David A. Davis
January 13, 2019
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When it comes to the baptism of Jesus, Luke does a great job at burying the lead. This is the same gospel that gives us all the detail about Elizabeth and Zechariah and Mary and the Angel Gabriel. Luke is the one who writes of “the decree that went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered”. And ‘that this was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Manger and bands of cloth and shepherds and the heavenly host and “Glory to God in the highest” and Mary treasuring and ponder all these words. You know that’s Luke. Jesus circumcision and his presentation and that old man Simeon and Anna the prophet. When the boy Jesus gets lost and his parents find him in the temple sitting among the teachers. Luke! All of that, all of that detail it is in Luke. When it comes to Jesus baptism, the baptism of Jesus, Luke writes, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying….when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying.” A passing nod? A casual mention? No Jordan River. No ‘behold the Lamb of God. No disclaimer from John the Baptist “I need to be baptized by you. No….when Jesus also had been baptized. Meh..
What must be most important for Luke, the emphasis on the syllable, the bold print on the page, is what happens immediately after Jesus baptism. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove and the voice from heaven proclaims, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am pleased.” The divine proclamation. The heavenly affirmation. God’s attestation. Jesus, you are my Son, the Beloved. Jesus, you are the Son of God. The Holy Spirit comes down, pours out, rests afresh on him. As one staff member said this week, it’s Jesus’ own Pentecost. A powerful, palpable, acknowledgement of the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus of Nazareth, the voice from heaven says, “You please me!”
What is unclear is whether anyone else, other than Jesus, heard the voice or saw the dove. The gospel reader is in the know but as for the all of the people who were baptized along with Jesus, baptized before Jesus, the newly baptized who like him, were most likely still there and in prayer, it really doesn’t say if they witnessed that holy kiss from God in heaven. But you can’t read Luke chapter 3 like a news account of the baptism of Jesus. That’s not how the bible works. If your trying to use Luke to take notes, and fill in all the blanks, and cling to every detail, if you want to try to read Luke literally, John the Baptist was in prison at v.20. So who baptized Jesus?
Luke’s reference here to Herod sending John the Baptist to prison isn’t chronology. No, it is to reference is to all the evil Herod had done. On the threshold of the Lord’s baptism and Luke points to all the evil things Herod had done; like ordering the killing of all the children in and around Bethlehem who were under 2, like putting John the Baptist in prison. It’s not about a time line here. It is about Luke’s contrast of John the Baptist proclaiming the good news to the people and Herod the ruler fomenting evil in the land. It is clear distinction between John’s witness to the Messiah, his call to a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, his exhortation to bear the fruit of generosity, and fairness, and righteousness and Herod’s penchant for evil deeds, his lust for power, and his willingness to incite violence. John the Baptist rebuked Herod the ruler for all the evil things that Herod had one. Herod the ruler was the prince of darkness. The prototype of the underbelly of our humanity. The face of what the Apostle Paul calls in Ephesians, “the cosmic powers of this present darkness.”
Yes, Luke’s emphasis here at the baptism of Jesus is what comes right after; “You are my beloved Son.” But don’t forget to take a look at what comes before, what comes before the baptism of Jesus in Luke’s telling. Of course John’s fiery sermon is what grabs the attention. John and his “brood of vipers” sermon. That’s so John the Baptist. Not much warm and fuzzy when it comes to John. Not warm and fuzzy; more like hellfire and brimstone. John and his “turn or burn” style of preaching. To be fair, when the crowds ask him what to do, he tells them to give two coats to the person who has one, and to give food to the hungry, and to not collect more than you should if you are tax collector, and to not cheat or extort or abuse people of you are a soldier. It’s not all hellfire and brimstone, sinners in the hand of an angry God. He exhorts the crowds to bear the fruit of generosity, and fairness, and righteousness.
He exhorts the crowds. The crowds. The same crowds that came to be baptized. “Now when all of the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying.” It both makes sense and sort of fits with the arc of the Christian tradition. That all would remember that in response to a fiery sermon and the call to discipleship and the exhortation to repentance, that the crowds would all go down to the river to be baptized. Sermon- altar call. Invitation – baptism. A one and a two. Boom. Boom. The splish and the splash.
But then Luke goes and drops Herod in there right before the baptism. Herod and his intrusion of evil. In Luke, Herod disrupts the journey down to the river. If the divine, heavenly, ethereal acclamation that Jesus is the Son of God comes right after his baptism, it is Herod and all the evil things that he had done that comes right before. It is as if for Luke, it was the preaching of John the Baptist that led the crowds down to the river but it was the evil of the ruler Herod that led Jesus into the water. It was the preaching of the good news and the movement of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God that nudged the crowds to baptism. Jesus was there in the water to be baptized by John in response to the living, breathing face of sin and evil.
“Now when all of the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying.” It’s like he is just another face in the crowd. This isn’t Jesus going up a mountain to pray. Jesus seeking solitude away from the garden to pray. The image here is that Jesus is among the crowds just baptized. That Jesus prays right there in the water, or maybe just up on the shore. Jesus prays surrounded by the baptized. Jesus prays amid the crowd. Regardless of whether they heard and saw what was to follow, they all had to see him there praying. Jesus prays right there in crowd. In the casual unfolding of the story, one would think he was praying for himself, giving thanks to God. Maybe like you and I do as we take communion, as we eat the bread and drink the cup. The sacrament and us, praying. But when you read the gospel and then go back again, when you come to know the Jesus of the gospel, when you experience the life, the teaching, the death, and resurrection of this Messiah, the Son of God, when you think about Jesus in that moment there in the river, you know he was praying… for them, for the crowds. Praying amid the crowd, not for himself, but for them. Praying amid the crowd; not for him but for us.
Herod and all the evil things that he had done. Herod the prince of darkness. Herod the prototype of humanity’s sinfulness. With evil mentioned on Luke’s doorstep, Jesus heads down to the river to be baptized and to pray amid the crowd. In response to all the evil things humankind to do, Jesus jumps right into the troubled waters of life with us. Jesus of Nazareth. The Son of God, yet one of us. Jesus the Messiah, the Beloved of God, praying for us. Jesus and his timeless, endless, eternal intercession for us. Christ with us. Christ for us. Even and especially when the darkness is all around. Even and especially when humanity’s sinfulness abounds and is on display. Even and especially when violence never ceases and wars never end and suffering never goes away. Christ with us. Christ for us. Jesus praying for us. Even and especially when hatred and bigotry and antisemitism threaten again and again, Christ with us. Christ for us. Jesus praying for us. Jesus teaching us. Jesus leading us. Jesus guiding us. Jesus and his love. Jesus and his mercy. Jesus and his grace. Jesus and his righteousness. Jesus and his peaceable kingdom. All right here amid the crowd.
We baptized Brady this morning. I should have kept count of how many baptisms I’ve celebrated. But I didn’t. At the going away party thrown by my first congregation, the first baby I baptized, he came forward as a high school young man to show me his little baptism outfit. Later this year I am going to do the wedding for woman I baptized as a baby. That baptism was also in my first congregation, some 27 years ago. Her father was working on the elevator here at Nassau and stopped me in the hallway one day. Dave? Dave Davis? So I didn’t keep count. It’s more like they all run together. That when I hold a child in my arms, or when I look to a toddler in a parents arms, or when I look down at the baptized kneeling before the fount, it’s like they all run together in his wondrous, beautiful, moving collage. The crowds who came to be baptized. It is as if I look into Brady’s face and I see all the faces.
But when God looks into Brady’s face, God sees the face of Jesus. See what love God has given us, that we should be called children of God and that is what we are, who we are. (I John 3). God sees the face of Jesus. That’s how much God loves us. That’s how present Christ is with us. The very Son of God, the Savior of the world, just another face in this crowd of humanity. Jesus amid the crowd, praying for us.
You can’t say it enough. I can’t say it enough. God loves you, and nothing, nothing, nothing can ever change that. Even and especially on your worst day, your longest week, your toughest time, your darkest night, God loves you. Christ is with you.
Jesus and his timeless, endless, eternal intercession for us.
“Now when all of the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying.” Meh? No. More like, yes!