10/1/98 10.45 a.m. Matthew 3:1-17 ( Philippians 2:5-11 )
The Christmas before last a Baptist Minister in the United States gave his parents a microwave. They were excited about becoming part of the instant generation. Their smiles disappeared when they unpacked it, plugged it in and tried to get it to work without success. Two days later the mother was talking about this with a friend. The friend offered to lend her a more detailed instruction book. The mother replied, 'What I really need is my son to come along with the gift !'
This passage is about the Son coming along with the gift. There is a way in which the Son, Jesus is the gift, as well as bringing the gift of eternal life. This passage underlines the fact that God has taken human flesh.
God has taken human flesh in the person of Jesus.
We have just celebrated this at Christmas. This passage happened some 30 years after the birth of Jesus. It proclaims who Jesus is. The Christ, the Son of God, as we see from verse 17. God who came to earth as a man. 100% God and 100% man.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian said, 'If Jesus Christ is not true God, how could he help us ? If he is not true man, how can he help us ?'
This required Jesus to be humble. To leave the glory and splendour of heaven where Jesus enjoyed what it means to be God. Ruling. Being worshipped. Being untouched by sin and the pain, suffering, and distress that it brings.
Jesus put other people's interests before his own. Followed the way planned for him by God the Father. This led him not only to humbling himself by becoming a man. But also humbling himself to endure the suffering and humiliation of the cross. To receive the punishment that we deserve for our sin, separation from God. The only time that Jesus and God the Father were separated. That is why Jesus said, 'My God, my God, why have you deserted me', as he hung on the cross. So we can be free. Free to know God as our friend. Free to live for God and to put him and other people before ourselves.
Athanasius, a fourth century Bishop of Alexandra said, ' He became what we are, in order that he might make us what he is.' REPEAT.
The Baptism of Jesus also proclaims the start of his public life and ministry. We have recently had several examples of how the public lives of government ministers have been ended when their private lives have been examined. Jesus comes forward into the public gaze at his Baptism. When we look at his life and work we see that there was nothing that he could be ashamed of. No sin that he could be convicted of.
This leads us to ask the question, 'Why was Jesus baptised, then ?' After all, John's baptism was for repentance. Making a new start with God by turning from what is wrong to do things God's way. John had acknowledged that Jesus would be superior to him in verse 11. "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John tried to deter Jesus from being baptised in verse 14.
Jesus said, 'Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.'
What does this mean? Something that is righteous is from God. So if we behave righteously we are living in accordance with God's plan. Jesus was saying, 'Let us do this now because it is part of God's plan'. Even though John did not fully understand all the implications of this he agreed.
There are times when we have to trust that something is part of God's perfect will for us, even through we may not fully understand this. There is no faith where there is certainty. Although we can certainly trust in God and his ways for us.
What, then was the significance of Jesus' baptism ?
Jews had been coming to John to be baptised. For a Jew to be baptised was a humiliating experience. Up until then Gentiles, or non-Jews, were baptised when they became a member of the Jewish faith. So, for a Jew to come to John for Baptism was to admit that they were not truly a member of God's people, but wanted to make a new start with God. This involved turning away from a selfish life to a life lived for God and other people.
In coming to be baptised Jesus was identifying himself with people who want to make a new start with God. Who want to change and live for God. Not just once but every day. Jesus is saying, 'I am with you'. 'I am with you as you turn to God. I am with you as you are tempted, because I was tempted. I am with you as you go through difficult times, and endure pain, because I have been there too. I am with you as you fail to live up to God's ways, because I took the punishment for that on the cross so that you can be forgiven.'
At the start of 1999 never forget that Jesus is with you. He offers hope, strength, guidance, companionship, and forgiveness for those who turn to him.
Jesus does not just offer a new start with God, as shown by the Baptism of John. He offers a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire, verse 11. Jesus offers us a soaking in God's Holy Spirit and fire. This is not a fire that consumes, it is a fire that changes and purifies. Like fire purifying gold.
The Holy Spirit is God's way of purifying us, making us more like Jesus. This may not be easy, but it will make us better people.
Without the Holy Spirit we are far from God. We do not know how to be good. We are not able to turn to God. But God's Spirit shows us our sin and our need to repent, and enables us to respond to God's undeserved favour in Jesus. We need to be continually open to the Holy Spirit so we can go on with God in 1999. Both as individuals and as a church.
This should have far reaching consequences. When John was questioned by the crowd in Luke 3 he tells those who have two tunics to share with those who have none and those who have food to share with those who do not.
This is the other side of the offer of eternal life. Yes we are free to know and follow God, but we are freed so we can follow his ways. Not to continue unaffected doing what we like in the hope that we will be forgiven. God calls people to follow Jesus and live like Jesus.
This is the response that Jesus requires of everyone. Philippians 2 was about the way that we, as Christians should imitate Jesus. Copying his love and humility.
The gift of the microwave from the Baptist minster was useless to his parents until they had unwrapped it. It was useless when they didn't understand and use it.
It's like that with Jesus. What place does he occupy in our lives today ?
For some people their microwave might just sit their in their kitchen unused. There to try and impress visitors, or forgotten & seen as irrelevant.Is Jesus like that ? Thinking that if we have him there in some way this will impress God, or as irrelevant?
Some people might have a microwave just for emergencies. For the time when they arrive home late or unprepared and have to heat up a meal at short notice. Is Jesus just there for emergencies? Perhaps when everything else has been tried and failed ?
Others use their microwaves everyday, perhaps a number of times a day. Jesus wants to be with us all day, everyday. Alongside us as we go through the joys and difficulties of our lives. Giving his Holy Spirit so that we can become more like him everyday.
PRAY : Lord Jesus we invite you.
Come among us to show us how to be good.
Come among us to show us how to love.
Come among us to show us how to be Christian.
Come among us to show us how to be human. Without you we are lost and lonely and do not know how to live. For living with you is eternal life. Amen.