So we’ve covered the birth of Jesus, now we jump ahead 30-some years to an adult Jesus about to begin 3 years of preaching, teaching, healing, and other ministry. But how does it begin? He goes to the Jordan River for baptism. According to Building block #11 of our “Foundations for Faith” the Christian practice of Baptism is, “… the sacred use of water, commanded by Jesus christ, to signify God’s cleansing of our sins and our welcome into the family of God… —Matthew 28:19-20.” But if Jesus was God incarnate, and God is holy and perfect, why would Jesus need “cleansing from sin”?
It has to do with the very heart of what Jesus work in the world is: he is taking humanity’s place in the story of the universe and rewriting our story with his life.
The life of Jesus is the story of how Jesus get’s right what we get wrong, so in many ways, his life is a retelling of the story of the Old Testament. In the book of Joshua, we read about how the Hebrews entered the promise land by crossing the Jordan river. Jesus “reenacts” this by his baptism in the Jordan river. The Hebrews were made up of 12 different tribes. How many disciples did Jesus choose to be his official followers? The parallels between Jesus’ life and the story of the Old Testament are many. That is because God’s covenant, God’s plan for salvation of the world, has been the same throughout history. It was never intended to get people to be “good enough”, it was a sign that God was going to fix the things we can’t. It’s to take care of the sin problem himself, by living the life we can’t, and dying the death we can’t.
The life of Christ is part of a Biblical pattern of repetition, and the baptism of Christ is no small part of this pattern. The Bible Project guys identify a few other signs of Jesus “re-enacting” the story of the Old Testament.
You’ve heard me say before you can divide the Bible into two sections: the Problem and the Solution. In the Old Testament we get signs and insights into God’s solution. God himself will do what we cannot. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
When we administer Christian baptism in the church, we are responding to what Jesus has first done for us. In the mystery of the incarnation God has identified with humanity. The Apostle Paul calls him “The second Adam” (Romans 5). The “first Adam” (all of us) have failed over and over again. The Second Adam breaks the chain of sin and destruction. So Jesus is our chance to get it right: if he has identified with us in the incarnation, we can identify ourselves to him through baptism. This is the essence of baptism: to say that my life is not my own, but I belong to Christ. I am in him. My life is not my own, it’s Christ’s. My identity is not found in my appearance, my skin color, my gender, my grades, my money, how good I am, how strong I am, how smart I am… it is found in Christ. That is what baptism is about.
We’re dealing with a very important part of Christian theology and an essential idea of the New Testament: God in Christ was both fully human and fully divine. The story of his birth and the story of his baptism both have implications in this.
After his baptism, Jesus heads out into the wilderness for 40 days. The wilderness is a lonely place. It’s a place without distraction. It’s a place of struggle. Jesus goes to that place not unlike how when the people of Israel came out of Egypt, they spent 40 years wandering in the desert (again, another parallel in the life of Jesus and the story of the Old Testament). Jesus goes there without food or water. He is putting himself through something difficult and rigorous to encounter God the Father.
While in the wilderness, Jesus experiences three temptations to use power to short-cut the work he would do to redeem humanity. It is in resisting these temptations that Jesus is accomplishing what we could not: he is overcoming the power of sin and showing us a way in the wilderness. In Genesis 3, we read the earliest humans succumbed to temptation (the first Adam) and ever since, sin has wreaked havoc on the world. But in Jesus (the second Adam), God is showing us what human life was really meant to be, and he’s also showing us how much God really knows and understands our struggle in this world (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Notice the practices that allows Jesus to triumph over temptation and the power of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus knows God’s law and scripture. Jesus trusts in God’s provision. Jesus loves his Father more than himself.
There is something powerful in “Wilderness experiences”. To be alone with your thoughts, just you and God, forces you to take an honest look at yourself. It’s a time for deep questions about your life. What kind of person are you? Who do you really love? Does God speak to me? Apart from the distractions we fill our lives with, the voice of God can become more clear to us and we can experience his peace and power in significant ways.
Journaling assignment this week:
Jesus spent 40 days alone in the desert. Tonight we spent just 14 minutes alone in silence. Do that again this week. Take 14 minutes to not do anything – don’t play with your phone, don’t listen to music, don’t talk to anyone. Just be quiet and spend 14 minutes alone with you and God. Then in your journal, write 14 words about those 14 minutes.