Baptism of Christ 13.1.13 Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

6 01 2013

Drama With John

This brief passage is full of energy and surprise.  There is fulfilment but also promise. We might wonder whether John’s words about Jesus are true to the Jesus reveled as Luke’s gospel unfolds. In these brief verses the fire seems to be all with John.  Jesus accepts his baptism, prays and is deeply affirmed.

Luke 3.15-22 [The verses in square brackets are excluded by the lectionary]

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.]

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’


To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

‘Head Questions’

  1. The noun ‘baptism’ and the verb ‘to baptize’ occur a lot here. What does the word mean?
  2. Why might people think John the Messiah?  What sort of Messiah would he have been?
  3. Why have the lectionary editors removed verses 18-20?

‘Heart Questions’

  1. Notice that expectant people ask big questions. Does this ring true to you?
  2. What emotions do you connect with John the Baptist?
  3. How does the word ‘beloved’ touch you?

‘Hand Questions’

  1. Are there questions floating around which only you can stand up and answer?
  2. Are you perhaps called to be a bit more Baptist-like in your life and ministry? When did you last use your winnowing-fork?
  3. The only thing Jesus does here is pray.  Does that affirm or challenge your own priorities and to-do lists?


These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.

Second Sunday of Easter 15.4.12 John 20.19-end

9 04 2012

Doubt and Faith

At the centre of this brief passage lies one of the most memorable encounters in the Bible. That between the risen Jesus and Thomas a week after Easter Day. Caravaggio has Thomas intently inspecting the evidence. But that is not the picture John paints.  He suggests Thomas’ doubt is very short-lived.

John 20 19-end

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio....

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Reflections and Questions

‘doors of the house’. v 19 Although much has been made of the stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb, not so much has been made of the locked doors of the upper room. John tells us why they were locked. But our interest is more in their solidity than in the security they afford.

What do the locked doors tell you about the risen Jesus? 

‘he breathed on them.’ v 22. We immediately think of this breathing as congruent with the idea of spirit as breath, and remember the animation of dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. But maybe should see it in the context of other acts of breathing in John’s gospel.

What happens to your imagination if you compare this out-breathing with that of John 19.30?

‘Unless…’. v26 This is how Thomas begins his utterance. With a demand.

What is your ‘unless’?

‘My Lord and my God!’. v28  Thomas again. Many people identify with Thomas. You might be one of them. There are number of reasons for doing so.  For instance, you might feel like the typical outsider, the one who would be unlucky enough to miss out on something really special. Or you might be someone who knows the keenness of doubt.  Or maybe you identify with this outburst of faith or the cry of reckless discipleship in John 11.16.

Which Thomas do you most easily identify with? What about the people you preach to?

For many people life is lived in different places up and down the spectrum between 100% doubt and 100% faith. Where are you now?

Finally, why not check out my seven tips on ‘how to make Easter joyful’

Easter Day 8.4.12 John 18. 1-20

4 04 2012

Running , Seeing, Telling – but not Holding

John’s account of the resurrection is a mysterious predawn story which sheds wonderful light wherever it is told. It is full of life but also full of curious human and material detail. It puts pictures in our imaginations rather than ideas in our minds. That is why artists have found it so inspirational. The preacher must talk about it, of course. But there are ways of talking that also paint pictures. Maybe the preacher’s task at Easter is to paint a picture so that people can really see.

John 20.1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was sJesus and Mary Magdalenetill dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Reflections and Questions

‘She ran’ v 2. ‘The two were running together’. v 4 These are two of the very few references to running in the New Testament. The father of the prodigal son also runs to meet him.

What does this running tell you? What makes you run?

‘Then the disciples returned to their homes.’ v 10 This sentence often comes across as the biggest anti-climax in the gospel. But then we often forget that Jesus’ mother Mary would have been at the home of the beloved disciple.

Do you read this going home as anti-climax or as an important part of the narrative? Why might they have gone home?

‘Do not hold on to me’. v17 These poetic and mysterious words of Jesus to Mary, ‘noli me tangere’, have inspired many artists. They can also touch our imaginations. It is about being close – but not coo close. It is about sustaining spiritual desire – but not quite satisfying it. It is about the not-yet-accomplished nature of our discipleship.

How do you picture this scene? How do you deal with the restraint implied?

‘I have seen the Lord’. v18 It is Mary Magdalene speaking to the apostles. This is why she is called ‘the apostle to the apostles’. She is the first evangelist. And notice that she uses the word ‘seen’. Seeing is a primary and spiritual way of knowing.

Who was your apostle? To whom might you be an apostle? Who needs to hear your testimony?

Finally, check out my seven tips on ‘how to make Easter joyful’