First Mennonite Church
January 20, 2019
Baptism: Our Granting of Identity and Mission
Names. Names confer identity, but names also have meaning. Do you know what either your first or your last name means? Some names, especially last names, originated based on the geographical location a family have lived; thus, we have such last names as: “London,” “Wales,” “French,” “Hill,” and “Ford.” In some other cases, last names were derived from the trade or occupation the family had back down in the family’s history and so we have last names such as: “Tailor,” “Smith,” “Hunter, and “Judge.” There are also what are called “patronymic” names. These are the names signaling relationship within the family line. The names that begin with Mac or Mc, for instance, have their roots in the Gaelic language. Mac means “Son of.” Therefore, the name “Tim Macdonald” means Tim son of Donald. Or if the person’s name is “José Fernandez,” that means Jose is the son of Fernando. Again, most names have meaning behind them.
In my case, “Romero,” which is my last name, has two meanings. Romero is a plant or herb: the rosemary plant. Also, “Romero” means pilgrim. I think my family is living up to the latter meaning of its name.
The truth is that our name gives us our identity. It distinguishes each of us as an individual from the rest. When I say, “Bernie,” I know who I am talking about and you know who I am referring to. As we will see today, God identified Jesus at his baptism as “the Beloved Son” in whom God was “well pleased.” Also, that our baptism in Christ is what gives you and me our identity as the beloved children of God.
The account of Jesus’ baptism has always raised some questions about the reason he had to be baptized. As we saw last week, John was baptizing people who came confessing their sins and for repentance. In the case of Jesus, what sins did he have to confess and of what did he have to repent? And if Jesus was without sin, why then did he have to ask to be baptized? Even John was troubled by Jesus’ request to be baptized. When John attempted to avoid complying with Jesus’ demand to be baptized, Jesus simply said, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Even the response seems enigmatic. “Fulfill all righteousness,” what does that mean? And therefore, this raises the question: What did Jesus’ baptism mean in light of who he was and what he came to do?
Jesus’ baptism is recorded or at least referred to in all four Gospels. Matthew contains the longest version of that incident. It is Matthew who, time and time again, affirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish Scripture. From Matthew’s perspective, everything Jesus did was to fulfill scriptures. Therefore, Jesus’ baptism was part of God’s will needed to be fulfilled by Jesus and John.
Despite the different focus each gospel has about Jesus’ baptism, each is consistent in two aspects. The first is that at Jesus’ baptism a voice came from heaven. By referring to this voice as coming from above, the gospel writers were unanimous in their affirmation of Jesus by God. Jesus’ baptism serves the purpose of allowing others to be firsthand witnesses of Jesus’ divine affirmation. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” the voice said. If we recall, Jesus had earlier spoken about his being in his Father’s business when he stayed behind in Jerusalem at the age of 12. Therefore, the coming voice identifying Jesus as the Son, in which the speaker is understood to be the Father God, was not for the purpose of helping Jesus know who he was. The voice came for testimony to others about who Jesus was. Jesus was introduced as the beloved Son of God and empowered by the coming of the Holy Spirit. In that regard, Jesus’ baptism serves the purpose of identifying Jesus as the beloved Son of God and in whom God’s pleasure was. God’s affirmation of Jesus’ identity came in anticipation of Jesus’ mission. In the Gospel of John, right after Jesus’ baptism, confirmation, and investiture with the Holy Spirit, Jesus begins to call his disciples. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, after his baptism, Jesus is led into the desert to be tempted. After 40 days and nights that Jesus stayed in the desert, he emerges preaching the very same message John the Baptist had been proclaiming: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17).
It is the purpose of Jesus’ baptism what intersects with our own baptism. Why are we baptized? And, for what? What do we bring to it, or what are given in return? In our case, we are baptized based on our confession of faith in Jesus. We are baptized upon confessing our sins to God and on our promise to turn around our lives towards the will of God—continue the life of repentance. We are baptized committing ourselves to share the journey of faith with the community of believers in which we came to faith or the one we chose as our family of faith. We are baptized as act of obedience to the words of Jesus when he commission his disciples: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). But through our baptism, we too acquired a new identity. Our baptism is nothing less than the affirmation of God of the new relationship we have with Him, in Christ. In baptism we are declare the beloved children of God. Our baptism gives us a new identity—we now belong to Christ. Through our baptism we are born in Christ and into new life. This is what John says about being born of God: No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. But if we sin and confess to Jesus Christ our sins, “He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9). God’s love is greater than our sins.
Through our baptism we were also affirmed the promise of Jesus’ presence with us through his Spirit. The Spirit is what enables us for the mission to which we are being called. Our baptism, therefore, signals our joining the movement Jesus started of doing and revealing the will of God to the world. It is in these two aspect, identity and mission that our baptism intersects with Jesus’.
Names. Names matter because names are powerful. The names we take for ourselves or those that were given to us have the potential to arouse pride, dignity, and good self-esteem or they can bring upon us shame, guilt, or humiliation. Names have the power to raise up or to tear down. That can explain why the problem of bullying is so destructive to its victims. It is no wonder why so many lives have been destroyed by it. Imagine how many people would want to flee from where they are known by a name that rips apart their dignity. Imagine how many people in our neighborhoods are haunted at night by the names by which they are called: “Stupid,” “Egghead,” “Fat,” “Ugly,” “Looser,” “Liar,” etc. For our own healing before the cross of Christ, remember at this moment the ugliest or most hurtful name you have been called. Ask the Lord to heal your mind and your spirit. Bring it to the cross and leave it there and receive your new name. You are the beloved of God. In you the Lord is pleased.
When parents choose a name for their child, they hope the name they choose will give their child honor, grace, and dignity. But, there is no greater dignity conferred to us humans than the name that has been given to us who are believer in the Lord. You, we are the beloved of God. Your/our name is Christian because you/we are followers of Christ. Let this name raise you up. Receive and live up to your new identity in Christ. My dear brothers and sisters, you are God’s beloved children. Amen!