Empowerment of God’s children
As we noted in this column last week, the Feast of the Epiphany began in the Church as a many-layered commemoration of all that revealed or manifested the Son of God to the world, including His birth, His baptism, His first miracle of turning water into wine, the multiplication of loaves and fishes, and other revelatory elements of His ministry in the Holy Land. We take a look today at the baptism of Christ at the hands of John the Baptiser. This occurred of course at the beginning of His ministry and not at the end. When at His baptism the voice came from heaven (S. Luke 3: 21-22) with the words “Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased” – or in fact more literally “with Thee I was well pleased”, this was a sign of the eternally attentive care of the Father for the Son. It was a sign confirming His Sonship and all that that faithful Sonship would imply for His calling upon the earth. And the New Testament record in general shows that baptism, the laying on of hands and the gifts of the Holy Spirit cannot be understood or appreciated in any depth apart from the element of being affirmed as God’s children. So that we can carry out the business of God’s children, we need to know our Father and the way He cares for us. The ministrations of baptism and the laying on of hands and the possession and gifts of the Holy Spirit declare that we are His sons and daughters, a standing that has vast implications for our manner of life and our future. Although Jesus was aware of His heavenly Father before His baptism and its accompanying signs, this affirmation of His status as Son was clearly very important for the ministry that followed. It is significant that the main thrust of the desert temptations following His baptism was to try to have him doubt that He really was God’s Son. By resisting such a temptation, Jesus fulfilled His calling and secured our ransom from the power of evil.
In order that Christ be revealed to the world it was necessary that he be revealed to His own people, and of course it was necessary that the will of God His Father be sufficiently revealed to Jesus Himself for Him to perform it. We can be sure that the experience that Jesus had when the descent of the Spirit upon Him took place was illuminating and instructing. It marked the end of His thirty years in relative obscurity and the beginning of His public ministry. Most scholars, studying all of the Gospel accounts of the Baptism of Jesus, believe that the words of the voice from heaven confirmed to Him that, first, He was indeed the promised Messiah (or Anointed One) and, secondly, that as Messiah He would also fulfil the role of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant of God. In Isaiah ch 42 v.1 God’s words concerning His Servant were, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” For Jesus, this new or renewed consciousness of the Father’s will was a kind of little resurrection that even as disciples of His we can sometimes identify with, when after a time of clouded knowledge or some form of uncertainty about the way ahead, the time comes when it seems God reveals it to us and the way forward becomes clear. It seems likely that when Jesus came to John to be baptised by Him there would be in Jesus’ consciousness a seeking after the will of God His Father, a seeking for a sufficient clarity of the knowledge of that will to perfectly carry it out. John too is searching for the meaning in Jesus coming to him for baptism. All others who have come rightly to John the Baptist have come acknowledging their many faults and their intention to change and become the men and women of Israel they had so far failed to be, but this meaning, John recognises, cannot be applied to Jesus. But at Jesus’ word, John submits to a situation over which he is no longer in control. Although he does not really know the meaning of it, John allows Jesus to have His baptism. Jesus by doing this forms a fellowship, as He so often did later, with those who in humility sought after righteousness, and identified Himself with them. For from now on He was to become their focus of attention as the new Israel. The day would come when by the influence of the Spirit, Baptism would become not a baptism into a restored and renewed Israel as John had conceived it, but a holy baptism into a new humanity, a new Israel founded upon Christ Himself.
The revealing or manifestation of Christ to the world at His Baptism is the revealing of the heavenly Father’s care for his beloved Son. Climactic in itself, this was a beginning for all of His followers. The proclamation of the Gospel in which His followers share, the ministrations of Holy Baptism and the laying-on of hands called later Holy Confirmation, and the distribution of the Holy Spirit’s gifts throughout the world continue that same declaration of care, because other sons and daughters are being adopted as members of God’s household at the cost of the loving obedience of the Son. In this process, the self-esteem of the men and women of the church is being warmed, and the warming power is not merely praise for things we have done, but rather His constant care for us that we do not merit. Unworthy as we are, this should be a great wonder to us, and as recipients of such care, we are all called to dispense it too. This is the caring and faithful love that the Lord calls us churchmen to afford to one another and to offer to our neighbours and all the world in His Name, indeed, as an epiphany of His character, in 2013 and beyond.
As we noted last week, the victory of the Church over the world is assured not by any perception of an outward strength on her part over the institutions and forces of our time. Indeed, the outward perception of the church is most commonly as a failing institution. There is no room whatever for an attitude of triumphalism on the part of the Church. Nevertheless, we may be assured that God’s Epiphany to the world in His Son was and will be victorious, and also that the Church, for all her failings, continues to be the body instituted by Christ for the purpose of the continued unfolding of the manifold wisdom of God. Within that Church in which we are to be built up as members, we all receive and are charged to exercise our individual callings to be followers and revealers of Christ.
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