Pastoral Letter 46

Dear Members of St. Andrew’s Uniting Church, Friends and Adherents,

Grace and peace to you all.

We’re already in the second week of January and are still not convinced that we should reopen our doors to recommence our face-to-face worship services. We’ve decided it is wise to follow the instructions and the directives given to us by the government and the Uniting Church. So, please be patient for a little more as we will continue to worship at home at least to the end of the month and wait for the Elders and Council Members to reassess and decide when they meet on Wednesday 3 February. In the meantime, I will continue writing to you every week my pastoral letter, until such time when we will be able to meet again on our church premises.

Please keep communicating with me for anything you need. I am more than happy to assist you, besides praying for you. Please communicate with each other with phone calls and keep everyone informed with any new developments that happen with you, your family or any congregation member that you know is having any problems.

Please be informed that two weeks ago Win has been transferred to a small group facility on Earl Street in Hunters Hill. She is settled and happy with the arrangements. I had a long chat with Christina, her daughter, who promised to deliver the Pastoral Letter, Message and the Order of Service to her and when recommence our worship, she will do her best to bring Win to Sunday Worship.

Pray for Win and keep on praying for the situation we are in and leave everything in the hands of our great God, who is our refuge and strength.

Here are some prayer points for this week:

1. Pray for the New Year and ask God to be with us as we move into an unchartered time, which could be full of challenges. We hope to feel God’s presence with us.

2. Pray for the world as it struggles fighting the pandemic.

3. Pray for the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the refugees, the depressed and the vulnerable.

4. Pray for world peace and ask for God’s blessings.

Krikor

Baptised in Spirit!

Mark 1:1-11

This morning’s Gospel reading is all about the Baptism of Jesus. This is one of the events that all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) describe and was clearly an event that the Early Church saw had great importance.

Mark’s Gospel gives us the briefest details. Surprisingly, the historian Luke and the evangelist Mark don’t give us much more, but St. Matthew fills out the story a little bit more:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil 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 lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:13-17)

The story is well known. John the Baptist had been calling people everywhere to repent and Jesus, amongst others, responds by being baptised.

But have you ever wondered “Why did Jesus need to be baptised?

Does Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God need to repent?

No, I don’t think Jesus needed to repent.

But I think Matthew’s account gives us a clue for why Jesus was baptised. In that account we read that John the Baptist at first refused to baptise Him, because John felt unworthy. However, Jesus said:

“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.”

What did Jesus mean?

Someone has answered this question well saying:

“By submitting to baptism, Jesus acknowledged God’s claim on Him, as on others, for total consecration of life and holiness of character”.

We can give at least three reasons to say why Jesus was baptised.

1. His baptism was a sign of His complete dedication to following the will of God.

For everyone else who came to John for baptism, this required a change in direction – hence the call for them to repent of their old ways and turn to God’s way of life.

But Jesus by His baptism was publicly declaring:

a) His love of God the Father

b) That He was following the will of God in His life.

We recall Jesus words in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He knew that he was going to die on the Cross, he prayed:

“Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42)

It was the ultimate submission to the Father’s will – to go to the Cross for our sakes – to reconcile us to the Father. But following the Father’s will was painful.

Jesus’ baptism was a public declaration of his commitment to the Father.

But Jesus baptism was more:

2. His baptism was the announcement of the beginning of His earthly ministry.

Both John the Baptist and God the Father confirmed Jesus’ unique calling publicly.

Jesus’ baptism was a consecration for ministry.

We recall the Father saying something similar at the Transfiguration event:

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7)

3. His baptism was an example to us.

Jesus taught his followers to be baptised – and here He is giving a good example that we should follow.

The words of His Great Commission in Matthew 28 read as follows:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Mt. 28:19-20)

And we see God the Father’s response:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

I think this is the piece that we would do well to apply to our own lives, we should live so that the Father is pleased with us. For when God is pleased, nothing else matters.

Jesus not only marked the significance of baptism by being baptized, but He also commanded baptism for all people of all ages. And baptisms that happen today are as revealing as Jesus’ baptism, for what happened at Jesus’ baptism still happens in our baptism. When the water is poured over a sinner’s head and God’s Word is pronounced, all heaven breaks loose as the Holy Spirit descends on that person to create or to strengthen faith (Acts 2:38, 39; Titus 3:5-7; John 3:5, 6), and God the Father says: “This is my child whom I love. I am pleased with him. I am pleased with her.” The holy God can claim us sinners as His.

By baptism we can claim to be God’s children because that’s what God made us in baptism. Baptism is God’s declaration to us, not our promise to Him. When a child is adopted, he/she doesn’t take any oaths about being faithful to her new family. He/she doesn’t pay any legal fees to join the family. The adopting parents make that oath of love and faithfulness to their adopted child and pay the legal fees for the adoption. In the same way, when we doubt our standing with God we just need to look back on our baptism and remind ourselves of what happened there. The Holy Spirit came to us, and God the Father said with certainty: “You are my child!” The Father makes that declaration because His Son, Jesus, paid for our adoption.

When the Sadducees and Pharisees came out to John to be baptised with no remorse over their love for money and power, John said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7b, 8). If these religious leaders were truly sad about their sins and desired the forgiveness God offered in baptism, they would have turned away from their sins. Since they had no intention of doing so, God’s judgment remained on them. When we act this way, we turn our backs on God’s forgiveness. That of course isn’t what God wants us to do. And so, He sends the Holy Spirit to us again through His Word to turn us away from those attitudes and to remind us of who we are through baptism: God’s children.

At His baptism, God revealed Jesus to be his Son, the world’s Saviour. At our baptism, God reveals that we sinners are His children. Since that is what we are, children of God, we should turn away from our petty arguments, our pride, and our stubbornness and live as the children God has declared us to be in our baptism.

The matter of Baptism has divided the Christian Church for centuries. Many of us think to ignore this matter to save the church. But doing this, we will scrap one part of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. In spite of the feud between the churches, we will be spiritually poor if we ignore the fair and truthful examination about the baptism of Jesus.

The record about the baptism of Jesus reveals to us the following points.

1. The call of John for baptism

The call of John the Baptist to the people of Israel presents a colourful picture. In his message there is no regret. He is not interested in statistics. And when the Pharisees and the Sadducees rejected him, he regarded them as people of weak faith. His call for baptism was for repentance. Then the church was not established yet and there was no requirement to be members of the community. The general understanding of the believers at that time was that the Kingdom of God would come soon with a new and a special way through the Messiah, the Son of God. John was sent to call people for repentance and to prepare the way the Lamb of God, that will take away the sins of men. John was aware of his role and he never tried to go beyond that and praise Himself. When his disciples began to leave him to follow Jesus, he said. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3.30). He was ready to accept the baptism of the One who was coming, because He will baptise with fire and Holy Spirit. John gave a call for repentance and baptism for all, so that they get ready for the Kingdom of God.

2. The Baptism of Jesus

There was a sweetness in the relationship of John and Jesus. But at the same time, we know that he didn’t understand in the case of the baptism of Jesus. That’s the reason why the Lord came to be baptised, John asked Jesus to baptise Him. But by the insistence of Jesus, he baptised Him. But still we question why Jesus was baptised that day. Not because that He was a sinner and needed salvation. On the contrary, He confirmed the ministry of John. Jesus was going to start His ministry soon and it was important for Him to start from the point where John had brought it, and to commence where He would be able to present the nature of God’s Kingdom. For Jesus, baptism was commitment.

3. God’s confirmation

The opening of the heavens was magical and heavenly, John saw that as well. We are not sure if the men who were there saw or not. But the case was that God was pleased with His Son and affirmed His baptism. Baptism is important. If it was not, then Jesus would not have insisted John to baptise Him. We should know that water does not clean the sins, there is a big message in that.

People have been misled over time, with misinterpretations. But we should not ignore that beautiful and meaningful experience that was accepted by Jesus and later was given in the call of His Great Commissioning.

Baptism is an important part of God’s salvation and New Covenant. During Jesus’ baptism God said. “With whom I am pleased”.

Different groups have different opinions about Baptism. Unfortunately, this case has divided the church and kept people apart. Even some groups have totally ignored and rejected baptism. It Is doubtful that there will be a time when all unite around this teaching, but it is possible through the Spirit. The baptism is for the believers and their children. It is for those, who have the experience of spiritual life and they are ready to profess to the world that they belong to Christ.

Regardless of the way we perform it and when, baptism speaks about repentance and dying from the old life to have a new life. Our experience with Christ as saviour validates before God.

Jesus was baptised believing that God had a message to the world then and today.

The first Christians obeying the Lord’s command, did and included the mystery of Baptism in their statement of faith or creed.

The baptism of Jesus prepares us to be baptised in the Spirit.

As we reflect on the event of Jesus’ baptism, we are called to ask God to baptise us with His Spirit to have the power and the willingness not only to proclaim our faith but commit ourselves to be His witnesses.

Amen!