A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao Tzu
DAY 1: Matthew 3:5
Let it be so for now. For in this way we shall do all that God requires.
I grew up in the country and we were not connected to a city water supply. We had a well. My mother was always concerned that our well might run dry, so I learned about water conservation long before it was considered environmentally responsible. We never wasted water. But even though water was tight, we never went to church without taking a bath the night before, nor would we ever go on a trip without a trip to the old claw foot tub. To this day I’m not sure that I could go to church without taking a shower first. There’s something about immersing yourself and getting cleaned up that makes me feel prepared for any special event. It’s a spiritual thing.
According to the Book of Matthew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Shortly after that he was visited by some “men who studied the stars” and brought him gifts. Unfortunately they also prophesied to King Herod that Jesus was the future ruler of the Jews, which prompted Herod to kill off all the little baby boys in Bethlehem. Jesus’s family fled to Egypt, returning only after being assured of Herod’s death. Then there is a story about Jesus when he was 12, but after that, there’s a big gap in the story of Jesus. This gap is referred to as the “unknown years of Jesus” (also called his “silent years”, “lost years”, or “missing years”). There are all sorts of legends about these years, including visits to India, Britain, and elsewhere.
The unknown years end in Matthew with the story of Jesus’ baptism when he was about 30 years of age:
“At that time Jesus arrived from Galilee and came to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. But John tried to make him change his mind. “I ought to be baptized by you,” John said, “and yet you have come to me!” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now. For in this way we shall do all that God requires.” So John agreed. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17).
John the Baptist was an outspoken prophet who called for people to repent (change their ways) because the Kingdom of God was near. He also called for people to be baptized as a sign of their intent to reform their lives. John’s baptism, which involved the immersion of the physical body in water, was a symbol of the cleansing of the inner being in preparation for a fresh start. Originally baptism was about leaving the past behind, with all of its baggage, and starting a new life of obedience to God. So Jesus apparently set out on a pilgrimage of at least 20 miles to find John and be baptized. Or maybe he was just wandering around and stumbled into John. We really don’t know about how Jesus found out about John. Either way they found each other at the Jordan.
One thing we know from this text is that both Jesus and John were in direct communication with God. John apparently recognized that Jesus was a holy man because he suggested that Jesus should be baptizing him, not the other way around. Jesus stated his intention to live his life in full obedience to God, doing “all” (not just some of the things) that God requires. Jesus says he knows what God requires; this means he has an intimate, personal relationship with God. The first words that Jesus speaks are a declaration of his intent to be obedient to God.
We also know that his first act after the “unknown years” is an act of humility. He submits himself to John to be baptized in an act of cooperation. He says “we shall do all that God requires”. In this instance, it requires two people in cooperation with each other to do the will of God. Jesus “receives” his baptism from another person, as opposed to baptizing himself. It is a public affirmation of John’s ministry of baptism, which was a symbolic act that was new and unfamiliar at that time.
Jesus doesn’t take over John’s ministry. He doesn’t say, “Thanks, but I’m here now so you’re not needed anymore.” He doesn’t criticize John or his ministry or give him any advice on how to do things better. He just submits. It’s a profound act of humility, submitting himself first to God, but also to John.
Jesus doesn’t act like a king. He comes quietly and without an entourage, waving flags, or brass bands. He comes in submission, not in power. The only demonstration of power in this story is the response from God after the baptism when “heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.’”
How’s that for affirmation!! Here in this story Jesus sets the standard that baptism is the way that our Christian journey should begin – immersed in God, born again, starting over, open to anything, fully committed, forgetting the past, partnering with other people, doing the will of God.
Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Jesus will begin this journey of triumphs and perils that lie ahead clean, refresh, and revived. Good to go.
What does this scripture say to you?