Baptism of Jesus

Some Thoughts by Revd David Sox as preached on 11th January 2004 at the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, Richmond, Surrey

Today in the Church year we remember the baptism of our Lord. I think Christians have misconceptions about this event, thinking that Jesus did not need to be baptised. I’d like also to turn the event on its head and give a different viewing.

In the first place, the one who baptised Jesus – John the Baptist, was reluctant to do so. He said that he was unworthy to unfasten Jesus’s shoes. However, Jesus went through the experience. And there’s more to the experience than just baptism. Jesus said of John ‘What was the spectacle that drew you to the wilderness?’

Indeed, and we can ask, what drew Jesus to the wilderness in the first place? Remember it is after this encounter with John that Jesus himself spends 40 days in the Judaean wilderness – among the wild beasts says Mark.

John was a man of the wilderness – dressed in camels skin with honey and locusts his food. He too was among the wild animals. At that time this would include lions, leopards, bears, jackals, foxes and all kinds of antelope. This was before man had driven most of these creatures into extinction in the Near East.

John was a man of the wilderness, and so was Jesus. Both were men of the earth. Both were inextricably attached to the earth: no illusory ex-terrestrial beings these two!

How often do we see Jesus in this manner? However, in a recently published book entitled ‘Jesus and the Earth’, James Jones (Bishop of Liverpool) says that Jesus came to save not just man, but also the Earth and its creatures. I recommend this book highly!

What makes Jones’ message especially interesting is that it was not written by a starry-eyed environmentalist but by one of England’s leading evangelicals.

Jones states that time is fact running out and that the planet may not survive this century without irreversible damage. Privately, he speculates – as have many scientists – that there may be as little as 50 years before man’s exploitation of the environment causes irrevocable damage to God’s creation.

In his book, Jones gives powerful ammunition for his feeling that Jesus came to save the earth. He prayed that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In describing himself, Jesus exclusively calls himself the Son of Man: in Hebrew Ben Adam, Adamah; literally one hewn from the earth.

Jones discovered 863 references in the Scriptures which link the term Son of Man to the earth. As in one example John 12, 32-4 ‘When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all to myself ... the Son of Man must be lifted up.’

Interestingly, the Greek word for judgement and the one used in the Bible is crisis the word chosen by environmentalists for the crisis we are now in concerning our planet.

It is judgement, Paul wrote: ‘Do not be deceived. God is not mocked for you reap what you sow.’ And how man is doing that now: reaping the effects of bad stewardship of the planet.

Jones also reminds us that the Bible says over and over again that in Jesus all things in heaven and earth were created through Him and for Him. Through Jesus and for Jesus.

So, wantonly destroying God’s creation is both an insult and an affront to our Lord – a sin.

When we say the creed, we say ‘through Jesus all things were made’. In one of our prayers of confession, we say ‘we have sinned against you and against creation’.

So, there is nothing new in what the Bishop of Liverpool is saying to us. It’s just that we continue to put it on the back burner of concerns giving it centre stage only once a year on Animal Welfare Sunday or perhaps Harvest of perhaps the odd Animal Blessing Service which are seen by many as ‘services for children.’

Jesus was not only Son of Man, Admash; one hewn from the earth, he was born in an animal trough where donkeys, goats and sheep munched their food. That’s what a manger is!

Reverence for Jesus, has to include reverence for all creatures. You cannot escape it.

In Matthew’s gospel alone we see how aware he was of the animal creation. On 27 different occasions Jesus introduces us to locusts, birds, dogs, pigs, wolves, foxes, snakes, doves, sparrows, vipers, fish, donkeys, colts, hens and chicks, vultures, goats and a cockerel.

Our Lord pointed to the birds of the air to make a point: ‘they neither sow or reap, nor gather in barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.’

Bishop James reminds his fellow evangelicals that they talk a great deal about sin but rarely – if ever, extend sin to include what we’ve done to God’s creation. He says that for too many Christians, Christianity has taken the form of escapology – an escape route from the difficulties of the planet to a heaven where all is perfect.

We conveniently forget about our sins inflicted upon the earth in which we live. Judgement Day may include some surprises for us all!

We cannot escape judgement – the crisis and the time has come for Christians to do something before it is too late. The clock is ticking and time is running out and what an irony that as we investigate possible life on Mars we continue to extinguish it so successfully on our own planet Earth.

Revd David Sox

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