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First Impressions: Matthew 3:13-17

January 6, 2011

This week’s sermon will focus on the baptism of Jesus, but I will probably spend more effort unpacking the Acts 10:34-43 text than Matthew’s gospel.  The Acts lesson gives a brief description of the baptism, but is more concerned with the consequences of Jesus’ baptism than the event itself.  Unlike many prior years, in which I have linked our baptisms to that of Jesus, I will emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus and his baptism in this year’s sermon.  Nevertheless, I will spend a little time on Matthew’s version of the event before moving on to Acts.

3:13-14 One of my Lectionary colleagues reminded us again that the early Church had a thorny issue on its hands attempting to reason why Jesus, sinless sacrifice and Son of God, would need to receive a baptism of repentance from  a lesser figure.  In Matthew’s version, it is John himself who recognizes the impropriety of this scenario.

3:15 Jesus’ answer here is that this act fulfills all “righteousness.”  One commentary (and I am sorry I cannot give the citation; I do not remember!) says this Greek word “righteousness” can also be translated as “justice.”  Jesus’ baptism is right and good and just.  It may be important to note that unlike many other moments in Jesus’ life in this gospel, Matthew did not link the baptism with any prophecy.

One preachable nugget here is the idea that Jesus is fulfilling righteousness by being fully obedient to his calling, his true self and God’s will.  The baptism could be a mark of submission that marks Jesus as the servant whose obedience is a prime ingredient in his fitness to act as Messiah.  This has obvious implications for followers of Jesus—though clearly not to indicate that our own obedience qualifies us for Messiah status—in that we are called to obedience within the parameters of our own calling.  The primary qualification is not skill, celebrity or even devotion, but obedience.

It may be worth noting that John also obeys (he “consented”) even though the whole plan didn’t seem like a very good idea to him.

3:16 This seems to be the subjective, private part of the experience, this descending dove that represents God’s Spirit.  Does it mark an inner confirmation to Jesus of what he has believed about himself and his coming task?  It is impossible to know what Jesus thought or felt about his role in God’s plan at this moment, but a bit of reflection here could be helpful.  We mere mortal disciples frequently wrestle internally about our precise place in God’s kingdom.  Am I really called?  Does God truly want to use me?  What sort of confirmation (if any) can we rightfully expect?  The heavenly dove may have been a private experience, but many traditions emphasize group confirmation of an individual’s sense of calling.  What role does a local congregation have in helping its own to receive and confirm a call from God?

3:17 Unlike Mark’s gospel, in which the voice is clearly private in order to preserve the Messianic secret, Matthew’s voice seems more public.  The language makes it clear the words are not addressed to Jesus alone.  “This is [rather than “you are”] my Son.”

In pairing this text with Acts, I will attempt to focus on the uniquely saving role of Jesus as separate from our own experience of baptism, call and faith.  One of my colleagues will be emphasizing the creedal character of Peter’s speech.  I will likely discuss the response asked of us in Acts 10:42-43, which is to believe and share the good news about Jesus to others.  I am also flirting with the idea of discussing Jesus in the incarnation as God’s epiphany, perhaps with some teaching about the meaning of the word and the season.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  You can read all about it here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 11, 2011 12:06 pm

    “Unlike Mark’s gospel, in which the voice is clearly private in order to preserve the Messianic secret, Matthew’s voice seems more public. The language makes it clear the words are not addressed to Jesus alone. ‘This is [rather than “you are”] my Son.'” An excellent observation …

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