The First Sunday After Epiphany January 7, 2007
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
1 Samuel 16:1-13
359, 132, 343, 797[TLH alt., 353:1-3,7]
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.”
In the name of Jesus, the Son of God and our Savior, dear fellow Christians:
Have you ever been mistaken in your opinion of someone? People are not always what they seem. You might have thought that the new neighbor next door would be the ideal friend. You may have shared much in common and come to know each other very well. But then when you really needed someone to lean on, this person didn’t want to be involved. Maybe you loaned money to a certain individual and thought that he would certainly keep his word and pay you back. But now you’re still waiting for your money. The person who seemed to be the ideal boss or employee turns out not to be. Unfortunately, no matter how careful we are, we may still be mistaken about someone.
But then, what about Jesus? Could we be mistaken about Him? It’s an awful thought, because there is much more on the line than friendship, money, or a job. We entrust Him with our whole life and future, both for this earth and for eternity. What if we are wrong?
The people of Jesus’ time would say, “Yes, you are wrong about Him.” They doubted Jesus. They looked at His humble upbringing in Nazareth. He went to school like any other boy, and helped Joseph in the carpenter’s shop. People concluded: “He can’t be the Promised One. Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother’s name Mary, and aren’t His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all His sisters with us?” And they took offense at Him.
People still look at His humble life and say that this proves that He is nothing more than a good, moral, religious teacher. Doubts may come to us at times too. Can we trust Him for salvation? Is He, without question, the Son of God and not just a mere man? How can we be right and so many others be wrong?
If we had to rely on our own intuition or knowledge, we could never be sure. But the Lord gives us something better: the absolute proof we need. At Jesus’ baptism we have the testimony of three reliable eye-witnesses who tell us that, “Yes, beyond all doubt, Jesus is the One, the Savior of the world.”
The first of these witnesses is John the Baptist. He was at the height of his popularity when he baptized Jesus. The crowds were flocking to him from everywhere, impressed by his manner and powerful preaching. The people began to wonder if he might be the long-awaited deliverer promised by God through the prophets.
John was certainly a great man. Jesus said of him, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). But he was not the One. He told the eager crowds, “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.” [v. 16 NIV] John had no special power in and of himself. He could not be the ultimate Savior of the human race, because he himself needed saving. That is true of all our heroes today as well. No matter how great a person may be or how much good he or she may do, that person has the same fatal problem we all share—the curse of sin. “There is no one righteous, not even one…there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10,12 NIV).
John was not the One, but he held out the promise of the Greater One coming. This One would be so glorious that John was not even worthy to fill the role of the lowest slave and take off His sandals to wash His feet. The Greater One has ultimate authority to pass judgment. Like a farmer at harvest time using a winnowing fork to toss the wheat and chaff into the air so that the chaff will blow away and the wheat can be gathered up, so the coming One will make the final separation between the saved and the lost.
Who is this greater One? Jesus is the One! John says so: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34 NIV).
But if He is the Son of God, why did He live so humbly, associate with the dregs of society, and request baptism from John? He did not have to do any of these things for Himself. He wanted to do them for our sake. All the others who came to John were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. That is also why we hold our baptism to be such a precious treasure. But Jesus had no sin of His own to be washed away. Rather, at His baptism Jesus took His place beside us and showed His willingness to take all our guilt on His own shoulders. He became the substitute for us all. Only Jesus, God’s Son, could do everything necessary for our salvation. Only He could do it perfectly. Jesus is the One and only!
We also have the testimony of the Holy Spirit assuring us that Jesus is the One. As the Lord was praying after His baptism, “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove.” [v.22] Peter writes, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38 NIV). Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with a mixture of spices, myrrh, and cinnamon. It was God’s way of visibly inaugurating them into their office. It was a sign that God had chosen this person for His own special work. At Jesus’ baptism God visibly anointed Him with the Holy Spirit into His office of Prophet, Priest, and King.
Jesus is the One, the Christ, the Anointed. As the Prophet of prophets, He preached good news to troubled souls. He told the worshipers at the synagogue in Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV). As the High Priest, Jesus came to offer Himself as the one great sacrifice which would cover all the sins of mankind. John pointed to Him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 NIV). As the King, Jesus fought the war against Satan and sin so that He could rule with love and grace in hearts. For those waiting for the Messiah, Jesus was the One.
For us who long to be at peace with God, Jesus is still the One. Through His Word He preaches good news to us. He sets us free from our faults and failings by telling us that He led a perfect life in our place. We don’t have to spend frustrating days and years trying to make up for our sins, because Jesus has already paid the price on the cross. We can enter the new year with real optimism, because our living Lord is in control of all things in heaven and on earth, and will direct our lives according to His gracious will.
At Jesus’ baptism heaven was suddenly opened. There is no way we can open it from our side. Because of our sin it is locked tight. But Jesus opened the door for us, and what He opens no one can shut. He is the One, the Christ, the Anointed!
If there could be still be any doubt in our minds about Jesus, it is swept away by the testimony of God the Father. “A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” [v.22] It is God’s seal of approval telling us that when we put our hope and faith in Jesus, we are not relying on an undependable human being, a religious fanatic, or a figment of someone’s imagination, but on the only-begotten Son of God.
Jesus is well pleasing to God. He has a perfect relationship with Him. Their wills agree completely. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does…Moreover the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (John 5:19-23 NIV). No wonder God was well pleased with Jesus! Both the Father and the Son were completely united in their desire to save the world.
But could God ever say to us: “With you I am well pleased”? What would that be worth to a person? It would mean everything, wouldn’t it? If God is happy with us what else really matters? If God is pleased with us, we have ultimate security. We can be certain that He will be there to bless us every day of our lives, and at just the right moment to take us out of this world of trouble to Himself in glory.
But how can He possibly be happy with you and me? We can’t even manage to measure up to our own standards, let alone God’s. How often don’t we have to confess with Paul, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19 NIV).
But then remember, we don’t have to make ourselves right with God. Someone else did it for us. Jesus is the One! He lived a holy life in place of our lives marred by sin. With His suffering and death He undid all our evil by paying the penalty for us. So if God was well pleased with Jesus, and Jesus exchanged places with us, then God must now be well pleased with us for Jesus’ sake! And He is! He sees you just as though you had kept every one of the Ten Commandments perfectly all the time. Nothing stands between you and Him. Jesus is the One who makes our right-standing with God and eternal life certain.
When life becomes a burden because of sickness, family troubles, and all kinds of other difficulties, we need someone we can depend upon for comfort. When fear of death or other worries rob us of peace of mind, we need someone to calm our hearts. When our sins threaten to overwhelm us, we need someone who can take them off our conscience. And when things go well and we are filled with joy, we need someone we can thank and praise. Jesus is the One! We can be sure. You can stake your soul and life on it, for those who hope in the Lord will never be disappointed. Lord Jesus, we know and believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God! Amen.
Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto us His Son hath given!
While angels sing with pious mirth,
A glad new year to all the earth.
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.