The Sacrament of Identification

Throughout my life, there have been many words used to describe me. Some of these words are funny. Some of the words are personal. Some are words that attempt to identify me through my work or passions.

I’ve been described as a son, a husband, a father, a public theologian, a writer, a pastor, a preacher, an editor, an advocate, as gregarious, a nerd, a poor golfer, a sports fan, and very competitive, especially when it comes to board games.

These are all adjectives that are part of who I am. Each of us here have adjectives that describes aspects about us. Words that shine a light on who we are, where we’ve been, or where we believe our lives are going.

We are fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, workers and retirees, veterans, leaders, and so much more. I am sure we could go on. Each of these adjectives are special and define so much about our lives and what we hold to be important.

However, there is one more word of identification that we can use to describe each of us. A word that deeply defines us and informs all of our words of identification. It is not just a word, but a phrase that is the best thing anyone could ever say about us. That phrase is this: Child of God.

This phrase of identification is more important than any other word or phrase that could ever identify us. It is an identification that acknowledges our hope and love in the Lord. An identification that remembers that we were made to reflect God’s character and hope in the world and that we are members of God’s family. It is an identity that has always been with us, but one that we especially claimed as our own at our baptism. That is when we made a public declaration that we would seek to follow God’s desires throughout our lives.

Our baptism is an important moment in our lives, regardless of whether we were baptized as an infant or later in life. It is the moment when our identity as a child of God became the most important thing about us. It is our recognition that God loves us so much that he sent his Son to do the work of redemption in us and throughout this world. Baptism, as John Wesley said, is an “outward sign of an inward grace.” What is meant by this? Baptism is an outward act that symbolizes what God did in us by cleansing us of our unrighteousness. By faith in Christ, we are cleansed, renewed, and transformed into a new person and our baptism signifies this great reality. The day of our baptism marks the beginning of our new life in Christ and our hope to live in the freedom that a life in Christ offers.

The fact our baptism symbolizes our cleansing from all unrighteousness and a new relationship with the Lord is appropriate to remember as we look at this passage from Matthew 3:13-17. In this passage, Jesus approaches John the Baptist at the Jordan River in order to be baptized. It seems like an odd thing for Jesus to do. The One who is without sin is asking John to baptize him. Why? Why would Jesus ask John to baptize him? What did this mean for Jesus’ earthly ministry and for us?

This scene at the Jordan River is the first time we see Jesus as an adult. We are almost 30 years removed from the scenes that center on Jesus’ birth and early life. Each of the Gospels, like Matthew, begin Jesus’ earthly life with some description or narrative about this scene where Jesus is baptized by John. The reason for this may have been to addressed questions within the early church about why Jesus would be baptized. Questions that we may have, today, as we examine this passage.

For starters, we can assume Jesus has begun to understand his calling to be the Savior and Messiah of all people. His age was about the time when men would become rabbis in Jesus’ time, so it would be appropriate for him to begin to wrestle with his calling. The fact Jesus left Nazareth for Galilee indicates that Jesus is ready to begin what would be a three-year itinerant ministry across the Galilean countryside. It is a ministry that begins by Jesus going to John, who had been preaching on the need for repentance and about the One who would soon come, and asking him to baptize him.

Matthew tells us that John, who was also Jesus’ cousin, at first refuses to baptize Jesus. He tries to stop him. The reason he gives is that John believed Jesus should baptize him. In this moment, John recognized that Jesus was the long-expected One who came to bring power to the act of baptism through his life, death, and resurrection. John humbles himself before Jesus and acknowledges him as the Son of God.

Jesus insists that John should do this. He says this baptism would allow them to “carry out all that God requires.” What does Jesus mean? Jesus does not need to be baptized in order to fulfill a Scriptural prophesy. He does not need to be baptized in order to cleanse himself of sin. Jesus seeks to be baptized in order to identify himself with the people he came to serve, love, and save.

By being baptized and taking on this act of renewal, Jesus symbolically joined himself with the world’s hurting, lost, forgotten, and neglected. He identified himself with the very people God loves. In taking on the water, Jesus connects himself with the world’s hurts and joins himself, through love, with those enslaved by the brokenness of this world that separates us from God’s love. It is an act that announces he has come to offer hope and renewal through inviting people to cling to his name and love. Think about this: When Jesus was baptized, he told the entire world, everyone who has gone through some tragedy because of the pains of his world, that God is with us and is at work in breaking us free from what harm us.

Just as Jesus’ baptism identifies him with the hurts of this world, so does our baptism identify ourselves with Christ. The water of our baptism signifies our desire to die of ourselves and to take on the life of Christ as our own. We identify ourselves not with the Jesus that is comfortable to us, but the Jesus who calls us to daily renewal and focus on what it means to follow him. The Jesus we accepted at our baptism seeks for us to let go of our agendas, desires, and plans, and to take on the life of Christ that is defined by self-sacrifice, love of others, and service to all. Our baptism is our act of saying “no” to self, and saying  “yes” to the life giving and hope sharing love of Jesus Christ.

As Jesus came out of the water, Matthew tells us of a very powerful scene that took place. It is not clear if this scene was one that only Jesus could see or if it was one available for all. Regardless, Matthew describes a breathtaking moment where the heavens open and a dove appears and sits upon him. A word from God is then heard saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

These words acknowledges and confirms who Jesus is as the Son of God. He is the Messiah and Savior of all. With these words, Jesus’ baptism launches him into fulfilling the work he came to do. The next three years would be a time where Jesus would establish the Kingdom of God through his words, acts of healing, and self-giving way of offering unconditional love to others to the point of dying for our sin on the cross. Jesus’ baptism prepares him for the work he came to do and continues to do this day.

Our baptism also launches us into our own ministries to serve Christ. So often, we see baptism as the end of our journey with Christ. However, it is only the beginning of our journey with Christ. Our baptism sends us out on a journey of faith and our call to serve God through the gifts and talents we have been given by the Lord. Just as Christ was anointed for ministry through his baptism, so are we at ours. Through our baptism, we are sent out to be witnesses of God’s love by our words, actions, and deeds. At our baptism, we are called to take on our cross, to take on the tasks God has placed on our heart, and to serve with a passionate hope that shares the love of God with all people. By our baptism, we are initiated into the “priesthood of believers” who love freely and serve all in big and small ways that seek to transform the world.

Baptism is our sacrament of identification, because in that sweet moment upon touching the water we are transformed and identified by something greater. An identification that calls us, with a passionate love for others, to share the peace, hope, joy, and love of Christ with all people. It is our desire, every day, to seek to grow in this identification of being a child of God and what it means for us in service to Christ each day.

Today we remember the waters of our baptism and what it means for us. We will do so, in a moment, by reconnecting ourselves to our covenant with God and each other to love the Lord and love others. As we do, we will once again claim our identity as children of God who have claimed Christ and identify ourselves with the Lord’s love for us and all people. We also will renew our commitment to see our baptism as the beginning of our mission to let the Good News of Jesus Christ to shine forth in our witness to others, by our words, actions, and deeds, so that all people may know the life-giving love of Christ.

Our baptism, just as it was for Christ, is a significant moment in our lives. Remember the water. Remember our identification with Christ. Remember our call to be in “ministry with all the world until Christ comes in final victory.” Remember your baptism, today, and keep it on your heart always.

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