RCL Year A Epiphany 1
Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Saint Matthew 3:13-17

In most years, I preach the Baptism of Our Lord as a theological puzzle. Why should the sinless one come to Jordan’s stream and be baptized by John “with water for repentance,”[1] as Saint Matthew says? The answer I give is that Jesus fulfills all righteousness as well as the will of his Father by submitting to John’s baptism. In a way, Jesus demonstrates his full humanity, including the need for repentance, despite his sinlessness, by setting the example of proclaiming the reign of God through that submission. The coming to life of God in human flesh, the incarnation itself, would not be complete without the need for repentance. And so it is.

But two different things can be true at the same time. And that second thing about the Baptism of Our Lord is this. Jesus’ Baptism in Matthew accommodates the immense popularity of John and subordinates that popularity and John’s message to the message and ministry of Jesus. This is very important in the days of Jesus’ ministry and in the early church. You can almost see the Evangelists (Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and Saint Paul, the principal writers of the New Testament, scratching their heads wondering what to do with Saint John the Baptist, how to work in a presentation of him into a presentation of Jesus, who necessarily must be preëminent in their writings.

Saint Matthew’s handling of John is pretty clear. John is not a relative of Jesus as he is in Luke. But he has a message of repentance and the nearness of God’s kingdom that paves the way for Jesus’ message about that kingdom being present in him. And in the Baptism of Jesus, we have clear signs of Jesus’ preëminence in the descent of the Spirit of God and in the message from heaven that Jesus is God’s Son, the Beloved, “with whom I am well pleased,”[2]

The importance of these things to you and to me is right there for us to grasp. Our buy-in, our acceptance of John, is really easy. It is easier to buy-in to him than it is to Jesus. All we have to do to accept John’s message is to accept that we are sinners and that we need to put away our sins to be like what God wants us to be. That’s easy enough. We just have to change our hearts and our conduct to follow John. And like many, many people in Jerusalem in the first century, we can discover that following John is a step toward following Jesus.

We are just at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In the Sundays and seasons ahead, we’ll follow Matthew’s presentation of him, and, God-willing, we’ll be led to see him in his glory and proclaim with all the saints “Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.”

[1] Saint Matthew 3:11.

[2] Saint Matthew 3:17.