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  • Writer's pictureHenry Rafferty

Wade in the Water

Old Testament Reading- Isaiah 40:25-31

New Testament Reading- Mark 1:4-11

By Henry J. Rafferty CP -January 9, 2022

Last week we talked about the magi returning to their own countries and possibly telling others what they had seen and heard? I wonder, if thirty years later some of those folks that heard those magi speak, learned about a man named John who was baptizing people in the Jordan River and preaching repentance and cleansing of their sins by water. A symbolic and very solemn act that many were receiving from this man of God.

These people that came to John were searching too. They were searching for what they felt they could not find in the synagogues and temple, something genuine. Something that could not be bought, something that could not be sacrificed, something that could not be learned; something that the poor and the uneducated could achieve. Here is this man John, a man wearing clothes made of camel hair and a leather belt on his waist. A man much like the way they imagined the Prophet Elijah might have been. This man was not in the streets of Jerusalem, but in the desert places, in the wilderness, preaching about God and His saving grace. His message cost no money, no customary sacrifice, and did not require an education. He only required one thing, repent of your sins. Tell God, that you are sorry and truly come to Him with a penitent heart. John would ask if you truly repented of your sins and after you confirmed in the affirmative, he would immerse you in the waters of the Jordan.

His message cost no money, no customary sacrifice, and did not require an education. He only required one thing, repent of your sins.

Many of the learned men of the Jews had been told about John and what he was doing, so they went out from Jerusalem to Bethany, by the Jordan River, where John was baptizing and inquired of his identity, whether he was the Messiah, or Elijah, or the prophet, to which he replied, ‘No.’ When they asked further who he was, John 1:23-27 tells us,

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

John 1:29-34 tells us the events of the next day:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

The Gospel of Matthew 3:13-17 tells us more of the event:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”.

Can you blame John for questioning Jesus about His need for baptism? Jesus had no sin to confess. John did not feel worthy of this act, but Jesus thinks it highly important. John was commissioned to pave the way for the Lord, for Jesus. To make the people’s hearts and minds ready to accept the message Jesus had to bring, that to those who repent and believe in Jesus, who He really was and what He was about to do, to those that accepted all this would be given the right to be called children of God. Imagine how the Jews must have felt about this statement; nothing of laws or sacrifices, or Jewish bloodlines to separate them out from the gentiles. The high Jewish mind could not conceive of people having an intimate, father-child relationship with The Almighty, at best people would be servants, and the gentiles, they were second class to the Jews.

We now know Jesus preached differently, that He had come to be the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, to fulfill the law and the prophets, and to show all people that God is approachable by everyone; rich, poor, Jew, gentile, man, woman, child, righteous, and sinner. Approachable, and not only that, but a loving God that forgives His creation and loves them like the children that they are to Him. Jesus begins His earthly ministry with this event, His baptism, His manifestation to the world as the One and only Son of God.

And so, you see why Baptism is a sacred act for us as followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus shows us the way, He shows us that our life, as followers of Him starts with repentance, to humble ourselves before God and to give our lives over to Him in complete trust. We are required to do that which the world will not do, put God before ourselves. In this world, that is so self-centered, it is becoming harder and harder to be a Christian. We are taught now by the world to love ourselves first or we will not succeed in life. I think this is a grave misconception. When we love God first and most, more than ourselves, His love then allows us and teaches us to find peace with ourselves, to experience self-contentment, self-confidence, and to express this feeling of our right relationship with God to a right relationship of peace and love towards other people.

How can we love God when we can’t stop adoring ourselves? If you look at your social media sites or your homes and you find more pictures of yourself alone, than you do pictures of others or yourself with others, you may want to examine yourself. This kind of self-love has got to stop. Jesus came as a sacrifice for us. He did not live for Himself; He endured the shame of the cross for us. He requires us to live for others as well, yes, He wants us to be happy with our own lives, but not at the expense of others. We don’t get to walk all over others in our quest for self-gratification and still call ourselves a Christian. Scripture tells us that the Messiah would be acquainted with sorrows, and He was, Jesus knew that this life is not easy, He experienced it, but He came as an example to all of us that this life can be lived for others. Jesus has shown us by His example that baptism, the repentance of sin, is the entry point for God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives. God’s Spirit to dwell within us, to open our hearts and minds to God’s Word, and to His truth, and to His great love.

In last week’s sermon, the wise men showed us that God was worth searching for and that His love was for all, and this week, the baptism of our Lord, shows us the first step of declaring to the world that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The start of His ministry that would change the world forever in the best possible way. The start of His message that would save us all. In this act Jesus shows us to remember the importance of baptism, it is a sacrament in the Presbyterian Church and other denominations for a reason, it is sacred for a reason. It is the sign and seal of God’s gracious action and our grateful response; Baptism is the foundation for all Christian commitment. In Baptism each Christian is set free from sin, marked as Christ’s own, sealed by the Holy Spirit, welcomed to the Lord’s Supper, made a member of the Church, and set apart for a life of service.

"How can we love God when we can’t stop adoring ourselves?" ~ Pastor Henry Rafferty

If your parents or loved ones baptized you as a baby, then they are showing the world that they believe in Jesus and that He is the prophesized Messiah. They are showing the world that they believe in the importance of filling their child with the Holy Spirit even at an age when they cannot decide for themselves and that they intend to raise you in an environment that believes in Christ. If you are baptized later in life, when you have decided for yourself, then good for you, this is your personal declaration of Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Either way is good and righteous, neither is better than the other. Both are public declarations of faith in Jesus and are the first and immensely important steps in a new life in Christ.

Let us take one more look at the baptism of Christ and we will notice another key component. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, not the end. Jesus’ baptism is crucial but comes to nothing left by itself. Jesus left the banks of the Jordan and put His faith into action. Jesus shows us that baptism is crucial, but it doesn’t stop there for the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Baptism is the first step into that life of service for Christ. That may not mean that you work for a church, but that you live a life that witnesses to Christ. If the light that shines within you is a Christ-like light, people will notice it and look to Christ themselves, when the Spirit leads them in their faith journey.

Jesus has shown us the way, in the waters of baptism we are cleansed of sin and forgiven by God. We are born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus, not born again physically from your mother, born again spiritually by the Spirit of God.

Light has come into the world, Jesus is that light, do not love darkness, but be transformed by the light, the light of the only Son of God, the light of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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