Sunday January 8th, 2017 – First Sunday after the Epiphany
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, 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, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3: 13-17
I serve with a crisis pregnancy center and over the course of years have learned much about why women choose abortion. One refuses to tell her family, afraid of her parents’ reaction. Another fears she will lose her boyfriend if she carries through with childbirth. Another does not want anyone to know that she has been sexually active. There are other reasons women abort, to be sure, but these are common. And they explode the myth that Planned Parenthood and others would have us believe, that abortion is a choice made by strong women who decide for abortion based upon what is best for them, a myth that ignores the inconvenient fact that many women make the decision to abort because they are trying to please others.
Which brings us to our text for this week, the baptism of Jesus. John knows that there is something inappropriate about Jesus coming to him for a baptism of repentance. Jesus has no sin of which to repent, and He certainly doesn’t need to be baptized by John. Rather, John needs to be baptized by Jesus. Yet Jesus undergoes John’s baptism—for us. The Church has long understood that Jesus received John’s baptism because He was identifying with His people—the one who knew no sin becoming sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is an essential part of what it means to be in Christ.
But we need to see the corollary as well. Not only are we in our sin judged in Jesus, but the pleasure of God in Christ is ours as well. In other words, the Father’s words “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” apply not just to Jesus, but to all who are in Christ. If we have understood the Gospel, we hear “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased… this is my daughter, I love her and I am very pleased with her.” The pleasure of God comes not because of what we have done or left undone, but because we are in Christ, the Son with whom the Father is well pleased.
(Do we draw away from this? Does it seem to license sin, or insufficiently appreciate that God hates it? If so, we need to be very careful. Paul’s own teaching on the grace of God for the sinner, the ungodly, the wicked, and the enemy of God raised the question “shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” If our preaching does not raise this very charge, we should ask if we are preaching the same Gospel that Paul did. After all, how clean did a person have to be to receive John’s baptism? How clean does a person have to be to come to Christ?)
Given that abortion is a personal issue in our congregations, let me close with two practical comments. Those vulnerable to abortion have a great need to know that, in Christ, their Father is pleased with them. He is not pleased with their sin, but He is well pleased with them. Knowing that one walks before a well-pleased Father, even when that person has sinned, has the effect of lessening the need to please others. Secondly, those who have undergone abortion have a great need to know the pleasure of God. It is one thing to hear that God forgives abortion—and that needs to be clear, for it is a gracious word. But it is another thing to hear I am God’s son, I am God’s daughter, and that He is well pleased with me. These are words of healing and hope, words that lift shame and give new life—not just to the weary and heavy laden in the Church, but also to the weary and heavy laden in the world that seek but never ultimately find the genuine acceptance of others.
Working on preparing for the Sanctity of Life Sunday Service? Our Life-Affirming Handbook compiles a list of (NIV) Bible verses, prayers, liturgies, and litanies to emphasize the Sanctity of Life. It’s a helpful guide when preparing for this Sanctity of Life Sunday or when speaking or writing about Life issues throughout the year.
This week’s reflection has been written by Anglicans for Life’s Board Member, the Rev. Dr. W. Ross Blackburn. Rev. Blackburn is the Rector of Christ the King, an Anglican Fellowship in Boone, NC.
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Tags: Author: The Rev. Dr. W. Ross Blackburn, baptism of Jesus, john the baptist, lectionary life app, Matthew 3:13-17,