Monday, January 11, 2021

The Great Exchange. . .

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, preached on Sunday, January 10, 2021.

The appearance of John the Forerunner in the wilderness began a life and a work that is fulfilled when Jesus stands with John in the water of the Jordan.  Every baptism that John did looked to this moment and to this unlikely baptism of Jesus.  Every sermon John preached is fulfilled when Jesus comes to be baptized at the hand of John.  John’s duty was always to anoint the Anointed One of God and it happens not in regal courts or comfortable glory but in the stale and dirty water of our sin.  When faced with the duty for which he was born, John finds himself strangely unsure.  John knows he should be baptized by Jesus instead of the other way around.

How often haven’t people frozen in the crunch time, hesitated at the very moment when they should have been bold, uncertain when they should have been most confident!  I know I have.  John’s whole life pointed to this moment and indeed after Jesus’ baptism, John fades away as a force and a part of the story.  Forever John had been saying, “after me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  Now when the hand off comes, John wavers.  When the great exchange is set to happen, John does not seem up to it.  Jesus has to help John face this moment.

It is not hard to see why there are conflicting emotions in John.  Jesus was not a sinner whom John had called to repentance.  Jesus was not covered with dirt waiting for the mercy of God to wash Him clean.  Jesus was not being given a new start and a fresh identity in this miracle of water.  No, indeed.  Jesus was clean and holy and righteous and was going down in the churning, dirty, and filthy water of our sins.  Every sin in that putrid water was going to stick to Jesus.  And because He who knew no sin would become sin for us, Jesus would rise from that water marked for death.  And not just any death but the cruelest of deaths in the agony of the cross when death was deliberately slowed so that the suffering could be extended.  If John had a hint that this was the future awaiting Jesus from this baptism, it is no wonder John hesitated.  But Jesus did not hesitate.  “It must be so that I may fulfill all righteousness.”  The baptism went on.

When Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove.  A voice came booming from heaven:  “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  John may have been uncertain but Jesus was not and neither was the Father.  The plot hatched in the heart of God before the foundation of the world had come down to this moment.  Jesus is inaugurated into His public ministry by going down into the deep waters of our sin and rising up with all those sins stuck to Him like glue.  He will wear them righteously in a life of holy obedience and will die for them in a death of holy obedience.  No one had ever been baptized like this before and no one since.  But the promise of God depended upon this moment and the pledge God made in YOUR baptism was dependent upon this event.

Today we recall how Jesus went down into the filthy stream of our sin to do what only He could do and what must be done to save us.  It was not that the river itself was dirty, as Naaman had complained, or that there were not other rivers and better rivers in Israel.  It was that whatever water into which Christ was baptized would be the water of our sin, churning with the stain of our rebuke toward God in Eden and darkened with every sin we have added to that rebellion since.

At that moment John was never more fully aware of his unworthiness, of the irony of the only innocent man standing in the water there to take upon Himself the full weight of John’s sins, of the sins of all of Israel, and, indeed, of the whole world.  John’s instinct was to protect Jesus and prevent Jesus from what was there in that water, the certain death for sin that alone would release righteousness for sinners.  But Jesus insists that this great exchange is not a choice for John but the saving will of the Father to which Jesus was fully and finally committed.  From this moment John, his preaching and his baptism would fade away, for the One whose way he proclaimed had come.

None of us goes to baptism as Jesus did.  None of us brings righteousness to that water.  We bring only sin – the sin of Adam into which we were born and the sins we have added to the guilt of Eden.  We go down into that water dirty and come up clean just as Jesus went in clean and came out dirty.  Connected to His own death and resurrection, covered in His righteousness, born anew not of flesh but of the Spirit, we become the sons and daughters of God.  Our identity and life is sealed in that water just as Jesus identity and life was sealed in the waters of His baptism.  John could not make Jesus the Messiah but the Messiah can make of sinners the children of God.  It happened to you.  It happens among us with some regularity.  It is the miracle of water and the Word.

In some baptismal fonts, at the bottom of the bowl, permanently resting in baptismal water, is a crucifix.  It is there to remind us that the power of baptism is the Word of God and the gift of baptism is born of Jesus’ baptism.  Christ is in that water still, taking from us our sin, and covering us with His righteousness.  He takes what is ours and we receive what is His alone and by this miracle of water and the Spirit, we are made the children of God.  The words once spoken to Jesus are now directed to those whom Jesus has cleansed and given new birth.  You are My beloved sons and daughters.  With you I am well pleased.  

In the womb of Blessed Mary and laid in the manger, Christ honored us by taking on our flesh and blood.  In the womb of this font and presented at this altar, Christ has done us the honor of giving us His own name, His own identity as God’s son, His righteousness as our clothing, and His resurrection as our future.  So this baptism is not some item on the checklist of salvation that we can cross off and forget but the single most important event in our lives.  From this baptismal encounter the Holy Spirit teaches us faith, sanctifies and guides us that we may follow Christ, and delivers us to the fulfillment of that baptismal promise when we rise from the grave to awaken to eternal life.  

Along the way the same Lord Jesus assigns angels to minister and protect us, opens our deaf ears to hear the voice of God in His Word and recognize it as our Good Shepherd, emboldens us to confess our sins and forgives those sins, gives us a place at His table so that we may eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, and works in us that we may be more like Christ less like Adam, until the good work He began in us is complete and we are delivered from all that is temporary to that which is eternal, in God’s Kingdom without end.

Making you better, meant making Jesus worse.  Making you clean, meant making Jesus dirty.  Making you whole, meant making Jesus broken.  Making you live, meant making Jesus die.  It is no shock that we want what baptism offers – that we want a better life, to be clean and whole, and to live through death to eternity.  What is shocking to us is that Jesus welcomes this great exchange.  He comes willingly – the worst of us to bear, the dirt on us to wear, the wounds in us He bleeds, and the death in us He dies.

Satan once owned us and our future.  We surrendered ourselves to Him when we chose to trust the devil’s lies and the deceptions of our own sinful hearts.  But now we are owned by God, set apart for His holy purpose, now and forever.  We have been bought with a price, and we belong to Him.  Sin cannot shame us, Satan cannot deceive us, trials cannot overcome us, and death cannot claim us.  We belong to the Lord.  Because the Lord chose to step into that river of sin and death, we step into the still, quiet waters of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

Timothy Carter said...

Beautiful Sermon, Pastor Peters

•So this baptism is not some item on the checklist of salvation that we can cross off and forget… BUT THE SINGLE MOST IMPOTENT EVEN OF OUR LIVES.

From this baptismal encounter…
o the Holy Spirit teaches us faith,
o sanctifies and guides us that we may follow Christ,
o delivers us to the fulfillment of that baptismal promise when we rise from the grave to awaken to eternal life.
...sheer poetry.

I sent this one to my adult children...prayfully we can all return to "in-person church" when this damn plague is passed. I faithfully go to "on-line" church (I have "underlying-health-issues") but it is a poor substitute. I miss the Liturgy (Confession and Absolution, Creed, Word... Sung and Preached, Holy Communion) so much. Your Sermon and my own Pastor Becker's Sermon on the power of Baptism help me get through this isolation.
Thank You both... Confessional Lutheran Pastors.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport, TN.