When John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing for the repentance of sins, he knew ahead of time that he was merely preparing the way for someone greater: God. This is the first lesson in approaching the next words of Jesus: John knew his ministry was not from himself or for himself.
“I baptize you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is more powerful than I and I am not fit to carry his sandals: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” -Matthew 3: 11
Too often we tie our daily ministry to our own self interests. The better a person I am, the more people will like me. The more I help people, the more they’ll help me. The more devout a Christian, the boss will notice and give me a raise. Ultimately, we are designed to desire a relationship with God. As we find God, we like to stay there and just be fed and taken care of. But once God has our attention, he calls ALL of his people to be living testimonies to those around, and has a specific call toward daily ministry in your everyday life.
“But, WHAT IS my ministry?!” you may shout to God, like I did a few days before studying and preaching on this scripture. Yes, I’m a preacher, and I still asked it – so I expect even if you’re not in traditional ministry you have probably wondered the same.
Jesus came up to John the Baptist to be baptized. “It is I who need baptism from you,” John reacted, “yet you come to me!” -Matthew 3: 14
Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance of sins, so why did Jesus reply as he did? “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands.” -Matthew 3: 15
The common answer is: to set an example so that we are to be baptized as well. It’s a good answer, and I’m good for following his example. But baptism would still be practiced and preached even if Jesus didn’t subject himself to John. And isn’t that problematic, the idea of Jesus submitting himself to us?
Could it do with the fact that John was baptizing in the Jordan River, the highly symbolic place that Joshua and the priests led the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land? Well, sure! This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, which has many symbolic parallels with the claiming of the promised kingdom in Joshua. But the Israelites crossed on dry land – quite the opposite of intentionally getting fully wet.
It was my original shout “But, WHAT IS my ministry?!” that led to a satisfactory application of Jesus’ words and actions. Our ministry is Jesus Christ. Without him, it is just our ministry, and it might very well point back to how great we think we are rather than making it evident how great God is.
John the Baptist had a close relationship with God. He was aware of his calling, and answered with faithful action. He recognized when Jesus was near, and acknowledged Jesus’ higher status. Jesus was baptized into John’s ministry in the way a giant would crouch to get into your house. And what happened to John’s ministry? It became Jesus’ ministry.
In the same way, it is highly appropriate for us to serve God in every manner we can. But it is incomplete without also baptize Jesus himself INTO our service to God. Then, whose ministry does it become? We don’t have the power to really change people, but Jesus does. We don’t have the wisdom of how to answer all things, but Jesus does. We don’t have the foreknowledge of where we’re supposed to be and when we’re supposed to be there, but Jesus does. We don’t have the holiness to be the light, but we are equipped to hold it.
God works in beautiful ways, and how wonderful it is that as we long to serve God, we can do so simply by letting him into our service. Today, recognize Jesus’ divine status and baptize Jesus into your own ministry, “it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all things that uprightness demands.”
Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for today and for the relationship we have. Thank you for providing and for your presence. As my needs are met to do your will, help me understand my calling. I desire to serve you, help me to. Lord, I purposefully baptize Jesus and welcome him into my ministry. Help me to allow it to be his, to be yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.
It is so immensely appropriate that we celebrate the New Year right after the intense buildup preparing for the birth of Christ in the manger of our hearts. The day has come and passed; we have invited Jesus to be born again in our hearts, to cherish and treasure as he grows. And now the New Year presents an opportunity to transform the outward expression of our life to reflect this growing light inside of us.
This year we begin a long and deep study into the words of Jesus, and we begin with his first (recorded), which come from a 12 year old boy Jesus left behind in the Temple.
Luke 2: 41-52
Every year his parents used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When the days of the feast were over and they set off home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was somewhere in the party, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.
It happened that, three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. The were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.” He replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he meant.
He went down with them then and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and with people.
Just because we were seeking truth like the magi and arrived humble at the manger, just because we accepted faith like a child into our hearts and minds, just because we intentionally professed responsibility of the growing of that faith – does not mean that our routines and rituals automatically are Jesus infused.
It took twelve years of going to Jerusalem and back for Joseph and Mary to take for granted that Jesus would always be with them. There is a difference between saying “Jesus is always with me,” and “I am always with Jesus.” The former implies that Jesus is like a pet by your side, trusting that you always know where to be and what to be doing, he’s just happy to be with you. The latter implies that no matter where Jesus goes, no matter where his Spirit is leading, you are intent to be there as well.
How many years does it take you to forget to keep your eye on Jesus and where he is? How many days? How many hours? “Why were you looking for me?” Jesus asks. If we never took our eyes off him, our ears away from his teaching, our minds away from his wisdom, our hearts away from his loving calm, our souls away from his beckoning call – we would not need to spend time looking for him. We would already be by his side, paying attention.
“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” One sure way to make sure Jesus is where we are is to apply the philosophy of Paul communicated in 1 Corinthians verses 19-20: Do you not realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you received from God? So Jesus needs to be in the Temple, sitting with your mind, asking it questions? Make your body God’s house, keep it clean, and keep it holy. Carry him with you, store up all these things in your heart. In your body, in your mind, and in your spirit, Jesus will increase in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and your very self – if you let him.
Gracious God, thank you for this chance at life today. As I approach the rest of the day, help me to pay attention to where Jesus is and what he is doing, both inside and around me. Help me to be where he is, go where he is going, rather than dragging him into all my selfish actions and ambitious desires. I desire most to be yours, help me to be so. Amen.