1/11/04, The Baptism of Jesus
ntrigue followed that first Christmas. A caravan of Magi came to Jerusalem from afar, and they went to the Roman government’s phony king asking where the future real King would be born. These wise men, astrologers may have been from modern day Iraq or Iran and they represent to us that the Good News about Jesus is intended for everybody everywhere. Indeed, all people would have a chance to hear and become children of God. King Herod the Great tried to trick the wise men into returning later to tell him where they had found the baby Jesus, but an angel protected them for Herod’s scheme. Their precious gifts to the holy family probably enabled them to escape Herod’s slaughter of the innocent baby boys of Bethlehem, and to hide out temporarily in Egypt. By the time Jesus was twelve years old the family appeared to be safe and making an annual pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Jesus was lost off from Joseph and Mary, who soon found Jesus discussing deep theological questions with the Scholars at the Temple.
There follows a long gap in the life of Christ. We hear later that Jesus had been a carpenter, following in Joseph’s footsteps. The father and son business may have built homes and perhaps fine furnishings for families. Jesus received a superior education in the Synagogue School and was soon considered to be a rising young rabbi. Joseph must have died because we do not hear anything more about Jesus’ fine earthly father. As the oldest child, Jesus probably became the head of his family which included his mother and an unknown number of siblings.
We do not know how close Jesus was to his cousin John during their childhood, but when John began his ministry of preaching and baptizing, Jesus went down to the Jordan River following the vast crowds.
Today’s Gospel Reading finds Jesus at the Jordan River requesting to be baptized by John the Baptist. You may have been here on December sixth, during Advent, when our Gospel Reading used John the Baptist as an example how important it is to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus Christ. Indeed, John was preaching repentance and forgiveness so that the people would be ready to receive the Messiah whenever he made his first public announcement. Today’s text recounts how Jesus’ Messiahship was initially proclaimed by the actual voice of God when Jesus was baptized.
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus had also been baptized and was praying, the heaven opened. And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (NRSV)
A dove can be any one of the various widely distributed birds of the family Columbidae, which includes pigeons, which have a characteristic cooing call and a short beak like a dove. Doves and pigeons are not aggressive creatures: They seem to play defense more than offense. They are not particularly outstanding birds, in that strategic Holy Land where three continents meet and through which millions of birds follow migration paths each year. Palestine has the highest population of birds in the world, then and now. All of those birds to choose from; and yet, a simple dove was selected as the symbol of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at his baptism.
Perhaps God is illustrating His own gently and peaceful nature. A small, defenseless, white dove was His choice. A part of the message God intended for us is that He did not come to force us into submission, but to love us into following in His Son’s footsteps. This is our model for salvation and of the evangelism of others. We must always respect and love the individual in order to have a witness to them of the love of Jesus Christ. Perhaps God is saying that through His redemptive work sinners can become as innocent and pure as a dove. Certainly the Sabbath School Jews, just baptized by John, would have connected the dove descending upon Jesus with the old story of Noah sending a dove out three times from the Ark after the rain had stopped. The first time the dove returned because there was no place to land. Then the dove returned with an olive branch in its mouth, and then upon the third release the dove flew off and did not return. Here again they were witnessing God using a dove to bring the message that salvation was near.
Since Jesus was just now beginning his public ministry, and the Holy Spirit would be the force in fulfilling the various aspects of his short period of ministry, the dove must also have been a special reminder that God was at work through the person of Jesus to fulfill the Messianic promises of the Bible. The people watching the dove descend upon Jesus, and hearing the voice of God speaking, did not understand all that was transpiring but they did know that they had been baptized by John unto a clean new life and that God was beginning to do something spectacular through their lives. Many of these people at the Jordan River on that day were to become the nucleus of those who would be Jesus’ Apostles, disciples and followers. Not until the Day of Pentecost would they know that the Spirit would be the person of the Triune Godhead to bring about the birth of the New Testament Church. But it must have dawned on some of them that God was launching the most intense and significant time in their lives. This is also our model for fulfilling God’s plan for our lives. We have accepted Jesus as our Savior and have committed to follow His direction. We seek to do our best but are all the while dependant upon the Holy Spirit to empower our efforts to fulfill our calling and be useful in His Kingdom.
We are not the secret of the success of the Church, no matter how wonderful and talented we think we are, but the Holy Spirit at work through our lives is the key. Our best work fails without the Spirit’s empowerment. Perhaps we are to allow Him to make us innocent, and useful, like a dove.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor