Matthew 3:13-17

Come to the Water

By The Rev. David Sellery

In this week’s gospel, John tells Jesus: I need to be baptized by you. Jesus tells John: No, I need to be baptized by you. From a cynical 21stCentury perch this could be seen as just so much polite posturing between preachers… after you… no, after you. Today we could be tempted to say why not just skip the whole baptism business and register on-line at the church of your choice. Just leave your credit card number for those annoying collections and I’ll see you next Christmas? An absurd suggestion; of course it is. But hopefully it illustrates a point. We must come to the water. We need to be baptized in water and the Spirit . There is no virtual reality, computer generated substitute. We must be physically and spiritually cleansed in the waters that flow over and unite the entire community of believers. Whether as consenting adults or as consecrated children we must come to the waters to be claimed for Christ.

Again the cynic’s rebuttal: What’s the big deal? A little water – a dunk or a splash—a couple of prayers, what difference does it make? You’re wasting a whole Sunday afternoon that could be spent watching a playoff game. But infinitely long after Super Bowl 10,000 is forgotten, the waters and the prayers of baptism will still be written on our hearts. The grace of God will remain… perhaps ignored, even profaned, but undiminished as a source of strength and inspiration.

In this gospel we see that the tremendous power of baptism is evident right from the start. It is the first occasion in the Bible that unites the Trinity in full view and in celebration of God’s love. In the form of a dove we see The Holy Spirit come upon Jesus to fortify him for his mission of redemption. We hear the voice of the Father acknowledging Jesus as his beloved Son and endorsing his ministry. And then there is Jesus. He arrives at the Jordan as a humble candidate for baptism and departs as the heaven-proclaimed Son of God. It is a brief plunge into a river, but a giant step closer to realizing the entire purpose of creation. As both God and man, Jesus initiates his public life, setting a humble, loving tone that will mark his ministry from miracles to parables, from Cana to Calvary. In these four brief verses, Matthew proclaims that nothing in human history will ever be the same. The Son of God is among us. And he would bind us to him in the water of baptism.

That is where our own baptism comes in. In John 3, Jesus tells us plainly: Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. It doesn’t get any more imperative than that. Baptism is not a suggestion. Christ clearly calls us to the water. Baptism is not an optional initiation ritual. It is God’s own medium of saving grace. The Trinity, that was present at the Jordan, blesses each baptism; welcoming infants and adults, children and death-bed converts to the family of the faithful, washing them in the love of Christ.

The simple beauty and the awesome transformational power of baptism have been captured in song by another Matthew, contemporary composer Matt Maher.
(See in particular verses 3 and 4)

Copyright David Sellery 2014. Posted with permission.