Baptism of the Lord/First Sunday after Epiphany
Think with me about a best man at a wedding. The best man simply stands alongside the groom, making sure all attention is riveted on the groom. The best man has fulfilled his role most admirably when he draws no attention to himself but diverts all attention to the groom.
If Jesus were the groom, then John the Baptist would be the best man. He understood his role and his responsibility. John seemed to have had from the beginning a vivid sense of his destiny, the result of a heavenly assignment that came from above and abided deep within him.
How did John fulfill the role of best man?
1. Prepare the Way for the King (v. 4).
It has been said: Proper preparation prevents poor performance. Before any worthwhile activity can succeed—be it business, sports, academics or militarily—much preparation has to take place. Ask any CEO, coach, professor or general. Without proper preparation the inevitable is defeat. Virtually any effort or project of significance requires preparation.
“John came” as was prophesized ages before to “prepare the way for the Lord” (v. 3). This action reflected the ancient custom of preparing a smooth road through the rough country so the king might ride to visit a portion of his kingdom. In addition, the forerunner would prepare the people for the coming of the king. The King of kings is coming. John was sent before Him to prepare the way for Him to be received into people’s hearts.
2. Herald the Coming of the King (v. 4).
“John came…preaching.” The word preaching was used of a king’s herald who went throughout the region, proclaiming the message of the king. The herald was to be heard and obeyed as if the king were delivering the message. John came in the authority of the King, declaring the message of the King.
His message was a baptism of repentance. The emphasis was not on the baptism but on the repentance, reflecting a heart change that called for directional change. John’s message and baptism were preparation so the people would be ready to meet Jesus and trust in Him.
3. Magnify the Status of the King (vv. 7-8).
John was careful to magnify Jesus and not himself. “After me will come One more powerful than I.” John was not the center of the message. He merely pointed to Jesus. The people had come to hear John, but he directed them away from himself to Jesus. He recognized that Jesus was the coming Messiah. In comparison to Jesus, John was “not worthy to stoop down and untie” Jesus’ sandals. This act referred to the custom in which a slave stooped down and loosed the shoes of an arriving guest to rinse the dust from the guest’s feet. John could not have placed himself in a more humble position with respect to Jesus. He was not worthy to perform for Him a menial service.
4. Inaugurate the Ministry of the King (vv. 9-11).
Jesus’ baptism by John was not for the forgiveness of sin as were those of the people who came to John from the Judean countryside and Jerusalem. Jesus’ baptism marked the formal launching of His public ministry. In Jewish life, a rabbi began his public ministry at 30 years of age. Because John was six months older, his ministry had been going on when Jesus appeared before John to begin His public ministry.
G. Campbell Morgan referred to Jesus’ baptism as one of His crises: the parting of ways between the 30 preparatory years and the three years of public ministry. It was in his baptism that Jesus dedicated Himself to the work for which He was destined.
The evidence and supernatural manifestations of His ministry were: a) “heaven being torn open,” which suggested God was about to speak and new revelation was revealed after a period of silence (The Jews had not heard from God or His messengers for 400 years.); b) “the Spirit descending on Him like a dove,” symbolizing the purity, gentleness and sacrifice of Jesus’ redemptive ministry; c) “a voice came from heaven,” indicating God’s approval and blessings on Jesus’ ministry.
Philip Henry, father of biblical commentator Matthew Henry, wrote for his children a statement of testimony and faith that was read at their baptisms: “I take God to be my chief end in highest good. I take God the Son to be my Prince and Savior. I take God the Holy Spirit to be my Sanctifier, Teacher, Guide and Comforter. I take the Word of God to be my rule in all my actions and the people of God to by my people under all conditions. I do hereby dedicate and devote to the Lord all that I am, all that I have and all I can do. This I do deliberately, freely and forever.”
Taken together, John’s four actions as Jesus’ forerunner provide us with a model to follow as we fulfill the role and responsibility of best men for Jesus. Are we preparing the way for Jesus? Are we heralding His message? Are we magnifying His status? Are we inaugurating His ministry?