To Fulfill All Righteousness

By Jeremy Bergstrom

John would have prevented [Jesus], saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then [John] consented.

There’s something about the Jesus effect, where things get real, and quickly; John was just putting forth symbols and images, but Jesus cracks open the waters of baptism for us spiritually, and at the same time the heavens crack open as well and the voice of God breaks into the world for all to hear, and the Spirit descends on Jesus…

This is more than a symbol, the prophets and John and everything in Israel up to that point was but a symbol; when the Spirit descends on Jesus it’s nothing but the beginning of a new reality

Notice, Jesus didn’t throw away all the old symbols,

[14] John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” [15] But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.”

It fulfilled all righteousness… the key concept here is obedience. That’s what opened up the heavens and brought the Spirit to a dark world… Jesus and John consented. Jesus’ entire life was a big ‘yes’ to God, in every way.

The symbols and signs of Israel’s past life were all prep for Jesus to come; they weren’t the life, but they prepared the people so they would recognize what it was when it came! (Doesn’t seem to have been much of a help, for it all seemed to be a surprise to them…)

The symbols of our faith are meant to work the same way… they get us ready for the spiritual reality of the real King of Israel entering into our lives and setting up his Kingdom and filling us with his glory and his life and even himself through the work of the Holy Spirit…

And to kick it all off, he chose to initiate it with baptism, an image of utter and complete obedience, unto death… but it doesn’t mark the end of us, it just marks the end of our rebellion; the end of our corruption and the beginning of the life of God working within.

But it isn’t about the ritual, at its deepest level; the spiritual reality can happen before the ritual, during it, or even 50+ years after it… but we haven’t become a Christian, a true follower of Jesus, until our souls catch fire with the Holy Spirit and we die to self…

Two images of baptism, really… water and fire. Opposites? No, rather perhaps a progression. Washing and peace, followed by the fire of love and zeal for God.

As John foretold, Mt 3 [11] “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Ever try and get a fire going with wet wood? I did while camping couple months ago… but I didn’t give up, even though the wood was damp; that’s what a good dad does! Obedience dries out the soul so it can be set alight…

So many of us are like the Jews in John’s and Jesus’ day, we’re wet wood because we really identify with our tribe rather than the church: our high school or university, our group of friends or racial group or economic status or community standing, usually a combination of all those things; we don’t care about what God’s up to, we care about what we’re up to, and if God wants to chip in and help, great; otherwise, get out of the way!

The fire can be quenched. Think of a Jack London story of survival: snow falls from a tree and dumps on the tender flame, leaving the explorer to freeze to death alone…

Some even think being an Episcopalian will save us… some of us are even Episcopalian because it suits our lifestyle and outlook best… that can be a good thing, part of natural discernment, if it’s Jesus you’re looking for… but it can also be an excuse, some people are looking for church but hoping to avoid obeying Jesus… some think the Episcopal Church is a great place to avoid the harder sayings of Jesus or the radical call of God and the demands of his Word…

I didn’t come to St Peter’s to be an Episcopalian, I came here because the Spirit blows where it wills… that’s what the Lord told Nicodemus early in his ministry: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8).

I came here because I’ve experienced the Spirit’s moving in me in ways I cannot explain, a slow-burn that won’t go away; subtle yet undeniable; Why? Many reasons,  I’m sure we’ll find out together. But I know the primary reason he blew me here was so that he might blow more freely among us, that you and I might be born of the Spirit, together (it’s a beginning, yes, but it’s also the beginning of every day); and he brought me and my family to you because he wants to do this in us, that his power and his presence might be felt yet more readily and powerfully in this place, that we and many others might be redeemed and transformed and fulfil our created purpose, which is to find joy and fulfillment in God, and so glorify him forever…

And it only happens through obedience; an obedient soul is dry wood and sets ablaze quickly and easily. This is daunting; my own soul has waaaaayyy too much damp wood in it! But our heavenly Father is a good dad… the wood might contain too much moisture, it might not hold the flame very long, but he keeps tending it and adding kindling, etc so the wood will dry and keep the flame and burn hot…

We weren’t made for the merely mundane… to struggle and bump around in the dark and live a life negotiating with God… wrestling with him, trying to domesticate him to our purposes and our reason and our understanding… that mode of life is a big pile of snow on your soul, killing the life of the Spirit…

You and I were created to be alight with fire from above, recipients of God’s power and grace through the power and wisdom and love of God cracking open the heavens and descending on us like a dove, or as we see at Pentecost, a tongue of fire.

It all happens through obedience; this is what it takes to fulfill all righteousness… what Jesus came to bring to you and to me…

The Rev. Jeremy Bergstrom is rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lake Mary, Florida.

Advertisements

Online Archives

Search