The baptism of our Lord
We have a question, or maybe I should say, a problem. Why was Jesus baptized? We talk about several things happening during baptism, so I think we need to look at what we say happens to us first.
We talk about how we receive forgiveness of sin in baptism. Well Jesus didn’t have any sin to be forgiven. Jesus was tempted in all ways like us, but he did not sin. So why was he baptized?
We talk about how in baptism we are adopted by God as his children. Jesus was already God’s son. He didn’t need to be adopted. Jesus is God’s son in a way that none of the rest of us are. So why was he baptized?
We also say that in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He didn’t need to receive it. He had had it since he was conceived. So why was Jesus baptized?
We say that in baptism we become part of the body of Christ, and Jesus comes to live inside us. What can I say to that. Jesus was already himself. He was already fully present in himself. There was no part of him that was not him. So why was he baptized?
There are several points that come together here. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “let it be so….to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was making sure that all the ‘i’s were dotted, and all the ‘t’s crossed. Jesus was making sure that nobody could come along and question his authority. Such ritual baths were often used for Gentiles converting to Judaism, and one might see this as a Jew who is going to the extreme to make sure that he is valid. On the other hand one could see this as the reverse of what we do. We are baptized in order to be adopted by God. For Jesus, we can see this as God becoming part of the Jewish people.
In baptism, we also make a public statement. With the baptism of Jesus there was also a public statement made, however it was not Jesus making this statement: it was God. As Jesus is coming out of the water, God makes this statement, acknowledging Jesus as his son. Jesus did not become the Son of God in baptism, but God acknowledged Jesus as his son.
After Jesus is baptized, he is led out into the desert to be tempted. This is also what happens with us. After baptism, Satan intervenes to tempt us. Baptism does not exempt us from temptation, but rather it puts us on the front lines. Baptism puts us right in the line of fire of the devil, and the devil will do whatever he can to make us ineffective. He will do whatever he can to draw us away from the calling we receive. Jesus was in the desert forty days, and he was tempted, but he did not sin. It was not that Jesus could not be tempted. He was both God and Human. Because he was human, he could be tempted, and just as we are put on the front lines of temptation by baptism, so was Jesus.
When he was done in the desert, he started his ministry. Jesus did not start his ministry until he was baptized; so we can see baptism as the call for his ministry. We can also see it as a gift of power for Jesus to do ministry. We do not know if Jesus had the power to do miracles before his baptism, but there is no record of him doing any miracles before his baptism.
Finally, Jesus was baptized as a signal. It was not just a calling to ministry, and it was not just the power to do ministry, it was the signal that he was beginning his ministry. In a sense, Jesus’ baptism starts a countdown to the cross. The baptism puts everything in motion. The path is now set for Jesus’ ministry, and the high point for that ministry is the cross. This is when Jesus is revealed in his glory: it is when he suffers and dies on the cross.
Much of this seems like it might not really be relevant for us. So if all of this is particular for Jesus, why do we have to hear a sermon about it?
Certainly there are points of difference between Jesus and us. We receive forgiveness in baptism. We receive the Holy Spirit in baptism. We are adopted by God in baptism. Jesus did not need any of these, however there are certain point in common.
In baptism, Jesus receive his calling to ministry. This is the same for us. In baptism we are called to ministry in the service of God. In baptism Jesus received power. This also happens to us. In baptism God gives us all the power that we need to do God’s ministry. When people say that they could not do something for God, they are denying, not their power, but God’s. On our own, we do not have the ability to follow and serve God, however, we are not on our own.
In baptism we are given draft orders, and we are put on the front line in the fight against evil. This was also true for Jesus. Baptism does not make life easier: it makes life harder. This is why one of my professors said that baptism is the cruelest thing that one can do to a child.
Baptism starts our ministry. If we are baptized as infants, it may seem like a long time until we actually start doing ministry, however, we can start doing ministry even when we are little children. I remember the first time I felt the call to ordained ministry was when I was four years old. Most people are not called to be pastors, but we are all called to do ministry.
We do not choose what God calls us to do, so baptism sets us on a path that we cannot fully predict. God may have surprises for us that we would never suspect.
Baptism is also a public statement. When an infant is baptized, it is a statement that the parents will raise the child in the Church. They are saying that they will try to raise the child within the Christian faith. When a person is older, they are saying that they are going to try to live within the Christian faith, and within the Christian community. They are saying that they will try to follow Jesus, no matter where that might lead. When one enlists in the military, one does not know where that will lead. It is the same with baptism, so beware, be careful. Baptism can have unintended consequences.