By Sam Gutierrez
Last week, we looked at one of the three key framing stories of the season of Epiphany – the story of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-2) and discovered that this story is important in two ways.
First, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham – the Lord will bless all nations through him. The visit of the Magi to worship Jesus and pay homage to him as King expands the rule of Jesus beyond Jewish boundary lines. In fact, you could say that the book of Acts is an expansion upon the Magi story – the gospel going out to the ends of the earth to bring in all God’s estranged children.
Second, we looked at how God is not bound to communicate in ways that we think are appropriate or familiar. To those who had no access to the Jewish Scriptures, God gets creative and uses a dream and a star to communicate his grace.
But the story of the Magi is just one framing story that sheds light on the ministry of Jesus during the season of Epiphany. This past Sunday we took a look at the second framing story: The Baptism of Jesus. Here we learn two critical things that can be summed up with Words and Water.
First, God’s grace comes in the form of words.
When Jesus comes up out of the water, a voice from heaven booms. The voice speaks a blessing over Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well-pleased.” (Mark 1:11) Remember – Jesus hasn’t “done” anything yet. His ministry hasn’t started. He has been living a life of obscurity in a small town. This reminds us that identity not earned or achieved, but given. This is why we practice baptismal remembrance on Sunday mornings. Just like Jesus was baptized and a blessing was spoken over him, we too receive baptism and a blessing is spoken over us. God is giving us our deepest identity as his beloved children. Just as Jesus begins his ministry with God's blessing and his indentity firmly established, we too live out our lives as beloved children of God.
Second, God’s grace comes in the form of water.
When Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan river, it is a legitimizing of the “John way” – which is God’s grace working outside the boundaries of the temple courts. Remember, in Jesus' day, there was a complicated system of priests, temples, sacrifices and religious laws. Many of the conflicts we see in the gospels center on Jesus not doing “the system” correctly. But in going out to John, who was standing in the river in the middle of the wilderness, Jesus gives his stamp of approval. In essence, Jesus is saying that God’s grace is like a river. It flows freely like water. It is generous, immersive, alive and it gets all over you. We might think of Jesus’ public ministry as an expression of how he sees and experiences God’s grace and love. In every teaching, miracle and healing, Jesus exhibits God’s river of grace – powerful, generous, immersive, cleansing, uncontrollable, refreshing, and flowing.
So, now we have two key stories that are signs pointing to who Jesus is and what Jesus is about. In the story of the Magi, Jesus is the conduit through which God fulfills his promise to bless all nations – Jesus is not just a Jewish king, but the King of Kings who rules and reigns over all things. Now, in the story of the baptism of Jesus, we learn that Jesus is the beloved Son of God who has come with a message: God’s grace is abundant and flowing. In the Jordan River, Jesus gets drenched in God’s grace in order to communicate that we, too, are God's beloved children and God’s grace soaks us. Now we can see more clearly the “good news” that Jesus came to proclaim.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the third framing story of Epiphany: the wedding feast at Cana.
“In him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5