What About the Change?
Baptism of Jesus • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 1:10:49
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Today is the day we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. In the past weeks we’ve been able to look at three very distinct moments in Jesus Life.
His birth - everything in our Advent Season told us to expect a Messiah and then, Jesus is born: a child, dependent, helpless. What were we to make of that?
The Magi arrive - by this time Jesus is a toddler. These non-Jews travel a great distance putting their lives at risk to come and visit, and honor, and worship this King of the Jews. And when they saw him, they literally bowed with their faces to the ground and opened up their finest gifts.
And now, we come to the day of his baptism. Between the visit of the Magi and Jesus baptism we don’t have a lot of details about Jesus’ early life with the exception of his visit to the temple at the age of 12.
As we look at his baptism today, let’s see how God is revealing Himself and His plan. We’re going to look at the Gospel of Matthew:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 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.”
This is a reading from the Gospel according to Matthew.
Thanks be to God.
What About The Change?
What About The Change?
There is so much in this passage, but I’m just going to touch on a few as we begin to understand who it is that John is. He appears prominently at the beginning of all four Gospels. You may remember in our Advent readings and at Christmas he is the son of Elizabeth, a relative of Mary’s. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth. But now we get a clearer picture of who John is:
We’re told that he came preaching in the “wilderness” of Judea.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
The wilderness figures prominently into the life of the Jews. Remember they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. The law was given to them in the wilderness, the prophets often went into the wilderness to commune with God.
And his message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” is the same message that Jesus would speak in his ministry and that he would have the disciples preach. He is compared to Elijah:
Note the description from Matthew in vs. 3
For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ”
Then you have his description and what he wore and ate:
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
This would conjure up images of Elijah - the great prophet to Israel.
But John wasn’t a zealot drumming up support for people to follow him, no! He was preparing the way for the Lord.
We read that Jerusalem and all Judea were going to him and being baptized by John, confessing their sins. And then the religious leaders of the day show up. They would often point to their pedigree to justify themselves rather than their actions and John points to their actions.
The baptism he offered was one of repentance - and they came to him, and in so doing one would think they came for repentance - yet they have not changed. So John refers to them as a brood of vipers. He lets them know that by “their fruit” they should be judged.
It reminds me as a Camp speaker how often I would have the same kids year after year “give their life to Christ for the first time.” Why?
Was it the affirmation they received for making that statement? Was it for attention? Or was it that they still didn’t understand the change?
John knew, and he understood. God was the one who could raise up children for Abraham - God didn’t need anyone to claim their genealogy as proof of their relationship with God.
I still here it occasionally, when I speak with someone. They will tell me of relatives (often distant cousins) who are missionaries, or pastors, as if being related somehow makes them right with God. When I lived in Chattanooga I would share that I was one of the pastors at Central Presbyterian Church, and more often than not the response was, “Oh! I used to go to that church.” When I asked where they went now, most no longer attended church but always assured me that their faith was strong. I’d give them my card and assure them they were always welcome back. The building is still there as a graduate university and counseling center.
John shares of his mission:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
That is how John introduces Jesus to us.
Mightier than him
One for whom he has extreme reverence and would not even pretend to be worthy of carrying his shoes.
One who will separate the wheat from the chaff, gather the wheat and burn the chaff.
When Jesus approaches John to be baptized, John tried to prevent him, saying “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?”
Gregory bishop of Nazianzus wrote of John’s comparison of himself to Jesus as:
“...the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who was already come and is to come again.”
And then we get an even clearer glimpse of who Jesus is:
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;
Jesus is baptized and he comes up (a symbol of the resurrection) and it is not him who has changed, but the world is now changed. Just as after the flood the earth began anew, now Jesus rises from the water and the world has a new beginning. And what you’re going to see is the Trinity unite in this one scene:
Jesus comes up from the water, the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God - the Holy Spirit - descends on him like a dove and comes to rest upon him. But we’re not done, that’s only 2 persons of the trinity...
and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God the Father speaks from heaven about Jesus - His Son, He loves, and with whom He is pleased!
Can any greater statement be made from a father to their child?
And everything changed…right?
What About The Change?
What About The Change?
John the Baptizer as he was baptizing saw the non-repentance of the Pharisees and Sadduccees who apparently non-the-less still came out to be baptized along with “all Judea.” And he called them out about it.
In vss. 5 - 6 we read, “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to [John], and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
What would Jesus have confessed?
We know that Jesus lived a sinless life.
So did he confess that he had nothing to confess? That seems doubtful.
In the reformed tradition we refer to baptism as an outward sign of an inward grace. Baptism takes place in community as it was there on the Jordan as Jesus was baptized by John. Everyone coming to John’s baptism was professing anyway to come to repent, knowing that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand.
By confessing their sins they were saying that they were choosing to align their lives with what they knew of the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s instructions. We come to baptism, confessing our sins and our desire to follow our Lord Jesus Christ.
By being baptized by John, Jesus was affirming what John had said about him. The judge is coming, He is holy, and he will bring judgment on his people.
Jesus begins his ministry, a ministry that will forever cement the direction of God’s relationship with his people. In a very real sense, the fact that Jesus submits himself to John’s baptism demonstrates how he has fully become one of us. He could have been up front demanding the listeners to change their ways, but instead he was down with the sinners affirming his solidarity with them.
When Jesus comes up out of the water the heavens are opened up and the Holy Spirt does not come down as judgment, but like a dove, a symbol of peace. And the heavenly father speaks.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
In that moment, Jesus announced his purpose of coming - having no reason to repent he offered his solidarity with you and I as sinners in need of repentance. There he was, not judging, but receiving.
As he begins his ministry he is opening himself to take on the sins of the entire world. He would demonstrate love, acceptance and forgiveness - something our world is in desperate need of right now.
What About The Change?
What About The Change?
We need to change things. We need to change the way we behave, and the way we see each other.
Let us not live lives that are not seriously marked by the abundance of good fruit, and not by bad fruit. Let us be wheat and not chaff.