Jesus’ humanity – our divinity

Baptism of Jesus – 2011

Matthew 3:13-17

Marian Free

In the name of God in whom we live and breathe and have our being. Amen.

When parents bring their children for baptism, one of the questions I ask is: “Why are you seeking baptism for your child?” I assure them that there are no wrong answers and that their answer helps me to understand why they are here. For that reason, I receive a variety of responses. Some are honest enough to say that they are doing it for Grandma and others have a very genuine desire that their child be initiated into the Christian faith. By far the largest number say that they believe that it is the right thing to do, that they have been baptized and that they would like their child to be baptized.

In what has until recently been a Christian nation, baptism is something that many people seek for their child as a matter of course. Our Christian tradition has allowed us to assume that everyone is a Christian and therefore they and their children are entitled to membership. In the past, the church has actively encouraged baptism with threats of hell for the un-baptised. At the same time baptism was a means of claiming people for one’s faith and even one’s denomination and ensuring that the opposition didn’t get there first.

In my life-time attitudes have changed and debates have raged with regard to the baptism of children, especially the baptism of children of families who are not regular church attenders. This has led to confusion and hurt on the one hand and a more serious approach to baptism on the other.

Baptism is an adult commitment to faith. In baptism a person promises to turn aside from their former life, they affirm that they: turn to Christ, repent of their sins, reject selfish living and all that is false and unjust and to renounce Satan and all evil. They also promise to love God with their whole heart and to love their neighbours as themselves. In front of those present they assent to the Creed stating that they believe in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course, an infant or child cannot understand, let alone assent to such statements, which is why we nominate Godparents – adults who are prepared to make these promises and commitments on behalf of the child and who promise to ensure that the child is raised in the Christian faith.

We cannot be sure when the practice of baptism began, but John’s baptism indicates that baptism was a ritual well known to the Jews, otherwise they would not have flocked to the river Jordan to seek John’s baptism. The verb “baptizo” simply means: “to dip or immerse”. Evidence from archaeological digs coupled with evidence found in the New Testament confirms that ritual washing as a form of purification was an important aspect of Judaism. Whether or not baptism was associated with initiation or conversion is less clear. The baptism of John was a baptism for repentance of sins. John the Baptist was confronting what he perceived as the corruption of Judaism and was urging his fellow countrymen and women to turn their lives around and to restore their relationship with God.

It is this emphasis on repentance which makes Jesus’ baptism such an embarrassment for the author of Matthew’s gosple. Only in Matthew’s gospel does John say: ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ John perceives that Jesus has no need to repent, and tries to dissuade him from baptism. The writer of Matthew overcomes this embarrassment by associating Jesus’ baptism with a requirement in the law.  It is entirely consistent for Matthew to demonstrate that Christianity is consistent with and flows out of Judaism.  Jesus’ willingness to submit to John’s baptism illustrates his commitment to the law of his fathers.

In the wider context of the gospel, Jesus’ baptism by John is much more than a submission to the law. It reveals who Jesus is (both human and divine) and what he is to do (to serve). Further it foreshadows what is to come (Jesus’ submission to the cross). In his baptism, Jesus enters fully into the human experience by identifying himself with the sinfulness and frailty of humankind. As he rises from the water the voice from heaven affirms him as the Son of God and alludes to what this means.  Jesus is not going to fulfill the most common expectation for God’s anointed. The language of the voice from heaven recalls Isaiah 42 – “my chosen the one in whom I delight, I have put my spirit upon him”. This alerts the listeners to what follows in that chapter. Jesus will not be the conquering hero, but the suffering servant of Isaiah, who by identifying with humankind, will bring an end – not to Roman occupation per se but to human suffering in general.

At his baptism, Jesus identified completely with the human condition – accepting for himself its sinfulness. At our baptism the reverse happens – we identify with Jesus in his death and resurrection. We die to sin and rise to newness of life. Like Jesus, in baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and our divinity is acknowledged. The language of baptism makes clear our change of status – we move from death to life, from darkness to light.

Our task is to ensure that the language of our baptism becomes a reality in our lives. Our baptism is of no value unless we claim the gifts it bestows and allow the Spirit to grow in us. Our Christian journey is one of continual dying and rising, leaving behind the old nature and growing into the new, until at last we are formed in the image of Christ. The gift of the Spirit is of little use if it is left dormant, hidden amongst a pile of distractions or buried under a load of cares. It is our responsibility to nurture and encourage the gift that we have received at our baptism and to allow our divinity to grow and develop. As members of this church, our challenge to seek ways in which we can nurture and encourage God’s gifts in all those who are baptised in this church.

In his baptism Jesus identified completely with our frail humanity, may our baptism be a reminder to us that we are called to share in his divinity.


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One Response to “Jesus’ humanity – our divinity”

  1. Sally Says:

    Marian,your sermon today made me think about how I should have lived during some difficult times if I had remembered my Baptismal vows.I hope now, that I do more so and working with the church and the congregations I am living a more Christian life, if not perfectly.

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