Apart from Christmas and Easter, one of the most illustrated events in Jesus’ life is his baptism. A thirteenth century artist depicted Jesus standing waist deep in the water of the River Jordan. John the Baptist is standing on the shore with a seashell in his right hand pouring water over Jesus’ head. So much water is poured over Jesus that it seems he is robed in a cloak of water. Over Jesus’ head there is a halo, and a dove is descending from heaven over him in a ray of light.
Many people were baptised by John in the River Jordan, but the person depicted in the painting is no ordinary person. As you look at a picture like this you can’t help but hear in your own mind the voice that spoke from heaven that day, "You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you."
I’m sure as the early Christians read the account of Jesus’ baptism in the gospels, the words of the prophet Isaiah would have come to mind. "Here is the Lord’s servant, whom I strengthen – the one I have chosen, with whom I am pleased" (42:1). These verses give us some vital clues as to who Jesus is – he is called the Son of God and a servant.
The terms ‘son’ and ‘daughter’ give us an identity. Whenever I visit my parents, I am often introduced to neighbours and friends with the words – "this is our daughter …".
Perhaps at some time when you have introduced your grandchildren or a nephew or niece you have said, "This is so and so’s son or daughter". This helps the person figure out where your grandchild or nephew or niece fit into the family. It leaves little doubt who you are.
For thirty years, Jesus had been hidden away in a tiny town called Nazareth as the son of the local carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary. When he was twelve, he was taken to the temple and we get our first hint that Jesus was different from other boys, but this was just a tiny glimpse. But when Jesus walked out of the water of the Jordan, the dove and the voice from heaven left no doubt who Jesus was. This ordinary looking bloke from Nazareth is not just the son of Mary and Joseph but he is God – God's own Son, sent to this earth with a very special mission. We are given a peek into the eternal interrelationship between Jesus, the Son of God, and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ identity is revealed.
At our baptism we were given a new identity. For most of us we were very new to this world when our parents brought us to be baptised, but even though we were very new additions to our parent’s families, we were made even newer. We were given a new life as God's sons and daughters. Just as Jesus was God's chosen Son, so also, we are God's chosen people, adopted into God's family as his sons and daughters when we were baptised.
We know that come what may during our earthly journey, our heavenly Father will never desert his sons and daughters. He will always be on hand to support us when life’s problems are too much to bear, lift us up when we are down, forgive us when guilt makes life miserable and gives us his never-ending love even when we least deserve it.
Right from the very beginning of our relationship with God, God deals with us graciously. When we were baptised, and most of us were baptised as infants, there was nothing that we contributed to our adoption into God's family. God didn’t accept and adopt us into his family because he could see a good spot in us somewhere. Most of us were completely unaware of what was happening.
Yet God in his love and mercy freely and graciously brought us into his family and gave us the blessings that come from Jesus dying and rising. We were washed clean, made holy and new, and brought into a relationship with God. We were given a new identity – God's sons and daughters.
With his baptism, Jesus was given a special ministry. God says, ""Here is the Lord’s servant, the one I have chosen." Note the use of the word "servant". That seems a bit of a contradiction – on the one hand to call him a son and then on the other a servant. A son would never be a servant. He would rule over servants but never be a servant. And likewise a servant would never presume to be a son. It was an impossible combination – a contradiction to be called a son and a servant.
That’s what God does though. He calls him son to describe who he is and a servant to describe the special work into which Jesus had been baptised. Already in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus takes on a humble, self-effacing attitude as he comes to John the Baptist to be baptised. Of course Jesus didn’t need to repent and to turn away from sin – he is the perfect Son of God. As he bows before the desert preacher, he identifies himself with all the other others lined up on the banks of the Jordan. He is foretelling a time in the not too distant future when he will take on himself the sin of all people and make the ultimate sacrifice. He will identify himself with all of sinful humanity and die on the cross.
At the same time as we were made sons and daughters in our baptism, we were also made servants. In times past, servants and slaves were often branded on their foreheads – it told others who their owner was. In the sacrament of baptism, we were branded with the cross. The sign of the cross is made on our foreheads and bodies. We are now God's. We belong to him. We are his servants called to live as those who belong to God and to carry out our heavenly Father’s will.
Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his ministry. He loved as no other had loved. He obeyed as no one else has obeyed. He was trusting, compassionate, caring, and open to all kinds of people and their needs as no one has before.
As God's children called into his family, made members of his church, he has called us to love and show compassion, to obey and urge others to obedience, to be forgiving and considerate, to show understanding and to value all people, like no other people on this planet.
We are called to "offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him" (Rom 12:1) or as Paul says in Ephesians, "Since you are God's dear children, you must try to be like him. Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us" (5:1,2). What could be clearer – God has chosen you and me to be his sons and daughters in our world. He has given us a responsibility to be his servants and to be servants of others as we bend over backwards to carry on Christ’s work in our countries.
He has called us to help others to see through the love that we show and the help that we give that God loves them; that he invites them to also be his sons and daughters; that he wants to be their helper and strength through all the troubles that life in this world can bring.
A 10 year-old boy named Cameron, walked into the pastor’s office. Fresh from soccer practice, and still wearing his soccer gear, he had a request. "I'd like to be baptised," he said. "We were learning about Jesus' baptism in Sunday School. The teacher asked the class who was baptised, and all the other kids raised their hands. I want to be baptised too."
"Cameron, do you want to be baptised because everyone else is?" the pastor asked. He wrinkled up his freckled nose and he replied, "No. I want to be baptised because it means I belong to God."
The pastor was touched by his understanding. "Well, then," he said, "How about I talk to your parents, and we have it this Sunday?"
The boy’s smile turned to concern, and he asked, "Do I have to be baptised in front of all those people in the church? Can't I just have a friend baptise me privately? Jesus was baptised by his cousin."
"You have a point," the pastor responded. "But, if a friend baptised you and no one else knew about it, how would people know you were baptised?" Realising this was a teachable moment, the pastor reached for his Bible, but before he placed his hand on the book, the boy responded.
"I guess by my new way of living," he said.
Cameron's understanding was neither childish nor simple. It was profound. He expressed what too many people fail to realise. Baptism gives us a new life as God's children and calls us to a new way of living. St Paul says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17).
When we were baptised a tremendously intimate relationship was established between Christ and us. The implications of this are immense. We are to let his thoughts direct our thoughts, his mind control our mind, his concerns be our concerns. We seek to speak and think and act toward others as Jesus did while on earth, for we are one with him. And of course, this applies especially to our fellow members of the church who have been connected to Christ with us. We are all part of the same body of Christ. We all share the same intimate connection with Christ. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are "new creations; the old has gone, the new has come!"
To fail to let our baptism renew the way we live every day is to deny its powerful effect in our every situation. To not let our baptism rule our lives and love as Christ has loved us, to not forgive as Christ has forgiven us, to not be compassionate and gracious as Christ has been toward us is to deny our membership in God's family, our servanthood, our chosen-ness.
And just when we realise our failure to live the new life that Christ has given us, then our baptism becomes even more important. In spite of our failures, we still belong to God. The simple unimpressive water of baptism assures that his love and forgiveness are as strong as ever. He says to us, "You are my child, whom I love, with you. I am very pleased with you."
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