Sunday, January 31, 2016
Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The rain and the snow fall upon the Catskill Mountains, the Appalachian Trail, the well-tilled field of an organic farm, and the New England Expressway alike. There is no distinction. And, three-quarters of these will most certainly spring forth with life, if not fruit, but one-quarter most certainly will not. Yet, without the rain and the snow, there would be no growth anywhere. Likewise, without the seed, there would be no life. The earth might as well be formless and void, barren, empty, and dead. But, so was the soil of your heart until the Seed of God’s Word and the Rain of His Holy Spirit fell upon you. These came from outside of you and fell upon you as the LORD willed, just as “the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout.” Therefore, if you have faith, give glory to God. This is His will and work within you and for you, His sustenance and nurture that sustain you. But, will you be fruitful? Will you bear His fruit? Yes, you will, for that is what God’s Word does through you, unless you willfully resist His work and Spirit, reject Him, and choose to go your own way.
A great crowd had gathered to see and to hear Jesus. The crowd consisted of the four types of soil of which Jesus spoke in His parable: The hard path heart, the rocky soil heart, the thorn-infested soil heart, and the good soil heart. The Rain and the Snow of His Word and Spirit fell upon them each alike as seed that is broadcast here and there by an indiscriminate sower. But, what kind of foolish Sower is this who so scatters His Seed without distinction upon both good and poor soils? Why would He not cast his Seed upon only the most fertile and receptive soil that He might reap an abundant harvest? The Sower does not discriminate because He knows that fruitfulness lies in the Seed that is sown and not in the soil, and that the Seed that He sows contains within it the power to turn even hard, rocky, and thorny hearts into good and fruitful soil.
As the master of the vineyard went out in last Sunday’s Gospel to hire workers to work in his vineyard, so today a Sower goes out to sow His Seed. This is how the Gospel begins: with Jesus acting, by Him coming to us because we could never come to Him. Even the good soil does not choose to accept the Seed. Indeed, soil cannot make any movement towards the Seed whatsoever. Soil is entirely receptive. You are the soil. Jesus is the Sower. And, the powerful, performative, and creative Word of God is the Seed. But, the hardened path, just as the hardened heart, cannot receive the Seed of the Word. Its ears are closed to it, and the Word is snatched away by the devil as good seed by the birds of the air. The only hope for the hardened heart is the patient, long-suffering, merciful, and continual sowing of the Sower. He will not give up on you, but time is running out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Some of the Sower’s Seed also falls among rocky and weed and thorn infested hearts. Under each of these conditions, the Holy Spirit creates real and true faith, however, because of the rocks, remnants from the broken up hardness of the heart, and weeds and thorns, the fleshly, worldly, and materialistic cares and anxieties of the heart, faith is not able to grow to fruitfulness. Sadly, many who are brought to faith by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God fall into these categories – fifty percent in Jesus’ parable. The rocky remnants of the hardness of heart keep faith from becoming deeply rooted, and so faith lacks the fortitude to withstand trial, tribulation, and temptation just as a seedling lacking depth of root lacks moisture and nutrients and is uprooted by wind or flood or withers in scorching heat. Likewise, faith that is forced to coexist and compete with fleshly, worldly, and materialistic cares and anxieties may grow well enough, but it is prohibited from bearing much or good fruit. Moreover, the weeds and the thorns are not interested in coexistence, but in the elimination of faith in the heart. Just as God is jealous and will share your heart and faith with no one and no thing, so Satan is also jealous and will not share you with God.
But then, some of the Sower’s Word-Seed will undoubtedly fall upon good soil. Why only some, you ask? Because God’s ways are not your ways, and God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. Further, God would have you fear Him and love Him and trust in Him freely, without coercion. Thus, He created you with the freedom to reject Him, and not as an automaton. However, it must be noted that the good soil is known only by the fact that it produces good fruit. The Sower does not distinguish the good from the bad in His sowing, but He preaches His Word to all and lets the Seed of His Word and His Holy Spirit fall where they may. The fruit is born from the Seed, not from the soil. The soil can only hinder the growth of the Seed and the fruitfulness of faith by its hardness of heart or fleshly and worldly idolatries. Thus, Jesus teaches that you will know His children by their fruits. And, St. James teaches that faith without works is dead and no faith at all. Moreover, in St. Matthew’s telling, the Seed sown in good soil produces fruit yielding thirty-fold, sixty-fold, and, in some cases, a hundred-fold. The amount of fruit produced is not the point, but faith alone is.
And, the point is also this: The Seed of the Word ALWAYS produces results. If it is received in faith – faith given and created by the Holy Spirit through the Word – faith will begin to grow towards the potential to produce fruit. But, there is competition. Worry and anxiety and desires for worldly wealth, material, and pleasures compete in a battle for the soul. These must be resisted, a feat that can only happen with the assistance of faith, and faith must increase and prevail over these distractions. Likewise, the rock and stone remnants of the once hardened heart must continually be uprooted that faith may flourish and grow. But, when one gives themselves over to idolatries and fear, resentment, anger, and hatred, the same Word-Seed that created faith and caused it to grow will harden the heart to stone once again. Yes, it is true! For the hardened heart only became broken and receptive by the Word, but when the Word is rejected, it returns to its hardened state once again. This is what happened to Pharaoh when Moses preached the Word of the LORD to him and he rejected it. Similarly, Isaiah was sent to “make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes.” Thus, Jesus teaches in parables so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
All the soils, all the hearts, all the ears hear, for they are passive in their hearing, they are receivers of the Word-Seed of the Sower. They all hear, and yet, many do not hear. Is this a paradox? No, it is not. For, there are many reasons that hearers do not hear – just ask any parent or teacher of children, or any pastor of a congregation. Distraction, laziness, boredom, apathy – these are all typical obstacles to a hearer’s hearing, and Satan will encourage you in all of these. Therefore, what is a hearer to do?
Jesus concludes His explanation of the Parable of the Sower to His disciples saying, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” “We cannot take refuge in the fact that we hear God’s Word; so does everyone. Hearing the Word, while necessary for salvation, does not guarantee salvation. We do not trust hearing the Word, but we trust the One of whom the Word speaks: We trust Jesus. Jesus is the sower who sows on all manner of soil, who would rather His Word be trampled and snatched and scorched and choked than that we poor sinners would be without it. His Word is like Him: Jesus is the Word that was sown on the Stone Pavement as He stood trial before Pilate and was taken away by the devil. Jesus is the Word that was sown on that rocky hill called Golgotha where He sprang up on the cross and withered away. Jesus is the Word that was sown among the thorns of Chief Priests and Scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, who competed with Jesus out of love for the world. And it was by sowing Himself on our wretched soil, by dying and rising, that He made a little plot of good soil: people who are saved for His sake.”
What is a hearer to do? Remain hearing. And, how do you do that? Hold fast to the Word in fear, love, and trust – in faith – and receive His help through His means of grace: The Word of the Gospel which proclaims your sins forgiven in His holy shed blood through Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution, in His body broken for you and in His blood shed for you that you may be strengthened in faith and live, and in His Word of Law and Gospel which equips you for every fruitful work the LORD has prepared for you to do before the foundations of the world. In this way His Word will prevail in your hard and rocky, weed and thorn-infested hearts and you will bear fruit. How much? That is the Spirit’s concern. Do not judge yourself or others and you will not be judged. We are all on the receiving end of His Grace.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Matthew 20:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Is the LORD among us or not?” That is the question, isn’t it? Truly, a whole lot depends upon your answer to that question: How you view worship – Is it your work, or is it God’s work? How you worship – with deep reverence, humility, and awe, or with unfettered revelry and emotive expression? How you understand the Lord’s Supper – Is it merely a symbolic or spiritual presence, or is the real and true body and blood of Jesus Christ present in the Supper for the forgiveness of your sins? How you view baptism – Is it merely lawful obedience, or does it actually create faith and give the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, and bestow the Holy Spirit, as the Word of Scripture says? The answer to all these questions and more are bound up in your answer to the question, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
“Is the LORD among us or not?” Does God actually keep His Word? Did the Word of God, the Son of God, really become flesh and make His dwelling among us? What say you? Truth be told, you answer this question even without words, by your actions, in what you place your fear, your love, and your trust. That is because we are confessional beings. That is to say that your words and your deeds make a public confession of what you truly believe in your heart. And so, your answer to the question “Is the LORD among us or not?” will determine whether you live in contentment, peace, and hope, or if you live with restlessness, anxiety, and fear.
“Is the LORD among us or not?” That is the question the children of Israel had to answer in the wilderness. “Is the LORD among us or not?” Or, has God abandoned us? Does God have our best interests in heart and mind? Is God able to help us? Does God even want to help us? The people were thirsty and there was no water to drink. And so, they complained to Moses, they complained to their pastor, “Where is this God whom you say loves us? Why doesn’t He provide for us? Maybe you brought us up out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst.” Do their questions make you uncomfortable? They should. You know what the LORD had just done for them. The LORD led them out of captivity, bondage, and slavery in Egypt. And, before that, the LORD provided for His people in Egypt and made them a great nation. And, but a little bit earlier, the LORD had even provided sweet water for His people to drink. Why would they so quickly disbelieve and, even worse, blaspheme to think the LORD evil and wicked?
Do you not, at times, do the same? “Why has this disease befallen me? I’ve trusted in the LORD. I’ve tried to be a good person.” “Why does God permit evil to go on unchecked? Why do so many children die from war, disease, poverty, hunger, and thirst?” “Why does our church struggle so? Why don’t more people come? Is it the way we worship? Maybe we’re too old-fashioned, too Catholic, too irrelevant?” “Maybe it’s our pastor. If he’d just preach more about the problems we face in our lives, if he’d just lighten up and tell some stories or jokes, if he’d just not talk about moral and social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, or if he’d accept evolution or women pastors, then maybe we’d be growing instead of declining.”
“Is the LORD among us or not?” If your answer to that question is “Yes,” then you have nothing to fear, to worry, or to be anxious about. But, if your answer to that question is “No,” then you, and all men, are to be pitied, for my preaching is in vain, and your hope is in vain. Though your thirst may be well sated and your bellies full, though you may have ample clothing and shelter and many luxuries and material wealth, if the LORD is not among you, then you will die in this wilderness and will never enter the land of promise. God have mercy on you and turn you in repentance.
For, the LORD is indeed among us, even as He was among the children of Israel, guiding, providing for, and protecting them throughout their wilderness wanderings. Sweet water, water from the rock, manna and quail, all that the people needed to sustain their bodies and their lives, the LORD graciously provided them. They never went hungry and they never thirsted, though the LORD did test them as a father disciplines his children, that they would learn right from wrong, good from evil, and put their fear, their love, and their trust in Him alone. And, like rebellious children, they accused their heavenly Father of doing them evil. But “the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” He calls His children to repentance that He might shower them with His blessing.
And so, the LORD is with you in the most intimate of ways, in your very flesh and blood. Jesus is Emmanuel, which means, literally, “God with us.” In Jesus Emmanuel, the LORD is with you to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, and to give you His life and the benefits of communion with His Son. The LORD is with you to guide you in the ways you should go that you might live and prosper and be a bright light, leaven, and salt to those walking in the darkness of sin and death. The LORD is with you might be protected from the assaults of the evil one, resist temptation, persevere through affliction, and find the glory of God in the things to which He has attached His Word and promise instead of in the things that the flesh and the world value and deem to be glorious and good.
The LORD commanded Moses to strike the rock with his staff, promising that the people would have water to drink. St. Paul tells you that the Rock was Christ. Christ was with them all along. The Rock followed them wherever they went. Today, still, Christ the Rock is with you, providing you food and drink that you may not perish, but live. The LORD struck Christ, His Son, upon the cross, crucifying, crushing, and breaking Him for you that you might be forgiven and live. The LORD pierced the side of Christ the Rock, from whence flowed His cleansing blood and purifying water. Now the LORD is with you in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the meat and drink of the Lord’s Supper to sustain and keep you in your wilderness wanderings until He returns as Lord and King. Spiritually, you have already passed through the Red Sea in Holy Baptism and have entered the Promised Land. And, in His time your body will be raised from death to new and everlasting life. “Is the LORD among us or not?” Yes! Yes, He most certainly is!
Then why do you grumble and complain? Why are you anxious and fearful? Your words and your deeds are confessions of what you believe in your heart. You fear that the LORD will not provide for you because He does not do it in the ways that you would expect or that seem wise to men. You think that the LORD will not help you if you do not first help yourself, or that He isn’t able to help you, or that He doesn’t want to help you. And, when you see others prosper who do less than you, you are filled with anger and outrage at the inequity and the unfairness of it all, as were the laborers who were hired at the beginning of the day who were paid the same as those who were hired near the end. Is the point that you should not grumble because no one is deserving of anything good at all? Well, yes, that is true. However, the greater point is that the LORD is among us and provides for all of us without exception or distinction. Indeed, St. Paul teaches that there is no distinction, not between Jew or Gentile, male or female, master or servant, but that all are one in Christ and are equally justified through faith in Him. For, the LORD is among us to forgive and to save and to sustain and to protect. The LORD is among us for each of us, for all of us, and for all. There is no distinction. Thanks be to God that He does not pay us what we deserve, the wages we have earned – death, but that He gives us the grace that we do not deserve and could never earn – the forgiveness of our sins, life, and eternal salvation.
And so, again, your answer to the question “Is the LORD among us or not?” is a confession of what you believe in your heart. Your answer will shape and determine how you view yourself in relation to God and to your neighbor, how you view your own works and faith, and how you view the works and gifts of the LORD that He provides for you. The children of Israel grumbled and complained and blasphemed the LORD saying that He was not with them, that He had abandoned them, and that He meant them harm and evil. They did not see and believe that He was among them as He had promised in His Word and had demonstrated repeatedly through miraculous signs and wonders. Similarly, the LORD is among you in His Word and Blessed Sacraments performing miraculous signs and wonder – creating and strengthening faith, forgiving sins, feeding, nourishing, and protecting His children – just as He has promised in His Word. Will you grumble at the ways in which He provides for you? Will you complain that that He favors others more than you, or the same as you? Will you blaspheme that He means you evil and seeks to harm you or abandon you? Or, will you confess that His ways are not your ways, that His foolishness is wiser than your wisdom, and receive the gifts that He gives to you in fear, love, and in trust of His Word and Promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ?
Your life, words, and deeds are the confession of your answer to the question, “Is the LORD among us or not?” You answer that question “Yes” by receiving His gifts faithfully and regularly in the Divine Service. You answer that question “Yes” by confessing yourself unworthy of such holy gifts. You answer that question “Yes” by not begrudging others mercy, compassion, grace, and forgiveness, but by readily, freely, and gladly sharing these with all. And, you answer that question “Yes” by trusting that the LORD is present and active for your good, and for the good of all, in the ways and through the means to which He has connected His Word of Promise, regardless of how humble, weak, foolish, and inglorious they might appear. For the LORD has chosen what is weak in this world to shame the strong, and what is foolish in this world to shame the wise, and what is not to bring to nothing things that are.
“Is the LORD among us or not?” If your answer to that question is “Yes,” then thanks be to God, for the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and will sanctify and keep you in the true faith. But, if your answer to that question is “No,” then you have deemed your wisdom to be wiser than the LORD’s and have made yourself to be god and, therefore, must save yourself. Good luck with that. But, thanks be to God that He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” He will continue to call those who turn away to repentance that He might bless them. But with each passing day and hour time is running out. The LORD is among us now through Word and Sacrament in His Church, but soon He will come in unveiled power and glory as King and Judge. May we be found among His gifts when He returns and enter with Him behind the veil into His glory and light and life.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the Transfiguration of Our Lord, our God grants us sinful and corrupted mortals a peek behind the veil. Through the eyes and the ears of Peter, James, and John, we are granted to see, for just a moment, what even the High Priest in the temple could not see when he entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. We are granted to see what Abraham and Moses could not see, and what Isaiah could see only in a vision. For, what we are granted to see in the Transfiguration of Our Lord is the fullness of the glory of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we see the fullness of God’s glory in the human person of Jesus, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, as a man.
On the mountaintop, we see the full, unveiled meaning of the Incarnation, of Christmas. We see Emmanuel, God with us as a man, and more importantly, man taken up into God. This is our future glory. But, this is also, though hidden, our glory now. Our glory is not in ourselves, but our glory is in Jesus who has taken up our flesh, has died for our sins, has been raised for our justification, and who has ascended to the right hand of the Father in our human flesh in the full glory of God. A flesh and blood human man now sits and reigns in the full-on presence of God’s glory as His Son. And we are baptized into Him. All that belongs to Him He shares with us, even His new and everlasting life. This is the meaning of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. We will not experience the fullness of Jesus’ glory until the Resurrection or our own bodies, but, spiritually, we are living that glorious resurrection life already and now.
Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus. They were living witnesses of the promise that those who die in the Lord will live. They were witnesses of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises as they stood in the fullness of His glory and were not consumed. St. Luke tells us that they were talking to Jesus about the Exodus He was about to lead in Jerusalem. Imagine that! Moses, God’s prophet and anointed leader of the Exodus out of Egypt and Elijah, the greatest of God’s anointed Old Testament prophets were discussing the new and better Exodus that Jesus, the New Moses and the Great Prophet, was about to begin. Jesus’ Exodus was not out of slavery and bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt, but Jesus would lead His people out of slavery and bondage to sin and death through His own crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Jesus, the New Joshua, would lead His people across the River of Life into the Promised Land of Heaven, into the full-on presence and glory of God forever.
Now, if you were Peter, standing in the glorious presence of Jesus, with Moses and Elijah by His side, I suspect that you might also say, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Peter was overcome by the original of what we now commonly call a “mountaintop experience.” Peter wanted to preserve that experience – and I know that you want to do the same – so he proposed that he might “pitch a tent” for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. “Pitch a tent” – that’s a form of the same Greek word used John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and [pitched His tent] among us.” It’s the same word that is translated as tabernacle in the Old Testament. Peter wished to provide a shelter, a tabernacle for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. You can see now how absurd and backwards was his thinking. Jesus does not need to be tabernacled, but Peter, James, John, you, and I need to be tabernacled and to be sheltered by Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God tabernacled among us. Jesus is the tabernacle made without human hands that provides shelter for all who take refuge in Him. Let us all, and always, seek refuge in Jesus Christ and His gifts. His Word and His Sacraments are the means of His grace through which He preserves, strengthens, keeps, and protects you until the resurrection of your bodies and their transfiguration to be like His glorious body.
While Peter was still speaking, while his confused, sin-corrupted thoughts were still babbling out of his mouth, the bright cloud of God’s glory tabernacled over Peter, James, and John. Then the Father spoke, just as He had at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Suddenly the terrible reality of their mountaintop experience was made fully apparent. Their arrogance, their pride, and their self-righteousness in presuming that they could stand as they were in their sin, with their sin-corrupted good works like filthy rags, before the LORD in His glory was shattered, and they fell down on their faces as though dead. This was the same reaction that Isaiah had when he beheld the LORD’s glory in a vision. Just as Isaiah’s guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for as an angel touched his lips with a glowing coal from the altar of sacrifice, so Jesus reached out His hand and He touched His disciples and absolved them saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or “Rise and walk?” Jesus’ Word is His absolution. Jesus’ Word brings into being what it says. Where there is forgiveness there is no fear, but there is life and salvation.
“When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” Moses and Elijah had withdrawn to the realm of those who have died in the Lord and await His return and the resurrection of their bodies. They, like the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus, are with Him now and forever in paradise. The cloud of glory, too, had gone away, and Jesus’ face and clothing and flesh veiled His glory once again. They were granted but a peek behind the veil that their faith might be strengthened and that they might persevere, bearing their own crosses in the way of their Lord as He soon would take up the cross and their sin and the sins of all men and suffer and die for the life of the world. They followed Jesus down the mountain, leaving the glory behind to suffer under the cross. There will come a holy and permanent mountaintop experience, but now is not the time. The lesson of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is that we have that glory now, though veiled, in Jesus and in His gifts of Word and Sacrament. These seeming humble, foolish, and weak things the LORD has invested with His glorious Word and Promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. They are our food and drink, the very air we breath, by which we are forgiven, faith is strengthened, and we live until He comes and raises our bodies and unveils their glory, glory like His, the only-begotten Son of the Father from eternity.
God knows that you in your flesh, with your fallen reason, wisdom, and desires, are attracted to things that dazzle the senses, that have worldly value, that bring sensual pleasure, and seem wise in the minds of men. You count as glorious and as evidence of God’s blessing large churches, overflowing coffers, numerous parishioners and programs and parking lots. Weakness and humility, poverty and lowliness, an emphasis on sin and your need for forgiveness, a preference for the mutilated body of Jesus upon a tree instead of an empty cross or, even better, a resurrected Lord with lifted hands and a smile on His face, make you grimace uncomfortably and wonder if maybe, just maybe, we’ve just got it all wrong. God knows this about you. And, God knew this about His disciples. Therefore He granted them this peek behind the veil in the Transfiguration of Our Lord. It is meant to encourage you and to strengthen your faith that you might persevere through temptation and tribulation, most of which come from your own sinful, fallen reason and desires.
Years later, long after Jesus’ resurrection, St. Peter told the account of his mountaintop experience in an epistle to the Church saying that, despite the glorious vision they were granted to see, “we have something more sure, the prophetic Word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” That “something more sure” is here for you today. You are invited, not to peek behind the veil, but to see with the eyes of faith the glory of God that is hidden, right here, right now, tabernacled among you. The word of absolution, Law, and Gospel proclaimed by this sinful man is God’s Word of promise to you that you can trust and take comfort in. This ordinary water is the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who are washed and believe. This humble bread and wine is the resurrected and glorified body and blood of Jesus just as He promises in His Word for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, for life and for salvation. And, because of your Holy Baptism into Jesus, His glory is hidden within you as well. Once you dwelt in darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord. Walk therefore as children of Light.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
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.
“Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.” These words the LORD spoke through His prophet Isaiah, but they describe His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only God’s Son, but He is also God’ Servant. This is not a matter of inequality. Jesus is not inferior to His Father in any way, but He is fully God, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Jesus is God. Yet, Jesus is God’s servant. There is no shame in being a servant. Rather, being a servant is something that is characteristic of our God Himself. God upholds His servant. He has chosen Him, and His soul delights in Him.
When the Son of God became flesh, in the Incarnation, which we just celebrated at Christmas, the Son of God became the Servant. “Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus was obedient to His parents and to His governing authorities. Jesus was obedient to His God and Father. And Jesus was obedient to His Father’s will and Law. Though He was righteous and holy, having no sin of His own, but was perfect and pure in every way, Jesus humbled and submitted Himself to be circumcised in obedience to the Law. And, just before He began His ministry, which would culminate in His Passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus humbled Himself once again and He submitted Himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan. He was baptized, not for His sins and unrighteousness, for He had none, but for your sins, and for my sins, and for the sins of the entire world.
John knew this very well. He resisted Jesus, insisting that it was necessary rather that Jesus should baptize him. Jesus did not disagree, but He answered John saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” It was fitting, it was necessary, that our righteous Lord step into that river like a common sinner and be washed with its filthy water, for it was fitting, it was necessary, for righteousness to be fulfilled for you, that Jesus become a sinner for you. Yes, all the crowds of repentant sinners came to John at the Jordan to be baptized and to have their sins washed away by water and the promise of God’s Word. However, when Jesus entered those waters, He had no sins to be washed away, but instead, He took upon Himself all sins, all uncleanness, all unrighteousness, and He became the One Sinner for all humanity. “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” O blessed exchange! Or holy cure!
Through the prophet Isaiah, God had promised of His Servant, “I have put my Spirit upon Him.” And, what happened when Jesus came up from the water of His baptism, but the heavens were opened, the Father spoke, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and remained with Him, fulfilling this Word and Promise of God. This was the moment that Jesus became in the flesh what God’s holy angels had declared Him to be at His birth: The Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. Jesus was christened with the full approval and blessing of the Father, and God’s Holy Spirit came upon Him and remained with Him as a flesh and blood man. He with whom, as the Son of God, the Father was already pleased, secured the Father’s favor for your flesh and blood bodies as well. God was well pleased with Jesus as a human man, thus His Spirit was pleased to dwell with Him. And, because of Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God is pleased to dwell in your flesh and blood bodies as well.
That is why Jesus was baptized. He was baptized for you. Jesus was baptized so that He could suffer and die for you, and for the sins of the entire world, upon the cross, and that would actually mean something, would actually count for something, would actually do something. For, if just any man were to die, it would mean nothing at all. All men are sinners, and the wages of sin is only and always death. If just any man were to die, he would only be receiving what he had earned, what he deserved. But, if the sinless Son of God dies as a man, in the flesh, then the curse is broken. Both flesh and spirit are redeemed. Jesus did this for you. Everything was for you.
And, because of His baptism in the Jordan by John, Jesus has provided for you a sign and a seal in Holy Baptism marking you, preserving you, and bestowing upon you the benefits of His righteousness, obedience, and holiness in His death and resurrection. By stepping into the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus “sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you are sprinkled, washed, or dunked, but what matters is the Word and Command of Jesus and the application of water – period. Your baptism is a sign of God’s promise kept and fulfilled for you in Jesus, but it is not merely a sign. Your baptism gives to you everything that God promises in His Word: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the Words and Promises of God declare.”
You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus’ death is your death, and Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. “For if [you] have been united with Him in a death like His, [you] shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His.” Everything that belongs to Jesus He shares with you who are baptized into Him. Your baptism makes you a Christian, because you are baptized into Christ. Your baptism weds you to your Bridegroom, for you are joined with Him in a one-flesh union. “Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Only you can end this marriage. Divorce is not of God.
Jesus was baptized for you. Jesus was baptized so that you could be received into Him: “God became man so that man might become God.” The LORD demands that you be holy as He is holy. You couldn’t make yourself to be holy, so He has made you holy Himself. Your baptism bestowed this upon you. Because of your baptism, you need never fear that God’s forgiveness is not for you. It doesn’t matter how you feel. It doesn’t matter what you experience. It doesn’t matter how many works you perform. It doesn’t matter if you still sometimes fall and sin. All that matters is that you believe, and by believing I mean that you fear, love, and trust in God and all that He has done for you in Jesus Christ His Son.
Remember your baptism. That’s good advice. That’s what it means to be a Christian. My family has been blessed to spend a few different summer vacations at an old home on Kelly’s Island in Lake Eerie of the coast of Sandusky, Ohio. A Lutheran pastor and his wife owned the house and they used it as a retreat for members of their congregation and for other pastors and their families. It was called St. Timothy House. One of the quaint things I remember about my visits to St. Timothy house is that the pastor had placed little encouraging spiritual signs in various places around the house. Wherever there was a source of water – a faucet, shower, spicket, etc. – there was a little sign that read, “Remember your baptism.” Remember your baptism when you are feeling down and depressed. Remember your baptism when you are afflicted by illness, depression, or doubt. Remember your baptism when you realize that you have fallen into sin. Remember your baptism when you don’t feel very fruitful. Remember your baptism when some pietistic Evangelical Christian brother or sister tells you that you do not believe enough, pray enough, read the Bible enough, do enough good works, repent enough, go to church enough, evangelize enough, or whatever enough, etc. You are not justified by your works, by your feelings, by Bible reading or prayers, or by ANYTHING that you do, but you are justified by Holy Baptism, because Holy Baptism puts upon you Jesus’ righteousness, obedience, and holiness. That’s why St. Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you.”
For, consider your callings, brothers and sisters: not many of you are wise according to worldly standards, not many of you are powerful, not many of you are of noble birth. But God consistently chooses what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God chooses what is weak in this world to shame the strong; God chooses what is low and despised in this world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human beings might boast. And, because of Him, you are in Christ Jesus. Even now, God has chosen these foolish things, sinful flesh and faltering speech, ordinary water, tasteless bread, and inexpensive wine to which He has attached His Word of Promise that you may be forgiven anew, strengthened in faith, and equipped for every good work. Remember your baptism. Remember that you are clothed with Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sins. Remember that all this comes to you as a free and perfect gift, from outside of you, bearing not the corruption of your sin. Therefore you can receive it, you can trust it, and you can have peace with God, and you can have peace with man, just as the angels proclaimed at Jesus’ birth.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.