The Bible never tells us that in our life we won’t have ups and downs. It does tell us that no matter how much of a hard time we might have, God is right there with us…we are never alone. God is with us through the hard times as well as the good times, through those ups and downs in life that we all have, even when there are times when we might feel distant or far off from God.
It does make me think though how do we actually know that we God understands and is with us? What assurance do we have? In our reading from Isaiah, the first of four “Servant Songs”, we learn that it is through the ministry of the Servant that God will accomplish His great plan of salvation for this world, a world He so lovingly created. God chose the Servant, God upheld Him, and God enabled Him to succeed in His mission. And God’s Servant – our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – is right with us. Because of his death and resurrection, one day there will be a glorious kingdom; and God will “bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1, NIV). Jesus Christ is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and that includes the Gentiles / Nations (Isaiah 42:6; Acts 13:47–48; Luke 1:79). Through the Servant the nation was delivered from captivity in Babylon (Isaiah 29:18; 32:3; 35:5), and through the Servant we as sinners are delivered out of captivity to sin, death and condemnation (61:1–3; Luke 4:18–19). In his teaching and in God’s promises, we can put our hope.
We are reminded again of God’s promises in the baptism service. It has been said that the baptism of an infant is the key point of commissioning for ministry, and we are all called into ministry. Baptism then is the beginning of the child’s journey of faith; it can be a renewal of our journey of faith too. Baptism symbolises turning away from our old way of life, or repenting, and turning towards a new life with God through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It changes us. We may take hold of the truth of that seal or promise in Christ. There is a change in heart involved in true repentance.
The service reminds us:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ has told us that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be born again of water and the Spirit, and has given us baptism as the sign and seal of this new birth. Here we are washed by the Holy Spirit and made clean. Here we are clothed with Christ, dying to sin that we may live his risen life. As children of God, we have a new dignity and God calls us to fullness of life.”
“Today God has touched you with his love and given you a place among his people. God promises to be with you in joy and in sorrow, to be your guide in life, and to bring you safely to heaven. In baptism God invites you on a life-long journey. Together with all God’s people you must explore the way of Jesus and grow in friendship with God, in love for his people, and in serving others. With us you will listen to the word of God and receive the gifts of God.”
You see, through Christ we too are chosen. We too are equipped by the Holy Spirit. We too are called into righteousness.
When I was baptised as an infant, my Godparents professed no faith and the faith of my parents was at best a little shaky. For many years subsequently I considered that my baptism as an infant was nothing more than a sham. But one day I was confronted with a powerful truth which I was to realise in all fullness as I embarked on my calling as a priest…that is, we should never underestimate the power of prayer in the service of baptism. Irrespective of the faith of my parents and Godparents, at my service of baptism there was a priest who prayed for me, a congregation who prayed for me and a God who loved me. For me it was the first of many encounters I had with the grace of God.
Our gospel reading tells us of the events that unfolded following the baptism of Jesus. It begins with John seeking to deter Jesus from being baptised “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” and ends by telling us that “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
John knew the significance of the one who was to come – Jesus. Jesus who was without sin, and had no need of repentance, comes before John to be baptized. Have you ever wondered why on earth he would want to do that, why he would need to do that? Jesus dedicates himself to obey God’s will through an event which symbolises what his whole ministry will involve—making it possible for sinners to repent in order to find forgiveness and new life from God. For Jesus, his baptism represented many things:
- His total submission to God
- His point of commissioning for ministry
- Him making a public declaration that he associated himself with the people he had come to redeem even though he himself was without sin. He shows us the way. We should also remember that 90% of Jesus’ life was before he embarked upon public ministry; he really understands what it was to be fully human, what it is to experience life’s ups and downs.
- A public declaration by God that he was God’s son.
In baptism Jesus comes alongside the brokenness of the people, shares the circumstances in which they become aware of their needs, precisely in order to meet those needs and bring healing into that brokenness, to give them the bread of life, to bring realised hope – a hope that we can claim now and keep claiming more fully each day until that glorious day when in God’s grace and through Christ we are with him in heaven. He was to do that again and again in his ministry, and supremely in his death and resurrection. In baptism he shows obedience and submission to his Father. Through his baptism, Jesus fulfils all righteousness.
Jesus baptism is all about meaning; realised hope, Jesus’ obedience, and God’s plan unfolding. The descent of the Spirit like a dove calls up memories of the Holy Spirit brooding over creation when that “wind from God that swept over the face of the waters” – not mildly brooding, but present with enormous creative force. Through the coming of Jesus, God takes hold of this broken world and begins to literally shake the hell out of it.
Having spoken about God’s promises, the assurance that we have and the significance of baptism there is a thread that is woven through all of this. God’s love that is beyond measure. We have that assurance of God’s love, and we know that baptism is not some meaningless or insignificant act. Through our baptism we are born again by water and the Spirit; we have a new dignity. We are reminded of Christ making us clean inside and out.
To know that God stands alongside us when we suffer, we only need to look to Christ. It always begins with Christ and ends with Christ. In the service of baptism, we say “God promises to be with you in joy and in sorrow, to be your guide in life, and to bring you safely to heaven. In baptism, God invites you on a life-long journey.”
Whether or not you have been baptised, think about these words and know that God really is always with you, rejoicing with you in times of joy and weeping and comforting you in times of brokenness.
Let us bow our heads for a few moments of silent prayer.