“Sharing in Jesus’ Work”

Baptism of the Lord

January 8, 2017


Text:  Matthew 3:13-17; Isaiah 42:1-9; Acts 10:34-43


    This morning we read about Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  When that happened, the heavens opened, and Jesus saw God’s Spirit coming down like a dove and resting on him.  The voice of God spoke, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

    Jesus’ baptism is the pattern for our baptism.  When we are baptized, God’s Holy Spirit is poured into our lives, and God claims us as his children.  In addition, Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his earthly ministry.  Likewise, when we are baptized, God claims us to minister in his name in the world.

    In our lesson from Acts today, Peter is preaching in the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.  Peter tells those gathered there that God’s Spirit had come upon Jesus, who then went about doing good and healing those who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him.  Then he was killed and rose from the dead, and became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

    Our lesson from Isaiah today is one of that book’s “servant songs.”  In this text God says he will pour his spirit on the servant, who will bring justice to the nations, restore sight to the blind, and rescue those who are in prison.  Christians have long recognized this prophecy as having been lived out in the life and ministry of Jesus.

    If Jesus’ baptism is the pattern for our baptism, shouldn't Jesus’ ministry also be the pattern for our ministry?  Shouldn't we also be doing good to others, bringing healing and hope, setting people free from whatever is keeping them enslaved?  Shouldn’t we be about helping people find salvation, which is not only about going to heaven, but being in a healthy relationship with God, others, and ourselves in this life?  After all, the root of the word “salvation” is the same as the source of the word “salve,” which is what our forebears called any ointment used to promote healing and health. Since we share in Jesus’ baptism, let us also share in his work.

    But what, one may ask, does that look like in practice?  A story is in order:

Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, tells about a woman he met several years ago in northern Uganda.  “At that time, the Lord’s Resistance Army was still at its evil games, and children slept in ‘night commuter’ camps to stay alive and to avoid being captured and tortured into becoming child soldiers. This particular night, as every night, hundreds of children came to sleep together in the rough of an empty school.  Only one adult was present, a middle-aged woman, available to help and comfort any who might have need.  Her husband and children were at their home a few blocks away. She explained that she came each night as a volunteer to help.

    “I asked her why she was doing this.  She talked about the children’s need and her desire to do what she could under such difficult circumstances and in the face of such fears. Still wanting to know more, I pressed, ‘But what motivates you to care? Why do you do it?’ She looked me up and down and finally said, ‘Well, I am what you call a Christian.  I read my Bible every day, and every week I go to a church where we eat something called the Lord’s Supper.  I can’t imagine doing those things all my life and not coming here.  Where else would it lead?’”

    This woman clearly understood that the Christian life is about far more than what we do on Sunday.  She realized that being a Christian meant she had to be involved in doing Jesus’ work every day.  As she looked at her community, she realized that meant protecting the children of the community from being kidnapped and forced to become soldiers for a terrorist group.

    Our context is very different.  Yet in our community there are also people who live in fear, brokenness, and hurt.  What can we do, what should we do, to help such people know God’s love and hope for them?  How should we be living as disciples of Jesus Christ so the world might be transformed?  Since we share in Jesus’  baptism, let us share in his work.

    Since we are just coming off Christmas, it seems to me the poem I am about to share is particularly appropriate.  It was written by Howard Thurman, a leading 20th century African-American spiritual leader, and it talks about what it means to share in the work of Jesus.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and the princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music in the heart.

    That is the work of Christmas.  That is the work of the Christian.  That is the ministry of Jesus and all who follow him.  Since we share in Jesus’ baptism, let us also share in his work.  Amen.

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