Archive for July 16th, 2006

Matthew Chapter Three

July 16, 2006

I’m a beginner at poetry, so take it easy on me. I’ve titled this one, Matthew Chapter Three:

Sun-streaks pierce haunted clouds while Prophet John preaches
Anticipation: the Kingdom hovers close by.
Popularity piques powerful interests, though
Rebuffed with thunder reminiscent of Sinai.

And then he appears. Gentle, yet regal. The King.
Religious leaders disappear without fanfare.
Prophet John bows in deference, pausing to worship.
Creation halts, awaiting terrible warfare.

And yet, gentleness. No violent army summoned.
No commands bellowed. Instead, a simple request.
Prophet John balks at the idea: the True King in
Submission to him! He refuses in protest.

The King issues his first warm command: Let it be…
Prophet John engulfs his King in a liquid tomb,
Holding his breath until the Life-Giver exhales.
The Spirit descends. God’s voice roars at full volume.

And yet…
The chapter is incomplete without me.
I discover myself in the riverside crowd,
Challenged with the idea of following Jesus

Underneath a sun-streaked sky filled with haunting clouds.

It’s ironic that baptism was the main show in town in the religious world I grew up in, though the group that called themselves “Baptists” were seen as our main enemy. Maybe that’s why John the Baptist didn’t get as much airplay with us – his name was an immediate turn-off.

But over the years I’ve done a lot of thinking about a lot of things, and baptism has been one of those standing thought questions. This is not to say that I know much of anything about the subject; just that I’ve done a lot of thinking about it over time.

One of the things that I’ve thought about is that baptism seems to be the beginning point in the Gospels (as opposed to the end of a road to salvation). I’ve found that thought interesting. Baptism isn’t portrayed as a culminating event, followed by figuring out what to do in worship assemblies or how to set up a church, but more of a launching point to a new way of life living in the wake of Jesus.

But this past week it has hit me that, of all the thinking I may (or may not) have done about baptism, the role of good old John the Baptist hasn’t had much airtime.

Baptism makes it’s appearance in the Bible with John. It wasn’t portrayed as a custom beforehand: it just appears out of seemingly nowhere with John, and with little explanation – although I realized this past week that there is probably more explanation right there in Matthew chapter three than I had ever considered, mainly in terms of, as they say in the real estate game, “location, location, location.”

John baptized in the Jordan River, a quite significant place in the history of Israel. It was here that the children of Israel crossed over into the Promised Land. It was where Moses stopped and where Jesus (oh, the Hebrew word was Joshua) began. I find that interesting.

In Matthew chapter two, we had seen a man named Joseph have a dream and end up in Egypt (just like in Genesis), followed by the fact that a brutal king decided to murder baby boys in an attempt to preserve his power. In both stories, God protected a baby boy as a savior to the people and led that person out of Egypt toward a Promised Land. It was at the Jordan River where a new world order would begin for Israel in Genesis, and God’s people would have to “pass through” the Jordan to begin this new life with God. The same thing seems to be happening in Matthew chapter three.

I think it is also significant that Jesus passed through Jordan with the people. Although he did not need to “change his life” as the prophet, John, had been hammering the people with, he did so in concert with God’s plan to save people. And when Jesus did, God’s Spirit descended like a dove, reminisent of Noah and the Flood, and in effect, a new world had begun.