“When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.‘” Luke 3:21-22 (Common English Bible – CEB)
Seemingly, I have read this passage in one of the gospels much of my life – a long time. Until this year, I never noticed that John the Baptist wasn’t involved in Jesus’ baptism in the Luke account. If we read back a little, we find that John is actually in prison, being held by King Herod. So the indication would be that followers of John were doing the baptizing, according to the Luke passage.
Another interesting thing that struck me as I was reading commentaries in preparation for my sermon is that we often move right from Jesus’ baptism to our own. I know that has been my tendency because I feel the need to help people understand baptism and what a gift it is as well as a responsibility for living our lives following Christ. But several writers reminded me that I need to remember that this is about Jesus. Hmmm. Today is Friday, and I’m still mulling the shift and meditating on God’s message for me to share with the congregations this Sunday.
Whose baptism is this anyway? Well, obviously Jesus was the one who was baptized along with a bunch of other people. Why? Big question. Why did Jesus feel that he needed to be baptized? We believe that he was God in the flesh, so what was the purpose in his baptism? There are several thoughts on the answers to this question.
In many ways, it was a symbol of his new life – his inauguration into fulfilling his mission and ministry. As a faithful Jewish man, Jesus may have felt the need for the purification of the washing as he moved forward into the rest of his life. But John’s baptism was the baptism of repentance and forgiveness, so why would Jesus feel the need to repent? That may be an answer that eludes us for now, although I’m sure there are plenty of pastors and teachers out there who have written about it.
Somehow, I think that another idea is that it is Jesus’ way of connecting with us as humans. He was, after all fully human and fully divine. Being human means that he was vulnerable just as we are, that he felt love, joy, peace, happiness as well as anger, disappointment, pain, sadness. He identified with us on every level of our humanity, and baptism was one more way of saying, “I connect. I understand. I’m with you.”
Part of that identifying with us was claiming his own identity. Note that in every gospel, a voice comes from heaven along with the Holy Spirit, naming Jesus as God’s own Son and beloved by God. The CEB translate the voice as saying: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” Peterson’s The Message reads: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” I like that. “Pride of my life.” Most loving and caring parents would say that about their children – You are the pride of my life.
God said it to Jesus. I belive God says it to us every day – we are the pride of God’s life. God loves us with an incomprehensible love. Jesus’ baptism IS about our baptism and about our identity as Christians. We are baptized into Christ and given the name “Christian.” Some people have rejected the name, but that doesn’t stop God from loving them anyway. They have been claimed and named.
So, yes this is truly about Jesus, AND is it also about what we as his followers do in order to faithfully follow him. How are we doing?