“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'” -Luke 3:21-22 (NRSV)
Now here we are at this crucial moment in the story of Jesus: His baptism. It’s one of the few stories that all four Gospels include. What we know today as Communion only shows up in three of the four (Matthew, Mark and Luke), but Jesus’ baptism is in all four. Yet in Luke it’s barely there. It’s told almost in passing. There’s no interplay between Jesus and John the Baptist, no scene is really set, nor any story really told. We just get the two above verses. But what it does have is what I believe to be the heart and core of what baptism becomes in Jesus.
In those days baptism was a ritual cleansing. In fact the word “baptism” means “to wash”. It also means “to immerse” and “to dip”. It was a ritual cleansing, which begs the question, “why does Jesus need to be baptized? Why does he need to ritually cleansed?” He doesn’t. What happens at Jesus’ baptism is, to me, an indication that at this moment the act of baptism changes. When Jesus comes out of the water, God does not say, “you are forgiven, you are clean”. No, the Spirit of God says, “this is my son, the beloved in whom I am well pleased”. At this moment baptism shifts from a place of ritual cleansing to a place of identity and naming. Baptism is where we are given our name. It is where the truth of who we are is spoken out loud. We are God’s beloved in whom God is well pleased. That’s who we are, and the act of baptism is the ritual in which we express that.
So far in the story, Jesus has been born, he has been circumcised, he has been presented in the temple, and now he has been baptized. He has entered the world and in every way possible been named as God’s child and given to God’s purpose and God’s world. The question now for Jesus is, as it is for us upon baptism, what next? What now will Jesus do? Where is all this going? To what will it propel Jesus? Let’s keep reading and find out…
for more on some of my views on baptism, give a listen (below) to the message I preached on baptism from our “A Look at Luke” series at Aldersgate UMC.