Weekly Bible Devotional
“Come, Follow Me Home”
March 6, 2022
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,[a] with whom I am well pleased.”
Notes on the Text:
We begin this week a new sermon series called, “Come, Follow Me Home” with an emphasis on living our daily lives while being aware of our citizenship of the eternal realm of God. We will look at five defining moments of Jesus’ ministry as presented in the Gospel of Matthew: Jesus’ baptism, his time in the wilderness, his Beatitudes, his teachings about prayer, and his hands-on ministry. Our hope is to journey together with Jesus so that we may stay aware of our eternal home, while living fully on earth.
We focus this week on Jesus’ baptism and his identity as the beloved child of God and how we are called to claim the same identity for ourselves in baptism. Baptism was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It was in that experience that he claimed his call to preach the good news. What is really amazing about baptism is that it is open to all of us. Baptism at the time of Jesus was not a new ritual. It was something they knew about before, but it was limited to converts and not people who were already Jewish. It was a way to recognize the need for conversion for those following the way of the kingdom of God. They had to convert by leaving behind the values of success according to the world; the world’s emotional programs for happiness: control, esteem, and security.
As we hear about the baptism of Jesus, we also hear about his cousin John the Baptist and how he invited people to repent and go back to true worship of God. Scholars struggle with this story as they try to explain that Jesus was not sinful and that he didn’t really need to be baptized. There are all of kinds of explanations out there about that.
I think the key in this text is the phrase to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus submits not because of any need to repent of sin but rather to “fulfill all righteousness.” The word “righteousness” carries different meanings. For many Christians, the word evokes thoughts of personal piety and the state of one’s “soul” or “conscience” before God. In Greek and Hebrew (the original languages of the Bible), “righteousness” signifies God’s saving action in the world. One might even translate the Greek word for righteousness (dikaiosun) as “justice.” According to Thomas Long, righteousness shows God’s passionate commitment to set right the things that are wrong. Thus, Jesus’ submission to John’s baptism is no simple act of personal piety. On the contrary, Jesus discerns that John’s baptism and fiery preaching constitute a revolutionary declaration about a new world order where God will set right all that the establishment (in Jerusalem and Rome) has corrupted.
Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill God’s justice in the world. This is what we are called to do in our baptism. This is our true vocation in life. Baptism is about claiming our vocation, who we are before God, who we are in the realm of justice seeking. This is the mystery of our baptism. In his baptism, Jesus declares the purpose of his life, to join God’s mission of justice in the world. Baptism is about claiming our identity as God’s beloved who are concerned with living a life of love, privately and publicly. In baptism we begin the journey of discovering and living our vocation in life.
One of the hardest questions in life is: Why am I here? What is my special purpose in life? This is hard to answer because we live in a world where there are expectations of us. We are taught from an early age that we need to make money and be successful. We need to have meaningful relationships. According to the way of Jesus, we are all here to give and receive love. Our work in life is to discover our unique ways of doing that. In baptism we are claimed by name because each of one of us is unique and special to God in our own way. As we journey with God in life we learn to pay attention to the eternal in our daily lives and trust the unfolding of our vocation. By vocation, I don’t mean a job or a social status because these are only parts of the big picture of who we are. Occupations are incidental to our calling.
Baptism is the key to our Christian identity. It is the way we are initiated into the faith. Just like Jesus, when we commit ourselves or our children to baptism, we are committing not just to a belief system; we are following a way of life. The sign of the dove becomes our sign. The early followers of Jesus took this very seriously. Most of the early Christians refused to fight in wars, exploit others, or hoard resources. They saw their call to follow Jesus as a radical way to live their daily life. They reached out to the poor and oppressed. They fed the hungry and the imprisoned. They took care of the sick and they shared their resources freely with the community of faith. Here are three examples of how the early Christian understood the sign of the dove as a transformational way of life. Justin Martyr (ca. 100-ca.165) wrote about how the way of Jesus mended lives,
We who formerly…valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possession, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and for our enemies. (Quoted in Broken Lights and Mended Lives by Rowan Greer)
A second example is from the second century’s Plague of Galen (168-180)
in which hundreds of thousands of people died in the street, Christians proved their spiritual mettle by tending the sick. As bishop Cyprian of Carthage would later claim, that plague was a winnowing process, in which God’s justice was shown by “whether the well care for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsfolk as they should, whether masters show compassion for their ailing slaves, whether physicians do not desert the afflicted.” Because they did not fear death, Christians stayed behind in plague-ravaged cities while other fled. Their acts of Mercy extended to all the suffering regardless of class, tribe, or religion and created the conditions in which others accepted their faith…Christians did risky, compelling, and good things that helped people. (from A People’s History of Christianity by Diana Butler Bass)
A third example is from the teachings of the early church. “The Christian fathers of the first three centuries were generally adamant that discipleship requires close adherence to the nonviolent and countercultural example of Jesus’s own life and his sayings about the nature of the kingdom.” (from Love Your Enemies by Lisa Cahill)
Our identity in Christ is about connecting with the eternal in our day-to-day life. We are God’s beloved and when we forget that we lose our way and we suffer greatly. In baptism, we are reminded of who we are. This week, I invite you to ask yourself each day, “In light of eternity, who am I today?” I pray that you will remember the words Jesus received at his baptism: You are God’s child, the Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
Prayer by Gunilla Norris:
This morning as I put my feet on the floor
let me remember how many thousands of years
it took for this act to be possible —
the slow and painstaking development
so that a human creature could rise,
could stand on two feet, and then walk.
From the very beginning, from the first explosion
Your precise and patient love has been creating us.
The wonder is that now my hands are free
even as I walk or run or stand or dance.
The wonder is that now while I am upright,
my eyes can gaze at the ground,
along the ground
and beyond to the horizon. Amen.