The first Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 3:22

And the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”The

            This is the season of Epiphany, of revelation, and so This is your life! And our first guest is John the Baptist to tell us a bit of your journey. He came to prepare your way, and He points to you the mighty one to come! Of course, I’m specifically talking about Jesus of Nazareth; however to say that John the Baptist was talking about anyone of you might not be that far off.

            Today we remember the baptism of Jesus, the voice and the dove, but what is baptism? Why was John baptising others? And why did we hear from those other parts of God’s Word? From what I have been able to gather, baptism, or washing/submersion, in the time of Jesus was used by the Jews for those coming into the faith, much like Christians do today. Now John and some particular groups of Jews also baptised Jews themselves, those who were already part of God’s people, the importance being that it’s not just outsiders or non-believers that need to be cleansed but also those who are of God’s people. All people need to continually recognise their dirtiness, guilt and sin; their need for salvation, salvation that God had promised. And so John’s preaching and baptising prepares the way for the promised salvation; Jesus. There is more to say about baptism in the ancient world 2000yrs ago but instead we’ll look back a bit further.

            The prophecy we heard from Isaiah chapter 3, spoken around 2700yrs ago, tells the people of Israel, and by God’s grace you as well, to not fear, God Almighty has redeemed you, is with you and will gather you who He formed, made, created. You will pass through the chaotic, deep water and through the consuming, purifying fire in safety to the glory of God. He’s obviously talking about the future, but don’t you think that it sounds a bit familiar? What Bible stories can you remember about people ‘passing through’ water or through fire? … There is, of course, the flood, also the Exodus, the coming into the promised land, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fire (Genesis 6-9; Exodus 14; Joshua 3; Daniel 3). All these stories tell of people who trust God, are in trouble and passing through receive salvation, blessings and life. Not only that but in the flood the Exodus and the three in the fire, those wicked are destroyed, no longer able to harm or threaten. But again Isaiah is looking forward, and though these stories may help us understand they are just a reflection of what it to come.

            And like these stories John tells the crowds, he’s not the greatest or most important, that one is coming and will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. Then comes Jesus, the one John said would separate the wheat from the chaff, gather the good grains and burn the rubbish with unquenchable fire. We know that the two common images of condemnation are darkness and fire, but remember also the prophecy of Malachi 4 that He will be a refiners fire, purging the dross from you, purifying you from the evil and sin you struggle with day after day in this life. Fire is a symbol of God’s presence, guiding the Israelites in the desert, appearing to His prophets in visions (Exodus 13:17-22; Ezekiel 1). Fire can symbolise purity, life, passion, and also destruction; and God Almighty, the Most Holy One, In His holiness destroys wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13; Isaiah 6:3-5; 2 Samuel 6:1-11). God came to be with the Israelites on Mount Sinai but many Israelites died because of their evil. So what does this coming of Jesus mean? Holy Spirit and fire? Judgement? Destruction of all evil? … Well, yeah it kinda does. But does that mean we should be terrified? No.

            As Paul writes to the Romans and the Galatians, we are joined together with Christ in our baptism into His name (Romans 6; Galatians 3:27). And so your life is now a reflection of His. He was baptised, remembering all those passing through water to salvation and peace, The Holy Spirit came upon Him as a dove, symbol of peace, remember the angels to the shepherds, ‘peace and goodwill to those with whom God is pleased’ (Luke 2:14), And who is God pleased with? Jesus, who you are part of, joined with in baptism. God Almighty says to you, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

            But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus suffered in His life, speaking the truth and holding to it. He took on our sin, dying with it, like the flood destroying the wicked; but He rose again to life, like rising up from baptism, glorified, in peace, pure and holy. In Jesus this is your life too, though a poor reflection mired by our failings and forgetting. You do suffer when you hold fast to God’s truth, because we still struggle with our sin and others, but the suffering is not the end. The end is peace, joy and love in Jesus, freedom from all evil, and that end we have now in part. Baptism, passing through the water, is a summary of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection which is also a summary of your life. That is the revelation today, you are in Jesus through baptism, hold to the truth and that truth is, God almighty says to you, “You are my beloved child with you I am well pleased. Amen
Pastor Joseph Graham

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