Baptism of the Lord Sunday Message
“By Water and the Spirit”
(From Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22)
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
On our Christian journey, Baptism is a crucial and pivotal event. As it is cited in the United Methodist Baptism brochure, “Baptism, is our welcome to the family of Christ.” I know that I have shared with you before about my own baptism. My baptism, at about six weeks old, was my first trip into the outside world. My parents understood the importance of baptism as the proper way to start me on my own Christian journey.
The United Methodist Church recognizes two holy sacraments found in scripture: Baptism and Holy Communion. As I previously mentioned, baptism is our initiation, or welcome, into the family of Christ. Baptism celebrates God’s grace, a gift of God’s love offered to us, wooing us before we even become believers. The ritual of Baptism acknowledges our human weakness and state of sin in need of God’s forgiving and healing grace. It is understood as a sacrament because it is a means of imparting God’s glorious grace to us, and not something we can do for ourselves. The water of baptism symbolizes cleansing, purification and renewal, reminding us of all that God has already done for us as God’s people through the ages. Because we recognize that baptism is God’s gift to us, people of all ages, including infants, can be baptized and welcomed into the family of Christ. Those who can speak for themselves then vow before God and their church community to continue on their journey of growth and faith. Parents of those unable to speak for themselves vow to continue to nurture their children on the path to their own profession of faith.
There is a strong symbolism found within the ritual of baptism. It is best seen in the method of baptism known as emersion. In emersion baptism, the one being baptized is lowered into the baptismal water, and then raised up from it into the world. The strong symbolism of dying to the old, and then rising up into the new is evident. Just as Christ died for us and rose again, through baptism we die to our sinful self and arise into new life in Christ. Along with emersion baptism, within our faith tradition sprinkling and pouring the cleansing water over the one being baptized are also acceptable methods for baptism. They, too, are recognized as means by which the gift of God’s grace is imparted to us.
When Jesus went down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptizer, the Gospel of Matthew reveals to us that John “would have prevented him”. As our Gospel lesson this morning shared, John knew well that one was soon coming who was much more powerful than he himself was. “I baptize you with water… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” John proclaimed. John saw and recognized that this promised holy one was Jesus. It was confirmed when the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon Jesus. “You are my Son, the beloved; with you am well pleased,” was heard as a voice from heaven upon Jesus’ baptism by John.
Many have wondered why Jesus, who we know was without sin himself, came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Baptism as we have just discussed, is for the repentance of human sin, which John knew that Jesus did not need. Yet, Jesus pressed John to baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness,” according to these words from Matthew 3 verse 15. Jesus believed that baptism was the appropriate way for him to begin his public ministry of compassion, mercy and healing. You see, Jesus understood his ministry to be one of obedience and submission to God’s plan of salvation that was to be accomplished through him. Salvation from sin was the purpose of Jesus’ coming. He who was without sin would give himself up for the sin of humankind. Therefore, Jesus identified himself with the human condition of sin, and with the human need for repentance and the sacrament of baptism. Isaiah 53: 11-12 states, “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities… because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered among the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Jesus is our Savior and our example, the perfect model of a life of obedience to the good and perfect will of God. His baptism is our example of and the model for our own obedience to God’s will and authority over our lives. Therefore, we too are baptized, in repentance for our true state of human sin, and as our initiation into a new life in the family of God in Christ Jesus.
Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, we reaffirm our own baptism. By water and the Spirit we have been initiated into the family of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. And so, today I say the historic words to you that have reaffirmed the holy sacrament baptismal for many through the centuries, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”
And now, may the God of all grace, who has called us to eternal glory in Christ, establish you and strengthen you by the power of the Holy Spirit, that you may live in grace and peace. Amen.
Hymn : “When Jesus Came to Jordan” (words: Fred Pratt Green, 1973; music: attr. To William Walker, 1835; harm. By Carlton R. Young, 1988).
When Jesus came to Jordan to be baptized by John, he did not come for pardon, but as the sinless one. He came to share repentance with all who mourn their sins, to speak the vital sentence with which good news begins.
He came to share temptation, our utmost owe and loss, for us and our salvation to die upon the cross. So when the dove descended on him, the Son of Man, the hidden years had ended, the age of grace began.