Return to the Sermon Archive Home Page
Return to the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Home Page
Date: Epiphany 1
Text: Isaiah 42:1-7
Theme: Why Was Jesus Baptized?
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was on vicarage I had to preach a sermon every other week. Well, there was one Sunday in which I was over prepared and preached a rather long and boring sermon. During the course of the sermon, one of the men in the congregation fell asleep. That probably wasn't so bad, but he started snoring. I couldn't have that so I raised my voice and talked louder, hoping to wake him up. But it didn't work. I pounded the pulpit for emphasis, and to wake him up, but that didn't work either, as the man continued to saw wood. I became a little exasperated and raised my voice even louder and pounded the pulpit even harder but all I did was hurt my hand. The man continued to sleep.
I finally couldn't take it any longer and told one of the ushers to go over and wake the man up. The usher told me, "Wake him up yourself. You put him to sleep."
We see this same type of tug-of-war take place at the Baptism of our Lord. Matthew tells us that when Jesus came to John to be baptized, John tried to deter him. A tug-o-war took place as John became very vocal in his need to have Jesus baptize him, rather than the other way around. John did all in his power to change Jesus' mind, all to no avail. Jesus submitted to John's baptism, a baptism for sinners, in order to fulfill all righteousness.
But why was Jesus baptized? Why did he, whom the Bible declares the sinless Son of God, submit to a baptism for the repentance of sins, sins which, according to the Bible, he never committed? Why was Jesus baptized? We find the answer in today's Old Testament lesson, Isaiah, chapter 42, verses 1 through 7.
As we examine today's Old Testament lesson we see that Jesus was baptized in order to show that God's Spirit was with him. We see this in the first verse of the lesson, "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him."
The giving of the Holy Spirit, under the terms of the Old Covenant, was a very special act. Unlike today, the Holy Spirit was not given to every believer in the Old Covenant. Only special people received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The high priest, the king, and the prophets received the Holy Spirit. But many of the priests and kings of Israel and Judah were out and out unbelievers and even they did not receive the Holy Spirit. The reception of the Holy Spirit showed that the person stood in a special relationship with Yahweh, the God of the Covenant.
Jesus, the sinless Son of God, who ushered in the New Covenant, was baptized in order to show that God's Spirit was with him. It was no mistake that the entire Trinity was present and at work at Jesus' baptism. The Holy Spirit was present in bodily form in order to show that God the Father accepted and ordained Christ's ministry, his ministry to sinful humanity. God the Father lends his voice to the proceedings, ratifying his promise in Isaiah that he would delight in this special servant, by declaring, "This is my beloved Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
Jesus was baptized in order to show that God the Holy Spirit was with him; but there was more involved. He was baptized in order that God the Holy Trinity, the entire God-head, could show its approval and participation of his redeeming work for us.
But there was more involved in Jesus' baptism. As we look at the Old Testament lesson, we see that Jesus was baptized in order to show his solidarity and self-identity with sinners, with people like you and me. We see this in verses 2 and 3 of the lesson, "He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." In showing his solidarity with sinners, in identifying with sinners, Jesus shows us that he is not the avenging God who comes among us to destroy and terrorize. He is the gentle servant, the loving God, who comes to nurture and heal his people.
Isaiah tells us that we will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets. He is so self-assured, he is so confident of his ministry, that he doesn't shout and scream to draw attention to himself. He doesn't go around bullying people into believing in him. He doesn't go around raising a ruckus. Not at all. His is the quiet ministry that seeks out people in their hurt and heartache and heals them in their need.
That is why Isaiah tells us that a bruised reed he will not break and smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Reeds and smoldering wicks are fragile things. Too strong a touch will kill a bruised and battered reed; too strong a breath will snuff a faltering wick forever. That is not what our Lord does. He comes and identifies with sinners. In his baptism he declares solidarity with us in order to come to us and heal us of our problems in body, soul, and spirit, and give us new life with himself and our heavenly Father. This is the work of our loving God and Savior. It is his mission, his eternal mission, clearly foretold in the prophets of old, and carried out for us, to show us his overwhelming love and concern for us.
And as we examine our Old Testament lesson we see yet another reason why our Lord was baptized. Isaiah tells us that he was baptized in order to bring God's justice to earth. In verse 4 of the lesson we read that "he will not falter or be discouraged until he established justice on earth." People like to speak about justice, especially in our day and age. People will sue each other at the drop of a hat in order to get their due and to get justice. People even like to speak about God's justice and how great that is. I've heard people say, "I'm glad that God is a just God." When I hear people say that my skin begins to crawl because people do not understand God's justice.
God's justice is the punishment of sin and sinners. God is a holy, sinless God and he cannot stand the presence of sin and sinners. His justice means that he rightly punishes sin and sinners. If we stand before God and demand his justice, that means that we ask him to deal with us as we deserve--as convicted sinners deserving his wrath and punishment. God's justice is the punishment of sin and sinners. It's something terrible not something nice.
Yet, Isaiah tells us that Jesus came to establish God's justice on earth. How did he establish that justice? How did he punish sin? He punished sin by taking our sins upon himself and paying their price in full. St. Peter tells us this in his first letter when he writes, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that he might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit."
Do you see how Jesus established God's justice? Do you see how he punished sin? Peter tells us that he did it by changing places with us. He, the totally just and sinless one, took our guilt upon himself and gave us his sinlessness instead. God's justice is fulfilled; sin is punished; sinners are punished but not the way we would think. God punishes sin and sinners by placing their punishment--our punishment--upon his sinless Son; his sinless Son takes our guilt, takes our punishment, takes our damnation upon himself and the innocent Son suffers in our place and gives us his sinlessness instead.
He does this in order to bring God's mercy to us. We see this in verse 7 of the Old Testament lesson, "to free the captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." Look at what Isaiah tells us. Our God does not stay up in heaven, above all the hurts and heartaches we face. He does not stay up in heaven shouting instructions and encouragement to us. He doesn't stay up in heaven telling us to try harder, to strive more mightily, to fight more fiercely. He doesn't tell us to resist and overcome sin, death, and damnation. Our God is not a cheerleader, an encourager. Not at all. Our's is the God who gets his hands dirty. He is the God who became one of us. He is the God who comes to us. He is the God who enters the prisons and dungeons which we construct and in which we imprison ourselves. He comes to us and breaks the chains which bind us and leads us to light and liberty. That is what our God does for us; that is what our God does to us.
Too often, our problem is that we like living in the dungeons and prisons which we construct. We may like the sins which beset us. We may consider them liberating rather than confining and damning. We may like the hurts and heartaches which harm us. It may be the only way we can get sympathy and attention. We may prefer the dank, dark dungeon to the light and liberty of Christ our Lord. But our God does come to us; he comes into our prisons, our dungeons, and frees us. And he gives us the power of his Word to keep us free in the light and warmth of his love.
A prisoner sits in his cramped cell. Outside is one of those beautiful winter days. The sun is shining, the birds eat at the feeder, families go sledding or skating. But all of that is out of reach of the prisoner. He gets no enjoyment out of the beautiful winter day or the sledding or making a snowman. That is only for people who are free.
The person with a guilty conscience is trapped in a similar prison. Every day is dreary. Happiness is fleeting. Not even night brings the promised rest. All would be different if we could find freedom from guilt and could face anyone, including God, with a clear conscience.
Martin Luther was in such a prison. He struggled with the questions, "How can I find peace? How can I get rid of my guilt? How can I get right with God?" Martin Luther found the door out of his prison in God's Word. There he found his loving God and Savior who was baptized for him, who lived for him, who died for him, and who was raised for him. Placing his trust in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Martin Luther found freedom. And we can too, freedom, peace, and life in Christ our Lord. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all human understanding will
keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Return to the Sermon Archive Home Page
Return to the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Home Page