Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Baptism of Our Lord - Sunday, January 10, 2021

Text: Mark 1:4-11

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I know a person who put all his effort into trying to earn his father’s approval. He started life as a generally well-behaved child – obedient and respectful to his parents even if he didn’t agree with them in every way. He worked hard in school, he was relatively gifted and made good grades. He sought to expand his horizons by using his gifts in a whole range of extracurricular activities and became a well-rounded person. He took extra classes when he could, and he pursued a degree and then a career that he thought his father would approve of. It all seemed good, very good. But no matter what he did, it never seemed to be good enough. His grades had been good, but they weren’t all A's. He was an exceptionally well-rounded person with ability in a lot of areas, but here were still things he wasn’t all that good at. His career had started well, but after a while it seemed to get stale and didn’t measure up to what his father expected. It was good, it was very good, but it was never good enough.

I know this person really well, and I think you do too. Even though the terms I just could describe an earthly relationship, and perhaps it does for you, what if it described the relationship between you and your Father in heaven? We need his approval – desperately – and we go to great lengths to get it. Maybe you can see that desire showing through in life more than you might think. Perhaps when you look at when you make godly choices in life, like attending church regularly, reading your Bible, giving generously of your time and money, or whatever and you realize that even though you know better, deep down there’s a part of you that things that it might earn you something with God! Or perhaps there’s a time when you find yourself taking on extra responsibility in life, pushing yourself to the limit, trying to accomplish so many good and useful things, and you realize that it’s not entirely because you want to serve, but partly because a little voice in the back of your mind tells you that you should try to stand out from the crowd, because then God will notice! Perhaps it’s something more formal than that. Maybe you volunteer to serve formally in the church on a board or committee, or maybe you pursue a career that focuses directly on service to others, or maybe you serve as a called worker, and deep-down part of the reasoning is that this might make God a little more pleased with you! If you follow such thinking throughout life, you will probably accomplish a lot of good things along the way, but eventually the day comes when you have to admit that despite your best efforts, it’s just not good enough. No matter how much you might manage to accomplish, it’s always going to be a far cry from the perfection you know your father in heaven expects to see, and no matter how much you improve, you simply can’t change the past – the sins that were committed are still there. It might be good, it might be very good, but it’s just not good enough!

I wonder if thoughts like those were on the minds of some who went out to see John the Baptist in the desert. A new prophet, with a powerful message of repentance, and a new religious ritual called baptism to boot! Maybe John would have the secret, the final thing that could put their consciences at ease and allow them to relax, confident that things were finally good enough! “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 1:4-5a,6 – NIV84). The people had come to the right place – but the good news they needed to hear wasn’t to be found in John’s unique personality or in anything he asked the people to do or say. “This was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” (Mark 1:7-8 – NIV84). On that day, those who were gathered at the river would see for themselves just where this illusive approval before God could be found when Jesus showed up to be baptized himself! On that remarkable day, God gave those watching a glimpse of the good news God has in store for us today. Even though you and I can look at our lives from the most positive vantage point possible and still come up lacking, Jesus’ baptism shows us how, no matter what we see in our own lives, we can leave today with the assurance that we have The Father’s Approval!

God Approves of Jesus

Even though Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in a formal way (before this he had lived in relative obscurity), his work to save you and me had begun much, much earlier. Even though the Bible records very few specific details, Jesus had already spent more than thirty years working to fulfill exactly what John prophesied on that day in the desert. And what had he spent those thirty years of silence doing? Well, to put it simply, Jesus had spent nearly three decades already earning God’s approval in all kinds of ways. As a child growing and learning, as an adolescent maturing and developing, as a young adult taking on a career and becoming a productive member of society, Jesus earned God’s approval at every turn. He always made godly decisions, he always acted out of love for other people, he continually upheld the reputations of others, he always spoke out against gossip and slander – you name it, Jesus did it – perfectly. That’s what John was talking about when he described Jesus as “one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”  Out of all humanity in all the history of the world, only one has accomplished the impossible task of living life in a way that earns The Father’s Approval – Jesus himself.

And on the day of his baptism, all who were watching got to see and hear the wonderful news that God was satisfied with what Jesus was doing. “At that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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.” (Mark 1:9-11 – NIV84). At this point Jesus’ time on earth was more than 90 percent complete – only three years remained until his death – and God Approved of Jesus and the way his plan of salvation was unfolding. Such approval would be there until the end. God would watch with approval as Jesus preached and taught publicly. He would watch with approval as Jesus laid down his life on the cross, and then he would demonstrate his approval once more in an even more powerful way as he raised Jesus from the dead – demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that nothing more needed to be done! God Approves of Jesus, not just at his baptism, but throughout the rest of his life, and the good news is, that means God also Approves of You, because Jesus did all this in your place.

God Approves of You

God announced that good news to you too, and it happened at your own baptism. Underneath the simple appearance of a splash of water and some simple words you and I find the most powerful of promises revealed – our sins are washed away, and God has adopted us as his children. This miracle was possible because everything Jesus did in his life and death – everything that earned God’s approval so completely – all that for you and me too, just as if we had earned God’s approval ourselves. In his letter to the Romans, Paul described it like this: “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.”  (Romans 6:4 – NIV84). Because you’ve been baptized into Jesus name, everything he did counts for you – his perfect life that earned God’s approval, his innocent death that paid for sin – it’s just as if you did all that yourself! God Approves of You!

And like Jesus, that approval continues for the rest of your life – the promises God makes at baptism never wear out and fade away. So, don’t forget to turn back to them! When you and I find ourselves struggling with our sinful desires and falling short of what we know God wants to see, remember your baptism. Remember the promises God made to you, and how he promised you that because of what Jesus did, God Approves of You, and that promise isn’t going to change.

Don’t forget about your baptism when it comes to challenging relationship with other people in a sinful world either! There will be times when you and I find ourselves struggling with the approval of demanding people who seem impossible to please, or faced with the fallout from mistakes we’ve made that have caused all kinds of problems. On those days, God invites us to return to the waters of our baptism and the promises made there and be reminded of the good news that God Approves of You.

And finally, don’t forget about your baptism when you look at anything that God tells you in his word, because you have a completely different perspective there too! Instead of a burdensome series of orders connected with threats of punishment, in the light of your baptism you and I can see opportunity – opportunity to serve God in thanksgiving by living life according to his plans and design. Not a life of struggle to pay a debt or earn approval, but simply a life of thanksgiving for what God has already made us to be! Instead of worrying about someone looking over your shoulder and evaluating every step you take, you and I can confidently look for ways to serve God by serving the people he places around us, putting to use the various gifts and talents he blesses us with.

No matter what the situation might be, when you’re faced with your own shortcomings don’t lose sight of what was promised at your baptism. God Approves of Jesus, and because you’ve been baptized into his name, God Approves of You! You and I can go out with confidence because we have The Father’s Approval. Amen.