Devotional Message: The Baptism of Our Lord (1/13/2019)

Lessons

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son. Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

[18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.]

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: The Grace of a New Beginning

This story about the baptism of Jesus by John, the Baptizer, in the Jordan River, is the first story told by all three of the Synoptic Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark and Luke. It clearly was an important story to the people of the early church, and it is an important aspect of how St. Luke begins his account of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

John is in the wilderness, and his ministry is so powerful that people are coming from far and wide to experience it. John proclaims to them that at the very center of his ministry is what he calls a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” People would come out to him, be made aware of the sinfulness and brokenness of their lives, make confession of their faults and failures, and receive from John (and from the ritual of washing in the Jordan River) the assurance that God forgives them and grants them the grace of a new beginning.

The grace of a new beginning, of course, is what Christian faith is all about. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I have come that [you] might have life, and have it abundantly.” (St. John 10:10) Abundant, new life is what is received when we own up to our own brokenness, have a sense of remorse for the missteps we have taken, and lift this up to God. It is then we discover what John proclaimed: that God’s deep desire is to forgive us, to assure us that we are loved and cherished, to renew us, and to give us the gift of a new start in life.

Some have asked that if baptism has to do with repentance (often understood as understanding and confessing our sinfulness, and turning our lives in a new direction), then why would Jesus have wanted to be baptized by John? If we think of him as the very presence of God in human form — as some have said: “one without sin” — of what use might forgiveness and the hope of a new direction be to him? In fact, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, John himself seems to be wondering about this. Matthew writes: “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ ” (Matthew 3:14)

But instead, the exact opposite might be true. If John’s ministry, and the baptismal ceremony he is offering, are all about the grace of a new beginning, then why would Jesus not want to be part of this?

So John does exactly what he is called to do. He announces to the people that the coming One, sent from God, will reach into their lives with the fire of God’s Holy Spirit. And as if the testimony of John isn’t enough, at the baptism of Jesus the voice from heaven makes the same proclamation: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The grace of a new beginning. The heart of John’s message. The heart of Jesus’ ministry. And the heart of our own faith experience. Thanks be to God for this good news.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What does it mean that the people were filled with expectation? For what were they waiting?

  2. What does John do to take attention away from himself, and direct it towards Jesus?

  3. What must the people have thought when the Spirit descended on Jesus, and the Voice spoke?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What does my baptism mean to me?

  2. When have I experienced the grace of a new beginning in my life’s journey?

  3. When have I been inspired to help another person experience the grace of a new beginning in their life?