January 13, 2019

Matthew 3:13-17

As we come to the river, figuratively or literally, we come with expectations. We come as we are. We come because we have heard a calling. We come, for something special that we know may change us if we let it. We come just as those came to John the Baptist who was crying out in the wilderness, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of God is close at hand, come and turn aside to find it. Come, change your direction, and seek that which has come near. 

That warning of “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” in too many ways has been taken as a threat; an omen of the end of the world. A statement that is to strike fear into the hearts of sinners. While instead, if we recognize the truth of Jesus the Christ that this warning declares. The truth that lies within the heart of Jesus’ ministry, love, compassion, and healing, is instead one of encouragement for those who hear the call. 

As I remember my own journey towards being baptized, it wasn’t one wrapped in fear and dread, but rather one that celebrated what I knew of the divine. I remember this sense of invitation, not condemnation or pressure, invitation to come as you are to seek the kingdom of God. Give your life to the divine for something far better. Since that moment I have also recognized within myself the responsibility within that decision. There is a responsibility within our choice to be baptized. It is a responsibility to continually seek the kingdom of God and strive to make the truth we know in Christ a reality in on earth. 

As John cried out in the wilderness, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near…I baptize you with water for repentance…” The baptism wasn’t the one and done end all cure for the brokenness within the people’s relationship with the divine. It wasn’t the final solution to cure all ills. It was just the beginning. It was a choice to change one’s life direction. It was a choice to come and seek the kingdom of God. The baptism became more than a simple ritual cleansing and washing, to something more. A starting point in one’s new life with the divine.  

It was an action of turning to the Kingdom of Heaven that even Jesus found himself engaged in. Each time I have found myself engaged in a community Bible study on this text, I have almost always receive the honest question of, if Jesus was without sin why did Jesus choose to be baptized. 

This week, the answer to this question for me is wrapped in the word of repentance. It is a word that goes much deeper than simply seeking forgiveness for one’s sins towards requiring something more. Requiring a change in one’s direction for their life. A conscious change in how one chooses to live their life. In the case of John the baptist, baptizing in the river, it was in connection with the kingdom of heaven. Calling the people to change their ways that would bear good fruit for the kingdom of heaven, rather than for the kingdoms of this earth. 

The scriptures are filled with those intentional moments to come and seek the divine. Changing their direction in order to follow where the divine was leading. We have Abraham and Sarah who heard God’s promise and followed wherever he was led. Moses out in the wilderness noticed a burning bush off in the distance and changed his direction to investigate. Samuel, who heard God calling in the night, and with help answering the call. The early disciples being called by Jesus along the lakeshore to put down their nets and come and follow. There is a defining point within the scriptures where individuals had to make a decision. Turn from their current life to seek God or not. 

As Jesus comes to be baptized by John, we see this intentional decision that he makes to pursue the kingdom of heaven. Before this point, except for in Luke, we don’t hear about Jesus’ life through childhood or as a young adult. At this point, which appears before Jesus’ ministry officially begins he intentionally comes to John, a humble act, to be baptized. A decision to orient his life on the kingdom of Heaven that will be revealed in his ministry. A visible sign to all those who are watching of the choice that Jesus is making. In doing this all the people hear of who Jesus is as he arises out of the water. “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.  

Our baptism is our intentional decision, to repent, seek forgiveness, seek the kingdom of Heaven. It was not the final step in being made whole with the divine but rather the beginning. Our journeys towards God did not end when we decided to give our lives over to the divine. Our lives in Christ simple began, because now we have a responsibility to the divine to pursue and bring forth the kingdom of heaven how ever we can. 

Preceding Jesus’ baptism John is cautioning all those who have come to him for baptism. Warning them that simply washing and seeking forgiveness isn’t enough. They have to change their ways and bear fruit worthy of repentance. Having ones actions reflect the change in one’s direction, from those things of this world, to that of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

As we remember the baptism of Jesus Christ this morning, we are called to also remember our own baptism. To remember the decisions that we made to dedicate our lives to Christ. To remember that choice to pursue the kingdom Heaven, and evaluate how we are doing. Are we bearing good fruits or do we need to lay down some fertilizer  on our spiritual lives to get back on course to bearing abundant fruit.