The First Sunday After Epiphany January 13, 2008
126, 245, 134, 751 (TLH alt., 301)
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, who promises you in every situation of life, “I am with you always,” dear fellow Christians:
A wide receiver breaks from the huddle, runs his pattern, leaps high in the air, pulls in the last-second pass, and scores the winning touchdown. As he leaves the field he is mobbed by teammates and coaches who slap him on the back and congratulate him for a great game. The scene is very different, however, just a short distance down the field. There the defensive player, who was guarding the receiver, sits on the bench all alone with his face in his hands and a towel over his head.
It happens all the time. Everyone wants to shake hands with the successful politician or business leader, but no one wants be anywhere near the smelly, unkempt homeless person pushing a shopping cart down a sidewalk. If life is going well, there are many people glad to associate with you. But what happens when things go wrong? What happens when you are sick or in an ugly mood, when you get an F on the test, or when you are laid off from work, when you’re in an accident, when there is trouble in the family, when you sin against God? Just when you need someone standing with you the most, most will leave you standing alone. There is One, though, who always stands with us no matter what. That One is Jesus.
When He was 30 years old, Jesus traveled to the Jordan River and joined the crowds who had come to be baptized by John. He rubbed shoulders with people from all walks of life. There were the well-to-do and the poor, respected business people, and mothers and fathers. Roman soldiers, resented because of their role in the occupying government, had come. Tax collectors, despised for often gouging the citizens, could be seen. Even the Pharisees showed up. It was a wide cross section of society and there was Jesus standing among them to be baptized.
It took John by complete surprise. He told Jesus, “I need to be baptized by You, and You are coming to me?” [v.14] John was calling on people to repent of their sin and be baptized for forgiveness. He told them to put their faith in the greater One whose sandals John was not worthy to unloose. Now the Holy One was standing there at the muddy, brown water as though He were just like all the others. It didn’t seem right.
But it was exactly right according to God’s plan. Jesus came to stand with sinners, to identify with those left alone and helpless because of their guilt. Sin puts barriers between people and between people and God. Jesus came to break the walls down once and for all. He was there to speak to the Samaritan woman who came to the well alone because the other women in town didn’t want to be seen with a woman who had such a sordid reputation. Jesus was willing to be the dinner guest of the tax collector Zacchaeus, when no one else thought he was worthy of their attention.
Among all the other faces in the crowd at the Jordan, Jesus also saw yours and mine. We know what it’s like to be alone. Maybe it was last night as you lay awake worrying about the problem for which you don’t have the answer yet. We have all done and said things which deeply hurt someone else and left us alone and cut off. Perhaps others have been ashamed of us for what we have done. Worst of all, we have sinned against the holy God and cut ourselves off from Him. God hates and punishes sin. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). “If you, Lord, kept a record of sin, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3 NIV).
We cannot stand before God as we are, but God chose to stand with us. Jesus stood at the Jordan to identify with all mankind and take upon Himself our sin and be sin for us. He comes today in His Word to stand with us and assure us that He is our Savior. We don’t have to go it alone.
When John objected to baptizing Jesus, the Lord explained: “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” [v.15] Righteousness is holiness. It is what God is and what He wants. The problem is that no one can make himself righteous. Jesus came to fulfill it for us. From His birth on, Jesus was perfectly obedient to God’s Law as our substitute. Our minds are often filled with dirty, unchaste thoughts, but Jesus’ thoughts were always pure. Our mouths have told lies. Jesus spoke only truth. Our hands have been clenched closed in selfishness, while Jesus’ hands were always busy in giving to others. We have been rebellious, stubborn children. Jesus was the model Son—all for us.
He didn’t act alone. Both the Father and the Spirit publicly stood beside Jesus at His baptism as He began a new phase of His work. God the Father confirmed that Jesus had come with all His power and authority. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” [v.17] The Spirit was always with Jesus. But here He came visibly descending like a dove anointing Jesus for His office as our Prophet, Priest, and King.
Jesus would go forward in the next three years preaching good news to sinners cut off from God in the prison of sin. We heard the Father’s words of prophecy through Isaiah earlier: “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness….I will give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house” (Isaiah 42:6-7).
As He carried out His ministry, Jesus was looking ahead to another kind of “baptism.” “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed” (Luke 12:50 NIV). “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again….I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18 NIV).
Our sin is all our own. We can’t excuse it by blaming it on others. We alone deserve the punishment of eternal death. Yet we do not have to stand alone, for Jesus was baptized for us, and with the Father’s authority and the Spirit’s blessing, continued on to the cross and fulfilled all that was needed for us to be counted as righteous in God’s sight.
Jesus did not need baptism for His own sake, but we needed Him to be baptized. Since He stood with us at the Jordan and went on to the cross, our baptism has tremendous power. In it the Three-in-One God stands with us. We won’t see it on any of the photos from our baptism day, but God was there. In the water and Word Jesus joined Himself to us. Paul writes: “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 NIV). The effect is just as though you yourself had been nailed to the cross in payment for sin and had been raised in victory. You have new life. You may have worn a white gown for your baptism. That symbolized the robe of Jesus’ righteousness which was given to you by the Lord.
At your baptism the pastor cupped his hand, poured water on your head, and spoke your name together with God’s name: “(Your name), I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” At that moment heaven was opened and the Father said to you, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” For if the Father delighted in Jesus, and Jesus exchanged places with you, then God must be pleased with you for Jesus’ sake.
At your baptism the Holy Spirit descended to live in your heart and to anoint you with His gifts. He gave you the comfort of complete, unconditional forgiveness. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV). He gave you the peace of knowing that all is well between you and God and that therefore He will stand with you to bless and protect. The Spirit promises in the Word: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV).
The Spirit breathed into you the life which never ends, for whoever believes and is baptized shall live forever. The Spirit also provides the strength to live as an adopted child of God day by day: to fight off temptation, to love your neighbor, to pray and praise God. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
Use your baptism every day. Let it assure you that God is standing with you. Use it to drown the Old Adam by coming to the Lord in repentance for sin and in joy in forgiveness earned by Jesus’ death and sealed with His resurrection. Use it as your encouragement to live as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
It is a frightening experience to stand alone, especially when faced with the trials and troubles of life. We need the support of family, friends, and fellow believers, who will stand with us no matter what. Above all, we need our Savior, Jesus, who stood with us at His baptism, took on Himself our sin, died for all, and now has made us children of God through our baptism. He is faithful and will stand with us to the very end. He did not hesitate to stand with us. May we gladly take our stand with Him! Amen.
There stood the Son of God in love,
His grace to us extending;
The Holy Spirit like a dove
Upon the scene descending;
The triune God assuring us,
With promises compelling,
That in our baptism he will thus
Among us find a dwelling
To comfort and sustain us.
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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.