THE BAPTISM OF JESUS Matthew 13:13-19

A sermon with the congregation of the Good Shepherd in the Anglican Parish of Kingston North

by Robert Brow   ( January 13, 2002

Why did Jesus need to be baptized? There was no sin to wash away. He did not need forgiveness. When he approached John the Baptist for baptism the prophet objected "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus insisted "Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness" (3:13-15). Some people think that means Jesus insisted on being baptized by John as a duty, or a way of identifying himself with humanity, or as an example for us. There maybe some truth in those suggestions, but obviously his baptism was the very major turning point that began Jesus' ministry at the age of thirty.

As a child Jesus had learned a huge amount from his mother Mary, and by working with Joseph the carpenter. While he continued at home (Luke 2:51), he "increased in wisdom and in years, and divine and human favor" (Luke 2:52). But then something happened which launched him into the three years of ministry which turned the world upside down. As Peter explained to Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, "the message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:37-38). Whatever Jesus was before, he is now anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. How did Jesus baptism begin this change?

Baptism was the means John the Baptist used to enrol his disciples to teach them how to prepare for the coming Messiah, But after Jesus' baptism the Pharisees could see that "Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John" (John 4:1). And John the Baptist had said that "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 3:16).

What Jesus wanted was that his enrolled disciples would begin to learn in the school of the Holy Spirit. In the case of the Samaritans, they were first baptized by Philip the evangelist (Acts 8:1) but the school of the Holy Spirit was only constituted when Peter and John came down to lay hands on them (Acts 8:17). That suggests two stages of enrolment and beginning to learn a new course of instruction. As Paul wrote to Titus, "He saved us . . . through the water of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Similarly in any school or college enrolment takes place some time before the classes actually begin.

But if baptism is used to enrol people to be taught, why did Jesus need to be baptized and what was he going to learn? Let me suggest five areas of human experience that Jesus had to learn by the Spirit.

Immediately after his baptism Jesus was "led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 4:1). It is one thing to live quietly at home, but when someone enrols as a soldier to go into battle, quite new skills need to be learned. And like Jesus, if we intend to go out into battle against the forces of evil, we need to learn the weapons of spiritual warfare (as in Ephesians 6:10-17). And the first lesson was to get to know the power and the cunning of the enemy.

Jesus also needed to learn to cope with the rejection he experienced when he went back to preach in his own home town of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-18, 38-39). Most of you have been hurt by rejection in your own family, and at work, and especially in a church congregation. Some are crushed by rejection, but others learn to triumph over it by the power of the Spirit.

Then he needed to learn how to use parables to introduce people to the good news of God's love. As you know, it is extremely difficult to explain the Christian faith to people who are atheistic, hostile, and indifferent. Only the wisdom of the Spirit can give us the stories and illustrations that we need to be able to communicate the Christian faith. When you don't know what to say to answer the objections of a neighbor, try asking the Holy Spirit for a story.

Jesus had certainly learned to pray from Mary his mother, but after his baptism he needed to pray (on one occasion all night before choosing his twelve apostles) prayers which were given to him for his task by the Spirit. Paul wrote "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).

The Messiah also needed to learn how to cope with suffering. Many of you have had to face a lot of suffering in your life, and you have experienced supernatural strengthening. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read that "It was fitting that God, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). Paul wrote "I want to know the Messiah and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10).

Christian baptism is always in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity. "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). In our schools children used to learn the three Rs (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic !). And after baptism we are to learn these three facets of the love of God. You can see that all three Persons of the Trinity are mentioned as involved in Jesus' baptism. "He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17).

As a child Jesus would have learned about God as Father from the Old Testament. He would also have wondered about the work of the Holy Spirit in creation, and inspiring leaders (Judges) and Artists and prophets. And he would have read about the Messiah King who reigned among the nations. Certainly as a child he would not have realized that he was the Son of God. Now after his baptism he gained a much deeper understanding of himself, and his astonishing destiny. He also increased in the personal knowledge of the Father. And in every new situation he learned to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now I would like us to share our own experience of what we have learned since our baptism about God as Father, and the Messiah Son of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

* * * a time of open sharing * * *

Now that we have shared some of our experiences of the three Persons of the Trinity, we are going to say the Apostles Creed. And as you can see it sums up some of what we know about God as Father, God as the Son who came among us, and God the Holy Spirit. But remember that is only an outline, a syllabus for a course. There is much more for us to experience, as Jesus did, when he was filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit after his baptism.

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