Rev’d Stan Pilbrow
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Sometime in the mid nineties, I was the officer in charge of a territorial force Army unit, the 6th Battalion (Hauraki), Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. During the summer of 1996, the battalion took part in the annual field exercise in Waiouru.
As we set up camp in the field, we were provided with a number of attachments for the two weeks; cooks, a couple of young engineers and a padre. I was informed that I was getting a new padre, someone who had never been in the field or indeed with an army unit before. This was an issue for me. This was an issue for me. We only had two weeks, and there was a lot of training to get through. I didn’t want my staff side-tracked training a new padre or finding things for him to do to keep him occupied.
My new padre arrived; one Lt Kitohi Pikaahu (later to be Bishop Kitohi Pikaahu, te Pihopa o Tai Tokerau). After a conversation, we established that we were from the same iwi, had attended the same school and he knew my family. The RSM looked after Lt Pikaahu for the first couple of days, familiarising him with the daily routine of field life, how to use the equipment he had been issued, and how to get around the tented camp.
Over the next 13 days, I think I saw Padre Pikaahu three times. Each time was to tell me what he had been doing, and what he was doing next. From the other officers I found that he had spent nearly the whole time away from the base camp: at the weapons range, camping out in the field and participating in the inter-company sports.
When finally returned to base, I commented on his full schedule and complimented him on the positive effect he seemed to have on the troops (not only was he helping with their tasks and engaging the soldiers, he carried a small pack filled to the brim with minties sweets).
I also noted that he spent more time with the soldiers than he did hanging around the command post like many other padres I knew. His reply? He wanted to be part of 6 Battalion (the Hauraki’s). He did not want to be a visiting padre, somebody separate or different. As far as possible, he wanted to be a 6 Battalion infantryman. How could he serve soldiers, minister to them if he had no idea what they did, how they felt, why they were there as territorial volunteers?
In verse 21 of today’s reading we note that, “…Jesus also had been baptised and was praying…” Why was he baptised? In Luke 3:3, “He (John the Baptist) went into all the regions around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…” Did Jesus need to repent? Was he a sinner? Was he one of that “brood of vipers” John speaks of?
There is no mention in the gospels of the period from youth to the baptism of Jesus. I’m thinking that if there was sin involved, there would have been some kind of mention somewhere. As it is, Hebrews 4:15 informs us that, “…but we have one who in every respect has been tested, as we are, yet without sin.” In 1 John 3:5 it is written, “You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
So…if Jesus was without sin, why baptise him? And here I take a direct quote from an American Lutheran minister, Michael Otterstatter who in a sermon on this same subject said, “If you looked in the mirror this morning, you’d see the reason. Jesus was baptised to join us in our condition as sinners.” By being baptised in the river Jordan with all the people who sought repentance and forgiveness for sins, I believe Jesus shows his willingness to become our saviour. How can he be this without being baptised as one of us?
I find Chapter Three of Luke so amazing; the whole narrative of John coming out of the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance. John then crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord…” and baptising Jesus. John has confirmed the predictions of the old prophets and is the flashlight for Jesus. The completion of the narrative, when the Holy Spirit descends and the voice says, “You are my Son, my Beloved, with you I am well pleased,” signifies the transformation of Jesus. His mission is confirmed, he is aware of his purpose on Earth and he has been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was baptised like a sinner to serve as our Saviour. May I ask you today to remember this unselfish act…see Jesus as our Saviour. Let us put our faith in him and the baptism he has endured. Amen