Sermon Briefs: Matthew 3:13-17
Bede the Venerable calls this text "a noble example of perfect humility," in both the Lord and his servant, John the Baptist. Jesus did not require baptism in the usual sense, having no sin of his own. Yet, his baptism was necessary as part of a "holy plan to be cleansed of the whole contagion of our sin." The baptism of Jesus sanctified "the flowing of water for washing away the stains of all our wicked deeds."
John the Baptist confesses his need to be baptized by the Lord, revealing his own humility. Yet, in baptizing Jesus, John reveals an even deeper sense of humility. "True humility is that companion which obedience does not desert." Though he doesn't understand at first, he obeys and trusts in God's holy plan.
All of us need the life-giving regeneration baptism provides. Jesus sets an example for us. His baptism marks the beginning of a new phase in his life, a ministry devoted to preaching, teaching, and healing. The Spirit descends as a dove, and God's voice is heard in the heavens. The holy Trinity is most present.
John Donne elaborates on the doctrine of the Trinity in his message on Trinity Sunday (1624). Focusing on verse 17, he points out that the voice from heaven rouses the people out of their reverie, and the vision of the dove sheds light in their darkness. There are many voices not from God, that serve unholy purposes. Out task is to follow the word of God which is preached by the faithful. Our hearing prompts our believing. The Trinity is reflected in the three births the faithful experience: from our natural mothers, in baptism, and in the resurrection. Donne defends infant baptism against the Anabaptists, saying, "we are born before we are fed."
Donne claims our faith in the Trinity distinguishes us from other faiths. It can be hard to grasp, yet it is abundant and fulfilling. Our baptism in the name of the Trinity opens up the heavens, and "mysteries of religion are made accessible to us."
C.S. Rodd points out continuing controversies about who should receive baptism. Should we only baptize infants of member parents? Should it be offered to all? What about a young convert, baptized at birth, who wants to be "rebaptized" to celebrate this public profession of faith?
On the subject of infant baptism, he includes this quote from Martin Luther, "Before I knew anything about it, long before I could consciously respond, God loved me with all the love expressed in the cross." Baptism is God's loving claim on our lives.
For Jesus and others baptized by John, there was a great openness. John baptized any and all who came to him with repentant hearts. It was a simple submission to the religious call of John. In his baptism, Jesus has a fresh religious experience. He is convinced that he is the Son of God. The Spirit then leads him into the wilderness where he will learn what this calling means and what it doesn't mean.
In her sermon entitled First Love, Suzanne Guthrie compares a boy and a girl standing outside in the pouring rain to baptism. "Through the icon of love, this pale, thin boy, she has caught a glimpse of the Infinite behind the finite, the Creator behind the created, the ineffable behind the sensual, the uncreated light illuminating the icon itself."
Guthrie sees the love between this boy and this girl, standing out in the pouring rain, waiting for a ride. This love changes them. "Like the heavens opening and the spirit descending in baptism, love confers a new and irrevocable consciousness upon the human soul."
Love and baptize are intricately related. "Love can baptize the soul into divine love. In this way, a young girl's first love is to her the greatest of all prophets." This prophecy may prompt her to find deeper meaning in the ordinary events of life. "Perhaps from now on she will pursue that glint of the Blessed One under every aspect of creation."
!-- Generation of PM publication page 5 -->Tony Roberts Cochranton Presbyterian Church Cochranton, PA