Throughout Epiphany we’re exploring who Jesus is to everyone he touched, and what parent isn’t touched by their children? This week we’ll take a look at what God said about Jesus and what His view means for us.
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Background on the Text:
- The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all have baptism stories. The Gospel of John hints at a baptism but does not say directly that Jesus was baptized.
- Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Matthew begins with the story of John the Baptist baptizing people and saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” These will be Jesus’ words has he begins his ministry as well.
- This is the first story of Jesus as an adult.
Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:
- Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Assuming that Jesus is aware of John’s ministry, that means he comes to John to repent (turn toward God). This is the first public witness of Jesus to his ministry’s direction. He will turn toward God and he will lead people to God.
- John, having some knowledge or revelation about who Jesus is, objects to baptizing Jesus, since he feels that Jesus is the one who is “more powerful than I.”
- Jesus tells John that he (Jesus) should be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” In this gospel, to be righteous means to do God’s will. The baptism of Jesus is the official commissioning of Jesus for the work ahead. Previously in this gospel we have learned that Jesus will manifest God’s presence (Emmanuel) and that he will save people from their sins (Jesus).
- As Jesus comes out of the water, he receives confirmation from God for his work. This gospel makes clear that it is Jesus who see the Spirit descending and Jesus who hears God’s voice.
- God clearly approves of what Jesus is to do. God declares a three-fold affirmation:
- My son
- My beloved,
- With whom I am well pleased.
This mimics the three-fold declaration by God about Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 22:2)
- Take your son
- Your only son
- The one whom you love
In this story, of course, Abraham almost sacrifices his son to do God’s will. In our New Testament story, God does allow God’s son to be sacrificed, like a sacrificial lamb.
Questions the Text Asks of Us:
- A messiah is a person anointed by God to do a specific task. Jesus is anointed by God in this baptism story, to do the task of manifesting God’s presence in the world and saving people from their sins. In what ways are you anointed by God? What tasks does God place before you?
- Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa is famous for saying (perhaps quoting St. Augustine) “Without God we cannot; without us, God will not.” Why do you suppose God chose this path for salvation: anointing a human to carry out God’s divine purposes? What does it say about God’s view of humanity? Of Jesus?