And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
We’re in a new season of the church year now, but you might not have noticed because everything is still the same white as Christmas. But we’re in the season of Epiphany, or realisation, which began on the 6th with the epiphany of the Wise Men, that Jesus is King, Priest, and sacrifice for not the Jews only but also us gentiles. Today we celebrate another epiphany, the revelation of the Triune God at Jesus’ baptism. But what does this have to do with you today? We don’t have that Ethiopian tradition of Timkat, a public re-enactment of baptism, but then what does Jesus’ baptism have to do with yours? And what does His baptism even mean?
John’s baptism was for repentance, forgiveness of sins; but Jesus never sinned, why was He baptised? Maybe there’s an epiphany for us in God’s Word. So let’s hear a bit again. Jesus came to the Jordan river to be baptised there. When He came up from the waters the Spirit came down to Him as a dove. And also, a voice came from the clouds of heaven. What is important about these things, a dove over waters, a voice from heaven and the river Jordan? What does this tell us about Jesus and baptism?
Maybe we’ll get some help from the last few weeks when we heard that all creation is gathered under Christ and that He fills all things, simply He is the New Creation as we say. And God shows us this in the Holy Spirit above the waters of Jesus’ baptism. What does this remind us of but the first creation (Genesis 1:2). St John told us last week, that it’s through the preincarnate Son of God, the Word, that all creation was made (John 1:1-3). And we heard that powerful Word again today, “let there be light” and there was light; no wonder the psalmist sings of God’s Words that shake the mountains, it created them (Psalm 29:6). So, there is this connection of creation to the baptism of Jesus.
But the Spirit didn’t just hover, He came as a dove over the waters. Just like the dove holding the olive branch returning to Noah on the ark (Genesis 8:8-11). Over those flood waters that destroyed the wicked and renewed the world, only the blameless Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the flood (Genesis 6:5-13). The Spirit came as a dove, that symbol of God’s peace and rest, reminding us as well of the renewal of the world, destruction of wickedness and the salvation of the holy. So, another connection with a renewal of creation in Jesus, the death of the old sinful ways and preservation of the blameless.
Now it wasn’t just the Spirit descending, there was also that voice from the clouds of heaven. The voice of God that shakes the foundations of the earth, that breaks the mountains; the voice of God that spoke to the ancient Israelites at Mount Sinai during the Exodus (19:9). And the Exodus is in many ways the beginning of the Israelites as the chosen people of God, He promised land and rest to their ancestor Abraham yet they lived in a foreign land, enslaved. God did not abandon His promise though, He called Moses to lead His chosen people out of Egypt and they fled. They fled through the waters of the Red Sea, and again the waters destroyed the wicked oppressors saving the chosen people of God (Exodus 14). When the Jews heard the thunderous voice, it would certainly have reminded them of the first time their ancestors heard God in the Exodus. Another connection of Jesus’ baptism to water that destroyed the wicked and saving the chosen people of God from slavery.
Those chosen people that came to this same river, the river Jordan. This river that God dried up to bring His chosen people into the promised land of His rest (Joshua 3). It was a paradise for these wanderers of the desert, peace and joy at last at the fulfilment of God’s promise (Genesis 15:18-21). Yet just a foretaste of what is to come in Jesus. Again, this connection of a new beginning in Jesus, of life with God, here in the same Jordan, the entrance to the paradise.
As God has revealed, Jesus brings all these things together. His baptism is a New Creation, a New Flood, a New crossing of the Red Sea, and a New entrance into Canaan. We hear these things again and again in the letters of the New Testament, that the baptism of Jesus is new life, separation from sin and wickedness, and entrance into the peace of God’s Kingdom as His chosen and holy people in Christ (Romans 6; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Corinthians 10:2; 12:13; Galatians 3:27). The Baptism of Jesus fulfills all these promises, Jesus gathers these wonderful events in this one epiphany of the Triune God and His promises. And it’s not as if we are standing outside in. No! This is the most wonderous thing, all this is yours, according to God’s promise, by your baptism into Christ; your baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20). By the Holy Mystery you are joined to Christ’s life, receiving the Holy Spirit who brings the gifts of God. By this Holy Mystery God says to you, “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.” (Galatians 4:5). You are baptised, children of God in Christ Jesus. Joined with Him who is the New Creation, separated from sin and wickedness, receiving everlasting life, coheirs of our Father’s Kingdom. You have this promise already, forgiveness and life in Jesus. Hear God’s Word to you and live by it, You are the beloved child of God!
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham.