Jan 11, 2021
Join us as we explore God’s ancient wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. His word is as current and relevant today as it was when he inspired its authors more than two and a half millennia ago. The websites where you can reach us are alittlewalkwithgod.com, richardagee.com, or saf.church.
I hope you will join us every week and be sure to let us know how you enjoy the podcast and let others know about it, too. Thanks for listening.
Thanks for joining me today for “A Little Walk with God.” I’m your host Richard Agee.
Last week we had a short history lesson on Epiphany, the church’s celebration of the Magi’s visits to Jesus in Bethlehem. I mentioned that initially, the church three separate events during Epiphany, the Magi’s visits, Jesus’ baptism by John, and Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana. The Magi’s visits always took center stage during Epiphany since it marked Jesus’ revelation to the Gentile world. As you can imagine, that revelation gives the rest of us, outside the chosen people of Israel, the opportunity to become part of God’s family.
Jesus’ baptism very likely did not occur on January 6th. Still, as you may recall from last week, the early church chose January 6th to celebrate Epiphany, probably due to the liturgical reading from the first gospel circulated among the churches, the book of Mark. Those early gospel readers also believed Jesus was exactly two when the Magi found him, exactly thirty at his baptism, and performed the miracle at Cana exactly one year later. All three events, then, became part of the celebration during Epiphany.
Again, the timing is improbable, considering the precise timing of all the other events in Jesus’ life. Instead of being born in December, we can imagine Jesus coming during the lambing season in the spring, as the Lamb of the world. The Magi could travel in the fall and winter months to avoid the mid-east summer heat, but the probability of seeing Jesus on January 6th is indeed slim. And Jesus’ first recorded miracle at the wedding in Cana likely occurred earlier than a year into his formal ministry.
The reason we celebrate Epiphany, and formerly Jesus baptism and first miracle on January 6th seems solely an accident of where early Christians happened to read Mark’s gospel message. So, now the bit of history in front of us regards the celebrations’ separation timeline. How long has the church put Jesus’ baptism as its own commemoration time? The answer surprised me when I did some research on the topic.
For four centuries, beginning in the 1500s, Jesus’ baptism didn’t appear as a commemoration at all in the Roman Catholic church. Then, in 1955 Pope Pius XII wrote a separate commemoration for the Baptism of Our Lord as part of the Mass after Epiphany. He didn’t specify any date to use the observance but suggested it be immediately after Epiphany. Pope John XXII revised the Roman Catholic church calendar, setting January 13thas the commemoration date. Not until 1969 did the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord settle on the calendar as it is today, the first Sunday after Epiphany, a decree made by Pope Paul VI.
Other liturgical churches followed suit, as many follow the lectionary established by the Catholic church. The church calendar provides observances for many events in Jesus’ life that we, in the evangelical community too often overlook at our misfortune. Jesus’ baptism is one of those. We read about it in all the gospels. Mark records it like this:
This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King, the Son of God.
Isaiah the prophet told us what would happen before He came:
Watch, I will send My messenger in front of You
to prepare Your way and make it clear and straight.
You’ll hear him, a voice crying in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way of the Eternal One,
a straight way in the wandering desert, a highway for our God.”
That messenger was John the Baptist, who appeared in the desert near the Jordan River preaching that people should be ritually cleansed through baptism with water as a sign of both their changed hearts and God’s forgiveness of their sins. People from across the countryside of Judea and from the city of Jerusalem came to him and confessed that they were deeply flawed and needed help, so he cleansed them with the waters of the Jordan. John dressed as some of the Hebrew prophets had, in clothes made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He made his meals in the desert from locusts and wild honey. He preached a message in the wilderness.
John the Baptist: Someone is coming who is a lot more powerful than I am—One whose sandals I’m not worthy to bend down and untie. I’ve washed you here through baptism with water; but when He gets here, He will wash you in the Spirit of God.
The Jordan River is the setting of some of the most memorable miracles in the Old Testament. On their journey through the wilderness to the promised land, the Israelites walked across the Jordan River on dry ground because God parted its waters. Elisha, one of the prophets of God, healed Naaman by telling him to bathe seven times in its waters. Partly because of miracles like these and partly because of a growing wilderness spirituality, many of the Jews in John’s day are out to hear him and be ritually baptized in the Jordan’s cool, cleansing waters. They are looking for God to intervene miraculously in their lives as He has done in the past. What they don’t know is that God is about to intervene, for at that time Jesus leaves Nazareth and heads south.
It was in those days that Jesus left Nazareth (a village in the region of Galilee) and came down to the Jordan, and John cleansed Him through baptism there in the same way all the others were ritually cleansed. But as Jesus was coming out of the waters, He looked up and saw the sky split open. The Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove, and a voice echoed in the heavens.
Voice: You are My Son, My beloved One, and I am very pleased with You. (Mark 1:1-11 The Voice)
In these verses, we learn some things. Baptism was necessary to Jesus as it began his public ministry. Another point we miss, but those Jews who knew their Old Testament did not, was the words Mark used to describe the sky opening. The Septuagint uses the same words here that it uses in Exodus 14:21 to describe God splitting the water in the Reed Sea for the Israelites to cross on dry land. The voice from heaven also gave public recognition that Jesus was the Son of God.
Another point we miss, that again, the Jews present who knew the Old Testament well did not, was the pronouncement from the voice Jesus was God’s beloved. Only twice in the Old Testament does God give that description to others, to King David and King Solomon. He described both as beloved when he continued his covenant with them and told them a king from their lineage would always sit on Israel’s throne. Hearing the voice declare Jesus as beloved acclaimed him as Israel’s rightful King. Jesus’ baptism identifies him with Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the kingly line of David.
Why do we need to remember the event? First, it reminds us who Jesus is. When we look back and explore the words describing the “Angel of the Lord” who went before Israel as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, we find it is Yahweh. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the word interchanges give us clues that, although God was never incarnate in the Old Testament, he did appear to men and women in a human form in the Old Testament. When God split the sky to announce his son, he reminds us Jesus, Yahweh in human form split the sea and led the Israelites to freedom.
When God calls Jesus his My Beloved Son, God puts Jesus in a unique category. He not only belongs in the line of Abraham, God’s chosen people to show God’s image to the rest of the nations, but he belongs to the lineage of David. As God’s Beloved Son, Jesus claims the throne of Israel and, by extension of God’s covenant with David and Solomon, the kingship of all the nations of the world. We know who he is, God incarnate, King of kings, and Messiah through his baptism.
Jesus’ baptism also serves as an example to us. If Jesus felt baptism important as the beginning of his ministry, a demonstration of his death to self and life in God, certainly we should follow his example. Baptism doesn’t save us, but it shows those witnesses around us and reminds us through the experience that we die to ourselves and become alive in Christ. Baptism will always be a significant milestone in the life of a Christian.
This week, if you have been baptized, remember what it is for and rejoice in it. If you have not yet been baptized or were too young to know what it meant, consider being baptized. Baptism doesn’t save you, but it is a pivotal event in the life of a Christian. We follow Jesus’ example symbolizing giving up ourselves and living in him.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn’t, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked THE VOICE are taken from the THE VOICE (The Voice): Scripture taken from THE VOICE ™. Copyright© 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.