Sunday, January 12, 2020

Impolite Savior

[This message was shared earlier today during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Matthew 3:13-17

In today’s gospel lesson, Matthew 3:13-17, Jesus travels from His home region, the Galilee, to the Judean wilderness for the express purpose of being baptized by His kinsman, John the Baptist. John is horrified at the whole idea: “I need to be baptized by you [John says], and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14]

John’s objections make sense. John’s baptism was all about repentance, for sinners who wanted to renounce their sin. Jesus was sinless. He had nothing for which to repent. 

But one thing is clear about Jesus from the gospels: Whenever people stood between Him and doing the will of God, He wasn’t polite. He did the will of the Father no matter what objections and obstacles people tried to place before Him.

When the apostle Peter tried to stop Jesus from talking about going to a cross to die for our sins, Jesus turned on the apostle, telling him that his desire to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion would also keep life with God coming to those who repent and believe in a crucified and risen Savior. “Get behind me, Satan! [Jesus said] You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." (Matthew 16:23)

When emissaries from Herod, the Judean king, tried to prevent Jesus from fulfilling the mission given to Him by God the Father of dying and rising to make God’s everlasting kingdom available to all who believe in Jesus, Jesus' response shows that He would be at home on Twitter today: “Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'” (Luke 13:32)

And we all remember that day when Jesus went to the temple and, angry that God’s house of prayer had been turned into a place where wolves in sheep’s clothing fleeced God’s people, turned over the tables of the money-changing extortionists.

So, when John the Baptist objects to baptizing Jesus, Jesus is insistent. He tells John, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” “Baptize me,” Jesus tells John, “It’s the right thing to do.”

But why is Jesus undergoing a baptism of repentance the right thing exactly?

Here’s why. When Jesus underwent a baptism of repentance He didn’t need, He was cementing His connection to us

We are sinners unworthy of God’s forgiveness or citizenship in His kingdom. 

That’s why we need to daily repent, of course. 

That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray, “...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and, because we are so prone to wander away from God’s will for our lives, why He also teaches us to pray, “lead us not into temptation.” 

In absorbing our need for repentance within Himself, Jesus establishes His connection to us at our deepest point of need. Even before going to the cross, Jesus is absorbing our sin and our death into His body so that when He offers His sinless life on the cross, His death there will bring the end of our sin and the death of our death.

It’s no coincidence that immediately after He was baptized, Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil

The New Testament book of Hebrews underscores the importance of God becoming one of us when it says that in Jesus, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” 

And, considering Jesus on the cross, the apostle Paul says, “God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) 

For Jesus, as He tells John the Baptist in today’s lesson, to “fulfill all righteousness” means to be both our almighty King and our suffering servant. Jesus makes us subjects of His kingdom of grace by taking the poisons of sin and death from us into Himself, then, as we trust in Him, filling us with His righteous, eternal life, an exchange that saves us for life with God forever

We can take comfort from the fact that in Jesus Christ, we belong to a God Who understands what it’s like to be tempted by sin and to be tested by adversity. 

I was teaching a class on prayer in my former parish. After class one night, a man who had sat in silence most of the evening approached me. “I have a problem with prayer,” he told me. “What is it?” I asked. “I just don’t feel that I should bother God,” he said. “I mean, I feel okay about thanking God for things. But I don’t feel that I have the right to ask God for anything.”

I tried to reassure the man, reminding him that Jesus actually instructs us to pray. That’s because God wants to be in our lives so that He can transform our lives forever

No matter what test you’re facing in your life today, no matter what pain you're experiencing, no matter what sins you have committed, no matter what sin tempts you, you have an advocate and a friend in the God Who went to the Jordan River to undergo a baptism He didn’t need, then went to a cross to take your burdens on His shoulders. 

Whatever your burden, Jesus Christ can bear it with you. 

He can bear it for you.

The good news of Jesus insisting that John baptize Him that day on the Jordan is summarized well by Pastor John Jewell: “He came down to lift you up! He took your place so you could take his place! He lost his life so you could find your life! He came to be with you so you could be with him!”

And Jesus, it turns out is totally impolite and utterly tenacious in reaching out to you. He's willing to overrule prophets like John the Baptist, apostles like Peter, rulers like Herod (and Pilate), and religious leaders like the high priests in Israel, to come into your life and call you to receive forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Him.

That’s good news! That’s our good news through Jesus Christ. 

Because He is so impolite and perseverant in reaching into your life, only you can keep Jesus out of your life. But, I hope that instead, you’ll take your cue from John the Baptist in today's Gospel lesson. After Jesus set John straight, he trusted that Jesus knew what He was doing.

Believe that whatever you face in life today or tomorrow, God will get you through. Trust that He will free you from guilt for your sin, that He will empower you to resist temptation., that He will give you life with God! These are the things that Jesus wanted you and me to know and experience when He went to the Jordan to be baptized by John. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]