12th January 2020

The Baptism of Christ

A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mth 3:17)

If you minister for a few years in any downtown parish in SE Wales you’ll probably have a conversation which goes something like this:

A mother (or a mother and father) with a baby in a buggy rings the doorbell at the Vicarage. You greet them and ask what you can do for them. “We wants the baby done”. For the uninitiated, that is SE Wales speak for “We’d like our baby Baptised”.

You invite them in and talk about Baptism and ask them why they want their baby Baptised. Over the years I’ve had interesting answers; So’s it’ll sleep better; coz it’s gotta be done; Grandma says to do it; so it will behave better; it’ll be easier if it wants to get married in church.

OK you get over those answers and you ask about a convenient date for the Baptism. The most common answer — When we’ve saved enough money for the party!

Then you start explaining about Godparents — that they must themselves be Baptised. Nowadays that is getting more and more difficult for young parents to find any of their friends or family who have been Baptised.

Now Jesus, when he was Baptised didn’t have any of these problems. He was about 30 years old and he too himself to the River Jordan where his cousin, John the Baptist, was baptising Jewish men in the river. Jesus joined the queue and waited his turn.

Today’s Gospel reading (Mth 3: 13-17) records the conversation between John the Baptist and Jesus – John saying that he was not worthy to Baptise Jesus (because John knew that Jesus was God’s Son) and Jesus saying, ‘Let it be for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ And so John Baptised Jesus there in the River, Jordan.

We are then told that immediately Jesus came up out of the water the Spirit of God descended like a dove and A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.’

That vision was seen and that voice was heard by all those Jewish men who were waiting to be Baptised by John that day. And the most striking thing which, hits me in that text is that God was ‘well pleased‘.

When Jesus came to John to be Baptised, they both knew that Jesus didn’t need a Baptism for the washing away of sins. So why did Jesus insist on the Baptism?

The answer can be found in the Book of Exodus (ch. 29) where there is a description of what ceremonies were to take place before Jewish priests took up their office – they were washed with water, they wore special robes, their heads were anointed with oil, and they had sashes put on them. It was only after these’ ceremonies that that their public ministry began.

So it was fitting and appropriate for Jesus to through a similar ceremony immediately before his public ministry began.

But there is another strand to Jesus being Baptised by John. By being Baptised alongside other Jewish men, Jesus, the Son of God, was also identifying himself with humankind – because that was to be his mission — to save and to restore God’s creation to love and to be ‘good’ again — as the world had been when God created it.

So, at his Baptism, Jesus goes into the water for us and with us. And, after that Baptism, when God said, ‘This is my Son … with whom lam well pleased’ God was announcing to the world that Jesus was to be the mediator between God and humanity — and God was pleased. Why? Because God could see a future where people turned back to Him, where forgiveness was freely available and, through that forgiveness, respect for and friendship with God would be restored.

A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.”

All that happened 2,000 years ago. But we have to ask ourselves, ‘What does God see in the world today?’ `How much does all the unrest and sin in today’s world sadden God? ‘How much is God saddened, rather than pleased, by many of the things his people do?’

The world today is a much more complex place that the world of 1st century Palestine — and yet there are similarities.

Palestine was under Roman occupation and, for some people, having to flee as a refugee in order to save your life was something which happened then and still happens today.

Conflicts between different religions were commonplace – and through one such conflict Jesus himself was crucified.

But one thing remains constant – God’s promise to be with those who are faithful to Him and His pleasure when His people do the right things.

There is a lovely modern hymn whose first verse says: Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name: you are mine.

That is precisely what God does through Baptism today. He calls us by our name and asks us to trust Him just as little children trust their parents.

That is what God asked His Son, Jesus to do and that was what prompted God’s words: ‘This is my Son, .. with whom I am well pleased’

So, today, think about your Baptism and about your commitment to follow Jesus. Think about your relationship with God and thank Him for His love and protection – His parental, unconditional love for us as His children by Baptism.

Then God might be saying to you, ‘This is my child with whom I am well pleased’.