TWO EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS
AT CHRIST'S BAPTISM
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
15Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
"But Mom, I don't like that! Do I hafta eat it to get desert? — How much? One bite?"
Most vegetables don't seem very good to many youngsters. Beans and potatoes seem too ordinary, but fancy ice cream and cakes are appealing.
Whenever we're privileged to watch any Baptism, it's hard to understand that the rite is "good" for those receiving it. The liturgical-wording seems so tedious-and-boring to some, but something truly extraordinary is happening before our eyes!
As God's words "Let there be..." brought the entire universe into existence, His creative Word in Baptism makes a "New Creation" who is His child, and the gifts of His Holy Spirit and faith are bestowed. There is great joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents, and, though not seen or heard by us, just try to imagine the shouts of Praise from the uncountable Hosts in Heaven as each person being newly -baptized is named by the Triune God as his precious own! – Luther's Catechism teaches us that: "Baptism works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe..." - The rite would be ordinary and useless, except that God turns it into a wondrous event that's unfathomable to human reasoning powers, and which is therefore to be received by faith.
CHRIST IDENTIFIED HIMSELF WITH HUMANITY'S SIN
Some amazing things took place at Christ's Baptism, too! Let me illustrate the first point with this account from history:
By order of the President of the United States, Army Officer George Goethals was named to oversee the construction of the Panama Canal. Tens of thousands of mostly poor and uneducated black, Italian and Spanish immigrants endured the heavy work and died as they built it. Diseases like yellow fever and cholera took heavy tolls through all the years it took to build, and immense rainfalls often caused millions of tons of mud to slide into the work sites burying people alive and sometimes even covering whole platoons of steam-shovels.
Goethals, the highly educated engineer and presidentially-appointed "Boss" of so many suffering workers, was usually to be found working and covered in the mud with them. He also earned their fond affection by keeping and open door policy by which any worker could come directly to him with concerns and complaints.
History credits Goethals with the success of finally completing the man-made wonder of the Canal. There's no doubt that his "personableness" certainly went a long way in seeing to its achievement. He was later named as the first Governor of the Canal Zone.
"Incarnation" is theology's word for Jesus being born as a Human-being. This profoundly significant act on God's part is ironically the very reason Jesus was found to be unacceptable to some though. St. john wrote that: "...the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not." People complained, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" and "Isn't He just the carpenter's son?" He was considered too plain and ordinary, yet what a wonder that Christ did condescend to become part of humanity!
Taking the back-stairs to Bethlehem and being laid in an animal food bin aren't the only things that mark His humility. – Those and other lowly circumstances in His life merely point up the infinitely greater truth of GOD bringing Himself down so far as to become one of us and then to experience all that it means: Like being tempted by Satan, getting dusty and sweaty, hungry and thirsty, tired, sad and having to suffer. (An inadequate comparison would be one of us turning-into a flea to save the world's insect population.)
CHRIST BEING IDENTIFIED WITH SIN
The great step down that Jesus took at His "incarnation" becomes all the more magnified at His Baptism! The Text says that:
"... Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?' But Jesus answered and said to him, 'Permit it to be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. 'Then he allowed Him"
Jesus coming to Jordan is another item to add to the list of humble, lowly, ordinary things chosen by God to accomplish His work. The river is mostly shallow and stagnant, and especially known for its muddiness. In the Old Testament a victim of leprosy was disgusted and belittled the Jordan when a Prophet urged him to bathe in it to be cured.
Goethals didn't just work with or open his door to workers. He got down in the mud to pull sinking people out!
The significance of the word exchange between Jesus and John, and Jesus submitting to John's "baptism of repentance" which He did not need, is that Jesus purposely and publicly identified Himself with our sin there! He didn't come only to see what earthly life is like, but came especially for the mission of "fulfilling all righteousness" by lowering Himself all the way down into humanity's muddy stench of hatred and sin. That's the first "extraordinary event" at Christ's Baptism!
HEAVEN OPENED FOR JESUS (Heaven was closed to sinners)
The Bible says that after Adam's fall that:
"The Lord God said, 'The man has now become like one of Us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the Tree of Life and eat and live forever. ' So the Lord God banished him from the Garden..(placing Angels) on the East side of the Garden of Eden.. and a flaming sword flashing back-and-forth to guard the way to the Tree of Life."
I've always pictured something like a Star Wars light-saber being dazzling whirled around by a Kung-Fu expert! — Heaven, - the place of eternal life, was made inaccessible to Adam and all his sin-tainted offspring. It wasn't only a beautiful Garden which could no longer be entered when God set the sword there.
Beyond having the condition of sinful natures, we each have also committed the thoughts and acts that bar the way to Heaven. Getting its gates open can't be done by "knocking" with self designed rituals or like blind-folded children swinging at a Pinata hoping to get a hit. We can't climb over the top of Heaven's gates by stacking -up our own pile of good deeds either. - In fact, if one of us managed in some way to even put a scratch on the outside of Heaven's fortress, the result would be swift and terrible: a jealous and angry God rushing out to burn with unquenchable fire!
HEAVEN OPENED FOR JESUS
"When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold the Heavens were opened to Hi, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him. And suddenly a Voice came from Heaven saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'"
Our second "extraordinary event" is that the Heaven closed to all the likes of you and me opened right then and there for Jesus! (Mark's Gospel literally says that the Heavens were torn open, which is a reminder of the thick curtain in the Temple's Holiest Place ripping from top to bottom at the time of Christ's death.) — Jesus Himself IS Heaven's Gate. He IS the Door! Apart from Him Heaven does not open!
Why did it happen at His Baptism? — Because the ceremony was not ultimately John's doing, but God's anointing Jesus in a fashion that reflected how Old Testament Priests and Prophets and Kings were anointed. Those ceremonies were public declarations as to whom had been chosen for those offices. – Jesus fills all three roles, but at His Baptism was especially designated as that to which He stooped so low: CARRIER OF THE WORLD'S SIN.
Why did Heaven open at His Baptism? — Because His Baptism marked Jesus as the One and Only God-pleasing Sacrifice for sin! — Now Jesus would begin relieving people of their oppression by Satan, their diseases, their inability to get food, and even relieve some of their grief over dead loved ones by raising them to life again. He would fix-things-up for many others, while accumulating all the wrath stored-up for them to Himself, until the final moment when it all poured-out on Him at the Cross and then was finished. — It was His suffering agony there, to which Jesus referred when He once asked several disciples: "Are you able .. to be baptized with the baptism which with I am baptized?"
Eagles are sometimes symbolized in the Bible as the swooping carriers of God's devastating judgment. — At His Baptism, Heaven was opened and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a peaceful dove, with God voicing His pleasure because -> Jesus was now anointed/marked/committed to the act of re-opening Heaven to us, - by suffering, dying and rising again, and to take Governship over those for whom He built the channel there.
The overarchingly "extraordinary" thing about Christ's Baptism is that it pointed forward to His victory over sin, death and the devil - by the path of His own death and resurrection! — The especially extraordinary thing about our baptisms is that they pointing back to His sacrifice for us, coupling us to Him and His wondrous love and victory! The connection between ours and Christ's Baptism and death is supernaturally profound! Through Him, Heaven now stands OPEN for US as we continue to cling to Him in faith.
"Jesus loves me; He who died, HEAVEN'S GATES to OPEN WIDE...." Amen