Monday, January 11, 2016

Sermon on Luke 3:15-22, for the Baptism of Our Lord, "In Baptism We are His"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. This past Wednesday, January 6, the season of Epiphany began. It’s the oldest season of our church year, and bridges between Christmas and Lent. Today we remember Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.
There was a fervor or excitement when John’s ministry began—a fervor about all the promises of a Savior, the Christ, or Messiah, coming to His people. For people living in dark times, this ray of light was deeply welcome and hopeful. Christ, or Messiah, both mean “The Anointed One”—as in the One anointed and chosen by God to be the Savior. Today, we see Jesus being anointed in Baptism by the Holy Spirit, and God’s voice from heaven confirms Jesus is His Son and chosen one. The promises of a Savior were being realized as Jesus stepped into those baptismal waters, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove.
John preached a message of preparation and readiness—of preparing people for Christ’s coming by repentance and baptism. He was giving way to someone greater, mightier than he. One whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. In Jewish tradition, rabbis, or teachers of the scripture, had disciples or student followers. As rabbis were greatly honored, they could ask many things of their disciples. However, they were explicitly forbidden to ask the disciples to untie their sandals. This was seen to be “beneath” a disciple—who, after all, had some status and privilege. Untying a sandal, and washing someone’s dirty feet, was a job for servants. So in that culture, John was saying he was not even worthy of this servant’s task, much less the honor of a disciple—to the Mightier One than he. This was a HUGE statement about the honor, importance and supremacy of Jesus, the One whose way John was preparing. We know from the Gospel of Matthew that John even tried to decline to baptize Jesus, until Jesus compelled him to do so.
So what does Jesus’ baptism tell us about His mission and purpose here on earth? Why was it significant that He came to the waters of baptism? How do John’s baptism, Jesus’ baptism, and our baptism compare? What did John mean about the judgment that Jesus was bringing? First of all, to get the easiest question out of the way—the baptism we receive today, is not John’s baptism, of course—but Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism advanced and completed the baptism of John, and the baptism that Jesus commands is a lasting commission for all His future disciples, including us. Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—is about us being joined to, or united to Jesus—just like we heard today in Romans.
Being united to Jesus in our baptism relates to why Jesus was baptized Himself. By coming to John the Baptist, who was preaching a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, Jesus was identifying with, or standing in solidarity with us sinners. John didn’t seem to understand or accept that Jesus would come to this “sinner’s baptism”—because after all, the Messiah was without sin. Jesus had no need to repent. But this is just how Jesus took His place under the Law of God, and became like us in every way, except without sin. Sinners came down to the waters dirty, to come up cleansed and forgiven. Jesus, however, came down to those waters clean and holy. Many early Christian theologians visualized that by His baptism He cleansed those waters. One of the prayers we pray at a baptism says, “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, you sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” Jesus makes the waters of baptism Holy for us, so that we can enter the waters of baptism to be cleansed and forgiven of our sin, by being joined to Jesus Christ.
John had said Jesus would, “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” Twice John mentions fire. Burning the chaff with fire is judgment imagery, as we’ll see. But how would Jesus baptize with fire? There are two main possibilities. The second, is at the first Christian Pentecost, described in Acts 2. Tongues of fire appeared above the heads of the disciples of Jesus, as He poured out the Holy Spirit on them. As far as we know, this miraculous visible appearance of fire, did not happen again after that day. This certainly fits for the apostles, but this doesn’t seem to apply to our baptism. We receive the Holy Spirit, but what about fire? The first and most likely explanation of how Jesus would “baptize with fire” is how Jesus described His own crucifixion and death.
Later in Luke chapter 12:49-50, Jesus says, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” The distressful “baptism” which Jesus was describing, that He would soon undergo, was His trial, crucifixion, and death. In this passage, Luke 12, He’s reflecting on the fire that is not yet kindled, and the baptism He was yet to accomplish. Why was Jesus in great distress till it was accomplished? Jesus would bear the fire of God’s judgment. As the One who willingly placed Himself under the Law to redeem us, who are under God’s Law, Jesus took the judgment of God upon Himself, in the distressful “baptism” of His cross.
So what is Jesus’ role in judgment, and salvation? Let’s step back from the Gospel of Luke for a moment, taking with us the themes we’ve explored of Jesus as Savior, baptism, and fire—and go to our Old Testament reading. In the very end of Isaiah chapter 42, the verses just before our reading, God is also talking about fire and judgment. He’s talking about His disobedient people Israel, and how they were punished by the fire of God’s judgment, they were taken captive by foreign armies—but they didn’t understand. They didn’t take it to heart. They didn’t learn what God intended to teach them. But then chapter 43 begins, which we heard today. A beautiful transition takes place, from the fearful fire and judgment that Israel didn’t understand or learn from, to God’s Gospel promises and comfort. A reminder that they are His, whom He created and formed. Listen to the words of Isaiah chapter 43 again.
God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” In these words, God shows His tenderheartedness toward Israel. While He had in anger punished them for their sins, and rightly so—the fires of judgment would not burn or consume them. Why? Because He is their God and Savior, and He will be with them. Fear not! Don’t be afraid! The Lord our Savior, stands at the intersection of baptism, fire, judgment and salvation, and promises that He will be with us and carry us safely through! In Jesus Christ, we get to see how that happens. How God’s promises in the time of Isaiah come true in Jesus, the Savior—and how those promises expand from Israel, as declared in the first verse—Isaiah 43:1—to “my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name” in verses 6-7.
Jesus stands in the waters of baptism, in the place of sinners, ready to carry us safely through the fire and the water, because He stands to take God’s judgment against sin upon Himself. He stands in the waters of baptism to clothe us with Himself—with His holy and righteous life. With His holiness and innocence. Jesus stands in the waters of baptism to be with you, and carry you safely through the fire. Jesus, baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, meaning that in baptism, we are joined to His fiery cross and resurrection. The Christian participates with and through Jesus, in cross, trial, and suffering. Jesus would call His disciples to “take up your cross and follow me” and said many similar statements, to show that the suffering that He shared would be experienced also by His disciples. His suffering alone saves us and rescues us—but in His suffering He secures our redemption—our deliverance.
John the Baptist got a firsthand taste of sharing Jesus’ cross and suffering, when he was unjustly imprisoned and eventually executed by Herod. We in our own lives experience the “fire” of baptism through trials and sufferings we bear in Christ. The New Testament has a rich theology of suffering, that helps us to see our sufferings in the light of Jesus’ cross.
Baptism and fire point us to the cross of Jesus. They remind us of the simultaneous realities of God’s judgment against sin, and His deliverance or salvation for those who believe in Him. By faith in Jesus Christ, and by union with Him in our baptism, we survive the fire of judgment because He endured it for us. We pass through the waters, and He is with us—we walk through the fire and are not burned. All this because He came and stood with us sinners in the waters of baptism. He took His place under God’s Law and judgment to redeem and save us, who were under the judgment of God’s Law. He transforms our trials, crosses, and sufferings, into a transitory, passing affliction, while He stores up for us an eternal weight of glory. Joined to Jesus, we are carried through, tested, and tried by the fire, but are preserved and kept by Jesus for eternal life. Judgment or salvation boil down to whether we are in Christ Jesus or not. In salvation, we cling to Jesus, even in crosses, trials, and fires—but we are assured of our rescue in Him. So even in our trials, our eyes are lifted to the Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and confirmed by the Father as His beloved Son.
In baptism we are washed and joined to Jesus. Washed in waters He made clean for us. Forgiven in a cleansing flood. In baptism, Jesus anoints you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, to be a disciple, to walk in the way of His cross. In baptism, with Jesus, God accepts us as His precious and beloved child, because we stand in the waters with His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased. Glory to God, for we are His! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      What hopes and expectations of the people had been stirred by the ministry of John the Baptist? What question were they asking? Luke 3:15. Who else shared this question but not the hopeful opinion of the crowds? John 1:19-28.
2.      Why were the people in need of hope? Though John himself was not the Christ for whom they hoped—Jesus was. What would set Jesus’ ministry above and apart from John’s?
3.      Jewish rabbis were apparently able to ask many things of their disciples/students—but one thing they were not allowed to ask, was that the disciple untie their sandals. Given that cultural custom, what was John saying about who this “mightier one” than him is?
4.      Winnowing is a process of separating the good grain or kernel of wheat from the chaff, which is the shell or husk. How is this farming process used as an image of God’s judgment? What do the images of wheat, barn, chaff, and fire represent? John 3:17-21, and 28-36 show that Jesus did not come into the world to bring condemnation, but salvation. Yet these verses also show how and who still receives God’s judgment. How do those verses of John 3 show us judgment takes place, and why?
5.      Jesus was by far the most important of any of the people whom John baptized, and John didn’t even consider himself worthy to do the task. Cf. Luke 3:16; Matthew 3:14-15. What incredible event took place during Jesus’ baptism, to confirm and identify who He was? Luke 3:21-22.
6.      What is the significance of God declaring that Jesus had His approval?
7.      When we are baptized into Christ Jesus, what “union” or “joining” takes place? Romans 6:1-11. How does heaven stand open to us because of Jesus? John 3:16

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