Taking a Sunday each year at this time to consider the baptism of our Lord Jesus is a regular staple in the Christian Calendar. Christ’s baptism is a theologically profound event that announces the fact of his divinity in a dramatic way; it helps us understand our Lord’s identity, as well as his mission.
Because God the Father acknowledged Jesus as God the Son, we know that through Christ’s words and actions that we are encountering God’s will for us. Jesus is the hinge upon which all history turns. The centrality of Jesus for everything we say and do is confirmed and expected through this event of his baptism.
Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan River not because he personally needed to repent of sin. Rather, through his baptism Jesus identified with us as humans and signaled that he will be the true way of life for all people. With the Father’s affirmation of Christ, the Lord Jesus is our authority. All authority on heaven and earth has been given to him. He is the author and finisher of our faith. So we must pay careful attention to Jesus.
It just may well be that the name of Jesus is so familiar to us that we actually end up ignoring him. Or, we might be so disappointed with Jesus that, over time, we simply slide away from him. That this is a clear possibility is why the author of the book of Hebrews exhorted: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3).
Heaven was “torn” open (Mark 1:10) at Christ’s baptism; it is the strongest possible of words to communicate the striking reality that God does not remain far away, but has come near to us in his Son, the Lord Jesus. In Hebrews, a book saturated with the centrality and superiority of Jesus, we are confronted with the importance of Christ: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-3).
This term for heaven being “torn” open appears again at the death of Christ. The curtain of the Temple that separated the inner sanctuary from everything else was ripped in two from top to bottom – signifying that once for all God is near to us and has become close to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Since Jesus is the rightful ruler of the universe; since he has authority over all things; since he is a faithful high priest always living to intercede for us; since he has the power to transform and give new life; since deliverance can only be found through Christ our Lord; our proper response is confession, repentance, and the expectation of change.
Our Lord’s baptism exposes all the things we rely on other than Jesus: our own ability to set goals and accomplish them through sheer willpower; our own ingenuity; our own experience; our own ideas to work things out. Any person on earth can attempt these things, but only Jesus can change us (and our own heart transformation is what is needed). Rather than expecting everyone and every circumstance to change, God calls us to change through the empowering presence of the Spirit, the same Spirit given to Jesus.
Instead of relying on other things or people, we are to rely on Jesus. We might think that personal change is not necessary – that there is plenty of evil in the world that needs to turn around, and lots of people worse off than us that need transformation. But if you find yourself complaining more than being thankful; if you spend more time on social media than in prayer; if being a good person is more important than asking God for help; if you find yourself feeling sorry for yourself more than helping others; if you think this blog post is more for other people than yourself; then, today the baptism of Jesus calls us to confession, repentance, and inner change.
Just as it took humility for Jesus to be baptized by John in the Jordan, so it takes humility for us to come to Christ and admit our need for help and for inner transformation. May it be so, to the glory of our Lord Christ.