Monday, January 11, 2021

Why the Baptism of Jesus is a Big Deal!

On Sunday, churches around the world celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord. We do this every January on the First Sunday after Epiphany. For some reason, the day hit me with particular joy and meaning this year. Here, you can see the video of online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church and the text of the message. I hope you find it meaningful. Have a blessed week.

Mark 1:4-11

We’re now in the season of the Church Year called Epiphany. It begins every year on January 6 with Epiphany Day commemorating the revelation of Jesus’ birth to the magi who came from the east to worship Jesus, bringing offerings fit for the King Who would die for the sins of the world. 

The word epiphany comes from the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written. Epiphaneo literally means to shine upon or make clear. Throughout this season, we see how Jesus makes clear first, that He is both the Christ, the saving king God had promised to the world, AND God in the flesh.

He makes something else clear: how He will save people like you and me, sinners who cannot save ourselves, from the sin in which we are born, or the sins that condition drives us to commit, or our deaths, which are the proper punishment for our sin.

Nowhere does Jesus make it clearer how He will save us sinners than He does in the incident that we always consider on the first Sunday after Epiphany, the moment when Jesus appears in the Judean wilderness on the banks of the Jordan River. 

There, John the Baptist is calling people to repent--to turn away from their sin--and to be baptized in the Jordan as a symbol of their turning to God for forgiveness and to prepare themselves for the moment when the Messiah would appear.

As if on cue, the One of Whom John says, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” (Mark 1:8) shows up to join the sinners in getting baptized. 

But this raises a question: Why did Jesus, Who never sinned have to be baptized?

The answer is simple, yet stunning. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for Himself or His sin. He needed to be baptized for us and our sin. In this, He showed Himself to be our Savior.

Let me explain what I mean. The senior pastor of a Lutheran congregation out west stopped at a convenience store one day, paid the clerk in cash, received his change, hopped into his car, and drove off. Somewhere down the road, he realized that the clerk had given him too much change. He was late for a meeting. But he felt he needed to make things right. So, he turned the car around and went back to the store. “You gave me too much change,” he told the clerk. “I know,” she said. At his quizzical expression, she explained, “I knew who you were and I wanted to see what you would do.” That woman wanted to have that pastor, that pastor’s message, and that pastor’s Savior authenticated.

We can only speculate about what the mysterious interactions were between God the Father and Jesus, God the Son, that led Jesus to go to the Jordan River that day. But we can see that Jesus was, at the moment He submitted to John's baptism, authenticated by heaven as God’s own Son, the One for Whom John had been preparing the Judean crowds. 

I’ve come to believe that apart from His crucifixion, Jesus’ baptism is the greatest proof of Jesus being the God and Savior to whom we must turn in repentance and faith if we’re to know freedom from condemnation for our sin and freedom to live with God forever. 

I think that Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is even a bigger deal than the Transfiguration, where, you’ll remember Jesus’ face blazed with the glory of heaven as He spoke with the long-gone Old Testament figures of Moses and Elijah. There, Jesus’ transcendent deity was revealed. 

But at His baptism and His crucifixion, we see the glory of God not in power, but in humility, submission, and in the choosing of the interests of others over His own interests

Sinless Jesus chose to cover Himself in the unrighteousness of those who acknowledged their sin, as you and I did a few moments ago when we confessed our sins together and not with the self-righteous who were certain they didn’t need God’s saving. 

No one who chooses power over servanthood, self over neighbor, or violence over charity and understanding is of God

And no one who made those choices could possibly be our Savior.

Jesus’ baptism is a big deal because, on that day, He chose us and our good over His own glory

He chose our forgiveness over His comfort

He chose our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil, over the perks of heaven and the ease of a perfect life with no suffering.

And so, some thirty years after the events recounted in today’s gospel lesson, the apostle Paul, urging disciples of Jesus to take on the mind of Christ, sang Jesus’ praises as the One Who, “...being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

It’s no wonder then that at the moment when Jesus chose us--you and me--by taking our sins onto Himself at the Jordan, a voice from heaven--the voice of God the Father--said as the heavens were torn open and God the Holy Spirit settled onto Jesus: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

At the Jordan, Jesus makes it clear how He’s going to save you and me. 

Bearing our sins, He’s going to die on a cross we deserve so that He can give life to those who repent and trust in Him. 

As a fine young Lutheran theologian, Dr. Jordan Cooper, put it this week over on Twitter: “[Jesus] takes all that is ours (our sin and brokenness), and gives us what is his (his life and righteousness).” 

That is what Jesus began to do at the Jordan the day He was baptized. 

That’s why God the Father and God the Spirit couldn’t contain their love and joy in Him, or keep themselves from showing their pleasure in Him, for choosing to save us. 

We who are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, who are claimed by Him at our own baptisms and wooed by the Spirit into believing in Him, should feel no less love and joy over the choice Jesus made for us!

Jesus’ decision for us, made at the Jordan, definitively enacted on the cross, is our good news, our gospel! 

It’s good news for others too, good news we’re called to share!

So, how should we respond to this gospel of undeserved love and grace? 

I think it should be exactly the one Jesus asked of the crowds later in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) 

Repent and believe in the good news Jesus brings to us through the cross and resurrection He clearly saw ahead of Him at the Jordan. 

Repent and believe. Today and tomorrow and every day. 

This is the right response to the Lord Who makes clear not only Who He is and how He saves us, but also, through His baptism and His cross, how much He loves us and stands with us. 

He’s the right Lord to follow, and no other, now and for all eternity. Amen

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