us to be children of God. Through the Holy Spirit, we live out the baptism of Jesus in real life. It is not just a story from the past, it is our story today.
Our reading in Acts was too short. The passage is from a story where Peter was called in a vision to go to Caesarea, to preach the gospel to the house of Cornelius, a centurion, a gentile. It was there that Peter preached about Jesus, his anointing, and forgiveness for sins through his name.
Acts 10:36–38 (ESV): As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Acts 10:44-48
The people who heard the gospel and believed received the Holy Spirit in power! The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit that quickens our weak bodies today.
Jesus gives all who believe the Holy Spirit. He gives the Spirit to us so that we can do good works. To receive this Spirit all we have to do is believe and ask.
Jesus said to his disciples, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give you the Holy Spirit if you ask him.”
He also said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And by this power, Jesus said, “in my name, they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
The same Spirit that empowered Christ for good works no empowers every believer.
It is the same Spirit that overshadowed Mary when Jesus was conceived.
It is the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism.
It is the same Spirit that led Jesus to be tempted.
It is the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to feed thousands with some bread and a few fish.
It is the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to heal the sick, heal the lame, and heal the blind.
It is the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead.
It is the same Spirit that led Jesus to the cross.
It is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.
This is the great mystery of God – the Holy Spirit lives inside you!
How do you receive this Spirit? “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”