Bible Tuesday for the Baptism of Our Lord, 2015
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind [breath] from God sweeping over the water, God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and morning the first day.
The Jewish Study Bible reminds scholars how austere is the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. No galactic battles between deities, no lengthy stories of gods and goddesses wooing and fighting. No, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh speaks and creation occurs. Whatever drama one finds in this first chapter of Genesis, one has inserted between the lines.
The term that is used for God’s acts of creation in this first chapter of Genesis is “ex nihilo” which is Latin for “out of nothing”. In Genesis 2, God creates humans out of soil (Adam means “soil man”) but in this first chapter, God creates “out of nothing.” God merely speaks, and what God speaks comes into being.
While we read “God saw that the light was good” as a rather mild statement, it is a very strong, major statement to Jesus, who asks, “Why do you call me ‘good’? Only God is good!” God discerns this new creation of light as “good”, a quality that Jesus says is unique to God. Is it a stretch then to stay that Light is a “good” gift from God?
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,[a]
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,[b]
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
It cannot be any surprise to you that this psalm is one in praise of God’s power, might, and majesty. “Ascribe” or “give God credit for” creation, power, triumph over enemies.
In the first chapter of Genesis, the spirit or breath of God broods over the primordial waters. This psalmist echoes God’s power in creation and restates that God’s voice is over the waters, over the mighty waters.
That first chapter of Genesis relates how God created through nothing but His word. The psalmist recalls God’s powerful voice here and retells God’s mighty acts using nothing but voice.
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.
In the books of Acts, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Thessalonians, and Colossians, prophesying or speaking in tongues are signs that the Holy Spirit has come into/upon the person exhibiting these gifts. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that one does not have the Holy Spirit within one if one does not exhibit either the gift of prophesy or the gift of speaking in tongues. However, the entire Pentecostal movement has been built on this very premise, that one is not “elect”, that is “chosen by God”, if one does not manifest one of these very specific gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophesying, or speaking in tongues, or healing. “Wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord, joy in God’s presents” while nice gifts of the Spirit, do not count as evidence you being among the elect whom God has chosen for salvation.
Based on this and other New Testament passages, we still lay hands on the heads of the baptized (though I was reluctant to do that to the Linafelter children this past week because most junior high and high school kids are pretty self conscious of their hair and I didn’t want them to lose focus on what was happening and instead fret about me messing up their hair with my hands) to “pray down” or pass on the Holy Spirit.
John the baptizer appeared[a] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with[b] water; but he will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[d] with you I am well pleased.”
The place that John the Baptist was doing ministry was in the Jordan River (opposite Jericho). This is a place that had history for the Israelites. While we don’t know where Jacob and his eleven sons (Joseph was already in Egypt), daughters, and all their families, flocks, herds, and wagons crossed over the Jordan on their way to Egypt, we do know that when the Israelites escaped Egypt and wandered for 40 years, they reentered Canaan opposite Jericho. While John may have chosen this spot for depth or flow of water and access through the hills/mountains that lie between Jerusalem and the Jordan River, the spot John chose is where the Israelites crossed when returning from Egypt. What is the significance of this? Well, in regard to the spot on the Jordan, perhaps only that John and the Israelites both came to the most likely place for crossing the Jordan. Far more important is the pattern that develops for the Israelites, also for Jesus, and for us.
The Israelites cross the Red/Reed Sea into the wilderness where they finally develop a plan for doing what God has called them to do, then they go do it! Cross the Jordan again, take Jericho, reclaim all of Canaan, and worship God. Later Elijah and Elisha cross the river and wander around for a couple days before Elijah is carried away to God and Elisha picks up his mantle and becomes Israel’s prophet.
While it is strange that Jesus is baptized, and John, himself, objects to baptizing Jesus, but Jesus’ answer, “This is to fulfill all righteousness,” does make sense. Jesus now will come through the Jordan, be driven into the wilderness where he will spend time in prayer and planning, then begin ministry, just as so many Israelites before him.