One of the benefits of going through the Bible somewhat chronologically is that we can see the way particular themes developed in earlier stories emerge later, especially the ways that various themes–creation, crisis, covenant–come together in the ministry, life, and death of Jesus. These are similarities that we might otherwise miss, dismissing them as narrative details, but which the Biblical writers may have used to create intention connections between stories. People hearing these stories for the first time would have caught the repetition of some of these themes because they knew their Scripture (at the the time just the Old Testament) very well. This week as we work with the baptism of Jesus, we see several images, themes, and motifs from earlier Biblical stories and it reminds us of all that God has done for God’s people, and all that God is doing in the person and work of Christ. Let’s take a look at how some of our earlier themes repeat in the story of Jesus baptism in the synoptic Gospels (courtesy of Laurence Hull Stookey in Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church). Shall we?
Creation and New Creation
“In reading the accounts of the baptism of Jesus we regard the mention of water, the Spirit, and a voice as narrative detail; but the writers intended far more. Genesis 1:1-3 mentions water, the Spirit of God, and the voice of God in conjunction with creation. Specific mention of these three in the Synoptic narratives is intended to point to the fact that Christ is instituting a new creation” (94).
The Flood and the Dove
“…at the baptism of the Lord, the Spirit is made manifest like a dove. We tend to suppose that the authors simply picked a metaphor according to whim [… but] it is intended to connect the baptism of Jesus with the story of deliverance in Noah’s day. After the deluge, it was a dove that returned with evidence of creation renewed” (95).
Jesus as the New Moses
“After passing through the sea, Moses led his people in the wilderness for forty years, during which time they encountered many temptations. After passing through the water of baptism, Jesus by going into the wilderness for forty days, recapitulates and brings to fulfillment the experience of Israel. […] Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses who fulfills the Law, and brings new revelation and covenant from God” (95).
The themes from our earlier stories are here repeating. In this we can affirm at once that God is doing a new thing in Christ and also working the way that God always has–forming and making a people who belong to God through water. It’s no surprise that in Epiphany, when we focus so much on the identity of Christ, that the story of his baptism (which is the story for the first Sunday of Epiphany) should have so much to say about that identity. To add to this identity piece just a bit, our own baptism (which is a participation in Christ’s baptism) creates and highlights our identity as God’s people.
Hear the Word
You can read the story of Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22, Mark 1:9-11, or Matthew 3:13-17. Alternatively, you can share the story from The Jesus Storybook Bible which, in addition to Jesus’ baptism, has details about John’s ministry in the story “Heaven Breaks Through” (200-7). The Children of God Storybook Bible shares the story under the title “God Blesses Jesus: Jesus is Baptized” (68).
Respond to the Word
(1.) Looking for the Story: Older students may like to compare the stories of Jesus baptism and think together about some of the stories that we have worked with so far this year. After reading through all three of the texts from the Synoptic Gospels, ask what images your students have seen before. In conversation, work out the significance of the similarities between the stories–does it matter that there is a dove in the Noah story and in Jesus’ baptism or is it just a coincidence?
(2.) Group Act-out: Divide your class into three groups. Assign one of the Gospel passages to each group of students (if they are of reading age, provide a printed copy of the text they are working on). Give the groups some time to plan a short skit and then present it to the class in whatever way they choose. Discuss how the passages are similar and how they are different. What do we know about Jesus and his ministry after his baptism?
(3.) Water Droplet or Baptism art: You can offer your students the opportunity to make a piece of water art similar to this (using paint, watercolors, or whatever else you might like to use; Ask them to first write something from the story–“this is my son, the Beloved”–in a white crayon so that as they cover their page with paint, the words appear). You can also use a coloring page, this one or this one are good options. If you don’t want to use these sheets in your class, you can send them home with your students.
(4.) Finger painting: Water is such a mundane and ordinary substance, and yet it plays such a significant role in sustaining our lives and in the story of salvation. Ask your students to reflect on why water is so important? Why does God keep using it in God’s work in the world? Think together of all of the stories where water plays a significant role (Noah’s ark, Jonah and the whale, the Israelites crossing the Jordan). Is this a coincidence? Could God have used something different? Is there something interesting about God’s work that could not be communicated without water? Paint water on large pieces of paper using blue, green, and white finger paint. (You can use shirts in the supply closet to protect children’s clothing).
(5.) Water songs: Think about worship songs that have water themes. “I’ve Got a River of Life” with motions is a great option for our young kids (and it will get them moving!). “Wade in the Water” is a song that our children know and love from VCS, music time, and church (some of them might even remember the movements for “God’s gonna trouble the water”). For this song, focus on just the chorus. Or, if your students are older and familiar with the song, focus on the chorus and one verse. “Down in the River” (“As I went down in the river to pray….”) is another one that is easy to introduce to your students. Contact a musician if you would like to bring music into your class.
Close in Prayer and with a Feast