Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the baptism of Jesus.
As you all hopefully know, Monday was the feast of Epiphany, the day after the 12th day of Christmas, when Christmas officially ended and the Season of Epiphany began. I try to make this point every year, I think, but the season of Epiphany is about Jesus being manifest as God in the flesh. As we say in the Epiphany hymn, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise,” He is “God in man made manifest.” So here in this season, we have this child, this God with us, born in the manger at Christmas, being shown to be just that: God with us.
However, something really struck me this year. As I was studying those readings for Epiphany, and heard the preaching of Epiphany at the Circuit service Monday night I was really struck by the point that this Jesus coming is monumental in large part because it means salvation for all peoples. What I mean is this: when you note the coming of the Magi, the wise men, to see Jesus, that’s a big deal because these men are not Jews. These aren’t Jews, just coming to worship their king. No, these are Gentiles coming to worship the Jewish King. Up to this point the blessing of God, the choice of God, you could even say, had been to give salvation to the Jews. Now, that’s not to say that someone who wasn’t Jewish by blood couldn’t be saved, they could as what was called a proselyte, but the Jewish people were chosen as the people of the Lord. But when Jesus came, this salvation was opened to all peoples. And this is, like I said, monumental. This is a massive paradigm shift.
I’ve said before but I think this is something we don’t process enough because we are just so used to it. Yes, God’s salvation is for everyone. Yes, God loves everyone. Yes, God has sent Jesus even for my sins and my being a gentile has no bearing on that forgiveness. Now, as I’ve said, on the one hand that we don’t think about this is sort of a good thing. It’s good for us to rest in the promises of God and not doubt them due to our heritage. That’s good. We don’t want Christians asking if they’re really saved even though they’re not Jewish. So that’s good. But there are some problems with this if we just take it for granted. One problem, I think is reflected in a question that I found asked this week.
Now as I say I found this question asked, it was actually in a journal article that I got in the mail, but it was a very interesting arrival considering how this issue had been mulling around in my head. The question was this: “Why are the BC Scriptures Necessary for the AD Church?” In other words, since we as the Church know this Jesus as Lord, really as THE LORD, the true God in the flesh, why do we need the Old Testament, the Scriptures before Christ?
Now this article had a number of great reasons in it, many of which will be alluded to in things that I’ll say in the rest of the sermon, but I think one that was extremely important is that it says that these Scriptures give us language to talk about God. What does it mean? Well, what the author said is that it’s in the Old Testament that we are given the language to understand God as the God who has anger and wrath at sin. It’s there that we learn that sin requires atonement, death, the shedding of blood. It’s there that we see that as we experience these things, they come as a consequence of sin. Now, as I say that, it’s not as though we can’t learn about these things from the New Testament, but it’s in the Old that we see how foundational these are for understanding God. It’s there that we see that we have sinned against God, this sin has made Him angry, and therefore the consequence of that anger is death which requires the loss of life, the shedding of blood.
I think this point is so pertinent because of how we talk about God so much in our religious culture. Think about it. If you went up to a random person on the street and told them that they deserved God’s wrath, His temporal and eternal punishment, as we say it in the prayer, how would they respond? That’s sort of anathema, isn’t it? “You can’t say that about God?! That’s judgmental! Didn’t God say not to judge anyone because you can’t see their heart?!” You see we’ve grasped on so much to the idea that God is love, that we’ve extracted a real consequence to sin. But this is what we see in the whole of the Bible. The Bible gives us this worldview of who God is and who we are in relation to God, especially as we see it grounded in the Old Testament.
Now, as I say that, you likely wonder what this has to do with Jesus’ baptism. First of all, when we have this grounding of the Old Testament, we actually see this as a fulfillment. This birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus is actually something that is the peak of all history. The world created by God as described in Genesis One, fallen into sin in Genesis 3, that world now has it’s fulfillment as that Creator enters creation. And there’s a very particular fulfillment in this baptism. Look at what happens. There Jesus comes to John, and He’s getting ready to be submerged in those waters, and what happens? Look at what Matthew says. “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” So, John realizes who this is and tries to stop this from happening. He realizes Jesus is greater than him, and he says, “wait, this is backwards, you should be doing this to me.” But what does Jesus say? “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” There it is. This is a fulfillment. Things in the world, the Old Testament, they’ve been leading up to this.
In fact, you can see that when you look at the Old Testament. Did you know that in the Old Testament they had washings? It wasn’t baptism, but they washed. If they touched something unclean, they washed. If they ate a food that was unclean, they washed. If they touched a dead person, they washed. If a woman had a baby, she washed. When she shed blood she washed. Why? This uncleanness, this impurity is a part of the world and needed cleansing. So Jesus gives the ultimate washing in baptism. But lest I get ahead of myself, first to His baptism.
How is this a fulfillment? Well, it fulfills these old washings, but think about this with John. What was John’s baptism for? Do you all remember? He said it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So who needs forgiveness? Well, everyone, right? We know that. And why everyone? Because we’re all sinners. Sinners need forgiveness. What does this mean, then, when Jesus subjects Himself to this baptism? Is He a sinner? No, certainly not. But it means He’s standing with sinners. He’s standing where sinners stand, He’s identifying Himself with them. He’s fulfilling what needs to be fulfilled for them. So that’s first, this relates in that this baptism is fulfillment.
Second, we can understand this washing in view of water and the Old Testament. What do I mean by that? Well, think about the Old Testament and water. For example, look at the Old Testament reading for this morning. What happened when those Israelites walked in the water? And as I say that, let me give you some context. This is when the Israelites are entering the Promised Land. They were rescued by the Lord from their slavery in Egypt as they passed through the waters of the Red Sea—something Paul interestingly calls a baptism in his first letter to the Corinthians—but they were rescued, they lived in the wilderness for forty years with Moses, and now Joshua is taking them to the Promised Land. And what do we see in those waters? Listen: “And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan.” The Lord shall rest in the waters. There is God, with them in the waters.
Now if you know the Old Testament, you know this isn’t unusual. God was there with the water at creation. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and it was formless and void, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of the deep. There is the Spirit, there is God in the water at the beginning, and there is God in the water at the Jordan, and where do we see Him in Jesus’ baptism? 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.” There God is, actually the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there in the water. In the Old Testament, God is in the water—and to be clear that doesn’t just mean any water, it’s making a connection, but God and the water. Which brings us to the third part: comfort.
I was reading a book on pastoral care this week, a book about what it means to be a pastor, and I was reminded there of what I have so learned in my own ministry: the promise of God’s presence and His work are the heart of His care. Where does God promise to be? Where does He promise to work? In His Word, in His body and blood, and as we look at God in those waters, we know: in baptism. That baptism of yours, there God was, for you. There the water tied to the word, Jesus was in the water, the Spirit brought Him to you in the water. It looked like just this ordinary sprinkling of water your head, but the God who created the whole universe, the Jesus who identified Himself with your sin, who was crucified for your sin, but raised for your forgiveness, the Spirit who gives life, they were there in that water.
Luther said it this way: But no matter how external it may be, here stand God’s Word and command which have been instituted, established, and confirmed in Baptism. What God instituted and commands cannot be useless. It is a most precious thing, even though to all appearances it may not be worth a straw. Or as Paul said it: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” That water didn’t look like much. It looked like water maybe washing dirt off your flesh, but it was more. Jesus was there, you were united to Him. You were buried with Him so that in dying you could rise again in His resurrection. You were cleansed by His Spirit there, purified, made new. All this through the water.
And that brings us to the last point with the Old Testament. Who created this world in the Old Testament? God, the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, right? And what does He say about creation? It’s good, isn’t it? And since it’s good—although it’s fallen—He still uses it. He still promises that in that creation, in that water with the word—the word always doing the work there, without the word it’s just water—but there He is working.
This is what we see with the Old Testament, we see that it grounds us in understanding who God is. It grounds us in the knowledge that He has made all things, that all things have fallen in our rebellion against Him, but that He has come to us in Jesus and fulfilled all things to save us. And now He does. He saves you, baptizes you. He makes you His own in those waters, so that you would know Him, He would be your God and you would live with Him eternally. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read, especially these words: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.”
As we are still in the season of Christmas, we are still in the mode of thinking of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus. Although the world has moved past this celebration, in the Church we haven’t. He we are, we’re still marveling at the fact that God has entered into the world, being born of a virgin, being God in the body of a human being. And as we think about this, as we think about the perfection of God, the perfection of Christ and His divinity, I think something that often jars me—and maybe it jars you too—is the description we get of Jesus sometimes. Sometimes we get phrases like we have in Philippians where it describes Jesus as “becoming obedient” to the point of death. Or like in Hebrews where it speaks of God “making” Jesus “perfect through suffering.” Or we have one of those phrases in our lesson today, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” When we hear those phrases they’re jarring because we ask how Jesus could improve. Right? How could God get better? How could the properly obedient Son, “become” obedient? How could the perfect God “be made” perfect through suffering? How could He “increase in wisdom and in stature?” All the more how could He “increase… in favor with God?”
Well, we don’t want to spend too much time delineating between the two natures of Jesus. After all, He is One Christ, and it is good to maintain that unity. But, it is a reality that sometimes we have to make the point about how this works. What is improved in Jesus? Certainly not His divinity. No, only His humanity has that room for improvement. And that’s what we see in those words there. In fact, we even have a concrete example of it in this lesson.
Obviously, this is a story we all know well. Joseph and Mary take Jesus up to the temple for the Passover. They’re apparently with a large caravan of people, and they lose track of Jesus, assuming He’s with some other family or friends. When they realize it, they search and search, finally going back to Jerusalem only to marvel at how He’s impressing even the teachers there with His insight as a mere twelve year old. And there we can so easily see the point of this as a Christmas text. Here He is, this twelve year old Jesus showing that He’s God in the flesh by His wisdom for the teachers to witness. The glories of Christmas continue.
But there’s something just as “Christmassy” in those words I said we’d be meditating on: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” Why do I say that, and how does that connect to what I’ve been saying? Well, look at the interaction before this. If I were just to read those words, it would be easy to think Jesus did something wrong, that He sinned. All the more, if you consider what Mary says. And I’m guessing you can put yourself in her shoes pretty easily. You can imagine the terror at having lost her child. You can imagine the “great distress” both she and Joseph had in looking for Him for three days! After all, it’s bad enough to worry for three days that you lost your child, but all the more when this is the Messiah God entrusted to your care! So it’s easy to interpret this as though Jesus sinned. Which, He didn’t. And you can see that in His response. He was merely doing what He was supposed to be doing.
I think we can even picture this in view of how extremely intelligent children respond to their parents who may not be quite as intelligent as they are. “What else would I be doing?” And that’s Jesus’ response, “What else would I be doing, but what is right and attending to my Father’s work.” But yet, Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives us this insight: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” It’s as though this human side of Jesus had to learn: “Oh, while it is right for me to do what my Father says, He has given me these parents whom I am to honor, and it’s honoring for me to submit to them because when I don’t it causes them great distress. I am to love them and therefore do what they say.”
In that, then we learn something not only about Jesus but about the Fourth Commandment, don’t we? We learn something about what God is saying when He tells us “Honor Your Father and Your Mother.” Now, I sort of began to touch on this a couple of weeks ago when I discussed God giving Joseph this authority over Jesus through the word of the angel. I mentioned how Jesus was submissive to Joseph perhaps even when He was wrong. I discussed it there to make the point that God used this authority to protect Jesus that your salvation would be protected. And that’s important.
However, when we hear of Jesus being submissive, that’s important for us to consider as well. I say this because I speak with some regularity about the Fourth Commandment. I talk with some consistency about how authority and it’s relation to this commandment and it’s example in Christ show us that authority is properly for serving and not abusing. And I do this because we are so anti-authoritarian in our society. I do it to make the point that we can understand that we shouldn’t be anti-authoritarian because if authority is understood properly it’s a good thing and not a bad thing.
But the flip side of that is what we see in Jesus: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” You see sometimes when we are confronted with our rebellious and sinful nature, sometimes the best thing to hear is just outright law. The Law of God says do this, so do it. The Law of God says to submit to your parents, so submit. Luther says it like this: To fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction, above all estates that are beneath it, that he commands us not simply to love our parents but also to honor them. … Thus he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. For it is a much greater thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love but also deference, humility, and modesty, directed (so to speak) toward a majesty hidden within them… that we respect them very highly and that next to God we give them the very highest place.” In fact, he even makes the point that, “they are not to be deprived of their honor because of their ways or their failings. Therefore, we are not to think of their persons, whatever they are, but of the will of God, who has created and ordained them to be our parents.”
Now, as I say this, two things are noteworthy. First of all, hopefully you all know that as we look at Scripture, we see clearly that this honoring of father and mother is not just limited to parents. If that were the case, this commandment would have no bearing on a number of us here who no longer have living parents. But that’s not the whole application. I think you all know that. It applies to other authorities too. It applies to husbands as the head of the household. It applies to government as the head of state. It applies to employers as masters. It applies to pastors. There is a structure to this authority and God says submit to it. Submit to it out of joy knowing that God has put authority in place to help you. It doesn’t always feel like it. It doesn’t always feel like it’s a good thing to submit, but do it.
Now as I say that, the other noteworthy thing is something I am sure many of you are thinking: “but what about when the authority tells us to do something wrong?” To that we always say, “we must obey God rather than man.” That is an absolute. That is the appropriate response when we look at households, at jobs, at government, and even under pastoral care. That’s the appropriate response when we consider how the Germans responded to the Nazi Reich. But, I do think we need to be cautioning ourselves in view of the freedoms we have that we don’t just jump on any and every opportunity to rebel.
In fact, I think this example of our Lord Jesus is ideal in this. Look at this submission as an act of love. Jesus loved Mary and Joseph so He submitted to them. He saw their care for being good authorities over Him, and He loved them and so submitted. And I make this point because, as I said when I talked about Joseph, I’m sure there were times that this submission showed itself when the authority wasn’t seeking the best interest of Jesus. And yet this submission—when not called upon to sin—was still demonstrated. So for us to see, this is love.
In fact, as we reflect on this love of Jesus, this love as He is God in the flesh, we can’t but reflect on the fact that this child grew to the man who showed even the submission to the Sanhedrin and their mock trial, to Pilate and his unjust ruling, finally it submitted to the unjust verdict of death. You see we are so often quick to rail against injustice—and we should seek the justice of others—but we are so quick to shout out when we’ve been treated unjustly, but in our Lord Jesus we see the submission to injustice that was by far the most unjust of all. And yet that’s what He bore as this God in the flesh.
He bore it for you, for your rebellion, for your imperfection as authority too. That’s what this perfect submission was for. It was for you. For your life, for your good. Because that is His love for you.
So in this Christmas, as you reflect on this Lord who is God in the flesh, consider Him as that One who submitted under the call of the Fourth Commandment, who submitted even to the curse of sin on the cross, so that this One born in the manger would be the Firstborn over the New Creation, raised for your resurrection. In that submission, then know that this humanity of Jesus was perfected, it was restrained and improved. And to understand that rightly, you can know that this was done so that your humanity that is broken by sin would be raised in His perfection, and it would be so that you would live eternally with Him. After all, that was His goal in coming in the world, that was His joy, and that was the cause of His submission to His parents and to all things to which He submitted Himself: your salvation. Amen.