” . . . when Jesus also had been baptized” Luke 3:21
The letters A, B, C and D can help us think about the story of the baptism of Jesus: A for “all”, B for “baptized”, C for “Christ”, and D for “dove.
A is for “all.” Saint Luke uses the word “all” three times in the verses we read: “all were questioning in their hearts concerning John”, says Verse 15; “John answered all of them,” says Verse 16; and “when all the people were baptized”, says Verse 21. The desire for change, the desire for a different sort of religion, is not something felt by only a small number of people, it is a popular movement. The questions are being asked by the crowds and John speaks openly to the crowd. The word “all” suggests that not only was there a large number, but that they came from all sorts of backgrounds and that there was no discrimination in how they were treated.
The word “all” is a challenge to us. Would all the people in our own times ever ask questions about Christian faith in the way that all the people asked about John? John answers all of them, can we ever say that the church is heard by all the people? There was such a desire for change that all the people were baptized by John, is there a desire for change among people today? If we do not reach all the people, then are we being the people God expects us to be?
B is for “baptized”. “I baptize you with water”, John tells the crowd in Verse 16. Baptism for the Jewish people was a sign of washing away their past and beginning anew; it was an outward sign of repentance, of a desire to get rid of the impurities of one’s former life and begin anew. The people who went to the Jordan to be baptized by John went for a baptism of penitence. It was not a baptism that was undertaken once and for all, but rather was one that might be repeated if the penitent person felt it was necessary. John the Baptist is baptizing people who know they have sinned and who want to outwardly show that they are sorry and that they want to start again.
In our own times, can we imagine people gathering in crowds to declare that they know their life has gone wrong and that they want to begin new lives? In times when people are concerned with themselves, in times when we are told that our own wealth, our own satisfaction, our own contentment, are all that matters, can we imagine people publicly declaring that they want to give up such lives? John calls people to a baptism of repentance, do we as Christians have the courage to call people to change?
C is for “Christ.” Verse 15 tells us that the people were “questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” The word “Messiah” is Hebrew for “the anointed one”, in Greek the word is “Christ,”some translations of the Bible use one word, some use the other. John declares he is not the Christ, telling the crowd in Verse 16, “one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” How will the Christ be recognized? In Saint Luke Chapter 7 John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, are you the one who is to come or should we wait for another? In Chapter 7 Verses 22-23, Jesus answers, “‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”
The people in John’s time were wondering whether he might be the Christ; clearly, they were uncertain what the Christ would be like. If we were looking today, what sort of person might we expect? If we were looking for signs that Christ was at work today, what would we expect to see? When John’s disciples came to Jesus to ask if he were the Christ, the answer was probably not what they expected. If we look for Christ’s presence among us, shouldn’t we be looking for the things about which Jesus talks?
D is for “Dove”. Verse 22 tells us, “and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'” The dove appears many times in the Old Testament, as a sacrifice, as a thing of beauty, but most importantly as the bird that brings a sign to Noah in Genesis Chapter 8 that the flood is over, that new life has begun. At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove, declaring that Jesus brings new life.
The people watching would have seen the dove as a sign of new life, as Christians we should try to be filled with new life every day. In the confirmation service we have a prayer that we might daily increase in the Holy Spirit, how often do we remember that prayer? How often do we get up in the morning and think, “here is another day in which to live a new life for Christ?” Saint Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus “in bodily form like a dove”, it was a sign that was clear an unmistakable. As we read the Bible, it is clear and unmistakable that we are expected to be people who live new and different lives; are we prepared to do so?
All, baptized, Christ and a dove – an A,B,C,D to help us think about our Christian lives at the beginning of a new year.