Date: The Baptism of Our Lord
Text: Acts 10:34-38
Theme: The Father's Declaration Concerning His Son
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The senior pastor returned from a week's vacation and stopped by the local
coffee shop where he knew that a number of his members hung out. He entered the
shop and walked over to a table where four members sat. "How did the assistant pastor
do this week?" he asked.
"It was terrible," came the reply.
"Yeah," a second member chimed in. "I couldn't follow him for the life of me. I don't think he knew what he wanted to say."
"Yeah," a third member piped in. "It was a poor sermon. I had no meat. It had no substance."
"I agree," the fourth member volunteered. "I don't think he spent twenty minutes thinking about that message."
The senior pastor felt pretty good about that and started for the church. Upon entering the church he sought out the assistant and smugly asked him how it went on Sunday. "Excellent," the assistant replied. "I didn't have time to prepare my own sermon, so I preached one of yours instead."
We should be careful of the questions we ask and the declarations we make. As we look at the Baptism of our Lord we see that God the Father makes the declaration that Jesus is his beloved Son with whom he is well pleased. But, according to Peter, in his sermon to Cornelius the Gentile, to Cornelius the Roman Centurion, God the Father made a number of declarations at Jesus' baptism; they are a number of declaration that we should examine and take to heart and take into our lives.
The one thing we should know as we start is that all of God the Father's declarations concerning his Son and his baptism are made for OUR benefit, not Jesus'. Jesus was fully aware of his unique relationship with the Father; it wasn't like that Jesus walked around in a haze during his first thirty years on earth and then, at his baptism, "bingo, bango, bongo," the light went on.
The Bible is unanimous in it's assertion, in it's declaration, in it confession, that Jesus is truly God from eternity, that Jesus' relationship with the Father is unique in that he is the only-begotten Son of the Father, that Jesus was always aware of that unique relationship. We can see this in Jesus' conversation with John the Baptist in the gospel lesson. When Jesus came to John, John tried to prevent Jesus from submitting to a baptism that was meant for sinners. John even went so far as to say that HE needed to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus had his reasons for submitting to a sinner's baptism. He did so because he, the sinless Son of God, totally and completely identified with sinful humanity--even in our sin. It's in this context of Jesus identifying with sinful humanity, with me and with you in our sin, that God the Father makes his declarations concerning his one and only Son.
The first declaration that the Father makes is that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter, in his sermon, declares that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power." "God anointed." In Greek the word is "chrio"; it is the verbal form of Christ, which in Greek means "anointed". "Christ" is merely the Greek translation of the Hebrew word "Messiah". Peter tells us that God the Father "christened Jesus, he messiahed Jesus, he ANOINTED Jesus, with the Holy Spirit and with power."
Why did God the Father do this? He did this for our benefit. He did this for us so that we may know and believe that Jesus is his uniquely begotten Son. Jesus already knew his relationship with the Father. But we didn't and couldn't know of that unique relationship apart from God the Father's revelation of that fact to us. It's an important revelation for us. For there are still people, even in the Church, who will say that there is nothing essentially special about Jesus. The Rev. Jesse Jackson in an interview was asked, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" "Yes," Jackson replied, "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God in the same way that all good people are sons and daughters of God." It sounds good; it sounds nice; but it's not Biblical. It's not Christian. It denies the Father's testimony that this Jesus is his special Messiah and this Jesus has a unique relationship with him.
And look at Peter's confession concerning Jesus' messiahship. Peter, when he first arrived at Cornelius's house didn't believe, he didn't believe, that Jesus was the Messiah of ALL people. He CAME to that conclusion. In verse 36, Peter states that Jesus is the Lord of ALL--of ALL people. In verse 34, as Peter begins this sermon, he states that he NOW knows that God does not show favoritism. But up until that point Peter heartily believed that God indeed showed favoritism and that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel and Israel alone. It took a special revelation of God to knock Peter over the head and get Peter's attention so that God could let him know that Jesus was not limited to the Jews but was the Savior and Messiah of ALL people--Jews and Gentile alike.
Now this is an important message. Because if Jesus was only the Savior of Israel then we, you and I, non-Jews, would still be lost in our sin. We would be damned for all of eternity. Peter was a product of his culture. And he believed that the vast majority of gentiles were lost and condemned for all of eternity--and deservedly so. But God the Father shows the length and depth and breadth of his love for ALL of humanity. That is why he sent Peter to Cornelius's house. He did it as much for our benefit as he did it for Peter's. God the Father wants us to know that he loves us and that he sent his Son as the payment price for our sins and that, through faith in Jesus, we are in a right relationship with him; we are in a right relationship with him not because of who we are or what we do, but solely because of his overwhelming love for us, a love so great that he sent his only Son to be atoning sacrifice for our sins. That is God the Father's declaration at Jesus' baptism.
But, according to Peter, God the Father has yet another declaration to make concerning his Son and his baptism. It is God the Father's declaration that Jesus is our Deliverer. We see this in verse 38 of the lesson where Peter declares that Jesus delivers us from the power of Satan. Peter declares that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil."
Notice the word illustration Peter uses in this verse. He says that we were UNDER the power of the devil. The word picture Peter paints is that of a person carrying a heavy load; the load is so heavy that it crushes the life out of us. Peter tells us that Jesus heals us of this oppression. This healing is both physical and spiritual in nature. This word is used in the Bible to describe physical healing from illness and disease. But in his first epistle, Peter also uses this same word when he tells us that Jesus "bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness." Then Peter adds the kicker, "by his wounds you are HEALED." Jesus heals us physically; he heals us spiritually. And that healing, that deliverance should be a part of the church's ministry even today.
Peter tells us how we carry out that deliverance in verse 36 of the lesson. It is a deliverance from the power of despair. Peter states that God sent the message to Israel, "telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." God sent the message of peace. And God's message of peace is more than a message of the absence of war. The biblical concept of peace, in Hebrew "shalom", carries with it the idea of restoration, of wholeness, of healing.
In Jesus, God the Father tells us that our once broken relationship with him is now restored and healed and made whole. In the face of the hurt and heartache we experience in this life, we have God's assurance that he loves us and won't stop loving us. We have the assurance that God is with and he will never leave us. We have the assurance that God forgives us and he won't turn his back upon us. We have God's assurance, God's own assurance, and that gives us peace; it gives us healing; it gives us wholeness; we are restored.
Perhaps we can see Jesus the Deliverer best through the eyes of a Navy veteran I know. He ran convoy duty during the Battle of the Atlantic, which started in 1940, before Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Navy escorted the supply convoys to Great Britain. On his first escort voyage, my sailor friend was on a ship that was torpedoed; his ship went down; and he spent along time in the frigid waters of the north Atlantic. In seaman school they told him of survival time in cold water. He was sure that he was going to die.
When he got back to New York he didn't want to sail anymore; the thought of being torpedoed and drowning in the icy waters terrified him. But he had no choice. He went to a lawyer in New York to draw up his will--all at the age of 19. He was going back to sea in a few hours and he was scared to death. As he entered the lawyer's office he had to tell someone of his overwhelming fear and read. He spoke to the young receptionist, telling her his story, telling her his fear. If only he had something to count on; if only there was someone who cared.
"That's easy," said the young lady. "You can count on Christ. He'll be with you and he won't leave you." My friend just stood there and stared at the woman. She acted as if Jesus were alive and were a good friend of hers. He half expected him to walk through the door. He only spoke with the receptionist for about ten minutes, but it was ten minutes that changed his life. He was no longer alone and afraid. He was 19 and never knew that there was a God like that. He went to sea again knowing that whether his ship went down or not, his Savior was with him and wouldn't leave him.
True deliverance in the face of fear, in the face of death, in the face of despair. That is God the Father's declaration at Jesus' baptism: because his Son submitted to a sinner's baptism and a sinner's death, we are free. He took our sins and gave us his sinlessness, his love, his care--all to set us free. Amen.
And may the peace of God which far surpasses all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.