Baptism of our Lord • Luke 3:15–22 • January 10, 2016
By Robert Kolb
I am not particularly fond of John the Baptist. It is not his strange clothes or his strange diet that puts me off. I know lots of people with strange clothing eating strange foods. His threatening me with fire is the reason I would rather avoid John. Fire hurts, a long time.
3:17: For two or three hundred years Western Christians have been attempting to avoid the topic of God’s wrath. The more our cultures have tried to place human beings in charge of at least daily life and the more we have tried to hold God at arm’s length—nice to have gotten us started, God!—the less personal God has become in our thinking, the weaker our conception of his personality. He has turned from the medieval Father who is angry with us for sinning into a modern Father who is forgetful, neglectful, largely absent in fact from the hours of our foibles and failures. John the Baptist reminds us that God does not like us to be sinning, and that he is as angry as hellfire about our failure to fear, love, and trust in him above all else. He abhors the mess we make of our own lives because he is a loving Father, according to his very essence, Martin Luther believed. Therefore, the Old Testament is filled with the stories of his recalling his people to himself through expressions of his distaste for their sins in the form of the visitations of the cruelties of their neighbors, which mirrored the selfcenteredness that grasped the Israelites’ own hearts. The cracking and creaking of our lives at times demonstrates to us that whatever we have used to hold life together is not a worthy substitute for the Creator. And God does not like being slighted by his children.
3:15‒16, 18: John also had a message that appeals to me. He recognized that one mightier than he was coming. He pointed to that Jesus, his cousin, as one who was going to come to be the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29). He was coming as the atoning sacrifice for that which arouses the Father’s wrath, as one who was indeed mightier than he and all other human beings. He was already present as the one who would, with the weak and foolish power of his suffering, death and resurrection, take away our rejection of his lordship. He was there to restore us to being trusting children in conversation with our heavenly Father, our Creator. John reacted to what he had heard and seen: that the Father and the Holy Spirit made themselves known as he baptized Jesus and identified him as his Son, the one with whom he is just positively delighted.
John did lay it on the line, with his own fellow Jews who came to hear him and with Herod. His confession of faith earned him imprisonment and death. That happens. Like Herod, we would often like to get rid of his uncomfortable message. But John stuck to the Creator’s wrathful guns. We will find doing that more delightful than we usually imagine in our world, simply because a lot of our friends and acquaintances need to hear it.
And so . . .
Jesus shares his baptism with us. In Mark 10:38 he is already hinting at the association of baptism with death, an association that Paul makes clear in Romans 6:3‒11 and Colossians 2:11‒15. Thus, the apostle tells us that our baptisms have done our sinful identities to death and hidden our sins in his tomb. At the same time he is raising us up with himself to triumph over our enemies and to spend our lives walking in his footsteps, arousing the delight of the Father in us as well. God wants sinners dead, so that he can raise them up—create them anew—to be his children again. He gets a real kick out of reclaiming lost coins and lost sheep (Lk 15:3‒10). That is why Jesus came, and that is why the Father and the Son met at the Jordan with the Holy Spirit, who plays a vital role in the completion of the work the Father commissions and the Son carries out. That mission he accomplishes by sending us the Holy Spirit to stand by us, to dwell within us, to empower the God-pleasing life in us.
Perhaps it is no so bad to stop to listen to John after all. We, too, need to recognize the Father’s anger at our sinfulness and to recognize that he is angry with good reason since our sins do nothing else but gnaw at the wholeness of our being and threaten us with death, temporal and eternal. And John’s final word emphasized the delight of the Father in his only-begotten Son, which delight Jesus shares with us. His delight gives us delight as well.