The First Sunday After Epiphany January 8, 2006
83, 98, 134, 127
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
Did you have a nice holiday on Friday? Did you have friends and family over for a big celebration? You may think I’m a week or more behind, but I’m actually a few centuries behind. Friday, was Epiphany and, although you wouldn’t know it today, it was at one time a very much celebrated holy-day in the church.
Epiphany was celebrated even before Christmas was. The celebration of Epiphany began in the eastern Christian church sometime in the third century. The celebration of Christmas began in the western Christian church late in the fourth century. Later, the western church also added a celebration of Epiphany. However, Christmas was already established as the dominant celebration so Epiphany never gained the same kind of prominence in the western church.
Epiphany means, manifestation or showing forth. Epiphany began as a celebration of Jesus’ birth and His baptism. God was made manifest in the child born in Bethlehem. Jesus was shown forth as the Son of God, Savior, and promised Christ at His baptism. Later, another epiphany was added to the celebration—Jesus showing forth His divine power in the first miracle of changing water to wine. Then when the western church began celebrating Epiphany, it focused its attention on the account of the wise men coming to Christ—the Savior being manifest to the Gentiles.
For the next several weeks we will be in the church-year season of Epiphany. During this time our thoughts and meditations turn toward Jesus making Himself known as the Son of God and Savior of the world—God in man made manifest for our salvation. We begin today with Jesus’ epiphany at His baptism. The essence of our salvation is declared and made known in the events of Jesus’ baptism. SALVATION IS REVEALED AT JESUS’ BAPTISM I. Sinners need baptism II. Jesus is the Christ III. Salvation is from the Triune God.
John the Baptizer’s whole ministry was one of preparing the people for the coming Savior. In order for the people to be prepared for a Savior they first had to realize that they needed a Savior. John proclaimed God’s Law to show the people their sin. Once the people recognized their sin as horrible disobedience to God and understood that God demands eternal death for each sin, then they were ready to hear about Jesus who would take away all their sin. John’s ministry is described as preparing the way of the Lord, making straight paths for Him, filling in the low spots and shaving down the high, straightening the crooked and smoothing the rough (cf: Luke 3:4-6).
An important part of John’s ministry was baptizing the people who came to him. Mark tells us, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Matthew quotes John saying, “I baptize you with water for repentance” (Matthew 3:11). When Scripture speaks of repentance it involves more than just being sorry for sin. It refers to the sorrow for the sin, trust in Jesus for forgiveness, and it also refers to the change of mind and attitude which turns away from sin and follows God’s Law.
John baptized for the purpose of repentance (the change of mind and attitude) and for the forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism gave the same blessings that baptism gives today. Peter told the people on Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:38). The prophet Ananias told Paul, “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16).
Baptism is a Means of Grace, that is, it is a means by which God gives His grace to sinners. Through Baptism, God offers and gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). This is what makes infant baptism such an wonderful blessing. Every one of us is born in sin and because of that is born as an enemy of God. Through baptism, God makes the child His child by creating faith in him, and through that faith the child receives all the blessings of redemption. He is clothed with Christ.
The difference between John’s baptism and the baptism of the New Testament does not lie in its purpose or in the effect. The only difference is that John baptized to give the blessings of a coming Christ and we baptize to give the blessings of the Christ who has come. When Paul came to Ephesus the people there had heard the message of John the Baptizer but had not heard that Jesus was the Christ and that He had accomplished the promised salvation. When they told Paul that they had been baptized with “John’s baptism” Paul told them, “to believe in the one coming after him (John), that is, in Jesus” (Acts 19:4).
John’s baptism and our baptism are the same gift given by God for sinners. It is a means by which God uses the Gospel to bring His grace to sinners. It is, therefore, a need for sinners because we need God’s grace for the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. This is why John emphatically protested and tried to turn Jesus away from being baptized. “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter Him, saying, ‘ need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?’” [v.13-14]
John said that he had the need for baptism. John was the sinner in need of God’s grace. Jesus was holy and did not need the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus answered John, He said that it was “proper” for them to do it, but neither did Jesus say that He needed baptism.
John was a sinner. He needed the grace and forgiveness of sins that come through baptism. We are sinners with the same need and God has given us baptism as part of His gift of salvation. Jesus did not need baptism. Jesus had no sin. He is the holy One who can and did save us.
Our salvation is revealed at Jesus’ baptism. The first part of that is our need for salvation. The forgiveness of sins and salvation which we need is given in Baptism. Though Jesus didn’t Himself need baptism, yet He came to be baptized and that leads to the second part of our salvation revealed in these events: Jesus is the Christ.
“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” [v.14-15] It was not needed but it was proper that Jesus be baptized to fulfill all righteousness and God’s plan of salvation. Jesus’ baptism was part of God’s plan of salvation and to leave it undone would be to leave unfinished what God had planned. For this reason, John rightly consented to baptize Jesus. Later in His ministry Jesus said,“…I seek not to please myself but Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).
God’s plan of salvation a plan of substitution and a trade. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “He made Him who knew no sin to be made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20). God exchanged our sin for Christ’s righteousness—putting our sin on Him and giving us His holiness. In order to do this, Jesus had to become like us, take our place, and be our substitute. In order for the Savior to be the substitute for mankind He had to be a man and become like us. The only exception is that the Savior was without sin and kept the Law perfectly in order to have the holiness which could be substituted for our sinfulness.
Jesus came to be our substitute and therefore, He was “born of a woman and born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). Even though Jesus is God and as such is not under the obligation of the Law, yet, He willingly put Himself under the Law to become our substitute.
Jesus’ submission and obedience to the Law already began when He was eight days old. God commanded in His Law that boys be circumcised when they were eight days old. Joseph and Mary did everything that the Law commanded for Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the whole law from infancy onward.
It was necessary for Jesus to keep the whole law in order to be our substitute. Therefore, it was necessary for Him to be circumcised on eighth day. However, baptism is not part of the Law and therefore, was not part of Jesus’ being put under the Law as our substitute. Baptism is part of the Gospel. Baptism is part of that good news of the Gospel which announces and brings free forgiveness to sinners. Jesus did not have to be baptized in order to fulfill the Law. Yet, it was part of God’s plan and His will that Jesus be baptized.
In the Old Testament reading, God promised that His Servant in whom He delights would come and save the people. God also said, “I will put my Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). Earlier in Isaiah, the Christ is prophesied and it says of Him, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him…” (Isaiah 11:1). The Servant Himself speaks in Isaiah, “The Lord has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor…” (Isaiah 61:1). Peter told Cornelius that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38). The name, Christ means the anointed One. God promised that He would send His Christ to save the people from their captivity of sin. This Savior, the Servant of the Lord, would be anointed with the Spirit and with power to accomplish these things. Peter points out to Cornelius that all of this was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.
The things that happened after Jesus was baptized tie into these prophesies and the fulfillment of which Peter speaks. “As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased…’” [v.16-17]
Some suggest that it was at the time of Jesus’ baptism that He was first anointed with the Spirit and became the Servant of the Lord as prophesied by Isaiah. This, however, contradicts the rest of Scripture which tells us that from the moment of conception onward, Jesus was the Anointed One and our Savior. The angel’s message to the shepherds was, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). At age eight, Jesus was circumcised. At age twelve He sat and learned from the temple teachers and said He was about His Father’s business (cf: Luke 2:41ff).
From the very beginning of His life, Jesus was our Savior. In His childhood and early adult years, Jesus was doing the work of our redemption by leading a life of perfect obedience to God as our substitute. Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of His public ministry. By coming to a baptism which He did not need, Jesus openly declared Himself as the sinner’s substitute. By doing this, He identified Himself with sinners and put Himself forward as the one who would redeem us.
The Son of God was chosen from eternity to be the one whom God would send for sinners’ salvation. In time, God foretold the coming One who would be anointed with the Spirit as our Savior. The visible descending of the Spirit upon Jesus and the voice of the Father from heaven did not make Jesus the Savior at that time. from that time forward because He already was. The descending Spirit and voice of the Father revealed and confirmed for mankind what had always been true—Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Christ!
Our salvation is revealed to us in Jesus’ baptism because through the miraculous things that happened, God gives testimony that Jesus is the Savior. The baptism of Jesus affirms for you and every other sinner that Jesus is the “Lord’s servant whom He has chosen, the one He loves, in whom He delights and in whose name the nations will put their hope” (Matthew 12:18,21). Knowing this you too can place your hope in Him as your Savior.
The triune nature of God is clearly evident at Jesus’ baptism. The Father’s voice called down from heaven. The Son was on the earth , and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form like that of a dove (cf. Luke 3:22).
The triune nature of God is a teaching of Scripture that has often been attacked throughout the centuries. It is worth nothing that the words Trinity and Triune are not found anywhere in Scripture. These are words which Christians have created as one-word descriptions of how God describes Himself in the Bible. God is tri (three) in une (one). Scripture is very clear that there is only one true God. For example, in Deuteronomy, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Paul writes in Corinthians, “…there is no other God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4). At the same time, Scripture also clearly describes God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost which is nowhere more dramatically displayed than at Jesus’ baptism. Putting all of Scripture together we learn that each of the three persons in the Trinity are distinct and separate from the others, but that they are also at the same time one God.
God’s description of Himself as triune is clear and simple, but comprehending this nature of God is impossible. How God can be three separate and distinct persons and yet one unified God all at the same time? It defies human logic! As a result, people often force their logic onto God and change what God says about Himself so that it seems logical. It is either concluded that the Triune God is three gods, or it is said that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are different names used by God to describe Himself at different times. As soon as man twists everything which God says into something that is logical then he has shrunk God into a man, and he has put our human limitations on the almighty God. The nature of the Trinity is beyond all human comprehension, but because God says it is so, it is so and we take Him at His Word.
The presence of all three persons of the Trinity at Jesus’ baptism is a wonderful event that God has recorded for us. The Triune God put His stamp of approval, as it were, on Jesus and the redemption which He would accomplish. Our sins are against the Triune God. What wonderful thing to hear the Father say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well-pleased.” [v.17] Jesus is our complete and only hope for salvation. Our salvation depends on the Father accepting Jesus’ sacrifice as the perfect sacrifice and payment for our sins. The Father says, “I am well pleased in Him.” That is our salvation!
The reason why the Father was pleased in His beloved Son is because He was accomplishing the salvation of sinners which was the work for which the Father had sent Him. Jesus says in John’s Gospel account, “The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down my life…” (John 10:17). Because Jesus laid down His life to forgive our sins, the Father can now call us His beloved children as well. This is pleasing to Him and a wonderful blessing for us.
Martin Luther once said: “If I know and am sure that the man Christ is the Son of God and acceptable to the Father (as indeed I must be sure because the Divine majesty itself from up in heaven says so, and God cannot lie) then I am also sure that everything that this man speaks and does is truly the word and deed of the beloved Son, with whom God must be altogether pleased.”
Our salvation comes from the Triune God. The Father sent His Son, the Son became man and our Savior, and the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel to create and preserve faith in our hearts. All the persons of the Trinity are involved with our salvation so it is fitting that all the Trinity be present at Jesus’ baptism when He was openly declared as the Christ.
The forgiveness of sins prepared and given to us by the Triune God was declared and made manifest at Jesus’ baptism. Though Jesus didn’t need baptism for Himself, He was baptized for our benefit. It declares to us that the Triune God has prepared our salvation. It declares that we will find hope and life in Jesus. Jesus’ baptism reveals Him as our Savior. That manifestation is good cause for rejoicing so: Happy Epiphany!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.