The Baptism of our Lord

by Crossings

MESSIANIC MEASURES
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
(The Baptism of Our Lord)
Analysis by Robin Morgan


15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


DIAGNOSIS: How Might Makes Right

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Looking for a Mighty Messiah
The fact that John the Baptist even merited some consideration from the people who were “filled with expectation” is an indication of their preference. Strength is equated with might and mighty words. The Messiah (“anointed one”) is one who can show prowess in leading the revolution. John, at least, could exemplify the type of one who could challenge the principalities and powers and bring back the glory days to Israel. Our own concepts of strength are not too far from these ideals. Whenever the phrase gets invoked (overtly or covertly) that the gospel needs more teeth, we are looking for a mighty messiah as well. “Might makes right” was a common theme for Nietzsche. It still is today.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Questioning in their hearts
The people are so sheepish, however, that their “questioning” about the messiah is never openly disclosed. John’s “messianic stature” is being sized up by the people, but the critical speculation takes place in the supposed solitude of the heart. Their unwillingness to be open is already a sign of their weakness. By keeping the questioning in the hearts, the people do not need to reveal (and think that no one knows) that they are holding back some claim to making a final, critical judgment. There is no full disclosure of their values; and there is the puffed-up assumption that there is resourceful strength in the solitude.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Burning the chaff
So perceptive is John that he cuts to the quick of such secret questioning. He acknowledges the implicit criticism of the people that he is himself not their powerful Messiah; and he assures them of the coming of “one who is more powerful that I.” Yet they may end up with a more powerful one than they may have bargained for; for when the Messiah comes, John says, all that is puffed-up chaff will be burned away in the fire. Truth is, it is not we who do the measuring of the Messiah; it is the Messiah who measures us. And no one can stand up to that measuring stick!

PROGNOSIS: How Right(ness) Makes Might

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: The Beloved One, With Whom God is Pleased
One who does measure up to the divine judgment, however, is Jesus. He receives the judgment as One with whom the Father is “well pleased.” Such a blessing of sonship is pronounced uniquely on him, replete with the Spirit’s descent to sanctify the event. Nevertheless, he receives this divine good pleasure as he takes his place with the people. His drowning in baptism and rising to new life to bring about the divine good pleasure is not simply a blessing upon him, but is also his solidarity with the people, a blessing for them. Jesus is the One who, so blessed in his mission, has the power to make us right, and chooses in his baptism to share that rightness with us.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: The Rightness of Drowning and Rising
Because we are in solidarity with our Lord, we too share in his baptism–his drowning into death and his rising again to new life. All the secret imaginations our hearts get to be crucified through repentance, to be washed away in the waters. And yet this letting go of vain imaginations is all in order to grasp the truly secure and certain hopes that come from the Messiah Jesus through whom the divine blessing becomes our own. We become the children of God, the beloved of God with whom the Father is pleased, by staking all of our trust in his Beloved One, Jesus.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: The Confessing Might of Such Rightness
The strength to be treasured is not a strength to be sought after within ourselves or for ourselves. The strength is in the confessing that there is one “more powerful that I.” There is no shame in the weakness of who we are or who we have become. The real strength for our lives and our mission comes from the messianic Lord who has claimed us as his own, and has gathered us in as “the wheat into his granary.” And as wheat, we blow in the Wind of his good pleasure, giving our lives as the seeds of testimony to new life for all others seeking to be right.

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  • Crossings

    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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In the early 1970s two seminary professors listened to the plea of some lay Christians. “Can you help us live out our faith in the world of daily work?” they asked. “Can you help us connect Sunday worship with our lives the other six days of the week?”  That is how Crossings was born.

 

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