Sermon St Eustachius 9.45 9 January 2022 Epiphany 1 Year C Baptism of Christ
Isaiah 43v1-7 Psalm 29 Acts 8v14-17 Luke 3v15-17, 21-22
Let us Pray:
We have read how the prophet Isaiah could say to the people of Israel the words he heard from God, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’. Let me ask you, do you feel that God knows and calls you by name? That God knows you as a special individual, one who is unique to Him, just as you know each one of your children or family as special and unique individuals.
Like those people of Israel, if we know that we are so loved by God, and have been redeemed by him through the death of our Lord Jesus, then we can be assured that God knows each one of us by name, and He is with us no matter what we may have to pass through. In fact the prophet Isaiah assures us that God knows us so intimately that he has craven, written, each of our names on the palm of his hands (Is49v16a), clearly God, metaphorically, has some very large hands. And for the nation of Israel God was even with them as they passed through the testing’s of fire or water, as when they crossed the Red Sea or the river Jordan, and eventually entered into the land that God had promised to them.
Isaiah was convinced that the people of Israel were precious in God’s sight, that God loved them, for like everyone, God has created us all for his glory, and to walk with him all the days of our lives. So let me ask, ‘how can we be assured of God’s love’?.. The answer is in our celebration once again of the birth of our Lord Jesus. Celebrating the unimaginable, of God breaking into his very own created universe, of God becoming incarnate to dwell with us. And why? Because God so loved us and gave his only begotten Son to become one with us humans through his great grace, mercy and love. We Christians are so blessed to know that love of God, and to experience God’s love deep in our hearts.
God in His love come to dwell with us in His Son Jesus so that through Jesus’ death at Calvary we may indeed know and experience his redeeming grace. A grace long promised of reconciliation for our disobedience to our Hoy God; a grace promised to each one of us who will believe and put our trust in him. It is then that we become restored as God’s ‘image bearers’, restored to declare the glory of God’s coming kingdom to this our present and needy world.
But first before Jesus redeeming death and glorious resurrection, in great humility, Jesus subjected himself to baptism by his cousin John. John however was somewhat reluctantly to baptise Jesus with all the others who came to him just below Jericho at a place called bethabara. A place shown very clearly on the ancient Madaba map on the shore of the river Jordan, and probably in the early months of AD 28.
That site has only recently been reopened to tourists in 2010 following the clearance of many land mines along this sensitive border with Jordan.
It was there that John saw the Holy Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove-the symbol of peace and of the Holy Spirit. In St John’s gospel (1v31-34) we read of John the Baptist’s mission, ‘For this purpose I came baptising with water, that he-the Messiah-might be revealed to Israel’. God had said to John, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptises with the Holy Spirit’. After seeing the Spirit descend and remain on his cousin, John could testify, ‘this is the Son of God’. ‘Following his baptism Jesus was then immediately driven by the Holy Spirit into the nearby Judean wilderness to be tempted for forty long days by the evil one.
That symbol of a dove took on special significance when Joy and I stood in Jerusalem at the western, or wailing wall, and saw a dove nestled in the 2000 year old stones of the Temple mount. It seemed as if here was the Spirit of God hovering over the people of God, and like us all, longing for the peace which is still yet to come to that holy city.
Early theologians wrestled with the question as to why Jesus submitted to John in baptism, for John’s baptism was one of repentance from sin, and Jesus had no need of repentance for he was the ‘spotless lamb of God who was to take away the sin of the world’. True, Jesus had no need of repentance, but he did come to fulfil, or complete, the Jewish law, and so by submitting to this baptism Jesus enabled the people around him to recognise just who he was. St Matthew, like St John, also records this revelation to John the Baptist when he declares, “he who is coming after me is mightier than I, he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”.
By submitting to baptism Jesus gave to us a number of images that enable us more fully to understand his mission. First is a call for us all to follow Jesus in our own baptism. As we do we identify as members of his body, the church, and we become like Him ‘a beloved son or daughter of God’.
Some believe that the words actually heard at Jesus’ baptism which St Mark records as “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased”, are in fact a paraphrase of the words recorded in Isaiah 42, “Behold 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”. And those words fit well with the mission of Jesus, a mission to bring justice and righteousness to the nations. Should it not also be our mission as followers of Jesus to do the same? To work for justice for all people. If we could but capture that vision, like William Wilberforce and other great Christians who have gone before us, could we not see a transformation in this war torn, famine stricken and oppressed world in which we live?
Do we have enough faith to think that we, you and I, can change things? The question is are we prepared to become the agents of that change? Do we want to? When was the last time you wrote to the news media in response to some anti Christian legislation, or asked your MP, I know ours has been notably missing, to make a stand in parliament for Christian values? Values that will benefit all of human kind no matter what their background. Remember it has been said, “all that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”
Jesus baptism also creates for us a second image, that of the crossing of the Red Sea at the start of the journey of salvation for the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. That crossing symbolised a death to the old life in Egypt, and a resurrection to the new life ahead.
So in our baptism we are reminded that we were buried with Christ, that we have died to our old life, and have been raised to a new life. Raised to a life to be lived in the power and at the direction of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who is God’s presence with us as comforter, seal and guide, who and comes to dwell with us to bring the fulness of life itself.
It is our sure hope that we have been once and for all redeemed by the death of our Lord Jesus, delivered from our sins once we put our trust in Jesus and commit to follow him. It is then that God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell with us as a guarantee of our new relationship with Him. A relationship that will extend into, and throughout, eternity as we follow God’s path for each one of us during our remaining time in this present world. Our life becomes a constant journey of salvation, of change and transformation, until we shall be finally united with Jesus in heaven, or remain to meet with him in the clouds when he returns in great glory.
This image of us as a new creation as we rise from the waters of baptism, as we rise to a new beginning brought about by the Holy Spirit of God, is so appropriate as we start yet another new year. In our prayers let us not be afraid to seek the change that God still has in store for each one of us as we deepen our walk with him.
It reminds us of the first creation that we read of in the book of Genesis, that time when the Holy Spirit of God brooded over the face of the earth and brought forth life. Now that same Holy Spirit brings about a new life in us, a profound transformation of our lives. A transformation so that we may experience the promise recorded by Saint John in his gospel (Jn10v10) when Jesus said that as Christians we are to have ‘a full and abundant life’.
That abundant life is what the world should see in us as God’s ‘image bearers’, an abundant life that attracts them to join with us on the adventure of our faith and walk with our Lord Jesus Christ.
After all that we have been through these previous two years, what better tonic could we ask than to experience God’s abundant life in the coming year.
Could there be any better adventure ahead as we start 2022?
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son:
may we recognise him as our Lord, and know ourselves to be your beloved children; your ‘image bearers’, experiencing a full and abundant life, we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen