Connections 01.08.2017: Going Under

Isaiah 42:1-9

I was watching a made-for-television film about Jesus. In its depiction of Jesus’ baptism, he joined John in the Jordan River. As they stood in the river, which came up to their waists, John poured water over Jesus’ head.

Noticing that the depiction combined immersion and pouring, I thought, “My, what an ecumenically sensitive cinematic presentation!” Or something like that.

Were you baptized by immersion? Through pouring? Sprinkling? Whatever the mode, you were put under the water. As a testimony to your faith in Christ and as a symbol of your new life in him, you went under the water.

“Going under” is also a good way to describe the life into which we are baptized.

I bring all this up because January 8 is the day on the Christian calendar when we remember the Lord’s baptism. It’s also a good day to remember our baptism. All three of this week’s lectionary readings help us think about the connection between Jesus’ baptism and ours.

In this week’s lesson text, which is the first reading in the Revised Common Lectionary (Isa 42:1-9), the prophet says of the servant,

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth… (vv. 1-4a).

In Isaiah 42’s original context, the servant on whom God has put God’s spirit and who will pay a high price for bringing justice to the nations is Israel. But the Hebrews had a habit of regarding individuals as personifications of nations and of nations as living out the pattern set by their namesake (the individual Jacob/Israel and the people Jacob/Israel being the best and most important example).

That fact is about to become important.

In this week’s second lectionary reading (Acts 10:34-43), Peter proclaims of Jesus,

You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear… (vv. 37-40).

Peter says that God anointed Jesus with power in his baptism. After going under the water, Jesus went under God’s purpose to do good and to heal. He went out under the banner of God’s grace to bring justice to people. Then he was crucified. He went under suffering and death. And then God raised him from the dead.

The lectionary Gospel reading for this week reports,

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 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. 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:13-17).

Jesus went under the water. He also went under the power of the Holy Spirit and under the commission of God. And because of all that, he also went under the risky reality of serving in God’s name and in God’s way. In so doing, he fulfilled God’s calling of Israel to be God’s servant in the world, with all the risk and danger that involved.

We who are the baptized are the body of Christ in the world. As he lived out Israel’s calling, so we live out his.

To go under the water is to go under God’s spirit and God’s call. It is to continue the ways of Christ in the world, with all the risk and danger that entails. It is to undergo whatever we have to undergo for the sake of loving God by loving and helping people.

Discussion

1. What other connections do you see between this week’s three lectionary readings?
2. What characteristics does the servant of Isaiah 42 exhibit?
3. How does the prophet of Isaiah 42 connect God’s creation of the universe with God’s commissioning of Israel? Why do you think he makes that connection?
4. Why do you think the early church saw Isaiah 42 as being fulfilled in Christ?
5. What does your baptized life look like? How does it need to look different than it does?

Reference Shelf

By the Spirit and the Word, 3:13-17

The story of Jesus’ baptism is found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, and though his baptism is not mentioned in John, its occasion is. Each of the Evangelists obviously thinks this is an important occasion, and each treats it rather differently. We can learn much from seeing how Matthew differs from his Markan source and what he adds to it. It is not however always the case that what is unique about a Synoptic account is what the Evangelist sees as most crucial. The unique elements may simply show what the Evangelist thought important to add to the source material.

Five things immediately strike the reader of the First Evangelist’s account: (1) The baptism seems at first to be a rather private affair, and Jesus’ vision at first seems to be so as well. (2) The First Evangelist chooses to stress that this baptism is something Jesus chose to take upon himself. He went to the Jordan in order to be baptized by John. Thus this was not a chance encounter or spur of the moment decision. (3) As is especially true in John’s Gospel, the Baptizer’s subordination to Jesus is stressed in the Matthean account. Indeed, here we have John’s recognition of how he ought to be subordinate to Jesus. (4) Arising out of (3) is that John here even tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized, it would appear, because he feels the roles should be reversed. (5) There is also a stress on the fact that this baptism is a fulfillment of God’s will for Jesus. Jesus the perfect Son will fulfill all that is expected of him, whether it is foretold in the Scriptures or not.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 80–1.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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