Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Baptism of Jesus, Old School Sunday School 2

This is week two of our Old School Sunday School series.  We tried this last year and had so much fun with the Old Testament Stories that we decided to bring it back for an encore.

Sunday School isn’t a big deal in most churches these days, it’s been rebranded as Jr. Church and instead of happening before the adult service it happens during the adult service.  But there was a day when having a big Sunday School was the mark of a growing successful church.  And churches sponsored contests and bought buses to bring children in.  But not so much these days.

We still have a couple of churches on our district that have larger Sunday School attendance then their Sunday morning worship attendance and that is because parents drop their kids off for Sunday School, presumable to get some churching, and then pick them up before the church service starts.  But that isn’t the case for most Wesleyan churches, and probably most other churches as well. 

Back in the day churches would have a Sunday School Superintendent, and a teacher for each class and often their own treasurer because you wouldn’t think of coming to Sunday School without bringing an offering.  And those teachers taught every week, often for years and sometimes decades, pouring the stories of the bible into those kids.

And a staple of Sunday School was the Flannelgraph board.    

(Do Flannelgraph story of the Baptism of Jesus)


It is a story that has confounded preachers and theologians for two thousand years.  The Baptism of Jesus. 

We know the story, John, Jesus' cousin has been travelling throughout Palestine preaching and baptizing folks, and when people ask if he is the Messiah that has been promised he tells them “No, but I'll let you know when I see him”. 

I don't know what type of relationship if any the cousins had.  I have 21 first cousins.  And some I am close with and other's I wouldn't know if I tripped over them in the dark, unless of course they said something like, "Hey be careful, I'm your cousin."  And the bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus and John played together as kids, or if they hung out together as adults.  For that matter we don’t even know if the boys ever met before the encounter that we read earlier. 

But I would suspect they did, John’s father was a priest in the temple which meant that they lived in Jerusalem and last week we discovered that every year at Passover Jesus and his family travelled to Jerusalem for the celebrations so it would make sense that they would stay with family while they were there.  When I was a kid and we travelled to Grand Manan in the summer we always stayed with family and it was then that I reconnected with the cousins who were close to my age.  And Jesus and John were only separated by six months.  Perhaps they could identify with Isabel Norton who said “In my cousin, I find a second self.”

But can you imagine always being compared to your younger cousin?  “Why can’t you be more like Jesus?  He never does anything wrong.”  I wonder if John ever said “the way everyone goes on about Jesus, you’d think he was perfect.”  I wonder if as teenagers when Jesus suggested they do things His way if John ever said “Oh yeah, who made you God?”

And I wonder if the boys ever had even an inkling of what life would have in store for them?  And looking back we see so many parallels in their lives.  Both were conceived in a miraculous manner, both preached messages that appealed to some and annoyed others and ultimately both paid for their preaching with their lives. 
But I don’t think the cousins understood what their future held, because When John was asked if he was the Messiah he never said “No, you are thinking of my cousin Jesus.” As a matter of fact in the book of John we read John’s own testimony (Side note here John the Baptist did not write the book of John but the John who did write it quotes John the Baptist.) So we read John 1:32-34 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”
So there was no doubt in John’s mind when he said to the crowd, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

And it is at this point in their lives that their stories intersect.  And this particular story in the lives of John and Jesus has confused and perplexed preachers and theologians for years.  And you might be wondering: Why?  What was so confusing about what happened?  It was just a baptism.

Well, you understand that the message that John was preaching was a message of repentance and the baptism that he was calling people to what a baptism of repentance, and it was a sign that people were turning away from their sinful behaviour.  And the problem is that Jesus had nothing to repent of, he was sinless.  So why was he baptized?  Good question and it’s a question that even John struggled with because when Jesus came to be baptized we read that John resisted, instead saying that Jesus should be baptizing him and not the other way around.  But Jesus insisted and in the end he was baptized by John. 

But if Jesus didn’t need to be baptized as a sign of repentance then why was he baptized?

For Jesus It Signified a New Beginning This was the beginning of Jesus ministry, the beginning of a brand new life.  There isn’t a lot recorded about Jesus’ life before his baptism.  As a matter of fact the only story we have between his birth and his baptism was the story we looked at last week when his parents lost him on a visit to Jerusalem during Passover.

So we know that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem and we know that he was raised in Nazareth and that the family visited Jerusalem every year, and that is it.  And that is probably a good thing, because you can imagine all the discussions and arugments that people would get into if they had details of the early life of Jesus.  Why did he do this, why didn’t he do that, and on and on and on. 

But his early life was irrelevant to the story.  We know that he just didn’t magically appear, there were those in the community who knew who Jesus was, we are told in Matthew 13:54-55 He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas.   
And from what we read they seemed stuck on who they perceived Jesus to be instead of understanding who he was.  They knew him as Jesus the son of Joseph and not Jesus the Son of God.  And along with being known as the son of a carpenter we know that he had adopted the trade of his mother’s husband Joseph, because in Marks account of the same story we read Mark 6:3 Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.
But the day he was baptized he put his past behind him, as far as we know he never hammered another nail or sawed another board.  Jesus’ baptism turned the page that began a new chapter in the story of his life. 
From this point on his life would be defined by the miraculous, he would heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead and feed multitudes with just a handful of food.  And it all started on this day.
By choosing to be baptized Jesus declared for all to see and hear, “Today is a new day, the beginning of a new story.  I am no longer Jesus the carpenter, now I am Jesus the messiah, the giver of grace and the saviour of souls.”  He could point to the day that he was baptized as the beginning of this new story and for two thousand years others have pointed to that same day and that same event as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
It is the same when we are baptized.  It signifies a brand new day, a brand new life, a brand new beginning it is us declaring for the world to see ““Today is a new day, the beginning of a new story.  I am a new person”.  It is the practical demonstration of 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
In the past I have had people ask if they could have a private baptism service and my answer has been “no”.  Why?  Because baptism is a public declaration of your decision to follow Jesus.
So let’s take a look at Matthew’s account for a minute Matthew 3:13-17 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him. After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
I think the second reason that Jesus was baptized was 2) That’s What God Required Why did God require that Jesus be baptized?  Now there’s a good question.  Hmmmmm!  Nope don’t have a good answer. 

But here is the reality, we don’t always get that question answered.  Why does God want his people to do this?, or why doesn’t God want his people to do that?  Sometimes it’s easy to figure out.  Or at least we think we have it figure out.  For example Leviticus 11:7 And the pig may not be eaten, for though it has split hooves, it does not chew the cud. They were also told they couldn’t eat other animals or reptiles or fish, because most of those critters were yucky, the technical term was unclean but it means the same thing.  3000 years ago it was difficult to cook pork the right way to kill the parasites that live in it, we know today that there are certain time of the year that you can eat shell fish and certain times that you can’t.  We can read about it in the paper or hear on the radio but then, it was just safer to say “Don’t eat this stuff.” 

But there are other things that God requires of us that we either can’t figure out or we don’t agree with, but that doesn’t negate the fact that is what God, creator of the universe requires of us.  And the fact that we don’t understand it or the fact that we don’t agree with it or that the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled for or against it doesn’t change one iota what God has required of us.

Do you seriously think that God’s will is dependent on what nine judges in Ottawa think?  The Trinity is sitting around and the Father says “After the last decision from the Canadian Supreme Court we going to have to do some editing in the Bible”

And what happened when Jesus did what the Father required?  Matthew 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”   Why did the Son bring the Father great joy?  Because he was obedient. Which is why we are told in 1 John 5:3 Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.
You might have all kinds of reasons why you think you don’t need to be baptized but here is the bottom line, God requires it.  When he set down the mission of the church he told the disciples in Matthew 28:19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

When you become a disciple or follower of Jesus you are to be baptized.  It was Saint Basil who wrote  “All of us who desire the kingdom of God are, by the Lord's decree, under an equal and rigorous necessity of seeking after the grace of Baptism.” And if Saint Basil isn’t good enough for you then you need to understand that Jesus considered it a deal breaker, listen to his words in Mark 16:16 Jesus said Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”  Did you catch that?  He didn’t say “Anyone who believes will be saved.” What he said was Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved.”   I don’t want to get into an entire discussion of the saving merits of Baptism, but it is a matter of obedience and you can’t call yourself a Christ follower if you don’t follow Christ and following Christ means being obedient to Christ. 

The third reason I think Jesus wanted to be baptized was 3) It Set an Example  I’m sure that Jesus knew human nature enough to know that if he wasn’t baptized that there would always be a group who insisted that they didn’t have to be baptized because Jesus wasn’t baptized.  And so even though he didn’t need to be baptized as a sign of repentance, remember he had nothing to repent from he was without sin, he chose to be baptized so he would be an example to us and not an excuse for us. 
You may have come up with a dozen good reason, in your mind anyway, for why you don’t need to be baptized.  But none of them would come close to why Jesus didn’t have to be baptized, and yet he was. 
Remember back in the 90’s the entire WWJD fad?  The question “What would Jesus do?” was asked on bracelets, coffee mugs and T-shirts.    In this case the answer is very apparent.  He would be baptized. 
But it’s not just in the gospels that we hear about Baptism, Paul tells the Colossians 2:12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
And I think that Jesus was baptized as 4) It Demonstrated What Was To Come.  Often when I talk to those who are being baptised I refer to the analogy of the death and resurrection of Christ.  And that isn’t a Denn thing, it is a Paul thing.  Along with the reading in Colossians we find this in the book of Romans 6:3-4 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

And so here is this picture of Jesus being buried and then coming back from the grave, of death and resurrection which kind of lends itself to baptism by immersion, if I do say so myself.  Kind of hard to get that image from a little sprinkling, just saying.
With our baptism, the symbolism is us dying to our old nature, to our old self, to our old life and being born again with this new life.  And so we bury our old life in the act of baptism and when we come out of the water it is a picture of being restored, resurrected to a new life.
And then when Jesus has done what he came to do that day, after he has been baptized, listen to what happens. Mark 1:9-11 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”
Here we have the Trinity displayed for us, the Son is baptised, the Spirit descends on him, by the way the bible doesn’t say the spirit looks like a dove it says the spirit descended like a dove.  Remember Mohammed Ali said at one point that “I’ll float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”  But he didn’t look like a butterfly or a bee, again I digress.    And then as the spirit descends on Jesus the Father affirms him by saying “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”
Father, Son and Holy Spirit all together. If you are like me there are times that you struggle to understand the concept of the Trinity, but don’t feel bad it was Augustine who said “If you deny the Trinity, you lose your soul; if you try to explain the Trinity, you lose your mind.”     
And when I struggle to understand or explain the Trinity I always end up back here, at the beginning.  Because it is at this point that we see the Father and Spirit acknowledge and affirm the beginning of the Son’s ministry here on earth.  And that’s why when we baptize people at Cornerstone we baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in keeping with the command in Matthew 28:19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Shortly after we moved into the building we had a lady come to know Jesus, and she started to date a gentleman from a different tradition then we are from and she came and told me that she wanted to be baptized but wanted me to baptize her only in the name of Jesus.  And I said no, because that isn’t my understanding of the scriptures.
So this morning we have some folks who have asked to be baptized, and they are following the example that Jesus set for them, they are putting down a stake and saying this is a new day, and they are illustrating for us the power of the resurrection. 

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