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Sunday message: What’s the purpose of Jesus’ baptism?

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Baptism of our Lord Sunday – January 13, 2019

Scripture readings:

Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Show me a church, where there is love, and I will show you a church that is a strong presence in the wider community. In a big city in a time when kids were free to go wherever they wanted to, unsupervised, a little boy attended a Sunday school. When his parents moved to another part of that city that little guy still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home.

“They may be as good for others, but not for me,” was his reply.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because they love a little guy over there,” he replied. 1.)

It doesn’t take much to acknowledge that love and acceptance, the feeling of being wanted, is the one thing that all people thrive under. Even our pets thrive under love and acceptance.

As Mother Teresa described the opposite, the lack of love and acceptance so vividly, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.”

It turns out that an accepting love might be what Jesus’ baptism is all about. Let us look at it a little closer. Let’s see how our reading from Luke fits in with Epiphany.

It is in this season of Epiphany 2.) that we look at those special events in Jesus’ life where his presence was especially manifested with power. Jesus’ baptism is one of those epiphanies. We heard Luke’s version read this morning. The Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased.”

That is Luke’s version. Three of the gospels, just not the gospel according to John, portray this scene. But Luke’s version is a little different than the others. In each version, though, the Spirit descends “like a dove.” The Holy Spirit is not a bird. Luke and the other gospel-writers Matthew and Mark use the dove as a metaphor for the Spirit’s coming into our lives. It is a beautiful metaphor. Think of how a dove descends and lands. It is graceful, gentle, and quiet. That’s the point being made. That is the way the Holy Spirit enters into our lives. The Holy Spirit came to Jesus gently, quietly, and in Luke’s version, privately, while Jesus was praying.

That is why Luke is different than the other three gospels. The other gospel-writers imply that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, apparently when He was still in the water. That is the way this scene is often portrayed in religious art, especially those beautiful paintings out of the Middle Ages. Jesus, standing waist deep in water. John the Baptist standing next to him, pointing at Jesus, as if to say, “This is the one!” or, in the words of the Gospel of John, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”Above Jesus’ head in these scenes is the Spirit, as a dove, descending.

When we turn to another well-known work of art, it is a sculpture by Gib Singleton, called “The Dove”. 3.) This sculpture brings to life that moment when Christ has just been baptized. A dove has descended and landed on the outstretched hand of the Saviour. What is so compelling about the way the artist represents that moment in Christs life? First, Christs arms are outstretched in a manner that seems to be welcoming all. It is as if Jesus stands ready to embrace anyone who is willing to come to Him. Second, Christs outstretched arms and his body form a perfect cross. The artists intent is to reveal to us that Christs baptism commissions him to begin a mission on earth that will culminate in the ultimate saving act performed on the cross. The Christ portrayed by the artists sculpture is both welcoming to all and ready to die for the sins of all. This welcoming and sacrificial character of Christ is symbolized in the moment of baptism when Gods Spirit descends upon him to empower him for all that lies ahead. Christ is baptized to a mission that both welcomes the sinner and redeems the sinner.

Here at Dayspring we have so many opportunities to live out this welcoming, loving and accepting intention that God demonstrated by the dove descending upon Jesus. So often we forget that God looks at each of us, small and large, with an unconditional love, well-pleased with you.

How is it that we stand up, do all sorts of things, almost as if we want God to love us because of all the good we are doing? In the meantime, God comes smilingly and says to us, through our baptism, “with you I am well pleased.” You are my beloved. God’s hands are outstretched, reaching out to us to receive us regardless of what we have done or will do. The little boy or girl walking long distances across the city might be worshipping among us. In our context they might have come by car with their parents. They might be colouring in a sheet today, perhaps of a dove, or of John the Baptist pouring water over Jesus’ head.

Our congregation is built upon many loving and caring believers who have faithfully contributed by involvement, volunteering, reaching out to church school kids, preparing hospitable meals, simply because they have allowed God to reach out through Jesus to love them and to love you and me. We then still have the future to reach forward to.

Fredrick Buechner says that in watching a baptism you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.This is where something of heaven, a “thin place” breaks into this world and we are once again reminded of the voice that spoke to Jesus, saying “You are my beloved Son”, my beloved child, “in you I am well pleased.” I think so much of this is all true. And yet there is part of it that I cant put my finger on. All the glory and thanks goes to our Lord Jesus!

1. ) Illustration borrowed from sermonillustrations.com, under the topic titled “Love”

2.) Inspiration for some parts of this message were taken from Mark Trotter’s sermon, “Have You Got a Prayer?” on sermons.com (paid subscription required)

3.) From Robert Gorrell’s article by the title “Baptized for what?” on ministrymatters.com (paid subscription required)


Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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