Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and 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.”
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. The Christmas season is fully complete no, the greens are down, the Chrismons have been put away, Christ has been revealed to the whole world. Now, we take a shift in our scriptural walk. Just as John the Baptist’s day of baptism took a turn when Jesus arrived. I mean put yourself in John’s sandals. Here he is, in the wilderness, preaching a message about the coming Christ calling for a change of heart and a baptism of repentance. He’s looking at a group of people who had heard the prophecies and were looking forward to the coming of Christ but they need to turn away from their sinful life.
Then Jesus arrives and walks up to you and says, baptize me. What would your reaction be? Would you just say yes or offer a protest just as John did? I know if it were me, I would look at Jesus and say “You’ve got this wrong. I’m calling for a baptism of repentance and you don’t need that. In fact, I am the one who needs to be baptized by you.” I probably would have continued to argue with Jesus over who was baptizing who. I’m willing to say my argument with Jesus would have went longer and almost to the point of him saying, “You know who I am and I am telling you to baptize me. No more arguing!”
I would have been really confused if I were John. Why does a man who was perfect, had committed no sin need me to be baptized? I am performing baptisms of repentance, this means for people seeking forgiveness from their sins not those who have no sin? Maybe he got in the wrong line, maybe he wanted the Starbucks line. I ask you this question, did Jesus need to be baptized? Was it just to go through a motion or to mark a specific time in his life? And what does his baptism have to do with us?
What do you think, did Jesus need to be baptized? It is a valid question and one that has been asked since it happened and I’m sure one John the Baptist even asked himself. There are many different theories on why and why not and each moment I think about it I come up with a different reason. But, under my belief and understanding of baptism, Jesus’ baptism represented the reason why we baptize both infants and adults. As Methodist, we do not believe baptism is an action we do but it is God who is active in the sacrament. Our action comes as a response to the sacrament of baptism.
For us, baptism is a marker of being adopted into God’s family. As our baptism liturgy says, we are initiated into Christ’s Holy Church. As one pastor used to say, “We are written into God’s book of life through baptism.” Does that mean we are “saved”, no. For us as Wesleyans, salvation is a process and it begins with the sacraments as a sign of God’s grace offered to us while we have done nothing to deserve it. As Methodists we baptize at any age, we do not say that only believers can be baptized but all can be baptize. It is just that we do not believe baptism is a response to our belief or an act we initiate but it is initiated by God.
If baptism for us is a marker of being adopted into God’s family as a member of Christ’s Holy Church, then what was Jesus’ marker from his baptism? I mean, he was already the Son and it is his church we are welcomed into. It’s not like he needed any special mark for us to know wether Jesus was or was not the Son of God. But, his baptism was a marker in his life. His baptism marked a change in his life. It marked the time that his ministry begins. From the point he comes from the water on, he is in complete ministry to the world mode. All his journeys and interactions were about the Kingdom after this moment. It is as if he needed to be baptized in order to begin ministry to others.
But, maybe his baptism marked something else. Maybe it was an adoption in to the family, maybe it was a mark of the beginning of Christ’s Holy Church, a marking of the beginning of his ministry, could there be something else or more that is marked. What if it includes us today? In his commentary, Derek Weber said “Jesus chose to participate in John’s call to a baptism of repentance is to express solidarity with sinful people in need of grace.” Think about that, Jesus’ baptism was him marking the fact that he wanted to support us and our need for grace. He wanted to experience the grace received through baptism as a way to show us he cares for us.
Jesus was not just going through the motions. There was a purpose to his baptism. It was to be in unity with us as we go through baptism. His baptism was also a mark change in his life as he began his journey in ministry. I believe for Jesus, his baptism was necessary because how could he ask his followers to be baptize if he had not been. Also, how could he baptize if he had not been baptized himself. It makes sense that his baptism may have been necessary for these reasons.
What does this have to do with us today? I mean, what we celebrate today took place a long long time ago. Why it is important to us is it is an example for us to follow. As we hear the story we see Jesus standing with John in the river and we see him go under and pull back up and the heavens open, a dove descends, and a voice sounds. Derek Weber also said, “We are all present with Jesus in that water and can rightly celebrate our baptism as we honor his.” When Jesus was baptized we were all part of his baptism but when we are baptized today Jesus is honored in our baptism. Our baptism honors and celebrates the saints who have gone on before us.
This is true even if we cannot remember our baptism. I am one of those who cannot remember my baptism as I was baptized as an infant. As I was preparing my board paperwork at the end of 2018 I remember asking my mother when and where I had been baptized. I knew I had been because when I finished confirmation my parents were asked if I had been baptized and they said yes. But, I did not know the other information. Even if you don’t remember, know that God was and is still active. As Methodist’s we do not re-baptize for any reason because it would be like saying God made a mistake but what we do is remember or reaffirm our baptism and today we will remember our baptism as I invite you to turn to page 50 in your hymnal and follow along with me.