Signs and Signifiers – Jesus’ Baptism

Too often Christians hear the word “signs” and immediately the Apocalypse comes to mind. What would happen if we turned this phenomenon on its head? What would it look like if people given to follow Jesus would think less about the sideshow and pay more attention to what is center stage? Or, we should say, “who” is center stage.

Recently several prominent Evangelical figures determined the ruler for measuring ministry progress is less about method and more about relationship. Whether they just returned from a prolonged sabbatical or left their highly visible ministry position without the pressure of some scandal, it appears the energy to drive the machine to new heights is catching up with some. Their conclusion? Who we are matters more than what we do. That is, when it all settles out the issue is what kind of person you are overshadows the sum of your accomplishments.

What if we understood baptism in that same vein? Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, or at least pay attention to the event found in Matthew 3. Theologically we are left with the question as to “why” Jesus needed to be baptized. It may be the wrong way to ask the question. Maybe it should be what was Jesus doing in submitting to baptism. Rather than raise the specter of “need” what if baptism demonstrated purpose.

For instance, Jesus tells John to set aside his sense of insufficiency and fulfill all righteousness by putting him under the water. Jesus’ baptism stands for ┬áthe fulfillment of righteousness to all who stood on the shore that day. What was signified in the event was the Kingdom of God, specifically the “Way” of the Kingdom of God. John’s preaching cannot be disconnected from the event. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” represented the message that the normal way of life did not obtain the aim God had for people as they seemed to faithlessly live into a designed love for God and love for others. Repentance would signal retreat and redirection from the old patterns that discarded God as necessary and measured people based on their pragmatic value.

Our following Jesus in baptism follows that repentant move wherein we signal retreat and redirection to our ways that deem God as un-necessary and our relationships with others for the purposes of self-fulfillment. Living “baptized” lives may well be another way to constructively talk about living “crucified” lives. That is, staying with the image, having been buried, we rise from the water intent to faithfully live out the Great Commandment. We then become signs standing for the love of God to those who long to encounter a love that transforms persons, not merely methods.

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Jesus invites people into his life and his way. He takes what is and points to the new way of the Kingdom of God.  Come see what this journey is all about!

One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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