"Epiphany 01: The Baptism of Jesus"
by Tim Suttle
2016.01.08 Epiphany 01
Matthew 3:13:17 – Baptism of Jesus
Today we begin a new season in the Church Calendar: EPIPHANY
Epiphany means “appearing,” the appearance of Immanuel—God with us.
A new season = church calendar means a new posture for us as well
Advent: our posture is one of Waiting – preparing to receive the Christ
Christmas: our posture is Celebrating – the birth of the Messiah.
Epiphany: we move toward a Response to the one who has appeared
So during this season we tell these great stories about JS’s life.
And we try to see what Jesus is revealing about who God is…
And how JS wants us to respond to that new Epiphany about God.
Epiphany is about those two things: Revelation & Response.
PT: It’s a reminder that in the middle of our mundane lives, the Messiah has appeared – God has come to us. And he did not just show up to say “hello,” he started something that we are now a part of… he inaugurated his kingdom – the Kingdom of God – and we’re learning how we can be a part of that kingdom.
Traditionally, one of the stories we tell is about the baptism of Jesus… Mt. 3
One summer our family went on vacation to Colorado to go camping.
I grew up camping w/my family … so I feel comfortable there.
… been there so many times, I feel like I know my way around.
But the truth is most of my time spent there was when I was a kid.
It’s not like I was driving… I don’t really know my way around.
So we’re travelling and… you know that thing where:
You don’t really know what you’re doing – but you act like do?
I was doing that.
We were meeting our family deep in the mountains; & it was at a lake I’d never been to before. Beautiful place PICTURE
So, I was using my GPS & map on my cell phone.
When you use a cell phone GPS device, it only works while you have coverage on your phone.
Well, about the last 10 miles… the coverage went away… no map!
And I had not made any notes on the route – no paper map.
And of course, I made a wrong turn … on wrong side of lake.
I could see where we needed to be … kept taking wrong turns.
It was like “look kids… Big Ben… Parliament…” Nat’l Lampoons Vac…
It ended up taking us several tries to get to the right place
It was so Not Tense in our car… not at all…
PT: I did not have a mental map of where I was going… so as soon as my digital map was gone, I was cooked.
I had successfully navigated 717 miles of the journey
But that 718th mile was doing me in!
All because my map was gone…
Well, in the ancient world, people didn’t have this problem, because in the ancient world they didn’t typically navigate by using Maps.
Ancient travelers relied on the advice of local guides to find their way.
The MAP was always a human map – a human guide.
They would literally stop and ask directions
It’s interesting that Women retain this ability to this very day.
Men – not so much, right?
In the ancient world, used human maps – human guides.
But… they still drew maps… still owned maps. Which is interesting… If you didn’t really navigate by them, what were the maps for? Well…
Come to find out, MAPS in the ancient world weren’t drawn up in order to tell: where things are.
They were drawn up to tell what things mean.
In the ancient world… maps were used to interpret the world
Do you guys remember the musical “the king & I” There’s this scene in the movie which describes what I'm saying… watch this together …
This is how maps functioned in the pre-modern world.
They don’t show where things are so much as… what things mean
The King of Siam is great and powerful.
The king of Burma is so poor he doesn’t even have clothes on his map
Take a look at this map from the 1500s: Europe / Asia / Africa are all there…
That little circle @center is Jerusalem: it’s depicted as the center of the world
This map reflected the ancient belief that Jerusalem was the center of the earth – the holiest place on the planet.
JER is considered to be a holy site by three of the world’s dominant religions – Judaism, Christianity, & Islam.
For the Hebrew people, = holy because that’s where the temple was.
Over & over in the story of God there was a sense that the world was sort of spinning off course… but no matter how bad things God they had this hope:
…that YHWH was on a rescue mission.
And the mission all started in Jerusalem
So if JER was the heart of the world, the temple was the heart of JER.
PT: so it follows that their maps would portray this reality. The word for this is Cosmology: the philosophy that deals with the structure of the universe – it’s parts & elements – how they fit together & function. There was a specific cosmology at work behind the maps that the Hebrew people drew.
So for instance, in the ancient Hebrew Cosmology, heaven was not thought to be the place where you went when you died… you went to sheol, not heaven.
Heaven was the place where God lived w/God’s angels.
Heaven was not as much a place as another dimension.
A wholly other dimension for the God who was wholly other.
Heaven was the place where God lived – that’s the Hebrew cosmology.
Earth was God’s creation – where God’s goodness could be on display.
But, people had jacked it up…. PIC 2
Earth had been corrupted.
and … Heaven & earth were separated by this corruption
Corruption was like a veil between the two realms. (cosmology)
Israel believed that these two spheres actually overlapped and interlocked here on earth.
There’s HEAVEN, the place where God lives
There’s EARTH, where we live… incomplete & struggling
There’s TEMPLE, place where heaven and earth overlap. PIC 3
PT: The Jewish people believed that God had determined the temple would be the one place on earth where the veil between heaven and earth would be removed, and people could get a glimpse of what it would be like to relate with the master of the universe. And this would allow them to keep hope alive… and that hope was … that one day the whole earth will be like this.
That’s a cosmological claim, not just a theological one.
The temple was NOT just a church, it was a foretaste of the KOG
It was a MAP of the way the whole world was supposed to be
That’s why the Israelites loved the temple so much.
Why they travel there at least 3 times a year
That’s why it was drawn at the center of their maps.
PT: Because the Temple was the one place on the planet where Heaven & earth overlapped, and they could get a glimpse of the world as God meant for it to be.
So… the farther away you get from the temple, the less holy the landscape became for them…
Holy of Holies in the heart of the temple… holiest place on earth.
Temple courts… a little less… still holy.
Holy City… Jerusalem… to this day this is what it’s called…
Holy Land… land of Israel & Palestine…
Outside of that comes the Wilderness / Desert
This is not a holy place at all…
Really becomes a symbol for unholiness…
Desert is where things go to rot & die.
Into that belief…that map of the world, our text today begins like this:
Read the text: Matthew 3:1-2 “In those days John the Baptist came into the wilderness of Judea proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”
JTB is preaching in the desert of Judea… the wilderness. The place of God-forsakenness… that’s where John went to do his preaching.
This is off… according to the Jewish story… something’s wrong.
God does the forgiving at the temple.
People do their repenting at the temple.
But John was as far away from the temple as you could get.
He’s in the wilderness… desert … the place of God forsakenness…
PT: So right away we know that something’s off… it doesn’t fit their map of the world, & remember, maps don’t just tell you where you are. They tell you what things mean. So God is going to mess with meaning here & this is how...
13-14Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, "I'm the one who needs to be baptized, not you!" 15But Jesus insisted. "Do it. God's work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism." So John did it. 16-17The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God's Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life."
So… this text contains what theologians call a THEOPHANY: just means the appearance of God to a human being, God shows up in space & time.
Like Moses & burning bush
Like Elijah – in the mouth of the cave
Or like the Transfiguration of Jesus in front of his disciples.
Jesus’s baptism is a theophany story. It begins: “Jesus then appeared.” Didn’t saunter or skulk or mosey, he appeared> theophany language.
And, there has to be a theophany for the gospels to work… that’s more of a historical claim than a theological one… but…
Just put yourself in the position of Jesus’s contemporaries.
He’s just this man from Nazareth w/a sketchy past.
The one whose mom turned up pregnant way too early.
She went away to have the baby… lived in Egypt for awhile.
They moved to Nazareth to work as carpenters… doesn’t add up.
They looked at JS as nothing special … plus from Nazareth (good?)
So, there has to be a moment where God shows up in JS’s life.
And lets the people around him know he’s not normal guy.
This isn’t a normal life…
YHWH is on the move here… doing something brand new…
…so people need to listen to him…
PT: So a THEOPHANY moment has to happen in order to reveal that God is doing something unique in & through Jesus of Nazareth…does that make sense?
This is the season of EPIPHANY… when God shows up.
Because for all of us, there as to be a time when God shows up for us.
And God is revealed to us & we’re invited to respond in some way.
Those are the 2 questions of EPIPHANY:
What is being revealed in the story… about God?
And then, what is our response to that revelation?
In our story God is showing up… in the desert… in the life of this young rabbi from Nazareth… kind of a country boy from the sticks.
I can’t emphasize enough how strange that was… that means:
Because when God showed up it was usually at the Temple…
But here… God shows up in the desert… the wilderness…
And he’s pointing to this carpenter’s son from the Galilee & saying,
You guys need to listen to him.
And we see this symbol of the spirit of God landing on Jesus.
This is a new map of the world… a cosmological shift.
You want to get close to God? … don’t go to the temple.
Go to Jesus… (PIC)… because God is with him…
PT: And all of the sudden, all of the things that used to only happen in the temple, are here happening wherever Jesus is… even out in the place of God forsakenness… You know that that means? It means the place where heaven & earth overlap is no longer at the TEMPLE… it’s here where JESUS is.
So, he comes out of the water, that “the heaven’s were torn open.”
The word for torn is “ski-zo” (Same root as “schizophrenia”)
… same word used when the veil of the temple is torn after JS death.
The heavens are ski-so’d… torn open…
And God’s presence is w/the people in & thru Jesus of Nazareth…
And now: Wherever Jesus goes people find meaning & purpose.
When they relate to JS they come into relationship with God … well …
This is a dangerous thing to imply… it’s like… no it is blasphemy!
This is… make yourself an enemy of the people of God kind of stuff.
On what authority does Jesus do this?
Well… authority is absolutely in the picture.
We’re told: “The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God's Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life."
This is fascinating … since we’re not Jewish, we don’t see the implications.
In Western Christianity, for the most part …
We read the scriptures to try and get to the right answers.
We’re highly invested in our answers.
That really wasn’t how the Jewish people thought about scripture. They almost always believe that there was more than 1 right answer.
Torah is always an open conversation … it.
And different rabbi’s have different teachings.
And Scripture for Jewish people wasn’t to be merely analyzed.
It was to be lived!
So when a rabbi had a teaching, it had implications for your life.
People would organize … around different rabbi’s teaching.
And they would call this the yoke of the rabbi.
Yoke … as in oxen… yoked together & pulling a load.
So if you take on the Yoke of a rabbi, you were saying:
“I’ll pull the direction you tell me to pull.”
Scholars tell us that in Jesus’ day, if a rabbi had a new interpretation of the Torah, a new YOKE that he wanted people to follow:
What it took for that teaching to be legitimate was for
2 rabbi’s to lay their hands on the one doing the teaching.
And say: “This is a good teaching, you can trust this teaching.”
It’s actually part of why we still lay hands on people in ordination.
In order for it to be legit… 2 rabbis had to ratify the teaching.
Many scholars think, that is exactly how this story functions in Matt.
Two rabbi’s endorse Jesus’ ministry
One is JTB who lays his hands on him in baptism.
The other is the Father.
And the dove is God laying his hands on Jesus.
God is publicly endorsing Jesus’s message & ministry.
He says, "This is my Son. You can trust his teaching & follow his yoke.”
One more thing I want us to notice here, in terms of the history:
John the Baptist wasn’t a revivalist, or a faith-healer, or a tv preacher.
JTB was a prophet who was leading a protest movement in Israel.
He picked the desert on purpose... (far from JER / temple / corrupt )
He’s saying that the Jewish leaders are leading them off course.
And his message, we’re told is a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Our tradition says JS was sinless… why does he need to repent?
His repentance is for the sins of his own people… the people of God.
His repentance was a way of saying, “It’s time to change course here!”
Not only that, John’s been preparing the way for Messiah.
Just a few verses before our text John says:
I baptize you with water, but I’m a small-time character here.
“…the main character in this drama—compared to him I'm a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He's going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He'll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he'll put out with the trash to be burned."
John is preaching the arrival of a fire-powerful messianic figure.
He’s going to kick you know what & take names later
(… the original language is really that strong).
John thinks his cousin Jesus is this one.
PT: He expects Jesus to step onto the scene & take charge, and instead, Jesus presents himself for baptism, not only a baptism, but a baptism of repentance. So John here … sort of gets tripped up … by the humility of JS.
But, in submitting himself to John for baptism, Jesus acts in great humility. He’s saying, “I’m suffering the same human condition as everyone else!”
And I’m also saying… we need a new approach… well …
John can’t take it: "I'm the one who needs to be baptized, not you!"
Jesus makes him do it.
Now remember this is a theophany story.
What Jesus is doing is revealing the very heart of who God is.
When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like…. We see:
This God doesn’t run from human brokenness.
God runs toward human brokenness.
He stands in solidarity w/all humankind, even in the desert / wilderness
Just imagine this scene… a huge throng of people have come to be baptized.
Jesus isn’t anyone special to all those sinners.
They think he’s just like them … broken & struggling.
And Jesus refuses to convince them of anything different.
He jumps down in the water with everybody else.
PT: And when He does YHWH speaks up!!! & says “Yes! That’s it!” So what we see in Jesus… this decisive new step that God is taking in the history of redemption is a move of deep solidarity with a broken creation. So God’s solidarity w/us is revealed in the profound humility & vulnerability of Jesus.
God doesn’t run from your brokenness… God runs toward it.
That’s who God is… God stands in solidarity w/ragamuffins!
God wants a new map of the world.
The TEMPLE ?? The TEMPLE was just a temporary picture of what it would be like when heaven invaded earth.
Jesus?? Jesus was heaven invading earth
And this is all symbolically acted out in the baptism of Jesus.
A little later the same spirit would come to rest on the disciples
It looked like tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost… all the sudden:
Heaven was invading the whole earth through the people of God!
PT: It used to be the temple was the place where heaven & earth overlapped. Then it was the person of Jesus – that was the place where heaven and earth overlapped. Then finally after the resurrection the people of God began to understand – Heaven is invading earth not through the temple, not even just through Jesus – but now through the CHURCH which is the body of Christ.
In fact in the New Testament, you know what the analog to the Holy Land is? It’s the CHURCH.
Since God showed up in Jesus… it’s no longer about the holy land.
The NT analog to the land is the Church!
And the Temple is whenever the church gathers.
And the holy of holies is your very life!!
Paul says, “You yourselves are God’s temple.”
God’s not stuck behind a curtain in the temple
God is here in the world present in the church which is the body of Christ – the holy temple!
This is the radical revelation of Jesus that changed the world forever:
The place where heaven and earth overlap is your life & mine.
And especially in our common life together.
We have become a PORTAL through which heaven is invading earth
… like a MAP, that will lead people to the KOG.
That’s what this story of Christ’s baptism reveals… so the next question is how do we respond? Or you might ask it this way: What kind of map are you?
If people follow the MAP of our lives, where are we taking them?
What kind of guide are you for other people in your life?
If people follow you where will you take them?
There are all kinds of bad maps which Christians portray to the world @ us:
A blind-certitude…looks like self-deception… leads to rejection of God
Judgmentalism & condemnation – leads to bitterness.
There are maps that look like piety / lists of right doctrines
There are maps that look like a big heaven/hell - choose
PT: You know what it’s called when you follow the wrong map, right? It’s called being lost, right? There’s much at stake. Following the wrong map is not only a great loss not only to us – but a great loss to the world!
What kind of Map are you in your workplace?
How to get ahead at all costs?
How to make heaven break into the workplace through you?
What kind of Map are you in your home?
Is it the map that ignores your children? … learn they’re not worth time?
Is it a map that controls the home w/anger & complaining?
So your kids learn: only receive love when they please you?
What kind of Map are you in your neighborhood?
Does your map tell our neighbors “Leave me alone”
Or do you portray hospitality & friendship?
PT: If people follow the MAP of our lives, where are we taking them?
My hope is that we take them to Jesus & the kingdom of God.
To the place where outcasts come into relationship with Jesus.
Where bored & frustrated people find meaning & purpose… mission.
Where lonely people find friendship and love.
Where broken people find forgiveness & healing.
Where those who live on the margins of society are brought to the center of the community & celebrated as full members of KOG.
PT: God was once in his temple – the place where heaven & earth overlapped. Then Jesus became the place heaven & earth overlapped. Then Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world…
Now the church is the place where heaven and earth overlap.
JS said: “You’ve seen me do amazing things. You’ll do even more than I have done if you will just have faith in me, if you’ll just follow after me.”
And you & I get to be a part of that.
You are not simply a member of Redemption Church.
Your life has been drawn into a MAP of the world… map of history.
And it is meant to lead the way to the place where God’s kingdom is breaking into the world.