Baptism of our Lord 2020
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 12, 2020
Isaiah 42:1-9, Romans 6:1-11, Matthew 3:13-17

 

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Geography can be important.  There is something powerful about walking in the footsteps of influential people who have gone before.  In the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach Germany there is a gathering room which has the original stone floor.  This stone floor is where St. Elizabeth of Hungry walked in the 1200s and where Martin Luther walked 300 years later.  In Wittenberg, visiting the Castle Church where Luther nailed the 95 theses and the City Church where he preached most of his sermons is moving.  Visiting the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen is depressingly poignant as you ponder the immense evil that happened in this place.

In our Gospel reading today we are at the waters of the Jordan River in Israel. This is a location rich with history. It is this Jordan River which Joshua leads the Israelites across to end their 40 years in the wilderness after he has taken over leadership from Moses.  It is this Jordan River where Elijah passes his cloak and his prophetic ministry over to Elisha.  It is the place now where John the Baptist, the new Elijah, is passing over his ministry of preaching to Jesus, the new Joshua.

Something big is happening here.  But it is not big in the way that we expect. It certainly is not big in the way that John the Baptist expects.  John knows the sin and evil that is pervasive in the land.  John has been preaching at the Jordan, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  People have been coming to John to repent and be baptized in the Jordan.  Sinner after sinner has gone down into the water in this baptism of repentance.  The Pharisees and Sadducees are hanging around and John calls them out for not repenting of their sins.

John sees Jesus coming near and must think that Jesus is going to do something amazing and powerful and bring down the wrath of God on the Pharisees and Sadducees and on all the sinners.  John knows all the evil in the world; he sees the sin.  He knows how the Pharisees and Sadducees pretend to be such pious, religious people and yet use their positions to take advantage of the poor and needy and to make money for themselves.  John has called them the offspring of snakes and has said that the axe is at the root of the tree.  John sees Jesus coming and wants Jesus to swing that divine axe and cut down these evil trees.  John wants Jesus to come with power and might to destroy evil and eliminate sin.

Jesus comes to John to be baptized and John rebukes Jesus. Matthew 3:14 (ESV) 14 … “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”[1]  Jesus isn’t doing things the way John expects or the way we would expect.  Jesus replies to John Matthew 3:15 (ESV) 15 … “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.[2]

Jesus also sees what is happening.  He knows the evil and the sin in the world.  He sees all the sinners gathered there by the Jordan.  He knows that the wages of sin is death; eternal death in Hell.  Jesus’ heart breaks for the people.  His gut aches with compassion for the people, for they are like sheep without a shepherd.  He sees the people and their sins and He knows they stand under God’s judgment.  And then He acts.  To fulfill all righteousness, Jesus immerses Himself in the sins of the people in order to save them from their sins.  Jesus does not swing the axe of God’s wrath.  Jesus does not wield His winnowing fork to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Instead, Jesus goes down into the sins of the people and immerses Himself in their sin.

Instead of eliminating sin and sinners Jesus identifies with sin and sinners.  Jesus takes ownership of the sin.  Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan River and takes upon Himself the sin of the world.  2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[3]

Jesus immerses Himself in your sin.  He takes ownership of your sin and comes up out of the water tainted by your sin and the sin of the world and what happens?  Matthew 3:16-17 (ESV) 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” [4]

The spirit descends over the water like a dove reminiscent of the dove sent off by Noah that returns with a branch in its mouth and the promise of new life. Noah is a kind of new Adam.  Jesus is a new Noah and a new Adam.  Noah is brought safely through the waters in the ark with eight people signifying the number of new beginnings.  Jesus is brought through the waters of baptism.  It is a day of new beginnings.  In baptism you are born again in water and the Spirit.

            Instead of eliminating sin and sinners Jesus identifies with sin and sinners.  Jesus takes ownership of the sin.  Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan River and takes upon Himself the sin of the world.  2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[3]

All your sins have been laid on Jesus and God says, “This is my beloved Son.”  Jesus has become sin for you and the Father says, “With whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus brings His people from the wilderness of sin through the water to the Promised Land.

John the Baptist wants Jesus to do big things like in Old Testament times with Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and the parting of the Red Sea.  He wants Jesus to do big things.  We are a lot like John the Baptist.  We see all of the sin and evil and suffering which is rampant in the world and in our own lives and we want things to be better right away.  We see how terrible things are and we want Jesus to act with power and might and immediately eliminate sin and evil.  So many times in life it feels like God is so far away and does not care about helping us.  We want God to come with power and might and eliminate all evil, all sin, all sickness, all death.  We want a shortcut to the last day when the creation will be completely restored.  But we are not there yet.  The day is coming, but it has not come yet.  And so, like John the Baptist, you learn from Jesus.  Jesus humbles Himself to carry your burden and to carry it all the way to the cross.  And Jesus calls you to humble yourself and take up your cross and follow Him.  You live life quietly in meekness and love and service to others; doing the difficult things of life because it is what you have been given to do.

And God, today, still does not act the way we would want.  We are so desperate, at times, for God to act in big ways but He fulfills all righteousness in quiet, simple ways.  He comes to you in the waters of Holy Baptism bringing you to the banks of the Jordan River.  He comes to you in His Word bringing you to sit at His feet.  He comes to you in simple bread and wine bringing you to the upper room, and the cross and tomb.  It is in such plain, simple ways that Jesus comes to you, but what He does is monumental.  He makes you righteous.  Jesus takes away the filth and the guilt and the punishment for all your sins.  Jesus takes your sin upon Himself and, in exchange, gives you His holiness and righteousness. You are holy and righteous not from anything you have done, but because of what Christ has done for you in the waters of Holy Baptism.  In Christ, you have been brought through the water from the wilderness of sin into the Promised Land of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Live as a citizen of God’s Kingdom looking for the fulfillment of righteousness on the Last Day.  Amen.

 


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

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