Sunday, January 10, 2016

Homily for The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

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.

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