Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
The Christ - January 13, 2013 - Baptism of Our Lord/First Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Luke 3:15-22
Three weeks ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Last week, for the first time in eleven years, since 2002, we celebrated an actual Epiphany Sunday and the visit of the Magi, the first non-Jewish, Gentile visitors to see the child Jesus and bear homage by bring gifts of gold, incense and oil. Because Epiphany fell on a Sunday, this year we did not have a Second Sunday after Christmas. The usual reading for the second Sunday after Christmas is the only other account we have of Jesus’ life from His birth and visit by the Magi until we hear about Him in our text for this morning and His baptism by John. The account we skipped was the account of when Jesus was twelve years old and He had traveled to Jerusalem with His parents to celebrate the Passover. That account tells us how Jesus stayed behind in the temple listening to the chief priests and teachers of the Law and how He was seen as having much wisdom, at least at that time, at the age of twelve. This was before the chief priests and teachers of the Law knew who He was and I guess He was not yet a threat to them at that time. This week we fast forward and have skipped to the time when Jesus is now thirty years old and is ready to begin His earthly mission and ministry. The Bible does not record what happened from the time of Jesus’ birth until He is twelve years old, nor does it record what happened from the time that Jesus was twelve years old until He turned thirty. The reason these events are not recorded is because they are not important, or at least our knowledge of these events is not necessary for our salvation. Remember, what we have recorded in the Bible is what we need for our salvation. And so we pick up our narrative this morning after Jesus turned thirty and today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.
I might remind you that John the Baptist was about six month older than Jesus. And, although he was a relative of Jesus they probably did not have too much contact with one another, at least not until this point. John was born for the purpose of preparing the way for the Messiah, the Savior promised long ago. John spent his time in the wilderness calling people to repentance and to be baptized with his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Too many of the people were living their lives, like many people do today, just going from day to day, oblivious of anything other than the cares, concerns and worries of this world. They did their religious duty by attending synagogue on the Sabbath, by attending the three required festivals and they thought that was all they needed to do. How often do we find ourselves today thinking that if we go to church on Sunday, or every other Sunday or so, put our five or ten dollars in the offering plate, that means that we have done all that is required of us and the rest of the week is ours to live our lives as we please. John’s work was to prepare the people for Jesus’ first coming. The work of pastors today is to prepare people for Jesus’ second coming. And unfortunately, just as many people ignored and discounted John, his work and his message, so too today, too many in our world discount and ignore our pastors and the Word of the Lord he delivers.
As John worked to get the people ready for Jesus’ first coming, he did such a good job that many of the people were wondering if John might possibly be the Christ, that is, that he might be the Messiah. John’s response to them was that the Messiah is more powerful than John. John uses the comparison of the lowest slave who’s job it was to remove the master’s shoes and to wash the master’s feet. John says he is not even high enough to do this lowly task.
And so, John is out doing his work, preaching to the people, getting them ready for the Messiah when one day the Messiah shows up. Jesus comes out to John in order to be baptized by him. In the other gospels we are told that John hesitated to baptize Jesus, suggesting that Jesus should rather baptize him. Here we see John knowing and understanding his place and role. He knew the Messiah would be perfect and holy, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was totally unnecessary. John is the one who had a flawed life. John was the sinner and should have been baptized by Jesus, but Jesus, wanting to make sure that He fulfilled all the laws perfectly was baptized by John.
At this point in the narrative there is often a question concerning John’s baptism compared to Jesus’ baptism, “What is the difference?” The difference between John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus is a difference between a baptism with water and a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire, as John says, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John is looking through time to Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Remember, John’s baptism was a complete baptism. When Jesus commissioned baptism He added the element of the coming of the Holy Spirit whom He would send following His return to heaven. Thus, at our own baptism we are baptized with water and God’s triune name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John’s work was to prepare the world for Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ work was to fulfill all righteousness, in other words Jesus’ work was to be the true Israel, to live as Israel was supposed to live, to live perfectly for us in our place, as well as for all people, of all places, of all times. His work was to give His life for ours. His work also consists of judgement, because all those who do not believe in Him are judged to the place of unquenchable fire. The way to heaven, the way to eternal life is a narrow way. Have you ever wondered why all the religions of the world hate Christians? Have you ever wondered why Christians, true Christians are despised by our so called tolerant, diverse thinking world? It is because the Christian faith is a faith in an intolerant God. We worship a God who does not tolerate sin. We worship a God who is a jealous God and who demands our complete faith in Him alone for our salvation. We know that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Even our Old Testament lesson for this morning reminds us of the justice which our Savior brings. And His justice is such, that only those who believe in Him will be saved.
Yet, Christ’s work consists not just of justice but also of grace. Remember, both water and fire can be used to refine or we might use the word, to judge something. And both water and fire can be used to cleanse or we might use the word to give grace to something or someone. Let me put it in these terms, what justice would there be if you stood before a judge with a hundred parking violations and he said, “Well, I know you are a good person and you did not mean it, so I will let you go free this time.” I do not think any of us would agree that this person is a fair or just judge. Likewise, if faith alone in Jesus is what saves, would we say we have a just and fair God if in the end He would say, “Well, I know everyone, even those who hated me and persecuted my faithful followers, and everyone really meant to believe in me, so I will let you all come in this time.” I am sure Jesus would be sitting there asking why He bothered going through what He went through, suffering and dying on the cross. No!, faith in Jesus alone is what saves, unbelief condemns and gains only eternal spiritual death.
Getting back to our text, we were witnessing Jesus’ baptism. When John baptized Jesus we were given a glimpse of our God, our triune God. We see Jesus, God the Son, standing there in flesh and blood. We see a dove descend in bodily form and we are told that this was God the Holy Spirit. And we also hear the voice of God the Father from heaven stating, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Quite an awesome display.
So, what does all this mean? It means that we are in the right place and we are believing in the right Savior. At His baptism Jesus is confirmed by His Father as being the Christ. He is who He says He is, the Messiah. He is the one who was promised so long ago in the Garden of Eden. He is the one about whom the prophets proclaimed would come to save the world, all people, you and me included.
At His baptism, Jesus was confirmed in His Christ-ness, in His Messiahship, in His mission and ministry by God the Father. In a very real way Jesus was commissioned, pronounced ready to begin His work. It is after this baptism event that He began teaching and preaching, casting out demons, curing the sick, raising the dead and the like. It was after this baptism event that, at least for a short time, people began flocking to Him to hear Him and to believe in Him. And it was three short years later that He accomplished our salvation by giving His life on the cross for ours. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty which should have been ours.
And finally, at Jesus baptism we are given confidence in our own faith. How do we know that we are right and everyone else is wrong? Quite simple. All the religions of the world can be divided into two categories. Category one consists of all those religions which proclaim a salvation based on how good you are, what type of character you posses, if you have done enough good things to gain your own entrance into heaven, in other words they all point you to yourself as your own savior. Thus, all these religions can never give you any firm confidence that you have done enough, that you are good enough, or that you can be sure one way or the other. And then there is the Christian faith which has as its base in the fact that we are saved, not because of anything within us, but we are saved by someone outside of us, by God and His grace, by His undeserved love poured out on us. We are saved by simple faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith which He also gives to us. And because this is a gift which is given to us and comes from outside of us, we can be sure, we can be confident, we have a hope which is a certainty that we are saved.
This morning as we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, I pray that you are reminded of your own baptism. I pray that you will daily be reminded of your baptism because it is through your baptism that you have been made a part of God’s family, that you have forgiveness of sins and that when the Lord returns, or when your last hour comes, you can know for certain that you will be in heaven with Jesus and all the saints who have gone on before. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.