Down By The Riverside

This was the message I presented on the Baptism of the Lord Sunday (9 January 2000) at Walker Valley UMC.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Genesis 1: 1 – 5, Acts 19: 1- 7, and Mark 1: 4 – 11.


Last week I spoke about the journey that we can take and how we needed to know for what purpose that journey was being undertaken. Today we must look at the beginning of any journey. For no matter where your own individual journey takes you or how you hope to arrive at your desired destination, there has to be a beginning to the journey; there must be a moment that marks the beginning of the journey.

To me, each of the Scripture passages for today mark a beginning. These readings, chosen by someone else to have meaning for today, are especially appropriate, I think, because tonight, as we elect our new officers and decide on the budget for the church, we begin our new administrative year.

In Genesis 1, we mark the beginning of the world, not in terms of how it was created physically, but in terms of the fact that God created the world and all around it. In the Mark, we read about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and in the reading from Acts, we read about the beginning of the ministry from the perspective of others.

That Jesus would begin his ministry by going to meet John at the river Jordan was remarkable. As John himself noted, he (John) was not even worthy of carrying Jesus’ shoes yet here was Jesus wanting him to baptize him.

At first, John refused to baptize Jesus because he knew that he, Jesus, was not guilty of the sins for against which he preached. But, for John to tell the world of the Messiah and his coming there had to be a sign.

For Jesus, as well, this act was necessary for the beginning of his ministry. Jesus did not have to be baptized so the very fact that he did tells us something. The act of Jesus being baptized was an intentional one, showing to the world that His mission was about to begin.

When Jesus was baptized, John heard God speak from heaven identifying Jesus as My beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit settled on Christ in the form of a dove. God’s words “This is my Son” were words meant for John and the others to hear, telling them that Jesus’ ministry was now beginning.

In the Epistle reading for today, we find that some of the early believers had only been baptized in terms of water. But by accepting Jesus as their Savior, by believing in the one who was to come after John, the Holy Spirit also descended upon them. And in doing so, each one gained many different abilities.

For Jesus, this act of baptism was more than simply the mark of his new ministry; it was also the act of following what God wanted him to do, an act of fidelity to the commands of God. When Jesus left Heaven, he stepped from being God to being human, from a state of knowing to one of surrender. He didn’t have to do that but then, if he hadn’t, we would never know what salvation is really about.

In Hymn #404, we sing of the river Jordan running cold, chilling the body but not the soul. Jesus came to the river Jordan that day knowing that His life would change. The Israelite nation stood on the banks of the river Jordan, knowing they had to cross that river to reach the Promised Land. So too did Jesus have to enter the waters of the Jordan so that we could reach the Promised Land.

When I first thought about this sermon and came up with the title, I was thinking of the old spiritual “Down by the Riverside” and the first verse, “I’m going to lay all burdens down.” By accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior, by believing in him, we allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and take away our burdens.

Yesterday, I started the advanced lay speaker school in Beacon. I attend these schools each year, not because I have to but, rather, because I think it helps me to get a better understanding of what preaching is all about. Occasionally, I get some material that helps me better understand the Bible. Yesterday was no exception.

One line from the reading that we did yesterday that struck me was about baptism. “The waters of baptism flow outward from the congregation into its surroundings, leading to an ever-increasing freedom of the people to celebrate God’s love and justice throughout the world.”

We have come this far and now we are down by the riverside. A new journey awaits us. Are you willing to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Are you willing to put down all your burdens and let the Holy Spirit come into your life?


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