“Anointed for Servanthood” (Matthew 3:13-17)

The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 8, 2023

“Anointed for Servanthood” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Today we recall the Baptism of Our Lord, that great event when our Lord Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. The heavens were opened. The Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove. The Father’s voice came from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” What an awesome occasion! And what I especially want to say about it this morning is that, in his baptism, Jesus was “Anointed for Servanthood.”

“Anointed for servanthood”? What does Jesus’ baptism have to do with that? And what do we mean by “anointed”? How was his baptism an anointing? Let’s find out.

Jesus’ baptism was an anointing because it marked him out as the Christ. The word “Christ” means the “Anointed One,” “Christos” in the Greek, “Mashiach” in the Hebrew. The “Messiah” or “Christ” would be the “Anointed One” promised by God from long ago. In the Old Testament, various kings and priests, sometimes prophets, were anointed–literally, they were anointed with oil. Oil, such as a fragrant olive oil, was poured over their heads to set them apart as those chosen by God for their office. The anointing conferred God’s blessing and power and favor upon them.

But there was a special anointed one to come. The promise was that there would come one particular king, the Son of David, who was prophesied as being the great Anointed One. God’s blessing and power would rest upon this coming king in a special and singular way. In Psalm 45, the psalmist prophetically addresses the messianic king and says: “Grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever.” “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

Grace poured upon his lips, anointed with the oil of gladness, blessed and set apart by God–this would be the Messiah, the Christ. And this is who Jesus is. This is what his baptism declares. Jesus is the Anointed One. Even though he was not anointed with oil, Jesus was blessed and set apart by God. God’s prophet, John the Baptist, poured water over his head. The Spirit of God came and rested upon Jesus. God’s voice of approval came from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

By the way, why no oil? Why wasn’t Jesus anointed in the traditional way? Perhaps the reason is that the people then would have thought he was the same kind of king they had before, only this time more successful. The Messiah they were expecting was a political king, who would restore the military glory and economic fortunes of Israel. But Jesus was not going to be that kind of king. His kingdom was not of this world.

So here at the start of his ministry, Jesus is anointed in an unusual way, being baptized along with people confessing their sins. John recognizes the strangeness of this–the sinless one being baptized with sinners. He says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But by being baptized in this way, Jesus shows how he will establish his kingdom–by identifying with sinners, by becoming one of us. His different kind of anointing fits his different kind of kingship.

In his baptism, Jesus is anointed, anointed as the Christ, anointed with the Holy Spirit. For what purpose? Jesus was anointed for servanthood. In the Book of Acts, the apostle Peter makes this very point, saying: “You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

Notice that this anointing is not just to elevate Jesus to a position of prominence for his own sake. God didn’t anoint Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power just so Jesus could sit on a throne and take life easy. No, it says that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and then “he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” In other words, Jesus’ anointing, his baptism, launched him into ministry. God anointed him, and then he “went about doing good.” Jesus was anointed for servanthood.

This should have come as no surprise. Centuries earlier, the Lord had spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” And to this servant the Lord says: “I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

This then was the servanthood that Jesus undertook in a special way, beginning at his baptism. As Peter said: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good.” Jesus himself put it like this: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This was the greatest good that Jesus could do. He gave his life to redeem you, to set you free. He died, that we might live. We were the ones with blind eyes. We were those captives in a prison of sin, sitting in darkness in the dungeon of death. Jesus, God’s anointed servant, came and opened our eyes. He set us free from our dungeon. We were under the power of the devil, but Jesus broke that power, triumphing over the devil by the cross. Christ’s death on the cross, in our place, won for us the forgiveness of sins. That, in turn, secures our ultimate healing, the resurrection of our bodies and the life everlasting.

Jesus’ baptism anointed him for servanthood, for his life-giving ministry. But what about our baptism? What happened there? In our baptism, you and I were united to Christ. We were buried with him in his death and raised with him to new life. This union with Christ means eternal salvation for us. But it also means for us, in the here and now, that we have a new life, a life of service. For in our baptism we too were anointed for servanthood.

I have a good friend who is Greek Orthodox. When his twin daughters were baptized, I attended the service at a Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago. In the Greek Church, the child who is baptized is also anointed with oil. This ancient practice of anointing is called “chrismation.” It’s like when we refer to baptism as a “christening.” To say that a person is “christened” is to say that he or she is being united with Christ, the Anointed One. And so a baptism is a chrismation, a christening, an anointing.

Luther liked to say that we who have been baptized are “little Christs.” We are “little Christs” to our neighbor. We demonstrate the life of Christ in the way we live toward others. We too are called to “go about doing good,” like Christ did, because God is with us also. God is with you, dear friends. He calls you his beloved children. He is well pleased with you, because of Christ. The Holy Spirit is resting upon you. In your baptism, you have been anointed. Anointed for salvation. Anointed for servanthood.

How will you live out your servanthood? What good can you go about doing? Some of you today we are installing as officers in our congregation. This is good. Your service is much appreciated. And the rest of you–you can work with these officers in doing the many things that need to be done in our church, as well as some new things we could be doing. And your life of service extends beyond these walls. In whatever your vocations in life–family member, community member, worker, friend–in all your callings in life, you have been anointed to serve your neighbor with the love of Christ. Go and be who you are.

Of course, our servanthood is always dependent upon Christ’s servanthood for us. Our servanthood is imperfect, always a work in progress, as we struggle with our sinful selfishness. Christ’s servanthood was perfect, his anointing without measure, always marked by his selfless love and his devotion to his Father. That was the mission the Father sent him on. That was the journey the Spirit empowered him for. Jesus had no sins of his own to confess, yet he was baptized, standing in the place of us sinners. His baptism set him on the road to the cross. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus fulfills the righteousness we lack. His perfect righteousness becomes our righteousness through our baptism into Christ.

Jesus was anointed for servanthood at his baptism. In our baptism, we Christians are joined to Jesus, connected to Christ. We receive his righteousness and his victory over sin and death. The Spirit rests on us, giving us life, conferring God’s blessing and power upon us. The Spirit anoints us for a life of servanthood, leading us to be “little Christs” to our neighbor. And the voice of the Father comes from heaven and says over each one of us–he says over you: “This is my son, this is my daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” Christ makes it so. Amen.

Published in: on January 7, 2023 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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