Matthew 3:13-17

1st Sunday after Epiphany

St Barbara’s; 8.1.17

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Last summer as a family we were fortunate enough to go to the Alps in Slovenia for a holiday. We had a great holiday with many memorable moments, and when we talk about it and tell others about it we remember and tell different parts of the holiday – maybe the swimming in the mountain lake; or the climbing up to one of the mountain huts; or the eating of cake; or how cold it was at night. But there is one part of the holiday that all of us always include, because it was so special, fun, hair-raising – when we went summer tobaganning down a 2000 foot hillside! Its the part of the story that none of us misses out.

Maybe you’ve been away recently on a holiday with others. Everyone may choose to recount different things, but there may be one event that no-one forgets to mention – it was just too special, too significant.

Well, the story of Jesus’ life is recorded by four separate people – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They don’t always include the same stories, but one story they all include is this one – the baptism of Jesus.

The story of Jesus’ baptism is the first we hear of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel after his return to Nazareth as a young child. In Luke’s Gospel, it is similar: one childhood story (of his parents losing him in the Temple) between his birth and his baptism as an adult. And in Mark and John’s accounts, this event stands out all the more visibly – it is the event that starts off their gospels.

That immediately tells us that Jesus’ baptism was seen as important. No-one misses this event out of the re-telling of Jesus’ life.

But why is it so important?

Firstly, it shows us that Jesus identifies with us; he experiences our life.

Imagine a teacher sets a really difficult and long piece of homework. Its easy to feel, “Have they no idea how difficult this is? how long it will take?” But imagine if they then say, “I know its difficult. I’m going to sit down and do it with you.” That makes a big difference.

Or imagine a sick patient trying to explain their symptoms to their doctor, but no matter how hard they try it just seems difficult to get anyone to understand what its like. And then imagine that the doctor says: “There’s only one thing for it. I’m going to infect myself with the same sickness so that I can understand you better.” It may seem a little crazy, but we would know they were taking us seriously, that they were wanting to understand.

Or imagine a king or queen who lives in luxury, but who then gives it all away to live as a homeless person so that they can better understand and relate to the poorest in their kingdom.

When Jesus got baptised he was saying: “I want to understand. I want to experience your life. I want to share in your life.” Jesus didn’t need to get baptised – after all baptism was about asking God to forgive you for the wrong things you had done, and Jesus has no need of forgiveness. But he wanted to understand us

That is the message of Christmas – that God came to dwell among us, to share our life, to show us his love, and to show that he cares and understands. And that is the message of Jesus’ baptism too.

Sometimes it may feel like no-one understands us, that no-one understands how hard it is sometimes to be me. But Jesus does. He understands us. How wonderful is that!

The second reason why Jesus’ baptism is so important is that it reminds us at the beginning of his work, his ministry, that he is God’s Son. His baptism shows us not only that he understands us; but that he is the one who can make a difference.

God leaves us in no doubt that Jesus is his Son. He speaks from heaven, “This is my son whom I love.”

Some of you may have seen over Christmas a programme with Gordon Buchanan, the wildlife photographer and camera man, about a herd of elephants. When a baby elephant was born, the whole herd gathered round, trumpeting with pride and delight. It was a very moving moment.

Or when a baby is born parents are so wonderfully proud. God is proud of his son Jesus, but it is more than that.

He tells us how delighted he is with him: “with him I am well pleased.” God, who knows everything about us, who sees us inside out, who knows our strengths but also our weaknesses and flaws, looks at his Son and is delighted. In him, there is no wrong.

And so, as a couple of the other accounts recall, God says to us: “Listen to him.” Jesus is the one who will make all the difference; Jesus is the one who will transform this world and will transform our lives.

Not only does he understand us. He is able to make the difference. To bring life, joy, peace, hope, comfort, into our lives.