The First Sunday After Epiphany January 8, 2012
129, 59, 127, 130
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”
When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of Him who came to the cradle that He might die on the cross:
“Merry Epiphany!” At the radio station one day I spoke with two ladies who talked about the visit of the Wise Men to Jesus. They knew that the Wise Men followed Jesus’ star to bring Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They even knew that Jesus might have been nearly two years old before the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem from the east. But they had no idea that Friday, January 6th was Epiphany. They had not heard that the Epiphany is also called “Christmas of the Gentiles,” because the Wise Men were Gentiles for whom the Savior had also come.
What is so often lost to the hearts of those who hear about the visit of the Wise Men is that these men did not travel so many miles just to visit a great king who had His own star. They came to worship “The King of the Jews” as the promised Messiah, the Son of God.
For this purpose we also come to our newborn King. That’s what the Epiphany season of the church year is all about. An “epiphany” is a “showing forth,” an “appearance.” Beginning today and continuing until Ash Wednesday we follow Jesus as He shows Himself to be the Son of God. MERRY EPIPHANY! Jesus is The Christ of God and the Savior of the Nations!
John testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. As Luke’s account begins, John had been preaching with such great power that many thought he might be the promised Christ, the Messiah. But our text includes a portion of John’s public announcement that in fact he is not the promised Messiah. John the Baptizer points the people to “One coming after him,” who is “mightier” than he is.
The Baptizer gives two reasons for saying that the One coming after him is mightier than he. First of all, he says, “I am not worthy even to untie the sandals of the One coming after me.” John confesses that he isn’t good enough even to do the lowest work for the real Christ.
Secondly, John points out the great difference between his power and the power of the real Messiah. He says, “I baptize—pour out—water upon you,” but the true Christ will pour out upon you, not water, but “the Holy Spirit and fire”! Of course, this happened at Pentecost.
John baptized as a servant for His Master. “You are wondering whether I am the Christ?? But I baptize with water, He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire! I am not even worthy to unloose His shoestrings! I am nothing, and He is everything! He is the Master. I am the servant.”
His Master was Christ who would pour out upon them the Holy Spirit and fire! When John speaks of “fire” in connection with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, he is comparing the Spirit’s purifying and cleansing work in the sinner to a purging fire which burns away all unholiness. The tongues of fire that came down upon the heads of the disciples at Pentecost were a visible symbol of the purifying Holy Spirit who continually works through faith to purge away sin that we may be pure before God.
Now, John says that Christ’s “winnowing fan is in His hand.” [v.17] The Baptizer jumps from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to a description of the Messiah’s power to judge all things. It may seem like John is saying that the final judgment will immediately follow Pentecost. The Old Testament prophets also pictured the final judgment of mankind coming immediately after the redeeming life and work of the Christ. For them and for John the future was like looking through a telescope. When you look through a telescope at a planet in the sky, it appears that the stars are right next to the planet, but they are really millions of light years away and behind the planet.
Thus, to the prophets and to John the Baptizer, the final judgment appeared to follow right after Pentecost. That’s because God did not want to reveal the amount of time between Pentecost and the end of the New Testament times at the final judgment. God only wants everyone to understand that with the outpouring of His Spirit on Pentecost, the final judgment can come any time afterward.
Now consider John’s illustration of Christ’s final judgment. In the days of John and Jesus a farmer threshed or separated the kernel of grain from the chaff around it by having his oxen step on the stalks piled on the threshing floor. Then he would use a fork to remove the loose straw from the floor. Next he would use a large shovel or basket as a winnowing fan to pick up the grain mixed with chaff and toss it into the air. When he did this the wind blew the chaff to the side and the heavier grain fell back to the floor. Then the grain was put into storage bins and the chaff was burned.
So Jesus, the Christ, will separate believers from unbelievers on Judgment Day! His judgment will be complete and thorough. In fact, the present tense of the verbs tells us that His judgment is already in progress! Believers will be brought into the eternal life of Heaven while the unbelievers, “the chaff,” will suffer the eternal punishment of Hell where the fire is unquenchable and never ending! John wants his hearers to know that since only God will judge mankind on the Last Day, Jesus must be God’s Son, the Christ!
There is more proof in our text showing forth the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. For we read that the Holy Spirit anointed Him while the people were looking on and while Jesus prayed and the heaven was opened. [v.22]
One day not long after this, as many others were being baptized by John, that more powerful One came and was also baptized. The heaven was opened—the Greek verb simply states the fact, that in some special way the heaven now stood open while the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus in the bodily form of a dove. This is the anointing of Jesus prophesied in the Old Testament reading from Isaiah.
The Old Testament kings were anointed into their office with oil. Jesus was anointed at His Baptism, however, He was anointed with that which is much better than oil! The Holy Spirit was “poured out” upon Him in special measure! “You shall call His name Jesus,” the angel told Joseph, “for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Now that Jesus is about to enter the public ministry, this anointing by the Spirit placed Him into His office as the Messiah, or Christ, which means “The anointed One.” So it is that Jesus (Savior) is called “Christ.”
The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus in the form of a dove was the way God chose to show John that Jesus was the Messiah. So John the baptizer says in the Gospel account of John: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:29-34).
Keep in mind that John was not the only one to see heaven opened and the Holy Spirit coming down in the form of a dove upon Jesus. The people were looking on! Those who knew and believed the prophecy of Isaiah 42 would also have recognized that this Jesus of Nazareth must be the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God!
There is still more epiphany proof in this record that shows forth the divinity of Jesus. We read what the Baptizer and the people also heard: The Father approves Jesus as His eternal Son! “A voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.’” [v.22] From the Father’s own words out of the open heaven we hear the truth that Jesus is God’s own eternal Son: “You are my Son, whom I love.” Then the Father says, literally, “I was well-pleased in choosing You.”
Of course, the eternal Son of God knew of the Father’s love from eternity. But remember that Jesus is in a state of humiliation at this point in His life—He did not make full use of his divine power. When He was a 12 year old boy, it is said of Him that He “grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52). As true man it was important for Him at this time to receive these encouraging words from His heavenly Father and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to strengthen Him for the great redeeming work that lay ahead.
All this might have taken place between the Father and the Son without any witnesses, but it happened this way so that John the Baptist and all of us might know the true and full identity of Jesus as the Christ, the eternal Son of God.
The last point to be made here is that Jesus did not come to be baptized by John because He had His own sins to wash away. Jesus who “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21), was baptized as the One who was to bear our sins. Here, just as on the cross, Jesus was “counted (numbered) with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). He came to fulfill every righteous demand of God and joined His Baptism with the Baptism of all of us sinners in order to take our place and to be our example.
This is the message of Epiphany: Jesus Christ is the Son of God! John says so. The Holy Spirit demonstrated it, and the Father spoke it from the opened heaven. The life Jesus led was without sin. The Word Jesus preached in the following three years was unfailing truth! And the Sacrifice He made for sin was total and complete! Christ’s saving work is for the Jew and for the Gentile—for the nations—for me and for you! Merry Epiphany! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
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.