1st Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

Matthew 3:13-17
(The Baptism of our Lord)
(First Sunday after the Epiphany)
analysis by Mike Hoy

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

DIAGNOSIS: Keeping our Distance

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis: Preventing
John had just spoken about the One who was “coming after” him, the One who clears the threshing floor with his winnowing fork, gathering the wheat but burning the chaff with “unquenchable fire” (vv. 11-12). Now, guess who’s “coming after” him, coming to the Jordan “to be baptized by him”? “John would have prevented him” (v. 14). Maybe there was something to hide? Or Someone from Whom to hide?

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis: Offended
Among that which John would need to hide is his own offense. All along John had claimed that the Messiah’ baptism was much more purifying than his own. John’s baptism was in the water of repentance; but the Messiah would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” Now he finds himself offended by his very own Messiah who comes “to him” to be baptized. His offense is a sign of his own mistrust of this Messiah and his intentions. John’s greater trust is in his own legal righteousness through repentance. He does not believe that the Messiah knows what is best for him; that it is better for the Messiah to stay uncontaminated with John, let alone his baptism.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis: Unworthy
But why would John believe that, unless he was already aware, even for himself, that he had no business being in the same place with the Holy One. He is “not worthy” even to perform the slave’s task (v. 11). Even that much of an admission was perhaps more than his (John’s) disciples could confess: the truth of John’s own inferiority, his own sinfulness. John has acknowledged his guilt; but now he complicates it further by his offense at the Messiah. Where, then, does that leave him in the final analysis? And not only him, but we ourselves who have our own preventative measures and offensiveness before the holy. Not as wheat — only as chaff.

PROGNOSIS: Keeping the Faith

Step 4: Initial Prognosis: Chosen
This Messiah Jesus, however, does know what he is up to — and for our good. He does, indeed, contaminate himself with the unholy, the unworthy; but in order that they should not be left as unworthy. He does so to make their unworthiness his, and give them instead the blessed cloak of worthiness, “fulfilling all righteousness.” To be sure, his baptism would be one of “Holy Spirit and fire,” though the real fire would come on a later day, on the cross. But in making this mission his, by stepping in, with, and deeply under our sin, he nonetheless has the blessing of being “pleasing” to the Father, who calls him his “Beloved,” his Chosen One.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis: Pleasing
That divine pleasure, however, is not limited by the Father for this Messiah Jesus, but for all of us. We, too, have become united with this Christ in our own baptism, and the pronouncement of being those “with whom I am [God is] well pleased.” And we enjoy that pleasure already in our faith that Christ’s baptism is for our own good, “proper for us” in the fullest sense of the hope.

Step 6: Final Prognosis: Participating
But the fuller joy is that we too get to participate in Christ’s plan of “fulfilling all righteousness.” While the fulfillment is not ours to grant — it is Christ’s and Christ’s alone — nonetheless, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, designates us as his partners for whom it is good and proper — in, with, and deeply under Christ’s righteousness — to be outreaching with that righteousness for “all.”


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