March 9, 2016
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”Then John consented.
As a bit of a reprise of yesterday’s text let’s remember again the Pharisees and the Sadducees “came to where Jesus was baptizing.” Today, we see a clear distinction with Jesus who came “to be baptized by John.” The “children of Abraham” would not dare to lay aside their “honor” to step into the water of John’s baptism of repentance. The Son of God would not have it any other way.
It strikes me as though we are watching a stage play unfolding, only John believes Jesus has confused his lines. Everything has unfolded on cue. Jesus stands in the water next to John. John is about to present himself to Jesus for baptism, when Jesus beats him to it. I picture John speaking below his breath, “You are supposed to be baptizing me!” while nodding his head hard to the left in order to get his attention.
These two are reading the same script only in very different ways. I wonder if John, who said the one coming was greater than he, thought being baptized by Jesus would confer some kind of greater status on him. What an unthinkable thing for this “greater one,” who had all status, to lay it aside and submit to the same baptism as every other sinner in the crowd. I suspect it took the wind out of their sails as well. We must remember what this baptism of repentance was all about. We are so prone to read into it our own notions of repentance as people publicly confessing their sins and being contrite about the fact that they were sinners. No, John’s baptism, was far more like a ritual cleansing, a public renunciation of the corrupt religious system symbolized by the Temple and a public joining into a totally new movement of God. They were making history; joining the movement that would finally usher in the Kingdom of God and restore their place of honor. They were preparing the way for the Lord of hosts, who would arrive on the scene “any day now.” This baptism of John, for those who received it, must have been a strange source of a “humble” variety of pride; a different type of status—but status no less.
As a new member of the Lord’s army, imagine how they all must have felt when the Commander in Chief arrived and underwent the same baptism of repentance they did. It would have been humiliating. If this was the “greater one” from whom they derived their status, their status ceased to be status.
And isn’t this what being baptized in Jesus name is all about; death to the worldly system of honor and shame and a life singularly identified with the humble crucified and risen Lord? It is death by drowning to all we built our life on before. It is a renunciation of all the worldly status and prestige our broken selves have secured along the way in order to distinguish ourselves from the shame of our race and make for us a great name. It is also resurrection into a completely new life, the life of the Holy Spirit in us.
Baptism is not an alternate form of acceptable pride. It’s not a celebration of finally joining the “right” group. Baptism is a humiliating act of repentance, a complete breaking with the “system” of the world and an abandoning of one’s life—not to a new “kingdom” but to a new King; a completely different kind of King: King Jesus, the one who would “fulfill all righteousness” in a way no one saw coming. In fact it’s as hard to see now as it was then.
1. Do you understand why Jesus’ baptism by John would have been offensive? Does it offend you? Why or why not?
2. How would you begin to distinguish between John’s reading of the “Script” and Jesus reading of it?
3. What do you think about this subtle form of “humble pride.” Do you see how Christian baptism can itself become something of a status symbol? How do we guard against that?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.