The Baptism of Our Lord, year a (updated)

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Exodus / Lectionary / New Testament / Old Testament

Our nation mourns those who died today, and we pray for those who are wounded.

Jesus went to the Jordan to be baptized because the Jordan was a powerful symbold and reminder of the freedom and life that God gives, and because that freedom and life was about to get much fuller in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was at the River Jordan that his ministry began.

Jesus went to the finish line of the Exodus and made it a new starting line.

A starting line.

And today we are reminded that we are still on the journey. It’s days like this that make the already-and-not-yet aspect of our faith ache in our bones.

We live in a world where terrible things happen, and sometimes they happen beyond explanation. Jesus knew that. He knew that the Israelites came to the Jordan 1,500 years prior because they were escaping slavery, subjugation, and death.

And through the waters of the Red Sea, and the waters of the Jordan they walked on dry ground to find freedom, life, and a homecoming to a home they had never seen before.

Lord Jesus, bring us your freedom, bring us your life, and bring us home. We stand on Jordan’s shore, and we ache.

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“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan, to John, to be baptized be him.” Matthew 3:13

The Gospel of Matthew was written by a Jewish-Christian, and was probably written for a Jewish-Christian community of believers. This very much colors the way in which Matthew interprets the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – and it especially influences the beginning of the Gospel.

In the infancy narrative, Matthew makes some very clear ties of the story of Jesus’ birth to the story of the Exodus. Matthew takes advantage of the names of the Holy Family which parallel important figures of the Exodus (Jesus-Joshua, Mary-Miriam, Joseph-Joseph), and he highlights other important parallels. Like Moses, Jesus’ life is in trouble from the time he was an infant. Like Pharaoh ordering the death of the infant boys of the Israelites, Herod orders the death of the infant boys of Bethlehem. And, like Jacob’s son Joseph, who was a dreamer par excellence, God communicates with Jesus’ father, Joseph, via dreams.

And, to ensure that no one misses this important link, Jesus’ family is then directed by God to go to Egypt until the coast is clear. And then they return to the Promised Land.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph make their own exodus-wilderness-journey.

A few chapters later Jesus, like Moses, climbs a mountain, and the Law of God is re-issued in the Sermon on the Mount.

The point here? Jesus is the New Moses, here to set us free. What we have in Jesus is God bringing us a New Exodus, and bringing us into a new Promised Land.

I’ve made this link several times before (even last week…), but I make it again here because there is an important detail here in the third chapter of Matthew when Jesus gets baptized: he’s baptized in the River Jordan.

Now, I think this has significance in every Gospel. I think that this had great historical significance when Jesus actually went there and was baptized. But, in this Gospel, when Matthew goes to such lengths to show us that Jesus is the New Moses, and the beginning of a New Exodus, it has even more significance.

Why? Because something else important happened at the River Jordan.

Thanks to movies like “The Ten Commandments” and “Prince of Egypt,” the separating of the Red Sea is visually emblazoned into our minds. And, because of that, anytime we think of waters being split, we think of the Red Sea.

And yet, this is not the only time that waters were split and people walked through on dry ground where a body of water usually coursed.

Where else? Jordan.

AFTER the forty years in the wilderness, AFTER the death of Moses, AFTER the mantle of leadership had passed to Joshua (Yeshua in Hebrew, or in Latin, Iesus), the Israelites approached the River Jordan. On the other side of the river lay the Promised Land. But, how would they get across?

One man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel took hold of the Ark of the Covenant, and they went in front of the people of Israel. They went forward and waded into the River Jordan.

And, the waters parted.

And, the people walked across the dry bed of the Jordan into the Promised Land.

Their 40 year sojourn was over.

Joshua told each of the 12 tribes to appoint a man to pick up a stone from the river bed, and to carry it with them to where they settled.

Why? So that they would never forget. So that when their children’s children asked their parents what the stones were for, their parents would be reminded to tell their children about how the Lord parted the waters and they walked through on dry ground.

Joshua also set up another 12 stones by the River Jordan, at the place where the Ark had been, and the waters parted – so that there would be another reminder of the works of God.

And, it’s here – at the Jordan River – that a thousand years later John the Baptist went to baptize. And, it’s here – at the Jordan River – that Jesus goes to be baptized.

They don’t go there because it’s the only place they could find water. There was water everywhere. There were streams and ponds and an entire Mediterranean Sea nearby.

They went to Jordan because that’s the place where the people entered into the Promised Land on dry ground.

Going through Jordan meant life and freedom for Joshua and the Israelites. Just like going through the waters of baptism mean Life and Freedom for us too.

And like those stones were dutifully carried… we are never to forget. But, we’re to tell our children, and our children’s children.