Preached Online For All Saints King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 10 January, 2020.
Lections for The Baptism of the Lord: Genesis 1.1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19.1-7, Mark 1.4-11
‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
So says the voice of God at the baptism of Jesus. What would it mean for God to say the same thing for each of us? “This is my son or daughter; with you I am well pleased”.
Today I want to think with you about how the baptism of Jesus makes it possible for God to pleased with us, about how baptism is as much of an act of creation as is the coming together of the world in Genesis 1, and what it means for us to live that new creation.
You might remember that in Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus presents himself at the Jordan, John is just as puzzled and says, shouldn’t you be baptizing me? Jesus’ response is to say “Let is be so now, for it is proper to for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3.15). Mark doesn’t report this conversation, but the question is worth pursuing before we proceed further.
What did Jesus mean about “righteousness”? Why was it proper that he should be baptized? I think to understand this, I suggest that we have to imagine Jesus stepping down the muddy bank of the river, following in the footprints of all those people – all those sinful people – who have gone before him to seek forgiveness. It’s not that Jesus needed to become righteous. Rather, he was baptized to offer us a new state of being, a re-creation, where we could become righteous.
Jesus’ baptism is a moment when we see God’s creative, life-giving power at work, the same power which we see at the start of Genesis. Jesus walks into the Jordan in the steps of human sinners, but he comes out as something new. Just as the wind, the creative spirit of God, moved across the formless void in Genesis, so the Spirit comes down on (in Mark’s Greek, the grammar can even mean into) Jesus. The same voice of satisfaction is heard: in Genesis God saw that the light was good. Here the voice says that God is “well pleased”. That same creative power, working out of God’s goodness, is seen in both stories. Here, as Jesus comes up out of the muddy Jordan, Mark signals that God has done something wonderful and new.
John hinted at this new thing when he said that he only baptized people with water; but Jesus he says “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. That same creative power that brought light and goodness out of the void in Genesis, that same creative power that descends on Jesus in the dove and pronounces Jesus “well pleasing”, that same creative power made us into new beings in the baptism that we share with Jesus. In our liturgy from the BAS, it says that we are baptized “by water and the spirit and so we were “raised to the new life of grace” (BAS p. 160). Our baptism is thus a continuation of God’s creative action, made us new people by allowing us to be one with Jesus. St. Paul wrote that “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor 5:1-7).
Through our baptism, we become the son or daughter of God, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased. Now many of us might think that our baptism happened long ago in our infancy, and since then we’ve all done things we’re not proud of. How can God still be well pleased with us?
Baptism shows us what God wants for us. It’s not a vaccination against sin and subsequent misdoings, but it is the start of a relationship that we can grow into. Baptism is the beginning of a lifetime of leaning into God, of trusting and depending in the Father’s love for us, because there are moments in life when we need to trust and depend in the Father’s love.
Do you remember what happens immediately after Jesus’ baptism? Mark says that “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1.12). How does Satan tempt Jesus? In Matthew’s account, every time Satan tempts Jesus, he starts by sayig “If you are the Son of God …” and then gives Jesus three opportunities to stop trusting in his Father’s love. How does Jesus resist Satan? He resists by relying on the Father’s love and on the Word of God. Jesus never falls into the trap of doubting that he is the son of God.
Whatever we may think about Satan, I think we can all agree that we are frequently tempted, as Jesus was. And what is the greatest temptation of them all? To quote the preacher Timothy Keller, the greatest temptation we face, our greatest spiritual vulnerability, is to stop believing that we are beloved children of God.
Keller says, and rightly so, that we get into trouble when doubt that God loves us, and usually we get into trouble when we suffer, when bad things happen. Either we get angry at God because our life isn’t going according to plan, or we get angry at ourselves, because we decide that God feels that we must deserve this suffering. Either way is a failure of trust in God’s love. Either way is doubt that God really did want to create something new in us.
Here’s the thing about creation. Humans can be creative, but we are created. Despite all the self-help talk about inventing a new you, we can’t make ourselves new, better people. Only God can do that, and that is what Jesus meant when he said to John that he had to “fulfil all righteousness”. As Timothy Keller notes, Jesus is the Saviour because only he is able to go down into the Jordan, following all those muddy sinner’s footprints, and he is able to take those sins on himself because he is totally pleasing to God. When Jesus came up out of the Jordan, he gave that life to us. John says at the start of his gospel, to all who did receive him, tothose who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (Jn 1.2).
Today, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we are reminded that Jesus is a Saviour who opens the door of God’s creative power to make us all new. This day reminds us that in our baptism, we have received the assurance that we are beloved children of God. The challenge of the Christian life is to remember that love, to rely on it, and to return to it if we miss the path. If you have already believed in Jesus, that gift of adoption was always yours. If you want to believe, that gift is there for you. The only way that gift can be taken away from us is if we are tempted into thinking that we are not worthy of it.