Today our bible reading focuses on the Baptism of Jesus. As I was preparing for today and re-reading the passage, I began to reflect on water. Water?
Water – its so important to us isn’t. When I did my first degree, I majored in P.E. and I loved the outward bound element of that. I did all kinds of outward bound courses and then for many years after continued to do lots of things involving mountains etc. etc. And I can remember one of my instructors telling me the rule of 3, something I’ve never forgotten.
If you’re ever stuck out in the wilderness, you might need to remember this.
You can live 3 minutes without air, though I don’t recommend trying.
In a harsh environment — lets say like the freezing blizzards America’s been experiencing— you have 3 hours to survive without shelter.
You can make it 3 weeks without food, though we promise you that won’t be fun.
But after only 3 days, you need water or you’ll perish..
So thinking about that, realising how important water is to you and recognising you’ve been without water for about 40 minutes now, I thought, I’d better give you a drink!!! – Squirt people with water pistol!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So we have ascertained that water is crucial for our survival.
Lets have a think about some the things water can do?
- Cleaning – we need water to keep us clean,
Washing the car, clothes, dishes, ourselves.
- Nourishment – survival. The body is made up of two thirds water.
- It can be used for power. Hydro-energy. A major source of power.
- It can be destructive, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, but it can also be fatal. We can sadly drown in water
Our Bible reading that we heard today, links so well with our baptism service today. Because just as Jacob and Marcus have been baptised today, we’ve just heard the story of Jesus Baptism by John the Baptist.
In just a few moments were going to think about that in a little more detail, and what it might have to say to us today.
The story begins with Jesus coming to John and asking him for baptism. John, instantly recognises who Jesus is, and he is understandably reluctant, and tries to deter Jesus by saying that it is he that should be baptized by Jesus. Can you identify with how John must have felt? I can. I can distinctly remember having to coach my school football team when I was a teacher, on one occasion when the Liverpool academy coaches had come to watch one particular lad. Here was me, trying to coach in front of the professionals. I felt completely inadequate.!!
Sometimes, When I come before God in prayer, I feel the same way John did: inadequate. Sometimes I think to myself “who am I to share my faith with this person, I’m just a sinner who doesn’t have enough faith – Lord I need you to give me more faith.” But you know, when we have these doubts, God smiles and says, “No, I need you. I have placed YOU in that job, in that place, in that role, next to these people so that you can be my witness to them. And I will be with you in the middle of it. Now go and do it.” When did you last share your faith with someone. When do last tell someone at work, at school, at home- that you actually go to church on a Sunday!!!
Jesus’ response convinces John, and so he baptizes Jesus, and as Jesus comes up out of the water he sees the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descend upon him, and he hears the voice of God speak directly to him. The Holy Trinity gathered together right there. God the father’s voice, God the son in Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit, desending on Jesus. Its Massively symbolic!
The fact that Jesus came to John for baptism makes me ask a simple question: Why? John was preaching a baptism of repentance – of turning from sin. Jesus was sinless; why then did he ask John to baptize him? You can understand John’s hesitation – “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?”, and we recognize with John that something is a little strange here: The God of the Universe asking John to baptize him. Why is that? Let me suggest three quick reasons:
first, Jesus embraced his humanness fully, yet he remained completely sin free. Jesus chose to become completely human, and to participate fully in that experience. As a man, Jesus identified with the people around Him – he enjoyed feasts like Passover; he went to weddings and laughed and celebrated; he cried when his friend Lazarus died, even though a couple of minutes later he raised him from the dead; and he went out to the desert to participate in the baptism And isn’t it great to know that we have a God who has identified himself with us? Who has walked among us and experienced everything that we experience? We are not alone – we have a God who has come to us and walked with us and cried with us and loved us.
Second, Jesus desired to be baptized to set an example for us to follow. Jesus led by example; he said to his disciples “Come and follow me; learn from what I do; become like me”. You know the very last words Jesus spoke on this earth before he went back to his father in heaven. He said, ‘Go into every nation baptising them in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Jesus was baptized, and he tells us to do the same. So today, as we baptise Jacob and Marcus we are following Jesus command.
Thirdly, Jesus’ baptism was a spiritual experience. It seems strange to think of God having a spiritual experience, and yet that is exactly what happens to Jesus: the heavens open, the Spirit descends like a dove, and he hears the voice of God from heaven. And while I am sure that part of what God was doing was for the benefit of the others around witnessing Jesus’ baptism (we know that John saw the Spirit from John 1:32), I’m willing to bet that most of it was for Jesus’ benefit. Why did Jesus need a spiritual experience? What was happening here that made it important for Jesus to have this supernatural revelation – the heaven’s opening, the dove, and the voice? Lets not forget that Jesus is God, so why was it important that this happened? I think the answer is really very simple; Jesus needed his father’s touch. He needed the Father to reach down from heaven and touch his son – that’s why the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a Dove, and that is why he hears the voice of God speaking. Jesus needed that touch; and so do we. That is why worship and small groups are so important – worship because we experience the touch of God directly when we draw near to him in worship. Our worship should enable us to engage with God, it should draw us into his presence, and small groups because we experience the touch of God indirectly through being loved by one another. We don’t have small groups in our church currently, but we need to think seriously about this. Because its through, that sharing together, being together, that we experience God’s love, his touch and his power. If I hadn’t been a member of a housegroup there is no way I would be here today. I grew massively in my faith from sharing and walking with Christian friends in a small housegroup. This is something we need to think seriously about as a church in the next 12 months.
Why does Jesus need this touch from his father now? This experience launches Jesus’ ministry; Jesus’ baptism was the start of his ministry. It was a beginning, a time when Jesus was publicly set apart and commissioned to begin to minister to people. And so, here, at the beginning, God reaches down and touches his son and affirms him and expresses his love for him. Knowing what lay ahead, receiving this confirmation and encouragement right at the beginning would have been hugely important for him, and would have been an anchor to hold on to on his journey to the cross.
We need that same encouragement as we start something new – a new school, a new job, a new ministry responsibility. We need someone alongside us to say “I believe in you, and I know you can handle this.” As parents, you have the joy of being the ones there most often to do that for your children, and as the family of God we have the joy and responsibility of being that encouragement to one another. When did you last encourage someone? And its no coincidence that it can be at those moments when we need it most we can feel very close to God, supported by him as he encourages along lifes path. It’s a challenge being a Christian in our world today. But you know, through our baptism we are called to be different, set apart. And we are guaranteed of God’s presence with us as we try to live for him.
So what about the symbols of water at Baptism.
- Well it washes us clean. At Baptism one of the symbols is that of being washed clean. Clean from sins. Not just now, but for eternity. The sins, I may have committed in the past, the present and the future are wiped away, when I accept Jesus as my Lord and saviour. Through his sacrifice on the cross we are forgiven and redeemed. Are you forgiven, are you washed clean? Do you believe that Jesus died in your place!
- Water, also gives us nourishment. Jesus said in John 7. Verse 38 ‘ Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within him’. Jesus is talking about living water, that will never run out, that will nourish and sustain us for ever. He’s talking about his life giving spirit. The holy spirit that lives in our hearts when we accept Jesus as saviour. Have you experienced this living water? Do you have this living water flowing through your veins?
- Water can bring death! Not nice to think about at a baptism. But one of the symbols is that of dying. As you go under the water, the idea is that you are dying to the old ways, the old world, the sinful past. And when you come up out of the water, you are raised to life. New life in Christ. And from that point on ready to live a life following Jesus.
So as you can see, Baptism, its not just about chucking water on the babies head. Theres a lot more to it than that.