Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baptism of Jesus 2010 sermon

Baptism of Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17 – January 10th, 2009

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We have now entered into the season of Epiphany – and Epiphany is a season of wonder and revelation. Epiphany literally means “to shine upon” - to have a revealing light shine forth into the night so that we can truly see – and our Gospel lessons for the next few weeks will deal with Christ Jesus revealing the most wondrous truth – that He is true God. Christmastime focused on the fact that Jesus is true Man, but in Epiphany we see that He is true God as well. This is a revelation that we all need to see, a wonder that brings joy whenever we ponder it. And so, this day, in our Gospel text, we see Jesus head to the river Jordan to be baptized by John.

Now, I almost feel bad for John here, and probably more so because I am a preacher. I'm sure this will come as no surprise, but generally preachers like to know stuff. They like to know what is going on and why. To be a preacher is to be a teacher, and if you are teaching it certainly helps if you know what you are teaching, if you have your preparation all done and complete. Same reason why teachers have plan periods and the like – preparation and knowing your material is key. And as for surprises, those are right out – don't want those. You don’t want too much unexpected happening. And so John prepared – and He studied and trained, and then He shows up in the desert – and he preaches. He preaches a baptism of repentance, preaches as powerfully as anyone in centuries. And all his ducks are in a row – he can answer every question – even the Scribes and the Pharisees can't knock him off his game – John can even dress them down them when they approach – You brood of vipers, who told you to flee the wrath that is to come. Great stuff – makes my pastor-heart go all pitter patter. Fantastic. And then, Jesus comes down to the Jordan to be baptized, and John is thrown for a complete loop. We hear, John would have prevented Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” John is completely thrown off, completely caught off guard.

Do you understand John's confusion? He has been preaching a baptism of “repentance”. Repentance. Turning away from your sin and focusing yourself upon God and His mercy, upon forgiveness. And up comes Jesus – and John knows who Jesus is, John leaped in the womb when Jesus approach him still unborn. John knows his Cousin is the Messiah, knows that He is sinless and has no need of repentance. John doesn't see how what he is preaching does anything for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t need repentance! It would be like a college professor showing up on the first day of 2nd grade with notebooks and folders and asking where he should sit – it would be utterly confusing. In fact, John says, “Wait – you don't need me, Jesus – I need You. I need to be baptized by You – I'm one of those sinners who needs your forgiveness.” John sees his own lack, his own sinfulness, and he doesn't understand the whole picture yet.

So Jesus shows him. But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” These are some beautiful words that our Lord speaks here. You see, John is thinking just in terms of sinfulness and repentance – repent, turn away from your sinfulness, and start focusing on God. John is wanting people to face the right way – which is good. Indeed, that is what we ourselves are to do, we are to be about the business of repenting daily, daily struggling against our sin, daily confessing our sin. Repentance is that struggle against sin which we all face. Jesus, though, is thinking in terms of fulfilling righteousness, which is, unsurprisingly, a more full approach. Let's discuss what it means to fulfill all righteousness. Celia and I went to Tulsa after Christmas to visit her family, and with the storms there, huge potholes had opened up all over the place – and some roads were just horrible. There's a section of 244 that I don't know how anyone drives upon. And so we swerved around the potholes, and we learned to avoid certain streets. That's what repentance is like – it's that struggle to avoid the potholes – and try as hard as I might, I still hit some, but then I drove off, determined to do better. No matter how well I drive, how well I plan out routes, no matter how hard I try to avoid them – those potholes are still there. The road needs to be fixed – those holes need to be filled in – and that's something that I'm not going to do, the highway crews are going to have to do it. John was teaching about people's need to repent, to avoid the moral potholes of life. Jesus comes to fulfill all righteousness, which means He has to fix the problem. Jesus comes to fulfill all righteousness.

You see, sin, our sin, rips holes in creation. Tears vile gashes. Pain, suffering, anger, death, toil. All these things – these are the gashes upon creation, upon us, that sin has left in its wake. These all need to be fixed. The holes left in our heart by sin need to be healed, need to be filled. There needs to be perfection on earth again – but the problem is none of us here can do it. We've already dropped the ball, so even if we lived perfectly from now on, which we can't – still wouldn't mend the sin of our past. And so God Himself comes down to live perfectly, to be completely and totally righteous, so that He Himself can fulfill all righteousness, that He can fill up the holes in creation, the holes in us that sin tore open.
This is what Jesus does throughout His ministry – in the love He shows, in the miracles and wonders He does – and most especially when He fills that largest of sin's holes – the gaping hole of death. When our Lord Jesus is nailed to the Cross, what He is in reality doing is filling up death with Himself, with His own righteous death, so that there is no more room for death at all. This is how He fulfills, He makes things righteous, makes us righteous, so that we are new creations in Him, forgiven and clean. And the particular wonder of this text, this Gospel lesson today, is that our Lord is baptized.

How does Jesus being baptized fulfill all righteousness? In His life, we see that our Lord's righteousness is completely full, that it is filled to the brim, it is overflowing, that one could not be more righteous than Him. But how does that do us any good – it does us good because Jesus is baptized. Consider John's baptism – repentant sinner after repentant sinner had stepped down into that water, confessing their lack of righteousness – and into that same water steps Christ Jesus, who is overflowing with righteousness. Jesus' baptism ties Himself and His righteousness to us sinners – and so that all that He has done, all that goodness and righteousness overflows from Him and onto us, washing away our blemishes, filling up the pockmarks and holes in our life with His own love. When you were baptized, you were united to Christ and His righteousness because Jesus strides to the Jordan, because Jesus tells John that they are going to do this to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill your righteousness. This is why Jesus is baptized – John was partially right – Jesus didn't need to be baptized for Himself – but we needed Jesus to be baptized. And so He is.

There is a final bit to this text, a wondrous part of revelation that we hear in this text. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is My Beloved Son, with Whom I Am well pleased.” When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him, and the Father speaks from heaven saying that He is well pleased with His beloved Son. This is a revelation of the Trinity. The points where we get to see, to hear the Three Persons of the Trinity at the same time are rare – but here we see it – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is a wonderful sign of assurance that Jesus truly is God, full God – total and complete God – indeed the Triune God rejoices at His Baptism and His work to save mankind. The Father is well pleased, the Spirit is present – everything is in the right order – and we receive this wondrous glimpse of God. This is the reason why our Lord instructs us to baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Because in your baptism, it is not just that you are forgiven, it's not just that your sins are washed away or that the holes in your life are filled – you are united to God – you are united to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And why? Because baptism unites you to Christ. Christ is the Son of the Father – so now the Father sees you and says, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter” - because when He sees you He sees all of Christ's righteousness. Your baptism united you with the Holy Spirit. And why? Because wherever Christ is the Holy Spirit is as well, the Holy Spirit rests upon Him, the two go hand and hand, and because you have been united to Christ, you know that the Holy Spirit has made you His dwelling place, His temple as well. This is but a glimpse of the fullness, the wonders of baptism that we receive all because Christ Jesus was Baptized.

And so my dear friends, indeed, more than that, my fellow baptized, my brothers and sisters in Christ – rejoice this day at the wonders God has performed in your life through His gift of Baptism, because Christ Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness, He has filled your righteousness, and indeed, now your cup overfloweth because of Him. He is your light and your salvation, and He has shown upon you and revealed His love unto you. Rejoice. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world +


Anonymous said...

Yet John B says in the gospel of John that he didn't know Jesus until he baptized him. Clearly the Catholic fable in Luke that John is Jesus' cousin and lept in the womb and the interpolation in Matthew that he forbade Jesus to be baptized are corruptions that contradict the story in John that John didn't know anything about who Jesus was until he saw the spirit descend on him. Matthew and Luke detract from the testimony of John B. Matthew and Luke makes it look like John labelled Jesus as Son of God out of nepotism. The only way Matthew could be accurate is if John is being sarcastic to Jesus based on Jesus not confessing any sin as the other baptismal candidates "What, no sins to confess? I should be baptized by you then!" But the text doesn't say that, and therefore it is undoubtedly nothing but later Catholic interpolation attempting to make Jesus' divinity somehow visible to John even though this is done at the price of ruining John's credibility and making the John B of Matthew contradict the John B of John.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly it is said that Marcion's gospel lacked Jesus being baptized by John. That would make sense in the sense that John's baptism is intended as the means by which a normal human Jesus becomes Son of God: the Holy Spirit enters him rendering him divine. But since by Marcion's doctrine, "In the 15th year of Tiberiu's reign, God descended to Capernaum and taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath," there would be no need for Jesus to be anointed in John's baptism and receive the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove to render him Divine. He descended from Heaven as a Divine being already in the form of man, his flesh descending from Heaven along with him, as he says in John 6:51 "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." No nepotistic confession of Jesus' divine sonship is needed, for "I receive not testimony from man." (John 5:34) How could John's testimony to Jesus' divine sonship ever confirm anything more than Jesus' testimony to his own divine sonship wrapped in his praise of John "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist" (Matt 11:11) whereby he denies being born of a woman, thus indicating his own divinity.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


John's Gospel is a Gospel of teaching, of explanation. John's Gospel focuses upon the wonder that Jesus is the Word Incarnate who comes to save sinners. Yet, when He comes to John to fulfill righteousness, John is perplexed And so, in a sense, John did not know, did not understand. It is only when Christ speaks His purpose to John there, the purpose of fulfilling righteousness does this make sense to John - only then does he know Christ.

Also, Matthew speaks to the reason why Jesus is anointed. . . to fulfill all righteousness. To be the Christ. . .

And no, Matthew 11 is not denying that Jesus is born -- that is rhetoric. You won't find someone topping John. . . but then, when you finish the verse, the one who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. So it's actually moving into a discussion on the fact that in the Christian faith our worth is not determined by our own strength, but rather by virtue of the fact that we have been called into the Kingdom.

I'm not overly impressed or convinced by Marcionite or Adoptionist arguments or fleshly landing arguments.

Anonymous said...

Not impressed by the OT in context either I see.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I'm Jewish, I have a Messianic view of the Old Testament . . . what can I say?

Anonymous said...

I would think that being Jewish would make you more inclined to interpret Isaiah 7-8 in context and thus agree with Marcion's interpretation of the OT which was wholly Jewish, yet rejected Judaism.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Here I can only say, he who has ears, let him hear.