First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord
January 13, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
Sermon: "Why did Jesus Come to be Baptized?"
The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

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."

Matthew 3:13-17

Why did Jesus Come to be Baptized?

First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord - January 13, 2002

Probably no baptismal account in the world is better known than the story of Jesus' baptism. We all know Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. We know John baptized Jesus. We know the Holy Spirit came upon him like a dove. We also know a voice was heard from heaven saying, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." However, for some reason it was important to Jesus for him to be baptized. Even more interesting, it was important for John to baptize Jesus. Why? Why did Jesus come to be baptized? Why was it so important for John to baptize him? What does this act of Jesus mean to us?

In our church we baptize infants, children and adults. Infants and children are often baptized because their parents want them baptized. Let's be honest. The parents want the children to be raised in the church and this is the first step. The reason is very valid. Adults arrive at their baptism from many different ways. However, they, too, have decided to be a part of the Body of Christ and a member of the universal church in this significant act. We are baptized into the Body of Christ. Jesus, at the time, couldn't use this reason to be baptized. So, why did he come to be baptized?

Some people believe Jesus did not realize who he was until his baptism. They believe that Jesus suddenly knew who he was and what his mission was to be when he was baptized and the Holy Spirit came upon him. However, the Gospel of Matthew is very clear that this is not the case. Jesus was not a bystander at the River Jordan who suddenly heard the words of John and decided to be baptized. No. Jesus came to John at the Jordan intentionally. In Matthew's Gospel Jesus knows who he is. He knows his mission. Jesus comes to be baptized out of obedience to God. Jesus tells John to baptize him in this way to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus is to be baptized by John in order for us to see the revealed will of God. As a result of his obedience he is called the Son of God, the Beloved. Why did Jesus come to be baptized? Out of obedience to God the Father who reveals his will to us by Jesus' action.

So, now we have the answer to why Jesus came to be baptized. Our second question still remains why did John baptize Jesus? If Jesus knew who he was and knew his mission, then why didn't Jesus baptize John? We just said that Jesus came to baptized out of obedience. He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, to reveal the will of God. Two aspects of God's will are revealed in the action of this baptism. The first aspect is the identity of Jesus. Jesus is revealed to us as the Son of God, the Messiah. The second aspect of God's will revealed is Jesus' mission. Jesus is to be the Suffering Servant. Jesus will come among us and minister to us. He will be accepted by some. He will be rejected by many. He will suffer ostracism, shame, hunger, ridicule, rejection, extreme pain and death. Jesus' baptism by John identifies his mission as the Suffering Servant. Jesus comes to save all of humanity and yet, humanity will reject him. Jesus allows himself to be baptized by John in accordance with God's will so we can see who he is and what he has come to do. He is the Savior. He will not save us by the sword. He will save us with love.

So, what does Jesus' baptism mean for us? We are the followers of Christ. We have been baptized as members of His body. We are also the church. Therefore, Jesus Christ and the church are an inseparable unity. We are one with Christ. As we are one with Christ we are baptized in the same way Jesus was baptized. We come out of obedience to God to receive the Holy Spirit. At Jesus' baptism, Father, Son and Holy Spirit were present. So, it is at our baptism. We are baptized in the presence and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our mission is similar to the mission of Christ. Don't misunderstand me. We are not the Suffering Servant. Jesus came and saved the world. No one else can follow that act of God. However, we are called to minister to those in the world. We minister to people by being bold in our faith. We share with people the Good News of Jesus Christ in our lives. We confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Now, how do we accomplish those tasks? Some people would grab you by the collar and say, "Friend, do you know Jesus? Do you know he died on the cross for you? Do you know he shed his precious blood so you could be white as snow? Come with me now. Come with me and fall on your knees and pray to God for your salvation. Pray that Jesus will come into your heart and you will find peace and serenity. All your problems will go away and the world will treat you better."

I personally do not believe in that method. I believe we might be more effective by being open to people. I don't mean just new people. I mean new people, old friends, new friends, acquaintances. Being open means being hospitable and friendly. Being open means sharing stories: Listening to their stories and sharing your own. Then when the opportunity presents itself we can share the story of our life with Jesus Christ. We can minister to them as friends and neighbors and not as strangers. The Gospel is shared one person to another. The Good News of Christ is shared in our stories and in our actions. For the Good News of Christ is love. We are empowered by God through the Holy Spirit to share God's love when we are baptized. I pray we will be obedient to God. I pray we will make opportunities to share the love of Christ in this world.

Please pick up the insert from the bulletin. Join me in praying the collect for the day again in the contemporary version:

"Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen."

(BCP p. 214)


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