Baptism of Repentance?
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
One Sunday morning, the young son of a Baptist minister witnessed his very first baptism by immersion. The boy was fascinated by the baptism... and the next morning proceeded to baptize… you guessed it… his three cats... in the bathtub!
The youngest kitten took it pretty well, and so did the younger cat... but the old family Tom Cat was a different story.
The old feline struggled, flipping and flopping and clawing... and finally got away. With considerable effort the boy caught the old Tom again and proceeded with the “ceremony.”
But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing and hissing, and scratching at the boy’s face.
Finally, after barely getting the cat splashed with little bit of water, the boy dropped cat on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine, be a Presbyterian then!!”
Way back on December 3rd of last year... when we began the Advent season together... John the Baptist became a central part of the story. And he has been mentioned almost every week since! John, of course, was the prophet/preacher who came preaching repentance... and calling us to prepare the way for the coming of Christ.
And as the liturgical calender rolls over to 2018... John’s still here... as we find ourselves full-speed into the Baptism of Jesus.
Jesus' baptism was, by Biblical accounts, the first major decision of his adult life... and his first major appearance in public: submitting himself to John for (what the Bible itself calls) the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Which sounds pretty strange, to tell you the truth!
I mean... we're talking about Jesus here! Why in the world, would Jesus, of all people, feel compelled to go out into the wilderness to be baptized "for the remission of sins?" Because, think about it... if Jesus is who he says he is... and who the Bibles says he is... and who we profess him to be... then Jesus is none other than the Son of God who was "in every way as we are, except without sin."
The Bible is filled with references to the sinless nature of Christ:
*1 Peter 2:22 says, “[Jesus] committed no sin...”
*Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
*1 Peter 1:18-19 refers to Jesus as being “unblemished and spotless.”
*2 Corinthians 5:21; “[God] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
This is the Savior, Christ the Lord, who took upon himself the burden of our unrighteousness... removing the consequences we deserved by dying on the Cross, and defeating death by his Resurrection! There is NO doubt what-so-ever, that Jesus had no need to baptized for the remission of sin! So something else must be going on here...
Of course, there's always a complex historical and theological response... but that's not necessarily what you and I need this morning (unless you wanta be here all afternoon?). Didn't think so... :)
What we need, is to simply hear the Word of God... specifically from our First Lesson: when we’re told: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself...," [2 Cor.5:19].
In other words, in everything Jesus said and did, his words and his actions... God was working! Through Christ... God took the most extreme of measures to show us how closely and intimately God relates to us... you and me... as simple, humble, flawed humans... who DO sin... and who DO stand in need of repentance and the remission of sin!
Jesus submitted to baptism... just like he submitted to being born like us... and to dying like us... because God in Christ... chose to identify himself with us in every conceivable way... in every aspect of our births, lives and deaths... in union with us, along side us...
This Jesus is, as God's Word says, "Emmanuel," - God-with-us - God for us, God within us... but he is with us most keenly and vividly in the depths of our weakness... he’s with us most especially in our deepest need for a Savior.
So Jesus didn’t hesitate for even a moment... to join the crowd of repentant sinners at the Jordan River who were being baptized and repenting and turning to right relationship with God.
And through that simple act of being baptized... the Gospels show us... Jesus was doing what God in Christ always does: He stands by us, stands with us, stands for us... in our greatest need.
That's the Good News of our salvation, and this is why Jesus' baptism includes a "theophany," a manifestation of God himself! It's as if God was so over-joyed... so thrilled by Jesus' faithfulness... that God tore through the very fabric of creation with the authoritative Word of His voice: "This is MY Son... MY beloved."
Baptism... our baptism... marks us... you and me... as the Children of God. And as God's beloved children in Christ... you and I are reminded of God's amazing grace that's always there... always willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means taking up a cross, to bring us to where we need to be in Christ.
The Good News of the Gospel is God has taken the burden of our redemption upon himself... in Christ... and all we have to do, is turn towards the One who loved us first, and loves us most.
As we remember our baptism today... as we remember the grace... the love... the sacrifice that Christ endured for our salvation... may we never lose sight of the fact that Jesus came into our brokeness... our weakness... our frailty; becoming one of us... standing along side us... faithfully lovingly us as we learn, often the hard way, to embrace a life of repentance.
May we strive to honor that faithfulness, by living a life of love... and by offering the love we've been so graciously shown... to others... especially... and most vividly... when they need it most.
There's no greater way, for any of us, to follow Christ's example...