Monday, January 3, 2011

Looking Forward to January 9, 2011 -- First Sunday After Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 40:3-11
  • Psalm 29 (VU p.756)
  • Matthew 3:1-17

The Sermon Title is The J&J Show

Early Thoughts: What is the relationship between Jesus and John?  Not in terms of family but in terms of philosophy and being part of a movement.

If you had to list "odd" characters in the Biblical narrative, I am sure that John the Baptist (or the Baptizer) would be one of the first people you would think of.  Matthew tells us he appears in the desert wearing garments of camel's hair and eating locusts and wild honey (I had a seminary prof who said he was tempted to write a book on diet and style according to John the Baptist).  He preaches a message that is heavy on repentance and fire and brimstone. He practices a baptism of forgiveness for sins.  His message seems much more judgemental and black/white than Jesus.  And yet the tradition is very clear (all 4 Gospels recount or refer to it) that Jesus was baptized by John.  Why?

In fact it appears that the early church asked why as well.  There are a couple of possible issues.  One is that Jesus being baptized makes it appear that he is a follower of John, which in turn suggests that John is greater than Jesus.  At the same time, fairly early in the Christian era the theological statement that Jesus was sinless was made and accepted.  But John's baptism was for the forgiveness of sins.  So why would the sinless Jesus need to be baptized?

So what is the relationship between Jesus and John?

It does seem that Jesus was a disciple of John.  And the  flow of the Gospel account suggest he may have, in a way, served as John's successor.  However he does appear to have altered John's message.  But Christian tradition has always (or at least since the Gospels were written) maintained the John is a precursor to Jesus, the one who prepares the way.  And so it does us good to ask who John was, both in his own right and in terms of his connection to the Jesus-story.

On Sunday we will continue the exploration.

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