Matthew 3:13-17, Acts 10:34-43, Isaiah 42:1-9

Nate Hosler

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

Baptism and Jesus, these are two things that the Brethren are “into.” It was seeking to follow Jesus that brought the original 8 together and it was baptism that formed them into a distinct community. The Church of the Brethren has at times been called Dunkers because we dunk people in water for baptism. When beginning 8 wanted to be baptized they considered having a Mennonite perform the baptism but since Mennonites pour the water and the proto-Brethren had been convinced that dunking 3 times was the proper way, they decided to dunk themselves. In fact, this was not only the start of what we now know as the Church of the Brethren but was an act of resistance against the political and religious authorities. Our inaugural act was a subversive act.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

Who is John? Why was he baptizing? Why did he have the authority to baptize Jesus?
It appears that John had one of the same questions. Why did he have the authority to baptize Jesus? He said—given what this baptism is for, namely repentance, I need to be baptized. John had sinned. Jesus had not. 3:15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

This is a rather sparse story. There is not only not a lot of detail but as several commentaries noted that there is no psychologizing or telling us what Jesus was thinking. We simply have verse 15 which essentially says it’s a good thing to do. Though “fulfill all righteousness” is a more robust description. Though these few verses are quite minimal, of the 4 Gospels, it is the most detailed. One writer notes “All four accounts directly link with baptism the anointing of Jesus with the Spirit and the declaration of his sonship” (Dockery, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 57). It was a sort of grand opening or launching—a rolling out if you will.

So Jesus getting baptized might make him a Dunker. Unfortunately for us it seems that though we seek to guide our lives and community by following the life and teachings of Jesus, this particular act may not be directly imitated. A commentator writes, “The story of Jesus’ baptism has a meaning for the church, but is not presented by Matthew as a model for Christian baptism, as though the meaning is ‘since Jesus was baptized, we should be too.’”(Boring and Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, 20).”
The story continues,  “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.”

Here is why the baptism may have been part of the grand opening—the role out of Jesus the Messiah.[1] Jesus is baptized to “fulfill righteousness” and then his sonship to God is announced from the heavens and the Spirit of God descends looking like a dove.

The “Son of God” is a notable title. Not only is it notable—snazzy even—which may sound too disrespectful—but it shows up in some form 124 in the New Testament (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). The appearance of these three characters simultaneously and the existence of them has been formulated theologically and named “the Trinity.” Through the history of the Church many disputes, sometimes even bloody disputes, happened over the formulation of “the Trinity.” Which, while it does not show up as a theological term in the New Testament, many would argue is evident in passages such as this though without the metaphysical specificity that certain theologians might desire.

 While the various “characters” of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—make appearances throughout, this is one of the few times when all three are on stage at the same time. What is at stake in this? The nature of God? How does one discern the nature of God from a text? What is the role of theology in correctly understanding God and does a correct understanding of God matter? Is not God gracious and also a mystery? If I allow that I do not understand everything of God then must I bother trying to understand anything?

This text does not delve into this. It is a narrative base, hence my use of the term “stage” earlier, on which particular characters appear and disappear performing their part which is part of theological and practical project of the author we know of as Matthew.

So the baptism of Jesus might make him a dunker but does not necessarily provide backing for dunking for the dunkers. The passage seems to be establishing Jesus in relation to God the Father and the Spirit. Now I’m not a theologian (in an academic sense—according to standard disciplinary divisions) so talk of the Trinity may not be the most natural. When I began working on this I wanted to jump to the practical –but as noted earlier, the passage of Jesus’ baptism is not an admonition—its simply about Jesus.

None-the-less I have an impulse to jump to the practical—this may be because I’m writing a dissertation in ethics—theological ethics at that, which essentially asserts that all theology has  ethical implications. More likely, however, it is that either, a) Brethren are practical (which I think is true) or b) I want my sermon to be “relevant.” However, this passage seems to be rather theological, about teaching us about Jesus so that we can speak truthfully and worship. A theologian writes, “[The Church’s] truthful speech does not stop with its praise and adoration of the triune God. The [Church] also seeks to speak truthfully about the world as the arena of God’s redemptive purposes, as the realm of God’s of transforming the kingdoms of this world into the kingdoms of our Lord” (Kenneson, “Gathering: Worship, Imagination, and Formation,” Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, 62).

Once so identified (as the Son of God) and empowered (through the Spirit) Jesus is ready for his ministry.

Our two other passages provide internal commentary on the meaning of the meaning of Jesus’ baptism. Neither of them comment directly on his Baptism, though the Acts passage almost includes a reference to it in the overview of the sequence of Jesus’ life. The Acts passage is a post-Jesus ministry sermon by Peter and the Isaiah is a pre-Jesus prophecy that the church has often called a “messianic” text—in this it describes poetically the messiah, the role that Jesus claims.

The Acts passage begins at the beginning of a sermon. When we post our sermons on our Washington City COB blog we assume that someone can begin reading and it will make sense even though they weren’t here to listen this morning. In the case of the sermon of Peter starting in verse 34 of chapter 10 there is an important back story. In short, Peter is one of Jesus’ original disciples who saw it all, was present at Pentecost—the coming of the Holy Spirit (which we will get to later this year), preaches the first sermon (good for an apostle’s CV), and then earlier in chapter 10 receives a vision that Jesus is not just for the in-group (the Jewish people) but for everyone.

 After this vision Peter is taken to “those people” and preaches to them. He begins–“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.” He continues by half-mentioning the baptism saying “after the baptism that John announced” Jesus “went about doing good,” was crucified and raised, and “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” So belief relates to forgiveness of sins. Belief, however, as we see in many other places, is not an isolated cognitive affirmation. It is also, not an isolated emotional response but involves a particular way of living. Now, there are literally centuries of debates about causation and whatnot about does believing and/or actions earn forgiveness, does God cause belief or do people choose to believe. For now we will leave it at there is peace and forgiveness through belief in Jesus Christ.

The second passage which (somewhat indirectly) comments on the Matthew passage is in Isaiah.

I decided to read this passage in the sermon in part because as poetic language the particular wording is quite notable but also harder than a narrative to keep hold of and recall with any detail.  

Isaiah 42:1-9
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. 42:2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 42:3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 42:4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
42:5 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: 42:6 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,
42:7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.42:8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 42:9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”

Peter preaching in Acts said that belief in Jesus Christ brings forgiveness. When Jesus describes his mission in the Gospel of Luke he quotes Isaiah—opening the eyes of the blind, freedom from captivity—in short the stuff we just read.

Worship is inseparable from action.

Jesus is Lord. [full stop]

We all worship something. Right worship entails a right belief of what deserves adoration which of course shapes our actions. If I worship power then I will either seek to be powerful or orient myself toward those who fit this image. If I worship money then I will either seek to obtain money beyond what is needed to live, not only hoarding it but my vision will be filled with it. Worship or belief are inseparable from action.

Worship is inseparable from action.

Jesus is Lord.

A theologian (and ethicist—I couldn’t resist) writes, “[T]he reason the liturgy is given priority is not because offering praise and adoration to a deity is inherently more important than feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless,[2] but because learning to praise and adore this God who was revealed most fully in the flesh and blood of a first-century carpenter from Nazareth has everything to do with the care we give our neighbors” (Kenneson, “Gathering: Worship, Imagination, and Formation,” Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, 58).

“ because learning to praise and adore this God … has everything to do with the care we give our neighbors.”

An earlier dunker motto reads –For the glory of God and for our neighbors good.


[1]  “Theologically, the baptism of Jesus identifies Jesus as the messianic servant who stands in solidarity with his people” (Dockery, “The Baptism of Jesus,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 57).


[2] “[T]he ekklesia gathers to wait. In a world that urges people to be always doing something productive with their time and energies [I am typing this at 8:59pm on Tuesday evening]—something that makes a noticeable difference in the world—the ekklesia dares to gather and wait upon God” (Kenneson, 64).


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