The Baptism of Jesus
January 8, 2006
Notes on Structure
John and Those Being Baptized
This week's text has a couple of interesting structural things going on. First, there's a move back and forth between John and those being baptized. In the first half of the text, we hear about John, and then we see everyone—rural people and city dwellers alike—being baptized. In the second half of the text, we hear from John, and then we see Jesus being baptized.
From Sin to Spirit
It also happens that in the first half of the text, the narrator tells us that John's ministry was "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins," to which the people respond by being baptized and confessing their sins. All good. And all sort of looking backward, in order to prepare for what is to come. In the second half of the text, what "is to come" is here. John speaks of one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and then the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus as he is baptized. Repentance mean a turning around, and the text itself turns from a focus on confession and forgiveness of sin to a focus on the one-who-is-to-come becoming present, and a proclamation that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is happening now.
Here are the two structural observations in table form:
|1:4||John||Mention of sin.|
|1:5||People being baptized.||Confession of sin.|
|1:6-8||John||Mention of Holy Spirit.|
|1:9-11||Person (Jesus) being baptized.||Appearance of Holy Spirit.|
A Couple of Preaching Implications
Water and the Holy Spirit
John performed at least one "Holy Spirit" baptism. Acts makes a strong distinction between John's baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (See this week's second lesson, Acts 19:1-7.) Yet, for the record, God uses John's water baptism as the time and place to split open the heavens and have the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. In at least this one place in scripture, a baptism of water and the Holy Spirit coincide. This should offer a caution to those who teach that water baptism is second-rate or incomplete. God uses this water-baptism as a venue for anointing with the Holy Spirit and proclaiming Jesus' status as a Son with whom God is pleased.
Looking Back, Bounding Forward
The focus on sin and forgiveness in the first half of this text is not an end in itself. John preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. People receive that baptism, confessing their sins. This is astonishing ("All the Judean countryside, and all the people of Jerusalem…), but it is actually small potatoes compared with what will happen in the second half of the text. Something greater than your remorse is here. Something greater even than a whole community's capacity to repent is here. "O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down," Isaiah had pleaded with God (Isaiah 64:1). Here, God does just that. The heavens are torn open. "God is on the loose," as our teacher Donald Juel used to say. The turning back at the first part of this text leads to a bounding forward as Jesus begins his ministry.