Sunday, January 12, 2014
Homily for The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (The First Sunday after Epiphany)
Matthew 3:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Isaiah 42:1-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
John came preaching in the wilderness, wild and crazy looking with his camel’s hair coat and leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey. But, why did he come in this way? He came in this way because he was a prophet; in truth, he was the Prophet, the final Prophet, the voice and messenger promised who would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John was in the wilderness, because he wasn’t merely calling individuals to a ceremonial washing, but he was calling all of Israel, all the sons and daughters of Jacob, to repentance – more than that! – to conversion once again, from unbelief to belief. For, the son of God, Israel, had rebelled against and rejected his God and father and had fallen into apostasy and unbelief. Though God had permitted judgment to fall upon Israel again and again, being conquered by the Assyrians and the Persians, that they might be turned in repentance, only a very few, a remnant, of the faithful remained. Therefore, just as Moses had once lead Israel out of slavery and bondage in Egypt to the waters of the Jordan that they might pass through them into the Promised Land, so then did John call all of Israel back into the wilderness that they might be born again in baptism and repentance, passing through the Jordan’s waters into the Promised Land of god’s kingdom once again.
John’s baptism was a real baptism, even if it was somewhat different than Jesus’ baptism, or the baptisms we undergo as Christian believers. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Those who came to John repented and were forgiven their sins by being baptized. Yet, still, John’s baptism was a foretaste, a preparation, until that day Jesus came to be baptized. When Jesus was baptized, John’s baptism was fulfilled, all righteousness was fulfilled, and John’s baptism was no more. Jesus was baptized in the place of Israel, in the place of all Jews and Gentiles, in the place of all people, in your place and in my place. When Jesus stood in the waters of the Jordan, He brought no sin of His own, but He sanctified those waters, and all waters, that those who followed Him in like manner, in faith in Him, might be reborn, cleansed, and renewed. He brought no sin of His own, but when He stepped out of those waters He bore the sins of all who were washed in them, the sins of all Jews and Gentiles, the sins of all people, your sins, and mine.
And to think, John would have prevented it, if that were even conceivably possible. He was right, though. He did need to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. John was right when he confessed that he was not worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals. Even our Lord Himself does not deny this! But, Jesus said to John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Note that Jesus did not say it was fitting for me to fulfill all righteousness, but He said it is fitting for us. Indeed, John was a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation. John was the forerunner, the messenger sent to prepare the way for Jesus. John did this by preaching to and by baptizing for the repentance and forgiveness of sins. This was necessary preparation. Likewise, it was necessary that Jesus be baptized in this way, even though He had no personal need for it. It was necessary if Jesus was to become Israel, God’s son, the new Adam. Not only must Jesus do all that was required for the first Adam, but He must make amends for Adam’s and Israel’s transgressions, for the sins of all people, of all times, and all places. “You’re right John. You should be baptized by me. Nevertheless, permit it to be so. For, in this way, you and I will fulfill God’s plan of salvation for all people. You are necessary to this plan. Baptize me, as God has ordained.”
And, He did. And, when Jesus came up out of the water, some amazing and wonderful things happened. The heavens were opened to Him. It is most likely that only Jesus beheld this phenomenon, for, before His death and resurrection, Heaven was not opened to men; no man could gaze upon God in His glory and live. However, to sinless Jesus, heaven was opened. And, behold, the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove. It was not a dove, but the Spirit descended in a way similar to a dove. Again, only Jesus beheld this anointing prophesied of by Isaiah as we heard today in our reading from the Old Testament. This was Jesus’ chrismation, His anointing, making Him the Christ of God, the Christened and Anointed One, the Messiah. Then a voice from heaven spoke saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Once again, it seems that only Jesus heard this voice. Yet, it is remarkable and wonderful for, not since Adam before his fall could God say this about a man, but about His Son in the flesh, as a man, God could truly say He was pleased, He was satisfied, it was good once again.
Jesus came to the Jordan good, and He left the water that day good as well, but Jesus also left the water that day bearing your sin. His baptism was the beginning of His kingly reign that would culminate with His taking His throne by mounting the cross and being crowned with thorns. He is David’s son and David’s Lord. He is Israel in one man, the second Adam to atone for the sins of the first. He is the mercy seat of God standing in the midst of the waters that we might pass safely through into the Promised Land of God’s kingdom. We cannot help, nor should we, but compare the events of the day of Jesus’ baptism with those of His Transfiguration. For, on that day, Jesus stood, not within the waters of the Jordan, but upon a mountaintop. And, appearing with Him were Moses, God’s appointed leader of the first Exodus, and Elijah, the great Prophet – a type of John the Baptist – who decreased that Elisha might take his mantle and increase. And, what were these holy three discussing? They were discussing the departure that Jesus was about to accomplish by means of His death on the cross in Jerusalem. Tellingly, the Greek word translated as departure is exodus.
Jesus is God’s anointed servant, His Chosen One in whom His soul delights, upon whom His Holy Spirit descended and remained. He is Jacob (Israel), the son and Son of God. Jesus was baptized for Jacob, in the stead and place of Jacob, Abraham, and Adam, and you and I. Because, “In Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man,” Jesus came as the Man – the only Man and the True Man. He was baptized for us, that we might be baptized into Him: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
This is the Epiphany of our Lord – that God in flesh was made manifest amongst us. However, Jesus is not merely one of us, but Jesus is us, and we are Him. Jesus was baptized for us and anointed with God’s Holy Spirit that He might die for us upon the cross and that would actually mean something, actually do something – that He might receive in full the due wage for our sins. He did, and it was finished. And then, because God the Father was fully pleased with His Son in every way, He raised Him from death, removing that barrier and enemy for all who trust in Him. Jesus was born for this, to die, that you might be born again out of death into life through repentance, faith, and baptism into His death and resurrection. It was all for you. Jesus did it all for you. He is the love of God for you, laying down His life into death that you may live. Believe this. Receive this. Trust in this and in nothing else, not your self, any one or any thing else.
Yes, you will still sin. But, God has given you His Spirit to counsel you in His way and His Word. He will not let you continue in sin, but He will seek you and call you back to Him in repentance that He might forgive you anew. No, you need never be baptized again, but you may, you must, return to your baptism again, and again, and again until He comes. And, along your pilgrim way, He clothes you with His righteousness, absolves your sins, feeds you with His Word, His Body, and His Blood. And, in these ways, through these means, He keeps you in Him and He is always with you, even to the end of the age, just as He promised. You are baptized. You are God’s child. You have been adopted into the Perfect Man and Son Jesus. Your Father will never leave you or forsake you. There is no need to doubt. There is no need to fear. This is the Truth. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.