1/11/2016 11:48:36 AM
It Begins with Baptism - January 10, 2016
Text: Psalm 2
Dear Friends in Christ, If you’re not familiar with the history, you’ve probably heard the phrase. When the Roman General Julius Caesar led his army across the Rubicon River in Northern Italy, it was with the premeditated and widely understood intent of starting a civil war and taking over Rome. As he ordered his troops into the river, he supposedly made this statement: “the die is cast.” Meaning, with this action there was no turning back. He had charted his course.
In a far deeper and more significant way we have a similar situation before us this morning. The case could be made that the event designated as the centerpiece of our service today is the very hinge of salvation history. Because this is when and this is where things began in earnest. This is when and this is where Jesus publicly charted a course that three years later would lead to a cross and an empty tomb. Today the die for our salvation was cast, and
IT BEGINS WITH BAPTISM
So that’s what we’re going to talk about this morning: The baptism of our Lord. Specifically, what it all meant for him, and what it all means for us. And one of the things we’re going to discover is that everything had been predicted and prophesied long before it happened. That’s where Psalm 2 comes in, which we’ll bring in along the way.
But first, let’s recall the historical account. Our Gospel lesson for today uses an economy of words in describing the baptism of Jesus. In Matthew 3:13-15 we are given this additional information:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.”
Here’s the backstory. John’s baptism and preaching activities were at their height. He had preached the law of God in all its severity, making people aware of their sinfulness, followed by the Gospel in all its sweetness, pointing them to the long promised Savior God who was about to arrive on the scene. That time was now.
So Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. We are told John tried to dissuade him. Understandably, John is confused. Maybe we are, too. After all, we know that baptism is for sinners. Jesus is perfect. What did he have to repent of?
Jesus responds to John’s dilemma and hesitation with this simple statement. “‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.”
What does Jesus mean when he says he did this to “fulfill all righteousness”? Jesus simply told John that he was doing what the Father wanted him to do, and that was good enough for John. By submitting to baptism, however, Jesus also did something else: He identified himself with the world of sinners he came to save.
But that’s not all. By his baptism he was also identified for who and what he is. Listen again to our Gospel reading for today. “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
The approving voice of God the Father and the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove – in addition to being the clearest Biblical illustration of the fact that God is triune – publicly identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world.
If anybody on the banks of the Jordan who witnessed this event had any misgivings that Jesus was something special, or that he was indeed the long awaited Messiah, all doubt vanished at his baptism. (Note: the Hebrew word “Messiah” and the Greek word “Christ” both mean “The Anointed One” and signified one who was set aside for a special duty from God). That is why the Baptism of Jesus is sometimes referred to as the inauguration or entrance into his public ministry. It was a very visible “epiphany” of Jesus as the divine Son of God.
And with this event “the die was cast.” From here he would go into the wilderness where he would be unsuccessfully tempted for forty days. From there he would arrive on the scene, choosing disciples, preaching and teaching throughout the land, all the while perfectly keeping every single one of God’s commands in our place as mankind’s sinless substitute.
Then, after three years of public ministry, he would walk the way of sorrows, suffering and dying on the cross for us and in our place, so we might never have to. Three days later he burst forth from the tomb guaranteeing eternal life for all who embrace Him as their Savior.
None of this would be easy. There would be opposition every step of the way. And none of this was unexpected. It was all predicted and spoken of hundreds of years earlier in the words of Psalm 2:
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.”
That “Anointed One,” of course is Jesus Christ. How do we know? That is made clear in the final verses of our Psalm, where the “Anointed One” himself announces the decree that God the Father made to him: “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’”
Whenever we hear about God the Father and God the Son it’s always hard for us not to think in terms of time and sequence. In our world one exists before the other. But this is not the case when it comes to the Triune God. The Bible speaks of God the Son, just like God the Father and God the Holy Spirit as being eternal, having no beginning and no end. So the Father-Son relationship here is not a timing issue.
It is a declaration issue. How do we know that Jesus is the long-promised “Anointed One?” Three specific times in the Gospels we have a record of God the Father declaring to the world that God the Son walked among us in our space and our time. This is the first of those times. Recall again the final words of our Gospel lesson. Jesus came up out of the water: “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Let’s go back to the statement about those who “take their stand” against the Messiah. There were plenty. We think of King Herod and the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem. We think of Jesus in his trials before the Jewish leaders and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
Nevertheless, despite all opposition from forces both human and spiritual, he would persevere. And he would complete his mission of salvation for us, because that is what he came to do.
Opposition to Christ is not confined to the time he walked our earth. It continues. There was, is now, and always will be those who rage against Jesus and ridicule the message of Christianity. There was, is now, and always will be those who want to silence the Gospel by denouncing those, like us, who believe it.
But they will fail. In fact, our Psalm records God’s response to those who ridicule Christ and think they can somehow extinguish the Gospel: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD scoffs at them.”
So while it may appear that in the world and in our own country Christianity is losing ground, and while the punishment of those who mock and ridicule Jesus may be delayed, there will indeed be a day of reckoning: “Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’”
That the world might know this chain of events was about to be set into motion and that Satan himself might be served notice that his doom was soon at hand, Jesus comes to the Jordan today. It all begins with his baptism. Through it we are reminded of who and what he is.
But that’s not all it reminds us of. With his baptism Jesus also clearly put his stamp of approval on and reminds us of the blessings of our own baptism. That’s also the intent behind the way our worship service is put together this morning.
So let’s not leave today without doing that. What does baptism mean to each of us? Speaking personally, each of us can say this with confidence: My baptism means 1) I am forgiven, 2) I am connected to Jesus now and forever, and as such, I am 3) part of the family of God.
On what basis can we make such claims? On the basis of God’s Word and promise.
Writing to Titus, the Apostle Paul in our second lesson for today refers to baptism as a “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, God the Holy Spirit is involved.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul matter of factly tells us that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” The white robe of Jesus righteousness covers our sins.
In the Book of Romans, Paul identifies our baptism with what Christ accomplished for us through His death and resurrection and asks: “Don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” That is, a new life of forgiveness and peace with God.
All of which is to say baptism is more than just an act of obedience or a church ordinance or a rite of passage. It is a “means of grace” – an instrument through which God takes the initiative and pours into our hearts the forgiveness of sins. Through the waters of baptism the Holy Spirit applies the saving work of Jesus to our lives and we become members of his forever family.
Which means regardless of our outward circumstances, regardless of how we are perceived by the world around us, regardless even of how we sometimes think of ourselves, we are special.
Because we are God’s. At our baptism he claimed us. He put his name upon us. And he promised to be with us every step of the way through this journey we call life – both in good times and the hard times – until the day he takes us home.
Epiphany is the season during which we reflect on the greatness of Christ and the greatness of his mission.
Today we see him, the Lord’s Anointed, at the Jordan resolutely charting the course that ends with our eternal salvation.
How blessed we are. Amen.