Reading for Baptism of Our Lord: Isaiah 43:1-7 & Luke 3:15-22
Peace be with you!
Fear drives us to worry about what the darkness tries to hide from us. Worrying drives us to fear what is hidden. Will I have enough money to pay my bills this month? Will I be able to eat tonight? When and where will the next terrorist attack take place? Will my child make it home safety tonight? Who will take care of me when I get older? The darkness of the world tries to swallow us up.
In our reading today, people have been traveling to see John the Baptist in the wilderness for some time now. They are beginning to wonder if he may be the Messiah (Luke 3:15) that is promised in Isaiah. The individuals are filled with expectation for the Messiah who will set them free from the oppression of the Roman government. The Jews hope they will be freed to rule themselves.
However, John the Baptist renounces being the Messiah by stating:
“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:16-17 NRSV).
John the Baptist makes an extreme case to separate his role from the Messiah. John claims his role as the precursor to the coming Messiah for whom who he is preparing the way (Luke 3:3-4). John differentiates between his baptism and Jesus’s baptism. John’s baptism is a call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’s baptism is with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus will separate those who believe from those who do not believe. Jesus will test everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, and he will divide the unbelievers and the believers through God’s judgment (Luke 3:17-18; 12:10, 49-53; 17:29-30). In Luke 12:10, Jesus says those who speak again the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. In Luke 12:49-53, Jesus says families will be divided over his name. In Luke 17:29-30, Jesus claims he will cause a divide between believers and non-believers on the day of wrecking.[i] The image of fire illustrates how Jesus will consume and purify the unholy allowing them to sprout in new life, just as a forest fire consumes the dead trees and allows dormant seeds to sprout.[ii] John the Baptist directs us to what is to come—divine judgment.
In Luke 3:18-20, Herod puts John the Baptist in prison for speaking the truth about the good news because of his jealousies. Herod’s jealousy becomes one of the reasons why Jesus will be crucified and killed. There cannot be two King of the Jews, and Herod came first. Jesus being called the Messiah, meaning the anointed one, poses a threat to Herod’s kingship.
When Jesus comes to be baptized in the wilderness, the heavens open up and a voice says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22 NRSV). Based on the fact that John the Baptist is prison, who baptizes Jesus? The other three gospels have John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River, but in Luke no one appears to be baptizing Jesus. However it occurs, God the Father claims and confirms Jesus Christ as his only begotten Son by pouring out the Holy Spirit on him—an action that can be done by God the Father alone. Jesus begins his ministry by spreading the good news and releasing the captives from sin. From this moment forward, Jesus tends to the poor, the homeless, the naked, the disabled, and the sick, until he goes to the cross. In his baptism, Jesus answers God’s call to reveal the truth in the world.
When we are baptized, God calls us by name, and we become his children. By claiming and confirming us as his children, the world cannot argue that we do not belong to God the Father. In the face of life’s struggles, God promises to keep us safe, to care for us, and to never abandon us, even in the darkest parts of the world. God takes away our need to worry or to fear the unknown. God sends us into to world with the Holy Spirit to lead us and to comfort in times of trial. We belong to God no matter what happens. We are claimed and confirmed as children of God.
Come, O Lord, come!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for claiming and confirming Jesus as your only begotten son and us as your children. Help us to understand that you claim us at our baptism. It is your loving action that welcomes us into the fellowship of disciples. Thank you for providing us with your love, forgiveness, and grace. Amen.
[i] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50 (vol. 3A of Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994), 323.
[ii] Sundays and Seasons: Preaching; Year C 2016 (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 64-65.