Luke 3:15-18, 20-22, Isaiah 43:1-7
How many people received their 2022-star words this past week? The Star words, as you know, are the randomly chosen word that is meant to be your spiritual word, or theme or idea to reflect upon, act upon and apply to your life in 2022. I hope you refer to your word frequently and pray upon it often, seeing how God is speaking to you through this word. I got the word accountability. Accountability. All week long I’ve been thinking about what being accountable or responsible for means, especially in regard to my walk with Jesus. In addition, I have been wondering what accountability or being responsible applies to baptism, particularly the baptism of Jesus, which our gospel lesson highlights today.
The baptism of the Lord is one of the few events that made it into all four Gospels – a rare feat and a sign of how important this event is in the life of the early Christian church. The baptism of Jesus is the inauguration of Jesus into ministry. It was His coming out party - His grand opening, so to speak. It is Jesus being accountable to his mission of salvation.
It reminds me of the story of the curious teenage boy who stumbled upon a baptismal service one Sunday afternoon down by the river. It was down south, back in the day, and this kid walked right down into the water and stood next to the Preacher. The minister turned and noticed the youth and said, "Son, Are you ready to find Jesus?" The youth looked back and said, "Yes, Preacher. I sure am." The minister then dunked the kid under the water and pulled him right back up.
"Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asked. "No, I hav
en't!" said the boy. The preacher then dunked him under for a bit longer, brought him up and said, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?" "No, I haven't Preacher." The preacher next held the teenager under for at least 30 seconds this time, brought him out of the water and said in a somewhat exasperated tone, "Friend, are you sure you haven't found Jesus yet?" The youth wiped his eyes gasping for breath and said to the preacher, ..."Naw preacher, are you sure this is where he fell in?!"
Unlike the words of that old preacher, Baptism isn't where you find Jesus. It’s the starting point of where we pledge to take responsibility for our walk of faith. Where we hold ourselves accountable to know Jesus. We hold ourselves accountable to help each other on the Christian path. It’s the sign of commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The Story about baptizing Jesus’ is intriguing because, depending on what you think about baptism, there doesn't seem to be any reason for Jesus to be baptized. John didn't just come up with this baptism idea on his own. It was already a symbolic ritual of desiring forgiveness and wanting to start fresh, a new life. John told the people to bear fruits worthy of repentance. So, John baptized people for the forgiveness of their sins as a symbol to turn their lives around. But Jesus didn’t need to turn his life around. Jesus was sinless.
Jesus didn’t have anything he needed to repent for. Yet Jesus deliberately sought out his cousin John and sought out baptism. Jesus planned it intentionally. The distance from Galilee to the Jordan was at least a full day’s journey. Anywhere from 30-60 miles. It was a long walk for Jesus and required significant effort and determination. Why was baptism so important to Jesus? What was he holding himself accountable for?
Nowadays, some people think Baptism as the formal entry point into the family of faith. How many of us were baptized as infants? How about at a different age? No matter what age you were baptized, it isn’t the event in and of itself that saves us. Jesus does that. Most of us were baptized as infants, it is the most common way that Presbyterians and mainline Christians receive the sacrament. Baptism is a seal of the assurance of God’s love even before we have the ability to really do anything in return. And that’s it, baptism is a gift from God not for anything we have done or can do, but just because God chooses us, loves us and wants to spend all our lives with him. That is what grace is all about.
The downside to infant baptism is of course that we can’t remember the event ourselves and appreciate its importance. We need others to tell us what it was like. Surely the infant doesn’t feel any different. Yet it makes a difference for the rest of us who stand in its place, pledge our love and care as a congregation. That has always been the most meaningful part of the baptismal service for me – when the congregation holds itself accountable for raising the infant in the faith, loving, caring and guiding the child so that he or she comes to know Jesus and the gospel as he or she matures.
For Jesus, baptism is a sign of taking on the mantel of discipleship. Remember the last commandment Jesus gave his followers as he ascended to heaven was, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Fasting, all night vigils, and exorcisms were all part and parcel of baptism in the early church. Baptism was significant, and people often studied for months or years before being baptized. That’s what it meant to be a responsible follower of Jesus in the ancient world.
But that doesn't answer the question, "Why was baptism so important to Jesus that he sought it out, and allowed himself to be baptized by John?"
Jesus allowed himself to be baptized as a sign of responsibility to us and out of love for humanity. The First letter of Peter 2:24 tells us that Jesus bore our sins “in” his body. John’s first letter declares that Jesus himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world (1 John 2:2). Instead of being repulsed by our sinfulness and failings, Jesus instead embraces us, and allows himself to become one with us., pledging to be the one accountable to God on our behalf. One of the most powerful expressions of this is found in Philippians 2:6-8. Which speaks of Jesus who, emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of humankind. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death -- even to death on a cross. Jesus’ baptism is a pledge to take on the cross on our behalf.
So, Jesus’ baptism was an immersion into humanity, a sign of solidarity and of love for us. Jesus holds himself accountable to God for us, much as we vow to be accountable to help those who are baptized in their journey to Jesus. Let us remember with thanksgiving our baptismal vows this day. In remembering the waters of baptism, may we pledge ourselves responsible to help each other find Jesus in each and every day, and live out the promises of baptism to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, keep His commandments, and serve Him to the end, just as he serves us. Amen