The Gospel story of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist involves obedience-and-faith, revelation-and-witness.
John the Baptist knows who Jesus is – he’s been preaching about him, saying: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. …” And because he knows who Jesus is, he is probably very surprised that Jesus has turned up and is asking for John to baptise him. After all, John has less to offer than Jesus. John is “…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and baptizing with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
Both men are being obedient to God: the one faithfully preparing the way for Jesus; and Jesus, through His baptism, allowing revelation and witness to take place.
It’s not the first time in Jesus’s life that faith-and-obedience and witness-and-revelation have taken place. In the last month or so we’ve heard some well-known stories on this theme.
Let’s see: The parents of John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah… – although Zechariah’s faith wasn’t quite where it might have been and his voice was taken away from him until John was born and named. Another well-known couple, Mary and Joseph.
Mary and Joseph may have understood something about Jesus from his conception and the events surrounding his birth, but they still needed the visitors who came in those early days to reveal back to them through their witness that they were the parents of an incredibly special child. They needed to keep him safe through his childhood and growing into adulthood and that required faith-and-obedience.
Interestingly, those who weren’t permitted to be witnesses by law because of their low social status, shepherds, were among the first recorded people to visit baby Jesus after getting the shock of their lives when an angel appeared to them and told them about it.
Then, in the way we tell the story in church, the next visitors were at the most extreme end of the social scale to the shepherds: wise men. The most learned, erudite scholars of the day – men whose word would have been accepted without question. And here they are turning up to meet a baby whose birth has been foretold in the stars and who they set out to meet. They accomplished their journey and through the gifts they brought revealed the nature of who this baby would grow up to be – ruler of earth, spiritual leader, and death-defying healer: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Witness-and-revelation confirming Jesus as Christ, as Messiah, and strengthening the faith of his parents; banishing any doubt they may have had about who has just come into this world; and banishing too any indecisiveness about the need to leave and flee to Egypt when Joseph was warned in a dream by an angel of impending danger.
witness-and-revelation and faith-and-obedience
In today’s Gospel reading of Jesus’s baptism, even the heavens play their part in the witness-and-revelation of who Jesus is. Something that wouldn’t have happened if Jesus hadn’t insisted – as a different Gospel writer tells us – that he needed John to baptise him. And John had a point! Of all people, Jesus really didn’t need to be baptised as an act of repentance and for the forgiveness of sins!
John’s faith had carried him to this point, yet it was his obedience that led him to agree to baptise Jesus. And through his baptism Jesus is revealed as God’s son and even the heavens bear witness to this through an extraordinary scene –
10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
What a revelation. That would have been something to witness wouldn’t it.
And yet Jesus does continue to reveal himself to us in our lives – sometimes surprising us, sometimes subtly nudging us after long periods of silence that might even seem like absence.
What moments or experiences of witness-and-revelation have you had, or what instances of faithful obedience?
Have you made more than a mental note of those times? Listed them somewhere? Perhaps in your journal or on a piece of paper in your Bible? Those times when you have been witness to God’s revelation of Himself as Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, or through a dream or vision, or a gentle but persistent presence. Do they help sustain you as your faith develops? Do they give you confidence in your faith as you question where God might be in a certain situation or event?
your faith withstand questioning? Can you support your faith with the
obedience God requires of you? Are you a lowly shepherd or a mighty
wise person? Or are you somewhere in between? Above all though, are you
prepared to continue to grow in faith-and-obedience in order to bring
about more witness-and-revelation of Jesus?
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