As early as the third century ce, Christians in the East celebrated January 6 as the date of Jesus’ baptism. In time that celebration joined Easter and Pentecost as one of the three most important feasts in the Christian calendar. In the West, we now celebrate Jesus’ baptism on the first Sunday after January 6. The main feature of the feast is the blessing of the baptismal waters.
In our text from Matthew 3:13-17, John the Baptist voices this question: Why is Jesus baptized? It seems fairly clear that a sect composed of followers of John the Baptist consider him the Messiah and Jesus one of his followers. John’s words and the events surrounding Jesus’ baptism negate such thinking. Matthew takes care to distinguish John’s baptism from Christian baptism, as Paul does in Ephesus for some who are baptized “into John’s baptism” but “have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19).
According to Matthew, John the Baptist makes the distinction between his and the Messiah’s baptisms: “I baptize you with water for repentance,” but he “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). When Jesus presents himself for baptism, John dissents: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (v. 12). In response Jesus explains why he has come for baptism—“to fulfill all righteousness.” His baptism signifies his desire to do what God wants him to do with his life. Confirmation of God’s desire for Jesus to be baptized comes in the baptism itself. A voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Is this not also what our baptism should mean—that we want to do what God wants us to?
Dear God, in baptism you put a seal on my life. May I faithfully honor this day the vow I took to do what is right. Amen.
Read Isaiah 42:1-9. What does it mean for Jesus to be a Servant Messiah? In what ways does God suffer with or for you?
Read Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14. As children of God, we are called to reflect God’s righteousness. How do you defend the poor and deliver the needy?
Read Acts 10:34-43. Consider the author’s proposal that those who fear God and do what is right may include people of other faiths. What would this mean for your faith and your relationships with those of other faiths?
Read Matthew 3:13-17. Remember your baptism. Did you make the decision to be baptized or did someone else make the decision for you? How does remembering your baptism guide you to do what God wants?
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