Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17
Good morning. Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. That’s why I poured the waters of baptism and that’s why I’m wearing my baptismal stole today. The story of Jesus’ baptism raises some interesting questions. Why does Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, need to be baptized? And who could possibly have the authority to baptize the Lord?
Clearly, John the Baptist didn’t think he was worthy to perform this baptism. According to the Gospel of Matthew: “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.”
John accepts Jesus’ explanation that it is necessary and proper for John to baptize Jesus and performs the baptism. Then the skies open up and Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus. The key to understanding why this is necessary can be found in the very last verse: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Matthew believed that Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, God’s chosen people. To Matthew, the prophets of the Old Testament all pointed toward Jesus. In verse 17, when God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,”
Matthew is making a direct reference to this morning’s lesson from Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Thus, the heavenly voice, the voice of God declares that Jesus is both the Son of God and the Suffering Servant that is identified in the Book of Isaiah.
This informs our understanding of the sacrament of baptism. According to the Book of Order, the constitution of the Presbyterian Church:
Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ. Jesus through his own baptism identified himself with sinners in order to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus in his own baptism was attested Son by the Father and was anointed with the Holy Spirit to undertake the way of the servant manifested in his sufferings, death, and resurrection. (W-2.3001)
Much of this statement is drawn from this morning’s gospel lesson. There’s a lot going on that statement on baptism. I wanted you to hear all of that at once, and now I’m going to unpack that, one piece at a time.
First: “Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ.” Baptism is the sign, that is, it signifies what Christ has already done for us: He has taken away our sin. It is not the act of baptism that cleanses us from sin, it is through Jesus’ death and the action of the Holy Spirit that our sin is cleansed. The sacrament of baptism marks us for inclusion in God’s covenants, God’s promises to Israel, but the work has already been accomplished by Christ.
The word incorporation is also very, very important. It means that we are a part of Christ. The word comes from the Latin word, corpus, which means body. If we are incorporated, then we are truly part of the body of Christ. Remember, the term “the body of Christ” is another name for the Church. Baptism means that we are marked as being part of the Church.
Next: “Jesus through his own baptism identified himself with sinners in order to fulfill all righteousness.” The phrase, “to fulfill all righteousness” is a direct quote from our gospel lesson this morning. It means that Jesus was sent into this world to do God’s will, to enact God’s plan for salvation. To do this, Jesus must walk with and minister to all of humanity.
The final statement in that section of the Book of Order reads: “Jesus in his own baptism was attested Son by the Father and was anointed with the Holy Spirit to undertake the way of the servant manifested in his sufferings, death, and resurrection.” Baptism is an action for flesh-and-blood people. In saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved,” God is not only stating that Jesus is the Son of God, but in doing so at the moment of Jesus’ baptism, God is also stating that Jesus is fully human. Furthermore, God clearly states that Jesus’ mission is to serve.