The Baptism of the Lord (Lk 3:15-22)

You may recall that before Christmas we spent a couple of weeks looking at the mission and message of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was God’s special messenger, a man who stood beside the river Jordan, wearing camel skin and a leather belt, calling people to repentance and faith in the coming Lord.

You will remember that John told his hearers to be baptised in the river Jordan as a sign of their sorrow – as a sign that they are serious about their sin and want it washed away by God.

And people flocked to hear John speak, didn’t they? Verse 5 says people waited expectantly to hear from him. There was a spiritual hunger in the land, people had a strong desire to get right with God – the nation knew it needed forgiveness from the Lord.

How different from our own society today! It’s a tragedy that in twenty-first century England so many people consider Christianity boring, irrelevant or untrue. As we enter 2022 do pray that our community and our nation will gain a hunger for God, a healthy fear of the Lord.

Despite his popularity, John didn’t want to become a celebrity – he wanted to point people to Jesus, the true Messiah. Listen again to John’s words in verse 16: “I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

With those words in our ears, verse 21 comes as quite a surprise doesn’t it? It says “When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too”

Surely if Jesus is greater than John, we would have expected Jesus to baptise John, not the other way round! And if Jesus is the Lord, perfect and sinless, why did he undergo a baptism of repentance?

The answer is that Christ had come to earth to identify with sinners. He was born in Bethlehem to live among us, and he went into the River Jordan to identify with our sinful condition – despite being without guilt himself.

Jesus’ identification with sinners reached its climax on Good Friday, of course, when on the cross he took our guilt upon his shoulders. He was the sinless substitute who died so that we might become God’s forgiven friends forever. That’s the very heart of the the good news – the Gospel – that Luke is so keen to write about.

The Identity of Jesus

I wonder what areas of the country you look down on? What towns or cities do you consider unattractive, depressing or insignificant? Rightly or wrongly, places like Skegness, Slough or Milton Keynes often get a bad press!

Nazareth was viewed in a similar way in first century Israel. It was small and well off the beaten track. Not the sort of place that anyone significant was expected to come from. But God often does the unexpected, doesn’t he? And so when Jesus of Nazareth appears at the river Jordan, the heavens open – not to pour down rain, but to pour out the Holy Spirit and to allow God’s voice to be heard.

The exact words God speaks over Jesus are highly significant – a significance that is only fully appreciated if we’re familiar with the Old Testament:
• You see, by calling Jesus his Son, God was doing more than simply explaining their relationship. God was also declaring Jesus to be his chosen King. By calling him his Son, God was letting anyone listening know that Jesus was the rightful ruler of the world.

Throughout the Old Testament God had repeatedly promised to send a perfect king. A perfect king or ‘Messiah’ who would be a descendent of king David, who would establish God’s justice and bring peace to God’s people. And Psalm 2, in particular, says that this Messiah would hear God say to him “you are my son”. Words Jesus heard from Heaven as he emerged from the waters of the Jordan.

• So Jesus is God’s King as well as his Son. But he is also God’s Servant, because scholars see another similarity between God’s words to Jesus at the river Jordan, and God’s words spoken through the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament.

In passages like Isaiah 42, God speaks of a future Servant who would come. A perfect Servant who would completely obey God. Someone whom God would ‘love’ and be ‘well pleased’ with. Which, of course, are exactly the words that Jesus heard as he was baptised.

So I hope you can see why Luke carefully recorded the exact words spoken from heaven about Jesus. They were words pregnant with meaning. Words deliberately designed to reveal Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, God’s Servant and God’s King. An identity far greater than any moral teacher, social worker or prophet could ever claim.

Join the Divine dance!

I don’t know if you are a fan of Strictly Come Dancing (its certainly popular in my house) but the latest series finished at Christmas, and the famous glitter ball trophy was won by the Eastenders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis – a particularly wonderful achievement when you consider that she is profoundly deaf.

In our passage today we are given a glimpse of another beautiful dance. A dance that has been going on for eternity and will never, ever end. Not a tango, foxtrot, or waltz – but a divine dance between God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Heaven is opened and we are given a short glimpse of this divine dance in our passage today. All three members of the Trinity appear in those verses. As Jesus began his public ministry, the Father and Spirit became present to affirm him, empower him and guide him through all that lay ahead.

More generally, this scene gives us a window into the intimate relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. From before the dawn of time, there has been a relationship of love and co-operation within the very being of God. A relationship that created the universe and secured our salvation.

No wonder Christian authors like CS Lewis and Tim Keller have compared the life of the Trinity to a dance. It’s a dance that we are called to imitate here on earth, and a dance that we are invited to join in with forever.

You see, if our Creator exists in an eternal loving relationship, then we are made for relationships too. The Trinity reminds us that relationships matter. Our relationships with family, friends and fellow Christiana are hugely important and worth investing in.

Best of all, the three persons of the Trinity don’t want to keep their own relationship closed. God invites each of us to enter a relationship with him – to join their dance, if you like. Every time we pray, for example, we are getting to know God the Holy Trinity, we are joining their dance.

As CS Lewis wrote: “when an ordinary simple Christian kneels down to pray to God the Father, he knows that what is prompting him to pray is God the Spirit. And he knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Son of God. The man is being caught up in the life of the Trinity. He is being pulled into God, up to God, by God.”

Be in no doubt that God wants you to know him personally as your Father, your Saviour and your indwelling Comforter. If we put our faith in Jesus we don’t just get a ticket to heaven, we enter a relationship with God as well. We join the joyful, eternal dance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A dance we will never tire of, a dance that will never end. So come to Christ, and come dancing with God!

Phil Weston