Luke 3-4: The Baptism, Temptation, and Call of Jesus
As disciples we celebrate two sacraments – baptism and communion. Each one holds significant meaning. Today we will speak only of the baptismal sacrament. When we think about baptism, we often think of the use of water being poured, sprinkled or a person being immersed. Baptism is an initiation event that draws us into the church. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace that is given by the Holy Spirit.
All are welcomed as members of the family of Christ Jesus. Even those who cannot speak for themselves have a right to the grace of God. As United Methodists we believe that children, like adults, have a place among the people of God. We further recognize that children have the same holy privileges regardless of their age. Infant baptism is as authentic as adult baptism for it is the act of grace given by the Holy Spirit in the person, not the act of the person that secures the grace. The Baptismal Covenant I states, “We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the spirit” (BOW 87). The entire congregation participates in the worship act of baptism by reaffirming their faith and promising to nurture the newly baptized. At confirmation some may affirm their infant vows and some may experience baptism for the first time, but the United Methodist Church does not baptize a second time.
There are five outward commitments that we choose to make when we are baptized in the UMC: prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Last week we heard the story of the three kings and their gifts. Last week in our scrapbooking sermon series, we focused on one of the five commitments of our baptismal covenant promise: Gifts. Together we discovered together how the three kings, magi, wisemen brought more than the traditional three gifts to Jesus – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They brought their curiousity to seek the unseen God. They brought themselves across hundreds of miles of desert lands. They inconvenienced themselves as they listened to God’s directions. But most importantly they brought the gift of their hearts to worship a humble child as King of the Jews. Today we will take a look at another one of our baptismal covenant promises: presence. Being present in the community of believers is important to your growth in personal and social holiness.
In light of Jesus’ humanity and divinity perhaps the doctrine that is most difficult for us to understand is the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be sure Jesus is both God and Man. In fact God the Father affirms Jesus as his Son – twice. Once a voice came from heaven during his baptism and announced that he was the Son of God who is the beloved and pleasing to the Father. The second time the voice came was at the Mt. of Transfiguration. This title – Son of God – would get Jesus plotted against, arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and killed. It was truly a politically charged title that stirred up strife among the religious leaders. Jesus was crucified for only one thing – impersonating God! Jesus claimed equality with God by believing that he was God’s Son. Yet, even the centurion at the cross would proclaim that Jesus’ death proved that he was the Son of God (Mt. 27.54). However, Jesus’ favorite title for himself was Son of Man pointing to his full experience as a human being. Although fully human, Jesus lived in unbroken fellowship with his Heavenly Father, Abba. Together the titles – the Son of God and the Son of Man – point to the mystery of the Incarnation itself. Perhaps it is valid to say that this mystery will remain a mystery to be believed in by the faithful but never fully understood.
When we look at Jesus’ baptism texts collectively across the Gospels, we see they are the same yet different. All of these writers were serious about their relationship with Jesus. Each one very much wanted to convey the Gospel story about Jesus to the people they loved – Jew and Gentile. Each story is nuanced ever so slightly.
Prayerful Disposition: Luke 3.15-17, 21-22
He went to the waters edge. He was baptized. 1) He prayed “expectantly.” 2) Heaven opened. 3) He received the Holy Spirit in bodily form like a dove. 4) He heard God’s blessed assurance of his identity – 5) Son of God, beloved and pleasing. Jesus came to the waters edge open in his obedience to receive from God through prayer – vision/experience, the Holy Spirit, identity, and a word of assurance that he is loved and pleasing.
New Righteous Standard: Matthew 3.13-17
He came to the waters edge. 6) John tried to deter him. Jesus affirmed his identity as fully human. He was baptized. He came up out of the water, and in that moment, heaven opened. The Spirit of God descended like a dove and 7) alighting on him. A voice declared Jesus God’s Son, loved and pleasing. Jesus becomes the new standard for righteousness in the Kingdom of God.
The Gateway has become fixed between Heaven and Earth through Jesus: Mark 1.9-11
8) Jesus traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to the Jordan. At his baptism, while he was coming up out of the water, heaven was being 9) torn open. The Spirit descended on him like a dove. A voice spoke that Jesus was Son – loved and pleasing. Jesus fulfilled his responsibility of identifying with humanity in every way. Jesus acknowledges his full humanity. Jesus becomes the gateway between heaven and earth. The heavens have been torn open in such a way that the opening is fixed in the heavenlies.
Identity Crisis Solved: John 1.15-18, 26-27, 32-34
The first chapter of John’s Gospel is devoted to identifying Jesus as the One Israel has been waiting for – Life, Light, Word, Grace, Truth, etc. John declares that those who believe in his name will become children of God. In the specific texts regarding prophet – John calls Jesus the One and Only Son (1.18). The straps of his sandals John is unworthy to untie. A man who has surpassed John because he was before John. This is the man who takes away the sins of the world. 10) John identifies Jesus – the Lamb of God (1.29). The John’s call to baptism was to bring about the hidden Kingdom of God in Jesus. Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1.33). John calls Jesus – God’s Chosen One or Son of God (1.34). The people, the leaders, and even the prophet John the Baptizer did not fully know who they were looking for as the Messiah.
Through baptism we are declaring the words of the prophet Ezekiel has been fulfilled. Ezekiel 36.25-26 says that God has a covenant promise for his people. God says to his people, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean… A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you.” Water is the symbol of this cleansing act where God gives us a clear conscious to him and one another. In baptism we were joined to God and to the whole church through a gracious covenant. A covenant implies an interaction between parties – one person to another. In the baptismal covenant God promises that we are adopted sons and daughters by divine goodness, not by anything we merit or can earn. In response, we promise to live as faithful people within the community of the church. God’s promises are never broken. There is no such thing as rebaptism, because God never goes back on the promise to regard us graciously. But we continually break our promises to God, if only by forgetting about them. Therefore, we are called to renewal again and again. From time to time it is well for us to be reminded of our faithlessness and to reaffirm our part of the baptism covenant.
Every time we witness someone else’s baptism, confirmation, or reaffirmation of faith, we should renew our own commitment, whether aloud as a part of the service or quietly in our hearts. But on some occasions, like today, when there are no candidates for baptism, confirmation, or reaffirmation of faith, we can join in such a renewal as an entire congregation to remind one another that we are all in this together. Our commitment to God and each other remains strong if in the midst of schism and disagreement with one anther. This is the meaning of our service today. When we have affirmed our baptismal faith through the vows and the use of the Apostle’s Creed, we give thanks over the water by recalling God’s mighty works of goodness toward us and his whole creation. In these actions we gratefully remember our baptism.
Covenant is a relationship between God and his people. It all begins with God extending an invitation to his people to be in relationship with him. God initiates, signs, and seals the deal with the blood of his own son, Jesus, who delivers us from the power of sin and death. Discipleship is the human response to this covenant of love. The goal of discipleship is that we come willing into a relationship with God to be formed into his image. Discipleship says, “let the same mind be inside of me that is inside of Christ Jesus.” Discipleship becomes the life we live within the context of the household of God. When we become disciples, we give up our rights to our own personal feelings and beliefs by taking on Christ’s very own disposition about things. A disciple by its very nature means living in the context of a community of believers.
Disciples become conformed to the image of God within the context of the community of faith. Discipleship happens in community with others – not alone. Disciples are to be accountable to one another in their words and deeds. If we do not remain in accountable in our relationships with one another, we become self-deceived, self-righteous, and self-centered. We cannot stand as lone rangers either inside the walls of the church nor outside the walls. Because disciples submit to the transformation of their inner self to be conformed to Christ’s likeness, then we no longer get to make self-centered choices as to what we do in our lives. Our lives are given over to the collective of the household of faith.
Baptismal Covenant is the relationship that makes discipleship possible because it binds us to God and one another in Jesus Christ. The symbol of water baptism marks the beginning of the relationship between us, and the church. In the act of baptism God claims us as his very own child and adopts us into the household of believers by faith alone. In this great act of mercy God promises to always love and forgive us as his adopted children. Baptism is God’s work. In baptism we receive the gift of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Accountability is how we make sure that our discipleship is happening. Being accountable to one another helps us all grow into the image of God rather than the image of a distorted reality in our thoughts or in the culture around us. Watching over one another in love helps us to stand against the traps and vices of our flesh. Accountability helps each one of us to pull off our visor to see the areas of our lives that we are living in self-sufficiency. Being a disciple is hard work. We must fight the temptations to do what we feel is convenient for us, or to do what we find interesting, or do what we want because it just feels right. Accountable disciples do not get to do what they want to do – they do what God requires of them. They are called and sent to do tasks that only God can do through them.
Disciples have one main goal – to tell the story of Jesus Christ in their lives. Disciples tell the Good News to the world around them. Disciples live holy lives that others can see – humility, compassion, healing, wholeness, justice, peace keeping, and holy contemplation. The Holy Spirit guides and empowers each of us as disciples to be faithful witnesses to God in the world and in the church.
Jesus gave the disciples one main household rule. He told them to love God and neighbor. And when he told his disciples to love their neighbor, he offered a clause – love your neighbor …as yourself. For us United Methodist we have added three rules to support this notion of loving your neighbor. First, do no harm, and avoid all kinds of evil. If what you are doing or saying is creating harm, then you are to stop doing it. Period. If you are participating in evil or your friend or family member is choosing to do evil, the change your relationships. Second, do all the good you can. If you are not doing good, then you need to start looking for opportunities to do good for your neighbors, not only in the church but especially to those outside your sphere of influence. Third, employ the means of grace – offer prayers continually, “fast” often, participate in communion as often as you can, study God’s Word diligently, and join an accountability group that you might grow and mature in your faith.
Through baptism we are made one Body in Jesus Christ. We are commissioned to service and witness through our various responses to God’s love shown to us through Christ Jesus, the source of our salvation. Through the renewal of our baptismal vows we are given the opportunity to enter into this family we call the church. As the church we have been called out to express the mind and mission of Christ by devoting ourselves to a life of gratitude and devotion, witness and service, celebration and discipleship. We have been called to proclaim the ongoing work of salvation through worship of God and the constant use of all the means of grace as we strive on toward perfection. As we renewal our baptismal vows today we affirm our commitment to the covenant of reconciliation that is the foundation of our faith. And, our pledge to serve God, study Scripture, offer our spiritual gifts, give our financial talents, and practice our Methodist heritage of accountability as faithful members of God’s household.
As we think about the baptism of Jesus, we have an opportunity to reflect on our own baptismal covenant. Today provides us an opportunity to remember that each one of us has been called to the water to receive a cleansed and purified heart before God. Each one of us comes up out of the waters of baptism changed. Each one of is uniquely called and gifted. It is an individual experience of covenant relationship with God that brings each one of us into the household of faith to live life in community with one another. This covenant that we are called into through baptism is one of accountable discipleship in a community called the church.
Recommended Reading: Accountable Discipleship by Steven Manskar