Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
First Sunday after Epiphany, January 9, 2022
The other day I saw this guy standing on a street corner in the little town near our farm. I actually heard him before I saw him. He had a microphone system somehow set up in his backpack, amplifying his voice as he preached at the cars stopping at the major intersection, a four-way stop. There were just two cars as far as I could see. Not many people were coming out to hear him and respond. And yet he was giving it all he had, preaching away as if there were throngs of people listening. I figured he kept going anyway, doing what he felt God called him to do–whether people responded or not.
I couldn’t help but think of him as I read about John the Baptist in our gospel text for this morning. It describes what was happening when he was out preaching on a kind of corner, one in the desert by the Jordan River. He was calling people to change their minds and actions and turn back to what God wanted them to do in the world. To show they were serious about doing so, they were to enter the river and be baptized by him. We learn from Luke that some responded to this message and were baptized. The real focus he gives, though, is on Jesus’s baptism. Luke’s account gives us several things to know about it.
First, the baptism of Jesus reveals Jesus as Messiah. Luke describes John the Baptist and Jesus–two cousins–coming together at the Jordan River, surrounded by a crowd who have come out to hear what John had to say. Luke described how the people were full of expectation and wondered if John the Baptist was the long-awaited Messiah. John insists that he is not but that the Messiah was coming, the one who is more important and powerful than he is, the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John would then baptize him and, as he did so, God would reveal Jesus to be that one. If John’s words were not enough to show them it was Jesus, the affirmation of God from heaven in voice and Spirit were given as well.
That’s what the baptism of Jesus can do for us too–reveal to us that Jesus is the one whom God has sent to us; to deliver us from our captivity and lead us into the kingdom of God. This revealing is an epiphany for us as we too at times may have questions about who the Messiah is. In a world with so many people and things we so easily think are our saviors, we can find that our Savior has already arrived. He is among us. As we look at Jesus there in the river, with John who is his forerunner, and with the Holy Spirit descending upon him, we can hear God’s affirmation of him as his beloved son. We would do well to begin our year not only seeing that revelation from God, but reflecting on it, that we too may notice how, for Jesus, heaven opens up, the Holy Spirit descends, and God speaks.
The baptism of Jesus not only reveals the Messiah; it reminds us that obedience to God requires our involvement. The people were entering the Jordan River to be baptized by John as a step of repentance and for forgiveness. Jesus’ baptism, though, was not about his past but his beginning. It would launch him into his ministry, fully surrendering to what the Father had sent him into the world to do. Luke doesn’t give us any details about his state of mind or any conversation he had with John before his baptism; he just tells us that he was baptized. Perhaps he wondered how it would be received, what his parents might say, how the other carpenters might respond, what the religious leaders would think, or what cost there might be for taking such a step. As Brian McLaren notes, “By receiving John’s baptism, this young man identified himself with this growing protest movement in the Galilean countryside.”1 Whatever he might be thinking or whatever reservations he might have had, he didn’t let anything prevent him from stepping into the river and obeying God’s call on his life. His baptism was that first step of obedience, a launching pad for the salvation of the world.
As we consider Jesus’ baptism today, we are invited to consider ours as well. What does baptism mean to you? That’s a good question for us all as we begin a new year, for baptism is about beginnings. It is our way of entering into something new, the life God has for us to live in this world. It is the first step of many we take as we walk with God. For some of us, it was a step we took long ago. For others, it was recent. Whenever it was, we must go back to it to remember what it was for and what we were saying to God and others with it. For those here today who haven’t been baptized, may Jesus’ baptism be your invitation to take that step, to surrender your life to God, to identify with Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection, and to follow him wherever he leads. What a great step for us all to remember or take as we make commitments for the new year.
One other thing we learn from the baptism of Jesus here in Luke’s gospel is about the role of prayer in following God. Did you catch that in the reading of the Gospel this morning? Luke reports “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him . . . ” It was as Jesus was praying after his baptism that he heard God’s affirmation and received the Holy Spirit. Luke wanted his readers not to miss that about prayer. It’s as if he is saying its essential to the baptized life and the means by which he was able to receive God’s affirmation as Son, “the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” No wonder Jesus would constantly slip away from all he had to do to pray!
Hearing that should get us praying. Don’t we also want to hear God’s affirmation? Wouldn’t it make a great difference in our lives to hear that we are beloved by God as children? And what about the Holy Spirit descending upon us? When we pray, heaven opens up for us, the Holy Spirit descends on us, and we are affirmed. We, like Jesus, need that kind of prayer as we journey through this world. Things are not always easy as we follow God in our world. The difficulties of life, the threats of disease, the dangers of living out the radical teachings of Jesus, the challenges of loving neighbors, the powerful lure of temptations always around us, and the enormity of work to be done for God on this planet can all be so overwhelming. Yes, baptism creates friction for us in this world. But prayer lubricates our souls to keep us moving forward, affirmed by God and empowered by Spirit.
As we reflect on Jesus’ baptism, we can be glad he went out to hear John preaching on the corner, for what it led to in Jesus’ life as well as all the others who stepped into the water that day. He and they stopped, listened, and responded. May we do the same.
 McLaren, Brian. We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation.p. 89