Sunday, January 8, 2017

Baptism of Our Lord
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Romans 6:1-11
Matthew 3:13-17

...and make you a covenant for the people...

God made covenants with His people throughout history. He made a covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses and with David. Those covenants were accompanied by signs, such as the rainbow for Noah and circumcision for Abraham. Jesus Christ is the ultimate sign for all the promises. He is the sign that God will remember His promises, that we are made children of God, that the Law has been fulfilled and that we will have a King forever. He came to fulfill all God’s promises, to be the covenant that will last.

The new covenant was different than the old because, as we heard from Isaiah, it was given for everyone; it was given for the whole world, even those beyond the edge of the world. It was given for unknown people in unknown places, and at unknown times. It is a lasting covenant. He is a lasting covenant, given for us as He was given for them.

It is Jesus who stands between the holiness of God and the godlessness of this world. We are not worthy of God’s grace, but Jesus is the sign that God will favor us with mercy and forgiveness. He makes us righteous. He gives us life. We are His and as His, we are also children of God.

It wasn’t enough for Jesus to be born. He had to complete the work that God sent Him to earth to do. That included opening the eyes of the blind, making the lame walk and the deaf to hear. He was sent to minister to the crowds and tell them the Good News. He was sent to teach and heal and forgive. He was sent to die. But before He could do all these things, He had to identify with the people He came to save.

At His baptism, Jesus Christ - the Word made flesh - identified completely with you and me, taking upon himself the very nature of mankind and all that goes with it while still remaining without sin. The purpose of His life was to take on the sin that was brought into the world in the Garden by Adam and Eve and destroy it forever, making it possible for us to once again live in harmony with God and one another. At His baptism, the Spirit of God hovered over the formless and empty earth as in the beginning, God spoke and there was Light. At that moment, Jesus Christ was anointed with the power to truly change the world, to restore our relationship with our Father.

The water poured over Jesus as He was baptized and when He rose out of the Jordan the Holy Spirit poured over Him. From that moment, Jesus started a journey during which the Spirit and the Word flowed to those with whom He came in contact. He poured out God’s grace to the world and through Jesus God’s voice continued to speak.

God has a voice. John writes in his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) As we look back at the beginning, we see the Spirit hovering over the formless and empty earth. The first manifestation of God’s presence was His voice. “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” (Genesis 1:3) God spoke and there was light. God spoke again and created the heavens and earth. He spoke and there was life. Then, He spoke to men, first to Adam and Eve, then to the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets. And He spoke through men, putting His voice in their mouths.

God is far more than we can even imagine. By His Word, the world exists. By His Word, we have life. His Word gives us all we need to live and serve Him in this world to His glory. Yet, with our words we still try to make God fit into a box that suits our needs and desires. The Psalmist knew that God is bigger than human reason and understanding; the psalm praises God by singing of the awesome power of His Word. We should do the same, using God’s Word to lift them out of their tiny box into a greater understanding of His Love.

In the Psalm David writes, “And in his temple everything saith, Glory.” In the sanctuary of God’s presence, the people need not tremble with fear despite the apparent turmoil on earth. Jesus, the living and breathing temple in which the fullness of God dwelt on earth, is the sanctuary in which we can take refuge. This is the kind of life Jesus lived, the life we see modeled in the scriptures.

Jesus was who He was. He was the incarnation of the living God: Christ, Messiah, Son, Emmanuel. He did not need a baptism of any sort, yet He went to John to be baptized, a baptism for repentance. He had no sin to be forgiven or separation from the Creator which needed reconciliation. He was the living Word of God in flesh. Yet, Jesus was also man. His baptism was far more than just an act of example for the rest of us. His baptism defined His identity, as God reached out of the heavens to claim Jesus as His own Son. By going to John, Jesus demonstrated His humble obedience to the will and purpose of God. It was right for Jesus to be baptized, even if John thought it was wrong.

John was not willing to do as Jesus asked. “But John would have hindered him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?’” We don’t see the nuances of this conversation in the English: John did not just say “No,” he argued with Jesus. Finally Jesus answered, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is how God willed it to be, so John gave in to Jesus’ request.

John, who recognized that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world, knew he was not worthy even to touch Jesus’ sandals. How could he possibly baptize the One whom he knows has no need of baptism? Jesus had no need for repentance, what purpose did it hold for Jesus to be buried in the Jordan? John had to submit to God’s will and accept that God sometimes calls us to do things we do not want to do and that we do not think we are worthy of doing. It is through weak, broken vessels that God fulfills all righteousness.

“Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” After Jesus was baptized, a voice called from heaven claiming Jesus as His own Son. What did this sound like to the crowds? What kind of voice they heard coming from the heavens. It was an audible voice because God’s words address the people. He announced and identified the man Jesus as His beloved, His chosen One. Yet, as we look at the description of the voice of God in the Psalm for today, I can’t help but wonder how it sounded to those listening. David writes that the voice of God is like thunder. It breaks the mighty cedars, brings forth fire and shakes the wilderness. The voice of the LORD is like a tornado, tearing apart the forests. How could the people who were there that day listen without falling down in fear? Such a voice would make me tremble. What must it been like to be at the Jordan when Jesus was baptized? The heavens opened up and they heard a voice from heaven. Did it bring the people to their knees in fear and awe?

Perhaps the voice of God that day was like thunder, but Jesus was there to bring peace and joy to the world.

His voice may make us tremble, but His love calls us to sing His praise. Through faith in Christ we enter into the Temple of God and join with the heavenly beings singing “GLORY!” The Almighty God has done everything necessary to reconcile Himself to His people. He sent Jesus to finish the work of salvation that was begun even at the first sound of His voice. He sent Jesus to be the fulfillment to every promise. Through Jesus, He claims us as children, anoints us with the Holy Spirit and then sends us into the world to share His grace with those who do not yet know Him.

It seems to us that we are not worthy of such a calling. We are tempted by so many things, and it can be very difficult to overcome when we constantly face that temptation. Our Father knows how difficult it is for us to walk away from those things that are harmful to our spiritual life. Jesus Christ came in flesh and was tempted so that He could truly identify with the failures of our flesh. However, Jesus did not fall into the temptation; He remained perfect and true to the Word of God no matter what Satan offered Him. His understanding of the grace and mercy of God was so perfect, that He was able to keep from sin. By His death and resurrection, we are forgiven our failures and given the freedom to live in His grace and mercy.

Paul asks in his letter to the Romans, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”

We can go out and overindulge in the temptations of this world, knowing that the blood of Jesus Christ forgives us. Yet, Paul answers, “May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer?” By our baptism we are dead to sin, no longer bound to death and the grave. We have been given the greatest gift: through Jesus Christ every promise of God has been fulfilled. How can we continue to live according to the world when we have been adopted into the Kingdom of Heaven? Will you take advantage of the opportunity to overindulge? Or will you be trustworthy and walk in the light and life of God, glorifying Him every step?

The baptism of John was one of repentance, but Jesus made it something new. Today all those who come to the font of baptism in a Christian church are cleansed and forgiven, but we also experience baptism like Jesus. We are claimed as children of God, anointed with the Holy Spirit and then sent into the world to share the grace of God with those who do not yet know Him. At the Jordan Jesus did not need to be forgiven, He was sinless. He did not need to be claimed, He was the Son of God. He did not need to be anointed; He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He did not need to be sent, for His purpose was always to do the will of God.

We also do not need baptism for these things to happen. God forgives without water. God claims without witnesses. God anoints in His time and His way. God sends us into the world often without our knowing. Have you ever had something happen and not until after it was over realize that it was an act of God? Have you ever made a phone call or turn a corner you find there is someone at the other end who needs God’s grace? You were there because God sent you even though you did not know it at the time. So, why do we bother to be baptized?

Humans are physical beings dependent on our sensory experiences. When we are children we know love by the touches and kisses of our mothers. When we are children, we learn about the world through our eyes, ears and mouths. Even as adults, we experience God and His creation with our senses. We see a sunset and we praise God for making such a beautiful world. We smell a roasting turkey and we thank God for giving us a home, food and a family. We touch one another and know that it is only by the grace of God that we would be so blessed. Even in our church services, we experience God through our senses. We hear the music and the Word. We see and touch God in the faces and the hugs of our fellow Christians. We smell and taste God’s grace in the Eucharist.

God knows that we need tangible things on which to grasp so that we can see and know the intangible, this is why the sacraments include physical elements. God is Spirit and we can know Him through spirit but such a knowledge leaves room for doubt. God’s promises in the Old Testament were accompanied by physical signs, like the rainbow and circumcision. These were signs to the people so that they would remember what God has done and will do for them. So, too are the gifts of the sacraments. Jesus is God’s New covenant with His people and in baptism we experience the promise of God with our whole beings.

Though Jesus was God’s Son, the living Word in flesh, I imagine He too needed some assurance of His identity. That day at the Jordan, when Jesus went forth in faith to begin His ministry in the world, Jesus received what He needed. He was given a word from God: “You are my beloved.” He was washed with the waters of change and anointed by the Spirit. He then went forth to do everything that God promised that He would do. If He ever had a moment of doubt He could remember His baptism and the promise that came when the heavens opened and God claimed, anointed and sent His Son into the world.

We have the same assurance. As we read through the scriptures, we see the story of a man who was living in His baptism. Jesus woke and slept in the promise of God and lived every moment in between doing what God was calling Him to do. We can live as Christ lived even when we think we are unworthy or unable. When we are tempted or feel unworthy, we need only say “I am baptized” and we’ll know that God is with us, helping us to do His work in this world. This is living in our baptism, dwelling in the covenant that is our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we will truly find peace and joy.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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