This Sunday we explored the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) to find out more about what was going on at Jesus' baptism. We are in a series looking at the life and ministry of Jesus and so this wasn't about OUR baptism, but about Christ's. And really, why was Jesus getting baptized anyway? Did he need to repent? I thought he was sinless. Was this merely an example, a ritual he legally needed to complete (but, then why in the desert with the wild man John the Baptist and not in the temple)? Or was it something mysterious, awe inspiring and supernatural? Well, we are talking about Jesus...
Below are some quotes that were illuminating in preparation for yesterday's discussion:
From Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, Ed. David Noel Freedman, 2000.
"Jesus requests baptism apparently not simply in order to identify himself with sinners but primarily "to fulfill all righteousness."
"To fulfill" can be translated "to bring to completion or perfection." Jesus' own baptism is thus an identifying sign about Jesus himself. He is the one who completes the intention of God, who brings to perfection all that God has envisioned since creation. Christian baptism is thus less a negation (in token of renunciation) than an affirmation of being incorporated into Christ, who is the perfection of all God wills, and thus of being granted new life as a gift.
This motif of bringing to completion all that God intends makes sense of otherwise obscure allusions in the narratives of Jesus' baptism. The Synoptics mention water and a voice, together with the descent of the Spirit - all reminiscent of God's spirit hovering over the waters and speaking creation into existence in Gen. 1:1-5. Thus Jesus at his baptism is identified as the one who fulfills the old creation by instituting the new creation. Jesus, by going into the wilderness for 40 days, is portrayed as the new Moses and the new Elijah (Exod. 24:18; 1 Kgs. 19:8). Similarly the figure of the dove further identifies him as the new Noah (Gen. 8:8-12), thus intensifying the motif of the new creation. To be baptized as a Christian is to receive and to be received into the whole sacred story in its fulfillment - a profound gift of the Holy Spirit, whose activity in baptism is so frequently asserted throughout the NT."
And from Introducing the New Testament, John Drane, Fortress Press, 2001
"Admittedly [John, the Baptist] appears to have seen with more clarity of spiritual vision than other religious people of his day, who took for granted that the objects of God's anger would be the Romans. But he did not fully appreciate the true character of the 'kingdom of God,' which in the teaching of Jesus turned out to be based less on damnation and judgment than on more generous qualities such as love, forgiveness and unprejudiced concern for all kinds of people. This had always been the one thing that the ancient nation of Israel had found most difficult to understand, and it continued to cause problems for Jesus' disciples, who could never quite grasp what it might mean for God's will to be done through self-denying service to others and suffering on their behalf (Mark 8:31-33). Though John announced the coming of the kingdom of God, the precise nature or what that might involve only became clear after the death and resurrection of Jesus."
I think I would question just how clear it became to everyone even at that point.
The early Christian church was still expecting Christ to return any day. They were expecting a divine jugement immenently and so tried to live as holy a life as possible, even defering baptism until the death bed so as not to be held accountable for new sins.
My question is this. We have a perspective and vantage point they did not have. It has been over 2000 years and Jesus has not returned. His baptism, his life, his death and resurrection were an ushering in of a new age – the beginning of God’s kingdom coming. A new creation, which according to Jesus, we are already living in to some degree. What does it mean for us and how we live as followers of Christ? How does Jesus' call to "all the nations" affect the way we view other people and our world?
In this light, Jesus' baptism takes on great significance and mysterious splendor. I'm still pondering. Thanks for all of the insight and discussion last night!