(watch here: https://youtu.be/sH_hBjSThXA)
1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And 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. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Whenever we reflect on the ritual of baptism, I’m reminded of the one about a lost and confused man who was stumbling through the woods when he came upon a preacher baptizing people in the river. The man walked into the water and bumped into the preacher. The preacher turned around and asked the man, “Are you ready to find Jesus?” “Well, yes I am,” replied the man, so the preacher grabbed him and dunked him in the river. He pulled him up and asked him, “Brother, have you found Jesus?” The man replied, “No, I haven’t.” The preacher, shocked at the answer, dunked him into the water again, but for a bit longer this time. He pulled him out of the water and asked again, “Have you found Jesus, my brother?” The man again answered, “No, I have not found Jesus.” By this time the preacher is at his wits end so he dunked the man in the water again, but this time he held him down for about 30 seconds. When the man began kicking his arms and legs, the preacher pulled him up. The preacher asked the man again, ‘For the love of God, have you found Jesus?’ The man wiped his eyes and caught his breath and says to the preacher, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Of course, we’re not just reflecting on anyone’s baptism but the baptism of our Lord and Savior which is a strange and wonderful thing indeed. Many people were baptized before him and many were baptized after him but his baptism was truly unique. And not simply because of the voice calling out from heaven or the Spirit of God coming down from heaven like a dove. Baptism, for all intents and purposes, is a cleansing ritual. Its purpose, at least according to John the Baptist, is to cleanse and forgive a believer’s sins and sinfulness. So why would Jesus, the only man to be without sin and sinful inclinations, present himself for baptism? He has no sins to be washed away! Even John is confused by the gesture…”I need to be baptized by you, Jesus, not the other way around.” So why would Jesus seek to be baptized? What purpose does baptism have for Jesus?
The answers to these questions are similar to why Jesus would eventually go to the cross for us. When Jesus goes to the waters, he enters firsthand into the interexchange of God’s grace. He, along with the Spirit, becomes one with the water as a way of transferring the Father’s love to us. The ritual becomes more than a cleansing ritual. It becomes a naming and claiming ritual as well as an enshrouding ritual. God names and claims us as his beloved children through the waters of baptism. That same voice that called out for Jesus calls each of us out at our own baptisms. That same Spirit that lands on Jesus lands on you and me and distinguishes us from other people. We are no longer just creatures of God but we become known by God, beloved by God. God knows us, God loves us, because Jesus personally enters into the ritual and becomes one with the ritual. And Jesus enshrouds us with his love through the baptismal waters. God no longer sees our sinfulness but instead sees Christ around us and in us. Much like wrapping us in a blanket or cloak, Jesus envelops us and protects us from the Father’s wrath at our sin. Unlike John the Baptist, Jesus knows that our sin can’t ever be fully washed away so he goes one step further and masks our sin from the Father. The Father no longer sees our sin because He can’t see them—Jesus covers them up. Pretty clever!
Jesus enters into baptism as a way of connecting with us. He may not have sin but we all do so we all need the waters of baptism eventually. Jesus knows this so he becomes intimately intertwined with the waters. He becomes one with the water. Because he is the water itself, he picks up all our sins and carries them away. So in baptism, Jesus is able to take on the sins of the world himself. While we are cleansed of our sins to some degree through baptism, Jesus is actually dirtied by our sins through baptism. But he can handle our dirt. It doesn’t affect him the way it does us. Jesus isn’t affected by our sin at all. Underneath our sin, Jesus keeps on being perfect.
Death has the same effect on Jesus as our sins—nothing. Jesus is beyond the effects of sin and death. He is perfectly selfless and loving and eternal. Jesus goes to the cross not only to die but as another way of connecting with us. Just as we all have sin and need baptisms, we all have to die. So Jesus personally enters into death so that he might know our burden. Death and baptism, two similarly cleansing rituals that Jesus enters into, not because he needs cleansing himself but so that he can become intimately intertwined with the cleansing process. We don’t need to wonder where God is in those processes—He’s within the processes themselves.
This is the good news for us! Jesus was baptized for us! Everything he does he does out of love for us! 1 John proclaims, “We love because he first loved us.” (4:19) There is no better reason to love. We love ourselves, our neighbors, our God because our God loves us. Always has, always will! Jesus entered into baptism to show his love for us, to share his love with us, to help the Father give his love to us. In John, we hear, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (15:13) Jesus may have been referring to death in his statement but death and baptism are awfully similar. Jesus’ love for us is seen in both cleansing processes. Jesus bears our sins in baptism and carries them to the cross so that they may be destroyed once and for all. 1 Peter states, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (2:24) We are freed because of Jesus’ baptism and death.
In just a few moments, we will have the opportunity to enter into the ritual once again. Aksel will be named and claimed and enshrouded by our loving Lord. Let us be thankful for the gift of baptism and especially for Jesus’ willingness to enter into it and completely transform it. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “And live in love, as Christ loved us and give himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (5:2) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.