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Sunday 8 January 2023 The Baptism of Christ

The Wild Way of Love

Matthew 3:13-17

By Tim Yau
Anglican Pioneer Missioner, Diocese of Norwich.

Context: Fresh Expression of Church in a suburban new housing development, meeting in a school hall, connecting with a multi-cultural group of approximately 50 people, predominantly not-yet-Christian

Aim: to encourage people to consider turning to God and walk Jesus’ way


I took my teenager ‘wild camping’ as an antidote to his 24/7 connectivity to the online world. Eager to feel closer to nature, rather than digital technology, we headed for a ‘wild camping experience’. I packed the outdoor kit imagining it was going to be dark skies, starlight, campfire cooking and silence. Unexpectedly, the truth was somewhat different.

I realise now that wild camping only really happens in the wilderness, and not in an empty field next to a busy bypass. We weren’t allowed to collect firewood and had to use fire bowls which were useless for cooking on. That said, my son and I still camped, had fun and bonded, but not in the way I’d intended.

Similarly, John the Baptist had been preparing in the wilderness, but it wasn’t going to turn out how he’d expected either. He’d been warning the Jews to, ‘Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here’ (Matthew 3:2.) John’s chosen method to enact this was water baptism in the river Jordan. He’d pronounce, ‘I baptise you with water so you will give up your sins’ (Matthew 3:11a).

John and his hearers knew first-hand what it was like living under ‘sin’: the rule of the occupying power of the Roman Empire. Their predicament led to soul-searching as to why they were in the state they were. Being well versed in the old stories of prophets declaring God’s judgement and the call to change their ways, led people to John the prophet in the wilderness. They were looking for answers and a fresh start. In what ways are you looking for a fresh start?


The Jordan river was significant to the Jews. It was the symbolic boundary of them stepping from 40 years of wilderness wanderings into God’s ‘Promised Land’ (Joshua 3). This river crossing was reminiscent of their escape from the Egyptians across the Red Sea (Exodus 14), both crossings involved God miraculously parting the waters.

Therefore, passing through water was a potent symbol of freedom and moving into a new phase, a letting go of old and unhelpful ways, of being free from slavery and sin. For John, their ‘sin’ was the Jews’ lack of devotion to God, their collusion with the Romans, and their legalistic adherence to ‘God’s law’ and not love for God. It’s as if their actions, were causing them to be unclean.

John’s baptism symbolically washed away the sin that blocked their relationship with God and gave them a chance for a new start, to walk into a new land, to ‘turn back to God’. What’s stopping you from turning to God?


Jesus asks to be baptised too, but John protests. John and Jesus were relatives (Luke 1:36), both born in incredible circumstances, so I imagine word got to John about Jesus’ reputation and the mystique around his calling. John knew that Jesus did not need to turn back to God and pass through the water. However, Jesus insisted because he knew he must humbly identify himself with humanity, by taking their place, sharing their baptism and living their life. Jesus’ way was not the way of John or the way of the old prophets.

John recognises his unworthiness declaring ‘I ought to be baptized by you’ (v. 14), nevertheless, John obliges and witnesses something unprecedented. ‘The Spirit of God coming down on [Jesus] like a dove’ (v. 16), meant that Divine judgement would be in a spirit of peace and not wrath, in a more embodied reconciliatory way. This was a break away from the hope of a warlike military leader who would rescue Israel from Roman rule. Perhaps the way of the Spirit was embracing a softer more feminine-like dynamic. God was doing something new in Jesus. How might God do something new in you?

Next, God’s announcement about Jesus is heard, ‘This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.’ Words of familial fondness and affirmation to bolster Jesus as he is about to be sent into his own wilderness for a time of testing (Matthew 4:1).

In this intimate moment we witness the divine family together: the dutiful Son, the descending Spirit and the divine voice from heaven: a Holy Trinity of love, empowering and speaking words of truth over Jesus. Words intoned with great affection and belief in his capabilities so that he has the confidence to achieve all that is set out before him, even the shadow of death.

I wonder whose voice you listen to in your life. What words do you carry with you? When we turn to God and walk through the water with Jesus, we are invited to be part of God’s family, part of the Holy Trinity of love, so that we too may be empowered by the Spirit and affirmed by the words ‘This is my own dear [child] and I am pleased with [them].’ What’s stopping you from walking with Jesus? Will you follow him?

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