‘Why do you come to me?’ The Baptism of Christ

Matthew 3.13-17

Jesus came to John to be baptised.

John tried to stop him, saying, ‘Why do you come to me to be baptised?’.

What kind of world – and what kind of God?

This year has got off to a difficult start.

Wildfires in Australia have burnt an area almost the size of Ireland, which itself covers over 32,000 square miles.

And now trouble has flared between the US and Iran, causing uncertainty and the threat of war.

Such headlines, and ones closer to home of violence and crime in our own communities, can cause us to question what kind of world we live in.

Is it a hostile world, a neutral one, or a welcoming world?

And, beyond that, is God hostile to us, indifferent to us or does he welcome us?

If we look at the painful places within our own lives we meet similar questions and problems.

These are the places we might keep buried, hidden in our hearts, but the memories can still make us sad or afraid.

Such experiences and memories can cause us to doubt the goodness of other people, the world and of God.

This becomes even harder if we sign up to the idea that Christianity is all about being good, that we are completely sinful, and that we killed Jesus by being bad.

With ideas like that God can’t be on our side, never was and never will be.

Such a view kills our spirit, our faith and our hope.

The most we could hope for is a neutral God, away in the distance watching but not getting involved.

You might know the song “From a Distance”, written by Julie Gold, which talks about God watching us from afar and seeing a peaceful world living in harmony.

I’ve never liked this song as it sounds too much like what I’ve just been talking about – a God who’s far off, not getting involved, and not understanding how things really are.

Although, to be fair, I should point out that Gold says she believes that God does get involved and that the song is about the difference between how things are and how they seem to be.

But whether we believe God is angry with us or just indifferent we’re in trouble.

On one hand we have a God who we’re always trying to appease while knowing that we can never meet his standards.

And on the other hand, we have a God whose attention we are desperately trying to attract.

A surprising God

But neither of these are the God that we have.

Back in our gospel reading, when Jesus turns up at the Jordan John is taken aback.

John is aware that his baptism is a lesser thing compared to what Jesus brings.

He knows that he’s only a messenger, that Jesus must increase and he must decrease

Yet Jesus is standing in front of him asking to be baptised along with all the other people, as if he was a normal person.

It’s one thing for Jesus to turn up in power, but quite another for him to wait in a crowd for his turn to be baptised.

John was so surprised that he even tried to stop Jesus being baptised.

As great a prophet as John was he hadn’t yet grasped what Jesus’s mission was all about.

To John God was powerful, other, a bringer of judgement, someone to be appeased.

He wasn’t someone who comes to us and joins in with everyone else.

So, John asks in surprise, ‘Why do you come to me?’.

And this is a question we may ask as well.

Sometimes it seems unbelievable that God would come to us.

Maybe it’s because we believe God is distant, cold, and uninvolved.

Maybe we think we don’t deserve to have God come to us.

Maybe we were taught that God is more concerned with our behaviour than with our life.

Maybe pain, difficulty, losses and bad news have caused us to wonder if God even cares.

Maybe God doesn’t act, speak or think how we expect.

God won’t fit in our box and we can’t seem to get out of it.

I don’t know when or if you ask John’s question but if you do the answer is found right here, in the baptism of Jesus.

When Jesus went down into the water with all the frail, flawed human beings he went because he wanted to save us by being one of us.

He joined in with a baptism he didn’t need to identify with us, with our needs, our hopes, fears, dreams, hurts and failings, in short with our situations as human beings.

And he continues now to come to us because he wants to be one with us, to walk with us, and to help us become the people he knows we can be.

There is no one to whom Jesus doesn’t come.

He comes to the people who’ve lost homes, businesses, friends or family in the fires in Australia, as well as to those putting their lives in danger to battle the flames and rescue both people and animals.

He comes to the people who live in fear of bombs and missiles and loved ones being sent out to make war, as well as to peacemakers.

He comes to people living with deep sadnesses, traumas and fears that imprison them, as well as to people who are full of joy and celebration,

He comes to people who commit crimes, and to their victims, to people who’ve made a mess of everything and those who seem to have everything sorted.

He doesn’t come in the way John expected, or in the way we might sometimes wish for.

He doesn’t come with fire and fury and bolts of lightning, crushing enemies and forcing the world to bend to his will.

Instead, his way is to stand by us, to go into the waters of life with us holding our hand, to be the friend, guide and helper who’ll never leave us.

When Jesus came for baptism John tried to stop him.

Imagine if he’d succeeded?

Welcome or shun?

Yet we all have the ability to stop Jesus coming to us.

We can decide to shut him out, not listen, let difficulties and our inability to always understand what’s going on turn us away from him.

Or we can welcome him in, let him have all of us, both good and bad, allow him to be part of both the happy and the sad parts of our lives, and see the difference he can make when we only let him come to us.

So, may Jesus come to us now and always, in all the seasons of our lives, and may we have the grace to let him in, fully, openly and completely.


Baptism of Christ

Isaiah 43.1-7 / Luke 3.15-17, 21-2


When looking at today’s gospel reading the question that stuck in my mind was: “Why does it matter that Jesus was baptised?”

It’s a very short story here but Luke obviously thought it was important enough to include, so there must be some purpose to it other than just a story about Jesus’s life.

Water is a powerful symbol in the Bible, with contradictory meanings.

In the beginning God is shown bringing creation and order out of watery chaos.

Here water was both the birthplace of creation and a place of danger.

Then water is used to turn bare earth into places full of plants of various – here it is a source of life and renewal.

Then in the story of the Flood water is a cleansing agent to wash away evil and restore the world to how it should’ve been – at least temporarily.

And the sea is described as the home of great monsters like leviathan, symbolising chaos and the world without God.

Even our first reading today refers to this, talking about having to pass through rivers that threaten to overwhelm us.

So water is both chaotic and dangerous, and the place of new life and healing.

And this is where Jesus went in today’s gospel reading.

Jesus is about to start his public ministry, and the first thing that happens to him is that John plunges him fully under the water of a probably not particularly clean river and holds him there for a while.


And it’s important that Jesus took this step because it shows us that wherever we go Jesus went there first.

For life isn’t only lived in safe, clean places.

It’s lived in sleepless nights and worry-filled days, and in moments of contentment and joy.

In relationships that are good, bad and something in-between.

It happens in jobs and schools and homes, in times of joy and fulfilment, and in times of boredom and despair.

It happens in hospitals and prisons and attempts to find a better life.

It happens in places of power and wealth, and among those who struggle to make ends meet.

It happens in moments of great triumph and great goodness, and in moments of sin and failure.

Life happens everywhere people exist, and so it can be chaotic or healing, destructive or renewing.

And when the waters of life threaten to overwhelm us the story of Jesus’s baptism teaches us that we aren’t the first ones to pass through a raging river.

Jesus has already gone in ahead of us.

We can’t go anywhere in life that Jesus hasn’t already been.

And there’s nowhere we can end up where he won’t be standing right next to us.

In more technical language, in his baptism Jesus identifies with all of humanity, becoming one with us in all the aspects of our lives – both good and bad.

So, one answer to the question “Why does it matter that Jesus was baptised?” is that it is a clear sign of Jesus becoming one of us, experiencing human life from the inside, and becoming our guide through the waters of life.


But there’s a second aspect to this story of Jesus’s baptism.

When Jesus comes out of the water he hears these words from heaven:

“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”.

These words don’t come as a result of anything that Jesus has actually done – he hasn’t yet healed a single person, raised anyone from the dead, preached or taught or called anybody to repentance.

These words come to him because he’s God Son and the Father loves him – not for anything he’s done or thought or said but just because.

In this baptism the Father claims Jesus for his own.

Of course, we might think, that applies to Jesus, he’s the Son of God, but does it have anything to do with me?

Well it does because in our own baptisms we enter into the baptism of Jesus.

We are also claimed by God, we are also given the Holy Spirit, and we also are recognised as belonging to God’s family.

We become sons and daughters of God.

God looks at us and says with love and approval “This one is mine! I see my image in her. I’ll send down my Spirit to sustain and guide her”.

This is reflected in the words of the baptism service, where it says, “Christ claims you for his own”.

There’s no need to wonder whether we’ve done enough to be accepted or considered worthy.

We don’t need to worry about whether we’re loved as much as the next person.

We all face struggles at times to be good people, to cope with difficulties, to keep our faith alive, but none of that affects how God sees us for even a second.

For God says, “You see him? I’m so proud of him. He’s not perfect but he’s mine”.

So, Jesus’s baptism matters first because it’s a sign of Jesus becoming one of us.

And secondly it matters because it paves the way for our own baptisms and for our own belonging to God, and it shows us that God’s love and approval don’t depend on who we are but on who he is.

For God says to each one of us “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased”.

It sounds unlikely but it is the truth.


And it’s in the knowledge of our secure place in God’s love and family that we can go out into the world, face its difficulties, strive to live better lives, and share the good news of God’s love with all.

We do all this not to earn love but because we are already loved, and that love prompts us to follow Jesus.

And we do all this to share that love with others who are longing to hear God’s voice saying to them, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased”.