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Friday, January 9, 2015

Baptism of Jesus: What does Your Baptism Mean?

Genesis 1:1-5 Mark 1:4-11

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.

One of the first things we hear about what I will call pre-creation is that the writer of Genesis describes there being waters: surface of the deep and hovering over the waters. 

Now, it's not pertinent to our theme for today, the Baptism of Jesus, to discuss the creation of the universe...but the subject of water is, so we will look at the significance of water in Judaism. Depending on which translation you read, the picture in these first few verses of Scripture, is that pre-creation there was a chaotic mass of water, over which the Spirit of God hovered and into which the voice of God spoke/commanded creation. If we were to read on to Day 2, we see that God then separated the waters, He created space or a dome within the waters (waters above and waters below) and in that space the rest of creation takes place. The Jewish understanding and experience of water was that it always represented chaos, the underworld or the abyss...in Luke 8:31 the pigs ask to go into the abyss (the waters of Galilee) and in Revelation 9:1-11,  Revelation 11:7Revelation 17:8 and Revelation 20:1-3 the abyss is the place where the evil one comes from and is eventually bound up in. Water, in the Jewish culture, particularly the sea, of Galilee and then the Jordan, which flowed from the abyss, was something to be feared and avoided at all possible costs. So, because they had to, they would fish on it, but they never played/swam in it if they could at all help it. You can probably begin to see the significance of Jesus later walking on the sea and then telling it to "Be still"...He was demonstrating His power, not over water, but over evil, over chaos.

And Jesus gets baptised in the Jordan and that same Spirit that hovered over the chaotic waters of creation, hovers over the waters of Jesus' baptism.


And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 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. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

And that same Spirit hovered over the waters of your baptism and...continues to hovers over the chaos in life that sometimes just blows up from nowhere, just as storms did on Galilee.

Let's look at what this means for us today:

At his baptism, God the Creator calls Jesus "the beloved." This is a glimpse of what God names us at our baptism. We, too, become "beloved" of God. No matter what other names you are called by others—or even by yourself—baptized into Christ you are now the beloved of God. Sometimes we are unkind to ourselves and thoughtlessly call ourselves names like stupid, silly, spazz, ugly, unfocused, unreliable, unlovable, foolish, klutz and so on. In other words, we tell ourselves that we are not good enough. In baptism, we see ourselves in a new mirror. God holds the mirror of Jesus Christ up to us and proclaims you are beautiful, you are whole, you are worthy, you are loved. You are a beloved child of God. That is who you are. That is your true identity. No matter what. May you live out of and into that identity.

Paul tells us how to live out that reality when he goes into some detail about baptism in Romans 6:1-12. Eugene Petersen paraphrases these verses as follows, listen carefully, because this is what your baptism means: 

That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

Baptism means that a new creation has begun and continues in you from the chaos of the old creation that you once were. And just as the chaotic waters of pre-creation sometimes break into the new creation seeking to overcome it, so too does the chaos of your and my pre-christian life break into our new creation life...temptation appears and sin erupts. We all know and experience this, don't we? Just as calm Galilee can change in a flash from calm to destructive storm, you and I can change from Christ like to devil like in a moment. Paul described his experience like this:

...I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Romans 7:17-24.

Now, when we remember that we are baptised into Christ, we can no longer say or think: "Ah, well if the great Paul struggled with this, then it's OK for me to struggle like this."
NO! You see, Paul answers his question by remembering his own baptism, and so he goes on and says: The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different...because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 7:25 - 8:2.

Our baptism reminds us that the old me, that loves to sin, is dying and in fact is already buried in the grave with the dead Jesus...that is the truth and I invite us to live into that truth. The new me, in fact the real me, is the me who has said "Yes" to Jesus and by faith is in Him, the me who daily turns to my Father in Heaven asking for daily bread, daily life, daily power, the me who remembers that the Spirit of God is constantly hovering over the peace and the chaos of my life. Hovering over you and me, just as He did over the chaotic waters of creation, hovering as He did like a dove over Jesus, hovering over you and me, speaking light and life and new creation....that is the truth and I encourage us to live into that truth.

How?.....well, in the midst of temptation, call out for and receive the Spirit of God who imparts the strength to resist temptation. In the midst of chaos, which comes in so many different forms (disease, retrenchment, natural disaster and so on) call out for and receive the Spirit of God who imparts strength whereby we can say: I can do and endure all things in Him who strengthens me.

Remember your baptism. 

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