Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
There’s an old Baptist minister who preached every Sunday on Baptism by immersion. Everyone agreed with his doctrine, but they were tired of hearing the same subject dealt with every week.
The deacons tried to solve the problem with diplomacy. They complimented him on his pulpit skills and suggested to him that he was such a natural preacher that they wanted to try an experiment. They wanted to hand him a piece of paper with a scripture lesson on it just before he stepped into the pulpit. We believe that you’re so good, they said, that you can preach a great sermon with no preparation at all, just that slip of paper.
What preacher could resist an approach like that? So, the deacons got busy searching the Scriptures for a text which was totally unrelated to Baptism by immersion. They selected the opening verse of Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. There was absolutely nothing in that text that had anything to do with Baptism.
When they handed him the text, he read it out loud three times. Then turned to the congregation and said, if I remember geography right, the earth is one-fourth land and three-fourths water. Water brings me to my subject for the day: Baptism by immersion. Hints don’t work with some people, do they?
Meanwhile, down at the Methodist church, a group of fourth graders were studying infant Baptism. Their Sunday School teacher asked, why do we use water in Baptisms? One kid said, to make the baby’s hair grow.
And over at the Catholic church a little girl watched quietly and intently as the priest Baptized her little brother. But when the ceremony reached the pouring of water, the little girl became nervous. She edged up to the Baptismal font and whispered, and wash behind his ears too, Father.
This morning we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, remembering that day long ago when He was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Jesus was part of a large crowd of people from all over who were making their way out to the wilderness to see and hear John. John’s message was simple: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
Jesus left His hometown of Nazareth to be Baptized by John. Jesus was different from all the other people who listened to John’s message. Jesus wasn’t Baptized because He was caught up in the excitement of John’s preaching, nor was He Baptized because He needed His sins washed away.
When Jesus was Baptized in the Jordan, He identified with us! Which answers that puzzling question about why Jesus, who was the Son of God, without sin, would need to be Baptized by John. Clearly, Jesus didn’t need to have His sins forgiven. He wasn’t overwhelmed by John’s preaching, as wonderful as John’s preaching surely was. John even said to Jesus, I need to be Baptized by You. I’m sure, Jesus wanted to see the same thing that other people saw when they came up out of the water. It’s easier for us to identify with someone who has experienced the same things we have. There’s a common bond with someone who knows what we feel.
One reason the Incarnation is so important to us is that we want to believe that God understands what it’s like to be human. There on the banks of the Jordan Jesus identified with us.
And when we’re Baptized, we can identify ourselves with Jesus. Something wonderful happens to us when we’re Baptized. A public declaration is made of our intention to strive to be like Jesus and follow God’s will for our lives. When we are Baptized, our lives are changed. We see things differently than before. We see other people differently than before. Our Baptism enables and empowers us to do those things that Jesus would want us to do. We’re able to identify with Jesus because we are Baptized. Such identification is life changing.
A professor opens one of his classes by reading a letter from a parent to a government official. The parent complains that his son, who had received the best education, gone to all the right schools, and was headed for a good job as a lawyer, had gotten involved with a weird religious sect. Now he has members of this sect controlling his every move, they told him whom to date and whom not to date and had even taken all of his money. The parents were pleading with the government official to do something about this strange religious group.
The professor asked his class, who is this letter describing? Most of his class thought the letter was describing the Moonies or some other off-the-wall group. After they all seemed to not even get close to the correct answer, he told them it was actually a combination of documents taken from the letters of third century Roman parents concerning a group called Christians.
There was a multimillionaire businessman, known for his extravagance, who hosted an elaborate, spectacular summer party. Part of his decorations and part of the uniqueness of his party was that he had filled his swimming pool with sharks, barracuda and other assorted dangerous fish.
After cocktails and dinner had been served and everyone was just standing around looking at the assortment of dangerous sea life. The businessman announced to his guests that he would like to challenge any of them to try swimming across the pool. And to sweeten the challenge he offered the first prize of either a new home in the mountains, a trip around the world for two or a piece of his business.
No sooner had he made the announcement than there was a splash, and a man swam hurriedly across the infested waters and bounded up out on the other side. The millionaire turned to the sputtering young man, shaking water off himself and said: That was an absolutely stunning performance. What prize do you want?
With a growl and a scowl the swimmer said: Right now I really don’t care about the prize. All I want is the name of the person who pushed me in.
I can assure you that the water of our baptism is dangerous, it is filled with sharks, barracudas and other dangerous sea life. I can also pretty much guarantee that being baptized, you probably won’t get a new home in the mountains, or a trip around the world for two. But I can promise that you will get a piece of the business, God’s business. Kingdom business. The business of Redemption and Second Chances through Christ.
When we’re baptized, we identify ourselves with Jesus. We give ourselves to Him without reservation. In doing so, we’re able to love as He loved.
When we identify with Jesus, we identify with a sick and dying world. Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River marked the beginning of His earthly ministry. Our Baptism is our starting point as well.
Today as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. We must ask ourselves, why was He Baptized? To identify with you and me. Why are we baptized? To identify ourselves with Him. What happens when we identify with Him? We find ourselves identifying with the world for which He died.