Mark 1:4-11 Acts 19:1-7
The Baptism of Christ
The baptism of Jesus by John, in the river Jordan, seems so unnecessary: after all, Jesus is the Son of God, so why would he need to be baptised? Wasn’t baptism to do with repentance and sins washed away? Surely, Jesus didn’t need that! The Gospel writer Mark doesn’t explain, but Matthew is more elaborate, and quotes the exchange between Jesus and John, John protesting: ‘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.’ There are at least a few reasons why this was important.
As the story of Jesus unfolds, in his mission he proclaims the Kingdom of God, not just for an elite group of people but everybody. He touches the untouchables, the unclean and the poor. He heals the sick, raises the dead, and comforts those in need. He associates himself with those on the periphery of society and isn’t ashamed to be seen at the table of an ‘unworthy’ person. The Kingdom of God is about righteousness for all who believe in Jesus. The point of his baptism is not only to identify with the fallen human race, but also to show to the world that there is hope. As he was coming up out of the water, the heavens were seen to open and the Spirit descended like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
This voice affirmed Jesus as God’s Son and also confirmed him to be the Messiah, the Anointed One. For this anointing with the Holy Spirit set him apart precisely as the One who had been proclaimed by the prophets long ago. He identifies with human beings but also with the Divinity, who is his Father and our Father through him. In short, Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah represents his people.
Many may have grown up without a loving father, who never said to them: ‘You are my dear child and I am pleased with you.’ Yet it’s what every child, even those who are grown up, longs to hear from a loving parent. And here’s the miracle of the Christian Gospel: that each time God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian, he says the same thing to us that he said to Jesus: ‘You are my very dear child; and I am delighted and pleased with you.’ If you have not heard that said to you before, try and say it with your own name at the beginning of the sentence, and hear God saying it to you, as he said it at your own baptism, and ever since.
The beauty is also that through Jesus heaven has been opened to us too. It may be difficult to picture heaven from our place on earth; but it may help to see it as God’s space, in a dimension that we cannot yet reach but that is quite close, like the other side of the mirror and reality as we know it. At Jesus’ baptism, it’s as if an invisible curtain has been drawn back – as at his death, the curtain in the Temple was torn, indicating that a new reality had begun to dawn. It may take the whole story of Jesus, until after his resurrection, to explain, and it may take a life time for us to understand.
It doesn’t matter. What matters most is that through Jesus we have a new perspective of life; a view of victory over sin and death, in the love of God in his Son Jesus Christ. God our Father is saying to us, over and over again:
‘You are my child and I love you.’
The Christian life is lived primarily by faith, not by sight. We may not understand it all, but we may put our trust in Jesus, as we continue on our walk on earth, so that we may also walk in heaven. Or, rather, run, and jump for joy, to our heart’s content! Amen.