The liturgical season of the Epiphany calls our attention to the gift of the Jewish Messiah to the non-Jewish people of the world, symbolized by Luke’s tale of the three “wise men from the East.” And today we remember the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the river Jordan, visually illustrating this messiah to be God’s Son.
Isaiah 43: 1-7
Isaiah’s poetic prophecy here makes very plain the “defining and uncompromising love” God has for his people, the people of Israel. Written during the Babylonian exile, these verses assure the broken and confused Jews that their God will not leave them, that he will be their salvation in the days ahead. Israel belongs to God; they are not to fear for their future. In the trying days sure to come, in rising water or burning fire, Isaiah says God will be their protector and savior.
Acts of the Apostles 8: 14-17
Samaria is the land between Galilee to the north and Judah to the south in Palestine. Its people were an intermarriage mixture of Assyrians and other foreigners with Israelites; they were regarded as inferior by the Jews centered in Jerusalem. These Samaritans concentrated their worship at Mt. Gerizim, not Jerusalem. In Luke’s story this morning Philip, one of the seven evangelists appointed by the apostles to care for the widows of the fledging church, was out in Samaria, not holed up in Jerusalem, where he was preaching the kingdom of God and performing miracles of healing among the people. He was baptizing many Samaritans, causing concern in Jerusalem. Peter and John were sent to investigate; they found Philip’s work of the true faith and conferred the Holy Spirit upon the baptized through the laying-on-of-hands. Thus the command of Jesus to the apostles to raise up the kingdom has begun.
Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22
The gospel of Luke clarifies the order and significance of John the baptizer and Jesus, giving notice that Jesus will bring the Holy Spirit in his baptism, not simply repentance of sin, the baptismal practice of John. Yet it was John who baptized Jesus, leading to questions then and over the centuries as to who had the greater authority. Luke, as well as other synoptic writers, responds to this situation in several ways, pointing to John’s emphasis of the power to come from Jesus and also by minimizing the baptism as one of many. Luke then extols Jesus’ baptism as the clear sign from god, calling Jesus as Son.