Jesus also had been baptized…
the Holy Spirit descended upon him…
And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
Luke 3:21, 22
Before we look at Jesus’ baptism let go back to Isaiah.
We see in Isaiah – The people of Israel are the child of God, they are loved, cherished, forgiven and redeemed.
The process of forgiveness and redemption makes them a new creation. In both the beginning and the end of our little portion we hear,
“he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’”
Isaiah 43:1 & 7
Isaiah wanted the people of Israel to have a vision of hope that in deed, they would leave exile and return to the land of Israel. The words created and formed hopefully give us a strong reminder of the stories of Creation in Genesis.
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air…
The people of Israel had come to see their exile as punishment for their sins. Isaiah’s vision is of God taking them out of the misery of Exile and recreating then as a new people again.
The hoped-for return from Exile is a new exodus just like when they fled from captivity in Egypt. This time the people see the Assyrian King Cyrus as God’s servant who releases them from slavery in Exile. Isaiah uses three names/titles for God to inspire all the people in Exile.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
Isaiah 43: 3
The name/title for God “the Lord” is the one heard by Moses at the Burning bush. So, for a people living in captivity this is a powerful name for God. Then uses “the Holy One”. One of the things that had crystallised for the people of Israel in captivity was the ritual and faithfulness in worship. A new stronger emphasis had grown up because they were cut off from the temple which had been destroyed. Holiness became an important part of their faith. Stories like Daniel in the Lion’s den and the Three Young Men expressed this emphasis on holiness. You remember Daniel refusing to bow down to the huge statue. So again, using the title, the Holy One inspires people who have been called to holiness by the Rabbis.
The word Saviour not only reminds them of Moses leading them to freedom but that the Lord had led them out of slavery and would be their saviour once again. Saviour or redeemer includes the notion of a debt being paid by a family member releasing the debtor from slavery as the consequence of unpaid debt. As the people of Israel had come to see their sin as a debt that needed to be paid a saviour/redeemer was just what they needed.
Now let’s move to the Gospel reading. Jesus too is the child of God, loved and cherished. As for forgiveness and redemption, it is perhaps Jesus strong sense of identity with humanity as a whole that leads him to baptism. Scholars discuss the confusing notion that if Jesus was without sin why did he go forward for Baptism.
In the past much more so than today people’s identity was connected with their clan, their tribe, their nation. Of course, we still see some of that coming through on State of origin night or at the Olympics but day to day we think of ourselves as individuals. Mind you some of the nationalism or “Patriotism” we see around the world suggests an unhealthy return to tribalism. But Jesus seems to have embraced a very healthy sense of solidarity with the whole of humanity. John the Baptist’s call was for all (Jews at least) to turn from selfishness and evil and to turn to God. Perhaps for Jesus that was a no-brainer.
But perhaps we overemphasis repentance and forgiveness when we think about baptism. My favourite Lutheran Scholar David Lose wants us to see Baptism as much more. He says
It’s about love, identify, affirmation, commitment, promise, and still more. In fact, I’d argue that Baptism is first about all these other things and then, as by-product and gift, about forgiveness. That is, in Baptism God proclaims God’s great love for us; calls, names, and claims us as God’s beloved children; gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit;…and then, because of God’s love for us, God also promises to forgive, renew, and restore us at all times.
We too are loved and cherished by God as God’s beloved children individually and as part of the whole people of God. And yes, forgiveness and redemption are a part of our baptism.
The Holy Spirit fills us with love driving out fear giving us a language for prayer. Sometimes that language comes out of a trust to sit quietly in God’s presence. Others experience their language as words that spill out apparently not making sense if others are listening. Either way we enter into the deep peace like children of a loving parent.
Maybe we can intentionally remind ourselves of our baptism by dipping our hands in the waters of baptism. Make the sign of the Cross in the name of the father son and holy spirit Creator, redeemer and sanctifier. Remember the first great commandment as you make the sign of the cross. As you hand goes to you head, remember to love God with all your mind, then as it passes your heart, remember to love God with all your heart, then as your hand goes to your waist, remember to love God with all your soul. Finally then as you reach from shoulder to shoulder remember to love God with all your strength.