1/10/2022 2:37:24 PM
The Only Reviewer Who Matters
Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Baptism of Our Lord - Sunday, January 9, 2022
I’m going to guess that at some point in the last month or two most of us here have purchased something online – perhaps more than one thing. If you purchased something online that cost more than a few dollars, I’m going to guess that you did a little research before spending your money. Now, that’s always a good idea, but perhaps more so than ever when you’re buying something that you won’t actually look at or hold until it arrives in the mail! In researching things you might purchase online, a helpful tool is an online review – the feedback left by people about their own experience with the item you are considering. Obviously, interpreting the opinions of strangers is something that requires a little discernment. Couple of examples. Usually, one can find some reviews written by people who seemingly haven’t even used the product yet. It might be a glowing five-star review…because of nice looking packaging or prompt shipping by the postal service. Or it might be a negative, one-star review where it seems that person didn’t even read the description and purchased the wrong item entirely! Such reviews are of little value! On the other hand, the best reviews are those from a reviewer who has possessed the product for some time and is using it for its intended purpose. That kind of reviewer has all the information, and their statements can be very insightful!
In today’s Gospel, Luke records for us the “reviews” of Jesus as Savior at the start of his public ministry. We get to see the impressions of the people in the crowd, of the prophet John the Baptist, and even of God himself! As we look at these different reactions to Jesus, we not only have the chance to study who our Savior is, but we also gain insight into our relationship with him.
So, let’s take a closer look. Our first review comes from the people gathered in the crowd that day but might be something we can identify with ourselves. Many of these people had come out into the desert because of what they had heard about John. He was an interesting character who dressed strangely and lived out in the desert. He spoke a compelling message and had generated a sizable following. Any listener could see that John spoke from God like one of the prophets of old – very different from their regular religious leaders! All of that made an impact. Even though John was always careful to direct attention to Jesus, in keeping with his mission, John remained the far more noticeable figure on the scene from outward perspectives, and that affected the People’s Review. Luke writes: “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” (Luke 3:15 – NIV84). Judging by appearances only, the people were far more drawn to John than to Jesus!
You and I can look back and see that the people in this crowd were woefully underinformed. There was a lot of information they were missing about what God was doing. But we can probably also understand how easy it is to be influenced by appearances only and miss what God is doing – because that same thing happens today! Think about your expectations of a relationship with God. Whether we would put it in such terms or not, we probably visualize things that have a noticeable positive impact on our lives. A relationship with God should make my life run more smoothly. A relationship with God should make my life less stressful. It should help me with the questions I can’t answer. And so on. Of course there are times when such things are part of a relationship with God – after all he does care
about our lives and he does want to bless us…but if our whole relationship with God is based on what we see going on in our lives and in the world around and whether that’s all working smoothly according to our expectations, then there will be times when we are forced to admit that we just don’t know what’s going on. Today’s first reading is as good an example as any. By human reviews and appearances, any of the older brothers would have made an excellent king for the people, but only God knew the heart of David and what kind of king and leader and warrior he would become! Even God’s prophet Samuel needed the reminder: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart!” (1 Samuel). The human perspective, the People’s Review, offers some insight, but it’s of marginal help because there’s a lot of information missing!
Thankfully, God doesn’t leave the understanding of his plans up to our limited observation and opinions and the insights of others around. Our second reviewer offers more information – it’s John the Baptist himself. The Prophet’s Review is a review worth nothing closely because John’s mission was to highlight the true purpose of the messiah – a purpose that reminded John that despite his fame and influence, he still needed a Messiah just as much as anyone else. Luke writes: “John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16 – NIV84). The Prophet’s Review of the Messiah reminds us of what we need a Messiah to do – not smooth out the visible symptoms of sin that cause bumps in life, but to cure the disease and fix the problem once and for all!
Sin is a more pressing problem than visible appearances would seem to indicate, because sin lies at the root of everything that’s wrong with the world. For the people in Jesus’ day who hoped the Messiah would deliver them from the oppressive Romans – it was sin that put them into the difficult position in the first place! In the same way today, sin is the ultimate reason for every single struggle we have, because sin is imperfection and sin ensures that nothing in life can be as good as it could be. It’s our sinfulness that takes our best intentions and our most earnest efforts and corrupts them with that little trace of selfishness that always seems to be there. It’s our sin that takes our best laid plans and frustrates them with our own mistakes. Worst of all, it’s our sin that ensures that none of us can ever be as good as we should be. None of us are perfect, and that makes it impossible for us to enter God’s kingdom of heaven where everyone and everything is perfect! Even though he was an influential prophet, John knew that he couldn’t fix this mess – the Messiah was need. A Messiah who would take care of sin and would restore perfection to all who followed him, gathering people from every walk of life and bringing them into God’s perfect kingdom of heaven! John describes the Messiah’s work in terms of a harvest: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17 – NIV84). The Prophet’s Review focuses our attention on what we need a Messiah to do, and points to Jesus as the one who would do it. But this review too leaves something lacking. How could the people be sure that Jesus would do what John said he would do? After all, aside from the unusual circumstances attributed to his birth there was little Jesus had done publicly that differentiated him from anyone else.
But there is one more review, and it fills in all the gaps. We arrive at the key event in today’s Gospel – the event that serves as the focal point for our entire worship service today – Jesus’ baptism! During this ceremony, we get to hear God’s Review of Jesus, and God’s Review has all the information. He’s
been the planner since the very beginning, and he issues his review with Jesus’ time on earth nearly ninety percent complete! Thirty years done, three to go! Luke writes: “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. As he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” (Luke 3:21-22a – NIV84). John had said Jesus would have at his disposal the power of the Holy Spirit, and here was a demonstration of the truth of that claim! But there’s more. “And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b – NIV84). I am “well pleased” – the God who demands nothing short of perfection is satisfied in the person and work of Jesus! God’s Review is a five-star review written by the only one who has all the information, the only one who holds the keys for eternity, The Only Reviewer Who Matters!
God’s Review of You
The best part is this: God’s review of Jesus applies to you too. By human standards, the idea of God writing a review of our lives would be terrifying, because there’s all kinds of sin there, but with Jesus’ work in the picture all that changes. In today’s second reading, Paul describes God’s Review of You like this: “He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5 – NIV84). In other words, at your baptism, your sins were washed away and you were reborn, newly clothed with the garments of Jesus’ perfection, earned in your place. Because of that baptism, that rebirth, that renewal, everything is different. When your life is up for review by The Only Reviewer Who Matters – God is again “well-pleased.” A five-star review of perfection!
That good news affects every day of your life. For starters, it brings peace of mind about the future. No matter how hard life might be, you can look forward to being in heaven with God – but that’s not the only thing your baptism gives you. As a baptized child of God, your day-to-day life right now has a different character to it. With your baptism and God’s five-star review standing in the background, life no longer is a constant failing struggle to please God. Jesus already pleased God for you, and because of Jesus God looks at you and is perfectly happy with what he sees! Instead of being pressured to earn something, you and I are set free to serve God in thanksgiving by showing the love he has showed to us to other people. And that’s something we all have the chance to do every day. Whether you’re old or young, rich or poor, healthy or sick, long time Christian or new to the faith, or any other category one could possibly fit into, you can reflect the love of God to those God places around you by the way you speak, the attitudes you hold in time of difficulty or time of success, the encouragement you give, and really in everything you do! Some days that will be easy and very rewarding, and on other days it will be frustrating and hard, because you’re not in heaven yet, but every morning one thing will always remain exactly the same: you’re a baptized child of God, and that your sins are washed away, the slate is wiped clean, and you have a day filled with opportunity ahead of you – opportunity you can seize with joy, because you are a baptized child of God. As we leave today and take up the tasks God has placed before us in what remains of the day, may God lead us to go with the joy of our baptism and the promise it contains – God’s Review of You is a five-star review, given by The Only Reviewer Who Matters. Amen.