Lesson 4: Beginnings

What you have is God’s gift to you. What you do with your life is your gift to God.

– Hans Urs von Balthasar

The story of the Magi we covered a few days ago is found only in Matthew. Just two gospels tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Each gospel writer uses a different set of sources. Often they share a source, but each gospel has some stories unique to it. Mark’s gospel is the oldest, and both Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source, quoting him extensively. Jesus’ baptism is found in all four gospels, testifying to its significance.

Devotion: Read Matthew 3:13-17. John, traditionally called “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer,” does not perform Christian baptism (Acts 18:25), since Jesus has not yet initiated the New Covenant (Mt 26:28; Lk 22:20; 1 Pet 3:21). John baptizes as an act of repentance within the Hebrew Covenant (Acts 19:1-7). Using water as a sign of cleansing and forgiveness is common in many religions, as it is in God’s covenant with Abraham (Num 19:11-13). That is why John is shocked when Jesus, who he believes is without sin, desires to be baptized. Through his participation, Jesus transforms this water ritual, bringing it to fulfillment, just as he will transform Passover (into Holy Communion) and Pentecost (from a Jewish celebration of the Law into a celebration of the Spirit). 

In this case, following his baptism, God proclaims Jesus is “beloved child.” In Christ, Baptism is no longer primarily about repentance; now it signifies we are children of God. In this sense, baptism in the New Covenant takes the place of circumcision in the Hebrew Covenant, as the initiation rite of the covenant community (Col 2:8-14). However, unlike circumcision, Baptism is for all people: Jew and Gentile, men and women, slave and free. Baptism calls us to live as children of God and respond to God’s loving acts in Jesus Christ. Baptism is a sign of relationship with God, not a magic ticket into heaven. Baptism invites us to obediently serve God and neighbor, just as Jesus did. Is being baptized necessary for salvation? If “yes,” why is that not considered “salvation by works” (Eph 2:8-9)? What are some reasons a person might not be baptized if they have the opportunity to do so? How might being baptized be a witness for others?  

Personal Worship Option: From the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant: through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood. We are all one in Christ Jesus. Baptism teaches us our true identity: a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), royal priest (1 Pet 2:9), and one with Jesus (Jn 15). How are these descriptions different from how the world views you? Which of these descriptions impacts you most? 

Dig A Little Deeper:

3:14 Matthew is the only gospel to report John’s shock and Jesus’ response to it. Because the phrase “to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15) is not found anywhere else, people interpret it many ways. What are your thoughts on how our church celebrates Baptism? Why does the Church require an ordained person to baptize? What are issues associated with non-ordained people baptizing people?

3:16 In Matthew and Mark, Jesus is the one who sees the Spirit descend. In Luke and John, the experience is shared with John the Baptizer as well. “Like a dove” can mean the Spirit comes in the form of a literal dove or the phrase may be symbolic, using poetic language to describe the indescribable. If this is a literal dove, this would be another example of God’s “incarnation.”  

3:17 Compare God’s statement following the baptism to Isaiah 42:1. What does the remainder of that passage (Is 42:2-9) tell us about the kind of Messiah that Jesus is called to be?

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