Sermon Ideas For Matthew 3:13-17 Part 1
The message in Matthew 3:13-17 is counter-intuitive. It begins with a marginal figure in Palestinian Jewish history wielding power and taking center stage far from the temple and the city and the seats of power. John the Baptist, the outsider with the strange dress and diet, behavior and business, foists upon us the paradox of world-changing power entering history from a remote and seemingly insignificant place.
Admittedly a person of less stature, John fulfills his obligation by offering baptism to the person of greater stature, Jesus. The activity that is performed is said to "fulfill all righteousness."
Two points upon which to concentrate in the passage are: (1) the empowerment of Jesus, and (2) the spiritual nature of this empowerment, which result in the birth of a new consciousness.
American Psychologist, William James, in his monumental work, The Principles of Psychology, discussed at some length the idea of consciousness. He stated: "Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought... It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others."
John the Baptist was, in the sense of which James' speaks, a very conscious person. John's mind was trained on bringing forth the message of repentance. It appears that he was committed to preaching against self-deception and for the revelation that consequences are attached to specific behaviors. He promised that God would "cut down and throw into the fire" like a tree, those people who did not bear good fruit.
The prophet's call to repentance was done for largely practical reasons. He was afraid that if the people did not repent they could not survive. Most important to the peoples of the ancient world was the continuation of their lineage. John did not want them to forget where they came from and to whom they owed their existence. However, John, like all of the prophets before him, places the locus of human value outside of himself.
When Jesus comes upon the scene John recognizes that this is the one person to whom his cries for repentance are unnecessary.
A strange dialogue between John and Jesus ensues in which Jesus asks John to baptize him to fulfill all righteousness.
In this scene we get a first-hand, contrasting view of what theologians refer to in Latin as mens agens (the active mind) and mens patiens (the passive mind). The active mind of John is seeking to do, to find, and to fulfill his understanding of the truth. Jesus' mind rests, quietly listening for direction, peaceful and receptive. It records and imprints what it hears. He is instructed to fulfill righteousness.
Immediately after being baptized, Jesus comes out of the water. Suddenly the heavens open, and he sees the Spirit of God descending and alighting on him. Then Jesus hears a voice from heaven proclaiming "This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased."
No one else hears the voice. No one else can. The message is only audible to the one who is fully attentive to the Voice. The passive mind waits, listens and receives quietly. The message which is received is an empowering message. It suggests that the locus of value has been transferred from without the human being to within the human being. This is a novel concept. The voice tells Jesus who he is! From this time on there will be a transformation of the ancient ethos and an emergence into consciousness a new class of moral values. The Gospel of Thomas (3:2) underscores the point:
Jesus said, "If those who lead you say to you, `See, the kingdom is in heaven,' then the birds of the heaven will precede you. If they say to you, `It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside you. When you come to know yourselves, you will realize that you are sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourself, you dwell in poverty, and it is you who are that poverty."
The passage underscores something dramatic and refreshingly new which is happening. Just as God chose David, an obscure shepherd boy, to be Israel's greatest king, God now chooses a humble, obedient, open, and submissive carpenter from an obscure place to be the king of kings and the Lord of Lords.
What might God have whispered or prayed into the passive and receptive mind of Jesus. Perhaps it is the Word from the beginning which has not yet been fulfilled. The word stated in Isaiah 42:6,7,9, "I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. Behold the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them."
What will be Jesus' response to this? Jesus will add a new word to the Shema (Dt 6:4-5), the first commandment of the Decalogue. This one word, mind, will need to be remembered in light of his transcendent election, through his baptism by the Spirit, which begins his public ministry.
Jesus said, "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: `You shall love your neigh bor as yourself.'" (Mt 22:37-39).
Jesus' hears a heavenly voice and receives the good news, setting him on the holy direction which God desires him to take.
Jesus' first act of public witness is to receive with the passive mind the Holy direction which God desires him to take. His full attention to the voice of God will move him, and humanity with him, away from concern over mere survival toward addressing qualitatively different questions such as what it means to find completeness, joy and blessedness in life. This is the birth of a new consciousness.
Steven Berry First Congregational Church Los Angeles, CA