Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
What is it about the early morning shower? It is cleansing, energising and even quite enjoyable. So why do I always feel there is a preventative little barrier stopping me jumping in? Why do I keep putting it off whilst drinking endless cups of tea? John’s baptism of people was just the same, cleansing, energising even enjoyable, but always there were barriers and hesitations. Essentially, baptism then as now, was about spiritual beginnings, that’s why there are always things that get in the way.
The Jews had first used baptism as the entry point for Gentiles who wanted to begin to follow the Jewish faith. John used it as a point of renewal calling the urban sophisticates out of the all-powerful Jerusalem, to turn from their sins, be washed clean and make a new start with God.
So how strange to see Jesus coming to baptism. He had no sins to repent of and no need of renewal or rededication. No wonder John is a bit embarrassed by Jesus coming to him, he thinks it should be the other way around. Jesus, however, was the last person to stand on ceremony filled with a sense of his own importance. His respect and admiration for John added to his own humility and modesty leads him happily into the water.
Jesus had travelled south from the Galilee to Judea. There he had lived and worked with John and his disciples. He saw the crowds coming out, watched John baptising and listened to his great prophetic messages. Soon the time came for the student apprentice to become the master. Baptism is essentially about new spiritual beginnings. This baptism of Jesus is his big beginning. He goes into the water to mark the end of his preparation; his great human and spiritual gestation period of 30 years is over. He comes up out of the water, empowered and affirmed, ready to launch out on his great ministry.
Here at Jesus’ baptism we see one of the great Trinitarian set pieces in the Bible. That is to say, we get a clear view of the three-in-one God-head. God the Son (in human form) is in the water; the dove-like God the Holy Spirit descends and rests on him (a sort of laying on of divine hands); and the creative voice of God the Father speaks out. The Father’s voice speaks from Heaven, the Son is on Earth below, and the Spirit descends from Heaven to Earth to join the two.
What about us and our big beginnings? Some people seem to gradually become followers of Jesus but for most of us the becoming will involve one or more decisive moments. Moments when we decide, change direction, say ‘yes’ and launch out in a new life or a new phase of our life.. These are baptismal moments of new beginnings.
Beginnings like birthings,
Beginning of beginnings,
Beginning in baptism.
You may be looking at, pondering such a launching out moment yourself. Perhaps you have already taken that big initial step of following or are actually in the middle of it right now. So this could be your first or your twenty first new beginning moment. The thing to learn from Jesus’ baptism is that it is not all just about us. There is also the voice of our Father, speaking from Heaven, saying how pleased with us he is. He is positive, joyful and excited about our decision to step out onto the journey. Not only a voice of God from Heaven, but also a Spirit of God from Heaven descends and touches each one of us when we set out to serve and follow him.
Lead me into the water,
Bring me out on the other side,
Take pleasure in my new beginning,
And lead me onward.