Feast of the Baptism of Jesus


Old Testament

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

   my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;

   he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,

   or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,

   and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;

   he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed

   until he has established justice in the earth;

   and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,

   who created the heavens and stretched them out,

   who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it

   and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,

   I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,*

   a light to the nations,

   to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

   from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord, that is my name;

   my glory I give to no other,

   nor my praise to idols.

See, the former things have come to pass,

   and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth,

   I tell you of them.

Isaiah 42:1–9


1  Ascribe to the Lord, you powers of heaven, •

   ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2  Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name; •

   worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3  The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;

      the God of glory thunders; •

   the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4  The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation; •

   the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.

5  The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; •

   the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6  He makes Lebanon skip like a calf •

   and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7  The voice of the Lord splits the flash of lightning;

      the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; •

   the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8  The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe

      and strips the forests bare; •

   in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’

9  The Lord sits enthroned above the water flood; •

   the Lord sits enthroned as king for evermore.

10  The Lord shall give strength to his people; •

   the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Psalm 29


Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

Acts 10:34–43


Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

Matthew 3:13–17

Sermon on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ

“I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” says Isaiah, and further he proclaims, “He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth and the coastlands wait for his teaching.”

Is this the picture we have of Jesus? Do we see that Jesus still has the strength and fortitude to establish justice among us? Do we wait expectantly for his teaching? These are pertinent questions for us as we celebrate the days of Christmass, whether it is only the twelve days or we await with joy for Candlemass.

As I sat in my front room over the holiday, I was assailed by murder and mayhem on the television. The Wizard of Oz has given way to much darker murder mysteries – why, even the Great Escape has lost its place amongst the fare for Christmass Day. The old days of good overcoming evil, when innocent Dorothy stood in honest virtue against that wicked witch, have gone away. No longer is bravery against all the odds enough.

Catherine Cookson, the Thomas Hardy of the North as my wife calls her, had all her dramas televised during the holiday period. They all spoke about the injustices of life in northern parts. They were all on just after Sharpe, another bleak vignette exposing the experiences of a common man who found himself out of place.

They are hardly uplifting in the sense of miracle stories, but they are exhortations to living better lives. Sharpe has a righteousness about him even though he lives in the mayhem of the War against Napoleon. Cookson’s heros and heroines live contained lives over against the landed and rich, the rapacious and indolent. All these characters from up north hold a moral high ground over against the mass of humanity gathered against them.

And so we could see our saviour’s life as well. Jesus was out of place in the environs of Jerusalem at his time, just as we are out of place in our time, being people who hold the word of God central to our lives. Would we extol one of our contemporaries for their attempts to “establish justice” here and now? Imagine someone who just appeared in the village saying about Mary or Bill – or you or me –

I have given you as a covenant to the people,

   a light to the nations,

   to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

   from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Who would listen to him? We all know that the blind do not receive sight willy-nilly. We certainly do not bring the prisoners out of the dungeons of darkness. But the prophet speaks of Jesus so. Do we expect any of ourselves to do such marvellous things? Would we see Jesus coming amongst us to do so – even though we do expect the second coming, don’t we?

Then John talks of the man who is about to come, the man who is so exalted that John would not dare even reach to undo his sandal. This man is recognised by John as Jesus comes for baptism. John says “I should be baptised by you! You are the one of whom the prophets spoke. I am your witness.” John humbles himself before Jesus. He knows, just as we do, that he is not worthy of the man who stands before him now. He quaked before his judge, before the saviour of the world. John has preached about this coming saviour. Everything has led to this moment.

Here he is! Jesus, the saviour of the world, stands before John and asks for cleansing – he wants to be baptised. John is astonished that he was asked to do such a thing. He wants to turn the tables on Jesus and would gladly be baptised by the man who has come to him.

Do we ever stand before others with such credulity? Do we ever say that that fellow over there is the one everyone has been expecting? No, I think we are greedy, as many have said before, for our own fifteen minutes of fame. We would rather be the centre of attention, wouldn’t we? We would not bow before any other person in the way John did, acknowledging that that other person’s shoe should not be touched by ourselves.

What is so significant about this baptism? After all, we don’t really say this rite is important to us today, do we? We don’t have fierce debates over this sacrament, do we? And believers’ baptism is something of the past. Baptism in the Anglican tradition is something done in private, we don’t find ourselves on the bank of the river listening to the Baptist’s cry, do we?

Instead, we mingle in the throng – we lose ourselves in the crowd where we don’t have to acknowledge anything.

Rather than standing apart in order to witness the great event, to clear our minds and ears, “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” Are we listening to anything but the crowd around us – that crowd that tells us how and what to think? That crowd which does not give us to ourselves. This, however, is what Jesus did for John, isn’t it?

Jesus clears John of preconceptions, he begins the overturn of the everyday into the newness of the Kingdom of God, where everyone is a servant of everyone else, and so every single person becomes a valued child of God, as Jesus preached and Paul wrote – as the tradition in his highest moments confirms. So we learn that Christians will treat every person as someone to be loved.

The untouchable of any community becomes a valued member, worthy of time and attention.

See, the former things have come to pass,

   and new things I now declare;

So through the prophets we are caught up in this vision of a new heaven and a new earth. We are all baptised with the Spirit as we live that new reality, where the former things have come and gone and the future has been established among us. Here and now is where justice and peace should reign, for the past is littered with war and unrighteousness.

We need to convert to the life of this new age, to accomplish the deeds of the peacemakers and become preachers of the Kingdom of God echoing the message John proclaimed when Jesus came to be baptised. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”


This sermon is from Stilman Davis. It is copyrighted. You are welcome to use it, but put some extra money in the plate if you do.

Sermons are spoken. They whistle in the wind and enter your ears to echo for some time between them. However, sermons are destined to go on into the distance after they have resonated with you.