First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

The Baptism of our Lord

The Apostle Paul was in the city of Ephesus where he encountered some new disciples of the faith. He asked them this question:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.   (Acts 19:1-7)

Notice that Paul recognized that these people were believers. Thus, he did not discount the baptism of repentance which had been instituted by John the baptizer. John’s message was: “Repent.” From today’s Gospel we read:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.   (Mark 1:4-5)

When Jesus began his earthly ministry his message was the same:

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”   (Mark 1:14-15).

There are some so-called “seeker” churches today who preach that God welcomes us into his kingdom with little talk of the need of repentance. The Gospel message is the good news that God loves us unconditionally. The cross has proven that. Nonetheless, repentance is an absolute requirement on our part to become disciples of Jesus.

Repentance is just the beginning, however. The Apostle Paul explained to the believers in Ephesus that there was another baptism. This baptism enabled believers to receive the Holy Spirit of God by taking on the name and character of the Lord Jesus. John the baptizer had foretold that this baptism was coming:

John proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”   (Mark 1:6-8)

Much canbe said about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There seems to be much controversy about it. Let us agree that this baptism is vitally important because Jesus, himself, received it. From today’s Gospel we read:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”   (Mark 1:9-11)

Jesus needed the power of the Spirit to perform his earthly ministry. The Holy Spirit is a life-giving force. The Spirit was with the Father and the Son at the beginning of creation. We read from Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.   (Genesis 1:1-5)

The Spirit is the person of God who executes the commands of God. The power of Spirit was needed to bring all creation into being. The Spirit creates and the Spirit recreates. It takes the power of the Spirit for us truly to become the sons and daughters of God. From John’s Gospel we read:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.   (John 1:10-12)

Foregoing a lengthy theological discussion about Spirit baptism, let us focus on a simple question. It is the same question which Paul asked the converts in Ephesus. Have we received the Spirit of God?

Do we consider God to be our heavenly Father? If so, this is by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness[b] with our spirit that we are children of God.   (Romans 8:14-16)

Do we call Jesus our Lord and obey him? Is so, this is by the Spirit. Again, Paul wrote:

You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.   (1 Corinthians 12:2-3)

How we live out our Christians lives governed by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote about the works of darkness. He explained that it would take more than a set of laws are doctrines to destroy these works in our lives:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.   (Galatians 5:22-25)

All these things are accomplished by the Spirit, thus we need the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus is the baptizer with the Holy Spirit. He is the One we must go to in order to receive Spirit baptism.

If we do not first repent then we cannot participate in the transforming power of the Spirit. This transformation operates continually in our lives as we grow in Christ, thus our repentance must be continual. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

When Jesus received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God the Father spoke these words: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” What he said to Jesus he says to us as we submit ourselves to him in Christ” “With you I am well pleased.” He then pours out his Spirit upon us.

This is a promise which the Lord Jesus Christ made to each of us:

 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[h] you.   (John 14:15-17)

Jesus’ baptism is our baptism. Jesus’ power to serve is our power to serve. Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through[c] his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:10-11)

Did we receive the Holy Spirit? Do we live our lives in the Spirit? We do when we allow the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit to empower our lives and animate our faith. Jesus keeps his promises. Amen.

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Filed under Epiphany, homily, Jesus, John the Baptist, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

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