Second Sunday after Epiphany

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The Baptism of Our Lord - Midweek Service

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As small children we all boasted about being the tallest, the fastest, or the biggest. We boasted about losing the most teeth and getting the most stitches. If you weren’t the prettiest, you tried to be the smartest. If you couldn’t be the smartest, perhaps you tried to be the funniest. We all wanted to be the best at something, to have a super power or special ability. So I remember the disappointment I felt as a child when I learned that everything had already been measured – every possible statistic had been quantified. How could I boast of being as fast as a cheetah when the fastest human can only run 27.8 MPH? The world suddenly seemed smaller and less mysterious. According to the charts and measurements, I found that I was neither particularly tall nor short. I wasn’t especially smart or dumb. I was simply a normal child. Well, where’s the boasting in that?
Of course, this didn’t stop me from boasting. If I couldn’t be the best in the world, I could at least be the best in my class. It helped that my class was very small. Everything became a competition. I tried to get the highest score on every quiz, to do the most push-ups in PE, and to play the most instruments in band – all the while bragging of my accomplishments. If nothing else, I was good at boasting. No one had to teach me this. I didn’t need to study or practice. I was born with this ability. I had, as Napoleon Dynamite would say, mad boasting skills. But even here, I was not special or unique. I shared this ability with every other member of the human race, with every man, woman, boy, and girl born, just like me, into sin.
No one has to practice pride. We’re good at it by default. It’s part of the sinful nature that we inherit from birth. Pride is not an isolated part of our nature. It spills over into every area of our lives. Sinful pride can shape our thoughts, affect our words, and motivate our deeds. And often, when we try to understand God, when we try to look at spiritual matters, we do so through the lens of pride. “Why am I saved? Why am I going to heaven? Well, because I’m such a good person, of course. Yes, I may not measure off the charts physically – not the fastest or the strongest – but spiritually, I’m a giant. I’ve got a kind and good heart. I sincerely love God.” Here, at last, is a statistic the world can’t evaluate with a graph. There are no instruments for measuring holiness. But God can and has measured your heart. He has weighed your sincerity in the balances and found you lacking (Dan 5:27). His Word declares, “No one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:11b-12). Your sinful pride would love to take credit for salvation, but the truth is: You did not choose God; God chose you. You were dead. Dead people don’t choose God; dead people can’t choose God. God chose you.
Your proud old Adam grudgingly concedes the point. “OK. I guess. God chose me. But why? Why did he choose me? Aha! There’s the question! Perhaps I’ll never get a call from the White House asking for my advice. American Idol may never recognize my talent. But at least God sees what nobody else can see. He chose me because he sees my potential. I’m a diamond in the rough. True, there are some edges that need smoothed out. Some things need chiseled away, but underneath that crusty exterior there is a precious jewel waiting to be discovered.”
God answers through the Apostle Paul, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (Rom 1:26-26). “Well, yes.” counters your sinful pride, “Not many wise, not many noble. But there are a few of us…” “Do not think,” says the Lord God, “Do not think that it was because you were greater than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the least of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut 7:7-8a).
Here is the message of the gospel. You were the least of all people. You were not one of the wise, the powerful, or the high born. You were one of the foolish, the weak, the despised. But God chose you. Why? Because the Lord loves you. Yes, but why? Why does God love you? In The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, the demons are sitting around in hell asking this same question. “Why does God love the little vermin? What’s his angle? What does he get out of the deal?” Their best minds have been working on this question for centuries and still they have no answer. Perhaps God looks into the future, sees that one day you will love him in return, and for this reason chooses you. This would make God the ultimate investor, able to look ahead in time to see who will turn out to be a good investment. But God doesn’t need your love. He doesn’t need anything from you. God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you” (Ps 50:10b, 12). Human love expects to get something in return, but the love of God is free.
Why did God love you? Who can know the mind of God? Who can understand the breadth, the length, the height, the depth of God’s love for you? (Eph 3:18). It surpasses all knowledge. It can’t be searched out. It can’t be explained. It can only be believed. John writes, “In this we know love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). Here is love. God incarnate, bleeding and dying up his cross, for you. And Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Even more, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10).
How were you reconciled to God? It the most foolish way imaginable. God, the all-powerful ruler, the source of all wisdom, chose to enter the world in weakness. Jesus laid aside his glory and clothed himself in human flesh. He was conceived in scandal and born into poverty. His own people did not recognize him. The rich and proud rejected him and plotted against him. His own disciples betrayed, denied, and forsook him. He was beaten, stripped naked, and finally hung upon a cross to die the death of a common criminal. And those who watched him die laughed and mocked him. 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 (1 Cor 1:27-28). Who was lower than Christ? Who is more despised than Jesus? Even his name has become a curse word. And yet, out of this foolishness, out of his weakness, God wrought the salvation of the world. God chose even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. God chose Jesus, who was not a sinner to bring to nothing the sins of the world. Jesus became sin in your stead and you became the righteousness of God.
What did you contribute to your salvation? For all the protests of sinful pride to the contrary, you added nothing to salvation. Actually, I take this back. You did contribute to your salvation. You contributed sin and hostility towards God. You took the sinful nature born within you from Adam, and to this you contributed the actual sins of thought, word, and deed. Everything else, God provided. Sinful man can’t take credit for anything except for sin – not the choice, not a tiny spark of desire for God, not even our faith. For this too is a gift from God. Apart from the Holy Spirit, we are incapable of believing the foolishness of the gospel. Faith is impossible unless God gives it too you. And this is exactly what God did to you in your baptism. He gave you his Holy Spirit. He gave you faith. You were joined to Christ, to his perfect life, and to his death on the cross. God made you a part of this foolishness. The world that ridicules Christ will now despise you. Don’t be surprised. Don’t be ashamed. Instead, boast in your Savior. Boast in the weakness and foolishness of God. Boast in the cross. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:25).
He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:30-31). You were one of the foolish things, but Christ has been made your wisdom. You were not high-born, but you are now part of the family of God. You bear his name, and this a better title than anything this world can offer. Why would you need to be the first, the strongest, or the smartest? Why would you need fame, glory, or recognition? These things are fleeting, but you have been given a treasure that is incorruptible. The foolishness of the gospel gives you eternal life in Christ. The weakness of the cross destroys the power of sin, death, and the devil God has made Christ Jesus our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. You did not earn it. You did not deserve it. It is the gift of God to everyone who believes. To God alone be the glory! Amen.
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