Sunday, January 10th, 2020 (Epiphany 2)
(Revd Canon Malcolm Convery)
The Baptism of Christ
(Related Bible readings can be found here)
Those of us to have been brought up in the Anglican Church will have been baptized as infants
so we do not remember much about our baptism.
Infant baptism is the norm in the main stream denominations
– Church of England, Methodist and Roman Catholic.
Other denominations do not baptize infants but believers, who are able to affirm their belief
and it is usually baptism by full immersion.
Some people who were baptized as infants decide to have full immersion baptism
in a church of another denomination.
In the time of Jesus and before, Gentiles who became Jews were baptized on their entry into the Jewish faith. We are more familiar with the baptisms John conducted when many Jews were baptized in the river Jordan. John also baptized Jesus, as recorded in our gospel reading.
In the Acts of the apostles we read of several different baptisms :
So we turn to today’s readings beginning with Paul’s meeting of two disciples in Ephesus.
Paul is moved to ask them :
“ Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed”
They answered that they hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit, at which Paul enquired
“ Then what baptism did you receive ? ” They replied “John’s baptism.”
It doesn’t say whether these disciples were John’s or Jesus’.
Many of those baptized had become followers of John.
It is unusual that they didn’t know about the Holy Spirit
as John had pointed those he had baptized to Jesus, who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit.
In other words John’s baptism was a mark affirming their repentance and forgiveness of sin
but it is Jesus who imparts the new life.
Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus, laid hands on them,
and they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues and prophesied.
What would our answer be if someone asked us
“ Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you were baptized ?”
How do we know we have received the Holy Spirit ?
Well. We have God’s promise, reiterated by Peter on the day of Pentecost :
"Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
The evidence that the disciples in our reading had received the Holy Spirit
was that they spoke in tongues and prophesied. This would not be everyones’ experience.
Our experience of the Holy Spirit may have been a feeling of peace and joy on coming to the realisation that Jesus is whom he claims to be and all that he has done and taught clicks into place.
We then find ourselves engaged in Christian service and mission in Church with a renewed sense of purpose. We discover that God empowers and gifts us for the tasks in hand.
Indeed we find ourselves doing things we never thought we would do.
As regards speaking in tongues and prophesying we may not experience these gifts of the Spirit.
Speaking in tongues is when we find our words inadequate in expressing our heartfelt praise of the Lord so he gives us words to speak or pray that roll off our tongue.
It is not an earthly but a heavenly language.
The majority of Christians probably do not have the gift of speaking in tongues.
Tongues is also a means of communicating God’s message to individuals or to a group through someone present who can interpret the tongues. This is another gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the source of our spiritual life without which our belief/faith/religion is head knowledge not heart knowledge. Hence Jesus urges us to be born again.
The apostle John reminds us when he wrote :
‘To all who received him(Jesus), to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God- children not born of natural decent,
nor human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God ’
John 1 v 12 – 13).
This leads on to our gospel reading in Mark and the baptism of Jesus.
John has been baptizing those who had repented of their sins when Jesus appeared and was baptized by John.
We may have asked the question why Jesus needed to submit to baptism as he is sinless?
In submitting to baptism Jesus is identifying with us as sinners .
His baptism marks him out as someone special which is revealed when we see the Spirit descending on him like a dove, then God speaking:
“You are my Son whom I love, with you I am well pleased ” (Mark 1 v 10 – 12 )
We can imagine God saying to us also
“You are my precious child. I love you as my own”.
Baptism marks us out as being a child of God, a member of his family,
indeed an heir to his riches which we inherit one day in eternity.
We are reminded of this in a prayer which follows the act of baptism :
May God who has received you by baptism into his Church,
Pour upon you the riches of his grace,
That within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people
You may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit,
And come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.
Give thanks for your baptism and pray for a deeper understanding of its significance.