As we come together to consider the actions of Jesus submitting to the baptism being offered by John the Baptist, I would like for us to first do a word study to help us in the discerning of what this thing called baptism is, and what role our baptism plays in the believer's faith and life.
As we look in the Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, we find the word Baptizmo/Baptism or Baptize in domain 53. This domain of words covers "Religious Activities." That is; "A number of aspects of religious behaviors, including primary rites, rituals, roles, and related states." What's interesting to me is that this domain 53 is found to be closely related to domain 88 - Moral and Ethical Qualities and related behaviors, and domain 12 - Supernatural Powers and Beings. So, as we take a close look at the act of baptism, we find that it is a religious activity that is related to moral and ethical behavior, and is also linked to supernatural powers and beings. What happens when we take our baptism serious? Should you take your baptism seriously? "Jesus took his baptism seriously."[i]
In the gospel text today, we have the baptism of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, the first chapter, verses 9-11, which reads:
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Let us go back a few years. In as much as Mark doesn't give us an early childhood or infancy account of the life of Jesus, we turn to the gospel writer Luke. In Luke 2:22 Jesus is presented at the temple as an infant at the time when purifications and sacrifices were to be made by the family according to the Law of Moses, two pigeons or two doves. The family traveled five miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. A sacrifice was required. The first born, male or animal, were to be presented before God according to the Law of Moses.
I need to say a word about the importance of fostering children in their faith. Mary and Joseph were parents who made sure their child Jesus was raised according to the scriptures. Scripture and faith formation are foundations for human and spiritual growth and development. There exist too many examples in this world, society, and culture, in municipalities, neighborhoods, families and individuals where spiritual formation is not important. You may be aware of some instances or individuals in your own life. There is some insurance in the assurance that children raised according to the scriptures will have a good outcome.
When Jesus was an infant, his parents brought him to the temple to be presented before the Lord according to the Law of Moses. Now, let us just for a moment consider the historical context of the birth and life of Jesus as it relates to the history of Israel, its past history and its current state. Having once been a great nation and a strong people, and now, because of their historical failure to follow the guidance of God via God's messengers or God's direct intervention in their lives, Israel had turned away from God, the Creator God and was following other and false gods. Pretty much like the people of this day. The people had been praying for redemption, they were looking for salvation and they were expecting deliverance. God had restored the nation before, and now, there is hope that in this child the redemption and restoration of a nation would again come. In the temple, there was a prophetic word spoken over Jesus twice, once by Simeon, who was given an insight by the pre-Pentecost Holy Spirit, and again by the widow prophetess Anna, who gave an encouraging prophetic word to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. In the temple, these elders could see what Jesus' life would be.
Can we look at our children and see what God is doing in their lives, either because of us or in spite of us? There is a lot of hope for this world, our nation, our cities, our communities, our neighborhood and our families because of the good foundation we have given our children. I don't worry about my children or grandchildren as they grow through the rigors of life, because I am sure of the foundation that I have provided for them. If I haven't done my job as a parent, then I must worry. In Luke 2:41, we learn that every year the family goes to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, again a part of the religious tradition of the people and their culture, which continues to be celebrated to this very day. (This Passover Feast will become important later.) On this particular or special occasion, when he was twelve years old, what we learn is the only account of Jesus as a child, in his staying behind in Jerusalem after the Passover Feast was complete and the family had left to return to Bethlehem. He was twelve years old. A twelve-year-old Jewish boy, in Jerusalem a year before his Bar Mitzvah or perhaps for Jesus the year of his Bar Mitzvah, his becoming a "divine son of God." At 12 years of age, Jesus was aware of his unique relationship with God. I am proud to say today that at the age of 12, I also knew that I had a unique relationship with God, as I am sure that many of you listening also were aware that you had a unique relationship with God. I knew that God had a special purpose for me, as it had been told to me from the time I was a small boy that "You will be a preacher someday." I denied it and didn't want any part of that prophetic word that had been spoken over me in church by the elders and prophets of my time. As I was growing up, I didn't take my relationship with God serious. How many Jewish boys have had this experience of becoming a divine son of God, and how many take this rite seriously? But Jesus took his relationship seriously.
When his family returned to Jerusalem and were looking for him, after three days, found him. Where? In the temple. He was in the temple talking with the elders and scholars and legal minds assembled at Jerusalem. He stayed behind and while in Jerusalem, it is reported that he didn't do anything but remain in the temple. His question to his parents looking for him was, "Why were you searching for me, did you not know that I had to be in my Father's house?" Jesus took his relationship with God seriously.
From there we return to our text today which is again is the Gospel of Mark, and 18 years had passed. Mark introduces Jesus as an adult. Jesus is now thirty years old. Joseph has passed away and Jesus' siblings are old enough to care for their home and mother. Jesus sets out to find who he is and who God has called him to become. It is this period of discernment that led him to John and his baptism, an action that changed his life and changed the world.
Mark says that at the time John the Baptist had grown in popularity in calling forth the people and nation of Israel to repent for the forgiveness of their sins. John had been declaring that the Kingdom of God was near; this was the reason for this need for repentance. Jesus comes to be baptized by John and it is reported that as he was coming up out of the water, the spirit in the form of a dove descended upon him and a voice from heaven spoke saying, "You are my son, I am happy with you." You are my divine son and I am pleased that you are willing to take on your assignment.
Now again, I reflected on the day, the time, and the moment of my baptism. Something happened to me in the water. I remember the words of the Rev. Benny Cleveland, as he prepared me and the church for that moment. I was a seven-year-old little boy, who had been involved in the life of the church, from Sunday school to singing in the choir. He put his hand over my mouth and nose, and said these words; "in obedience to the Great Head of the Church, and upon the profession of your faith, I baptize you my brother, in the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Ghost." I was dunked into the water and when I came up and the church said, "Amen." However, when I came up out of the water I had tears in my eyes. Something must have happened to me between the time I was dunked and the time I came up out of the water. I remember because the girls in the choir commented, asking why I was crying when I came out of the water. Instead of saying "Something got a hold of me," I simply replied, "Water had gotten in my eyes." I didn't at that time take my baptism seriously.
Jesus begins what is called his public ministry declaring, as John the Baptist declared, "The Kingdom of God has come near." His ministry is a ministry of social justice and public health. This is a point that I have over the years began to focus in on as a fact. This ministry of Jesus consists of preaching the Kingdom of Heaven's coming near, healing those who are sick, casting out demonic forces, feeding multitudes, raising folk from the dead, and forgiving people of their sins. Public Health is obviously important to Jesus, as this was as much a part of his ministry as preaching. It is a spiritual renaissance that is going on. His ministry and anointing is so powerful that the Pharisees ask him on one occasion, "By what authority do you do these things?" Well, remember as I was sharing with you the domain of words and the relationship of Baptism or domain 53 to domain 12 Supernatural Powers and Beings? Here is the connection; the question to Jesus was not so much by what authority do you do these things, but are you a supernatural power or being that enables you to do the things that you do?
So, when we take our baptism seriously, we will find that we are in a covenantal relationship with God, and that our baptism is not just a ritual, but an initiation into a pack with God to make a difference and to be a difference in this world. When we take our baptism seriously, we have not just ritual power, or natural powers, but supernatural powers.
Earlier, I mentioned that Baptism was also related to the domain of words that was connected to Moral and Ethical behaviors. There are certain moral and ethical expectations of a baptized believer. Expectations we have for ourselves, and expectations that others have of and for us. There are situations we will not allow ourselves to be in that will undermine our moral or ethical behavior. Our heart for justice and moral ethics will allow us to go only so far, to tolerate only so much. What we have in Washington today is a challenge to moral and ethical behavior.
Let us take a look at Jesus' ministry with the lens of a social justice. This is where our baptism should be linked or likened to the baptism of Jesus. When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus to be stoned for her adulterous actions, he would not consent saying, "You, who are without sin, cast the first stone."
This social justice was the focus of the ministry of Jesus. The question becomes, why has the church not continued with this as our focus? How is it that the institution of the church has become more important that the Kingdom of God? I would like to suggest that there are times when the church has not taken its baptism and calling seriously!
The social justice of today's church must say the same thing Jesus said, "You who have no sin, cast the first stone." We the baptized believers, sons and daughters of God should be saying, "We find no fault in you", instead of throwing rocks and hiding our hands as if they were holy. Our children are watching us, and looking to see if what we say is in alignment with what we say we believe and how we act. Instead of throwing stones at the marginalized and easy targets like the LGBTQ community, let us say, "You without sin, cast the first stone." We are out of alignment, like a car that won't steer straight and now, they - our children - don't want to ride in this vehicle called the institutional church.
You see, Jesus took his baptism seriously. When we take our baptism seriously, we have the moral authority to speak life and restoration into the lives, minds and hearts of those beaten down by society. When we take our baptism seriously, we will begin to tackle the racism and bigotry that still exist in the church.
I didn't take my baptism or my call to ministry serious when I was young. No. As a matter of fact, I was like Jonah, I went in the other direction. I didn't want to be a preacher or a pastor I wanted to be a singer or entertainer. Oh, but now I can sing that old hymn that was penned decades ago that says; amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I am found, I was blind but now I see. That is my story, that is my testimony. But today, I am glad to be in God's service. God knew God's plans for me and that I would finally submit to God's will in my life. I'm glad that God did not give up on me. I'm glad that God gave me another opportunity to be in His service.
Today, I too enjoy a ministry that is focused on social justice and public health. Preaching and teaching will always be important, but we need to allow the words we speak to be made manifest in our actions. We should be flowing in our anointing. Just as Jesus caused healing with his presence, we too have the power and ability to bring healing simply by our presence. Our presence in a room, at a meeting, at the store, or at the office can make a difference when we take our baptism seriously. My prayer today is that you will begin to take your baptism seriously and be the force God has created in you to be the difference in this world today.
I want the anointing and evidence of my baptism to be overflowing and so powerful that I leave wet footprints from my soggy shoes.
I want to walk so God can use me, anytime and anywhere.
I want to talk so God can use me, anytime and anywhere.
I want to live so God can use me, anytime and anywhere.
I want to sing so God can use me, anytime or anywhere.
God bless you, my brothers and sisters. If you miss me from preaching down here and you can't find me nowhere, come on up to bright glory and I'll be preaching up there.
[i] Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, Louws and Nida, United Bible Societies.