Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
This story has three distinct parts and each of them has its own tone and its own dynamic.It is important to make a contrast between these three parts. The first part is the baptism.The background of John’s baptism is the multi-faceted tradition of ritual cleansings in thereligion of Israel. In order to be pure and clean, one had to have a ritual cleansing thatinvolved baths and sometimes isolation. For example, if you had a menstrual period, anocturnal emission, or touched something that was dead or unclean, a purification processthat would include ritual baths would be required of an observant Jew. In contrast to thesemany baths for a whole series of incidents of uncleanness, the baptism of John was aonce and for all complete cleansing. John’s baptism also involved an interior examination of sinfulness and a decision of repentance from sinful actions. It was a once and for all cleansing for the forgiveness of all sins. John’s baptism was also a preparation for thecoming of the kingdom of God. Just as you made yourself clean in order to enter the temple and the presence of God, you cleansed everything from the sins of your past inorder to be ready to enter the kingdom of God.
The experience of Jesus is the primary focus of the baptism story. The baptism is Jesus’participation in a complete cleansing as his entry into the kingdom of God but it is also his ordination as Messiah. It is the dynamic equivalent of being anointed by a prophet aswere Saul and David. The focus of this story is Jesus’ direct experience of God. The story enables us to identify with Jesus right at the beginning of the Gospel. It is an inside view—"as he was coming up out of the water, he saw…"—and there are three things thathe saw. He saw the heavens opened, the spirit descending like a dove and a voice.. To tell the story well, you need to maximize that sense of identification and presence with Jesus at his baptism.
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