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Jesus' Baptism and Yours
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
01/08/12

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
DR. TODD B. JONES
JANUARY 8, 2012

Jesus' Baptism and Yours
Isaiah 42:1-9
Matthew 3:13-17


I have been reading Walter Isaacson's outstanding biography of Steve Jobs, who died last year at the age of fifty-six after a long battle with cancer. The book is compelling because Jobs was such a complex and "mixed-bag" of a person, and Isaacson seeks to tell the truth about him. Jobs was a genius at product development, though, and he built the most valuable company in the whole world. One journalist who writes of the Silicon Valley said, "He has an uncanny ability to cook up gadgets that we didn't know we needed, but then suddenly can't live without."

One of the most poignant moments in Jobs' often highly-conflicted life occurred without him even being present. Jobs was born to an unmarried couple who were graduate students, Abdulfattah Jandali and Joanne Scheible. They made the decision to put their child up for adoption, and Paul and Clara Jobs became loving, faithful parents to Jobs. But the fact that his birth parents gave him up became a source of turmoil and anguish for Jobs. In the 1980's Jobs met his birth mother, and she informed him that she had later married Jobs' biological father and that he had a biological sister. She turned out to be a sister in every way to Jobs, and one of the most positive relationships he sustained throughout his tumultuous life. Mona Simpson is a successful novelist, and when she told Jobs she intended to meet with her biological father, "John" Jandali, who had left and abandoned Mona and her mother when she was quite young, Jobs wanted nothing to do with Jandali.

Jandali was then running a Casino heroes bonus in Reno, Nevada when he and Simpson met. Jandali told Mona, who promised her brother she would not breathe a word about his identity, "I wish you had visited me at the restaurant I ran in San Jose. Everyone in the Silicon Valley ate there; even Steve Jobs used to eat there, and he was a great tipper!" Jandali had met his son repeatedly, only he had no idea that Steve Jobs was his son. And Jobs knew his biological father for years, only he was utterly clueless that the man was his father.

I share this today because this is exactly the opposite reality to which Jesus' baptism, and the sacrament of baptism, points. In baptism we affirm our identity as God the Father's beloved children. In baptism God calls us by name, and calls us His own. We find our identity in being the Heavenly Father's beloved son or daughter.

We see all this, of course, in Jesus' baptism. In Mark's Gospel, which starts with the baptism of Jesus, three things happen that point to the meaning of baptism. First, we are told that the heavens were opened. Actually, Mark tells us that they were "torn apart." The ancient prayer of Israel was that God would come down and set things right, that God would bring peace to our troubled world. Isaiah 64:1 says it so well: "Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence."

In a very real sense, for Mark, this was what was happening at Jesus' baptism. The movement at Christmas in Luke speaks of the same reality: the movement is from heaven to earth by the eternal God in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. In Mark's Gospel, the heavens are torn apart, they are opened, and as with Jacob's Ladder in his dream, there is traffic between heaven and earth. This is what Jesus saw just as He was coming up out of the water.

Secondly, Jesus saw "the Spirit descending like a dove on Him." The prayer of Israel was for a God who would be God-with-us, and who would never again be God apart from us. This is, of course, the promise of the Gospel. The Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, like that ancient Biblical symbol of peace, of home. It was for Noah a symbol of restoration, of God's faithfulness to us. And here it tells us that God the Holy Spirit was with Jesus in His baptism.

In the very first sermon ever preached at Pentecost, Peter affirmed the same. "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, to as many as are far off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." We baptize our children confident that the promises of God are not just for us, but also for our children. And we do so believing that the Spirit rests upon us, and our children, and as many as the Lord our God shall call.

God the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in His baptism, just as the Holy Spirit is present in our own baptism. That is why Jesus bid us "to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Without God's Spirit, we don't have a prayer!

Finally, a third thing transpires in Jesus' baptism. Jesus hears a voice that comes from heaven. As is so often the case, when Jesus heard God speaking to Him, He heard God speaking the words of Holy Scripture. Here Jesus hears two Old Testament verses conflated into one powerful baptismal affirmation! "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." The second half is drawn from Isaiah 42:1, the first from Psalm 2:7. But these are the words Jesus heard spoken to Him as the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon Him. I love how the King James Bible puts it: "Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased."

Steve Jobs was troubled all his days over being given up for adoption by his birth parents. It caused him for two years in an ugly court battle to deny the paternity of his first child, a daughter born out of wedlock. The courts proved Jobs was the father, and to his credit, he later admitted how wrong he was. This rejection by their biological father caused his sister Mona Simpson great pain as well. At her brother's funeral she spoke. "Even as a feminist, my whole life I'd been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I thought that man would be my father. It turned out that man would be my brother."

It was wonderful that this brother and sister, both so talented, found love and acceptance in each other that had been denied them by their father, who abandoned them. But the Good News of the Gospel of baptism is that even when you feel abandoned and alone, God is with you, and calls you His own, His Chosen One, His beloved son or daughter.

At the climax of The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne, who has been a friend of the friendless in Shawshank Prison, a champion of justice, a giver of life to so many of his fellow inmates, finally escapes one night during a terrible storm. Andy uses a large rock to break into the prison's main sewage pipe during the thunderstorm, and he wades through the old prison's sewage to get free. As Andy emerges from his long crawl outside the prison and into the river, he collapses, staggers to his feet, and in the deafening downpour, lightning flashes around him. Andy is cleansed by all the water, looking up to the sky, taking off his filthy prison clothing, now a free man. I don't know what the makers of that movie had in mind when they filmed that scene, but every time this Christian pastor sees it, he thinks of baptism, of the freedom that God alone gives us when we find our peace in belonging to Him.

Red put it like this: "Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of sewage and came out clean on the other side." (Red didn't say it exactly this way, but this is as close as I can give it to you!) In baptism, we come out on the other side clean.

You are baptized, dear friends! You are made clean by the Redeemer God, who calls you His Beloved. Live in that glorious, life-giving freedom.

AMEN.
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