Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after Epiphany (January 12, 2013)

MATTHEW 3:13-17
WHEN JESUS WAS BAPTIZED, THE HEAVENS WERE OPENED.

In the name + of Jesus.

     John the Baptist had recognized that something was not right.  Jesus had come to be baptized.  And when Jesus came to John, John protested.
     This is backwards!  Baptism is for the remission of sins.  I have sins that need to be remitted.  But you, Jesus, you have no need for forgiveness.  You have no sins that need to be pardoned.  You have no marks on your record.  You have no need for baptism.  Baptism is for cleansing.  Only he who is impure needs to be cleansed.  And here I am – a filthy, corrupt man.  I cannot cleanse myself no matter how hard I try, no matter how sincere I am about it.  But you, Jesus, you are blameless, innocent, pure, and holy.  You can’t improve upon that.  So, what are you doing here?  I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? (Matthew 3:14)
     But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15)  It was fitting that Jesus would be baptized.  In fact, it was necessary.  By being baptized, Jesus would unite himself to you.  He would take up your cause.  He would make your sins his sins.  He would take up your curse, mar himself with your filth, and carry your iniquity to the cross where he would suffer and die in your place.  By being baptized, Jesus unites himself with sinners and makes himself the Savior of sinners. 
     This is also why you have been baptized, and why parents continue to bring their children to be baptized.  Everyone comes into this world a sinner.  There are many people today who do believe that children—and especially babies—are not sinners.  But that is untrue.  The Psalms remind us, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)  As soon as a child is old enough to demonstrate that he is a sinner, he does.  He throws tantrums when he does not get his way.  He steals toys that are not his own.  He talks back to his parents.  He throws his food off his tray.  And he does not have to be taught any of these things.  Even a child is sinful, and therefore he does sinful things.
     Of course, it gets no better when you are adults.  You are more clever with your tantrums, but you still have them.  You are more sly in getting what does not belong to you, but you still scheme to get it.  You are still snarky to others.  You still sin against others.  You did not have to be taught how to do it.  Perhaps you have learned how to get away with it better.  And perhaps you have learned how to smooth talk your way out of paying a temporal price for your sins.  But you have not overcome your sins.  You still commit sins because you are still sinful.  It is a wretched condition, and it rightly leads to death.  It is the punishment sinners deserve.
     Therefore, you were baptized.  In your baptism, you were united to Jesus.  Just as he took all your filth from you—no matter how filthy it has been, so also he has bestowed his righteousness upon you.  St. Paul wrote, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)  So when the Lord sees you, he sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  He no longer sees the sinner, for that was put to death in your baptism.  Rather, he sees a new creation, a saint.  The very holiness that God demands of you, in baptism Jesus Christ has given to you.
     When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him… (Matthew 3:16)  This is precisely what baptism does.  Jesus entered the Jordan to be baptized, and when he was baptized, the heavens were ripped open for him.  So also, when you were baptized into Jesus’ name, the heavens were opened to you too. 
     Sin is the one thing that keeps you out of the Lord’s Paradise; for sin is not allowed to dwell in God’s presence.  But we live in a world infested with it.  It is seen not only in our own self-absorbed hearts, but also in a world which has been corrupted too.  You hear about it with reports of H1N1 flu.  You felt it in the Polar Vortex which brought life-threatening cold to the Midwest.  You know it from family squabbles and office politics.  You fear it because you are going to die one day.  You try to prevent it with medications.  You try to minimize its pain with insurance claims.  But the whole world has fallen under the curse of sin.  Even Disney movies show you a world that has problems in it.  That is why this world will perish.  We often call this world our home, but we also pray to be delivered from all of the pain in it.
     When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened.  And when you were baptized into Jesus’ name, the heavens were opened to you too.  You have had your sins washed away by your baptism.  And therefore, there is nothing that keeps you out of the presence of God any longer.  In God’s presence, there is no sin.  There are no consequences or effects of sin.  There is no more mourning or sickness or pain or death.  There are no bouts of pneumonia, no Polar Vortices, no scandals, and no sniffles.  Jesus gives you the freedom from all of these problems.  He who conquered the grave gives you a resurrection to a new, perfect, and everlasting life.  Jesus is the way to the life you pray for and long for. 
     When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened.  And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)  The Father declared his love for his Son.  He must be pleased with Jesus, for Jesus is holy.  But now you have been baptized into Jesus Christ.  You are clothed in Christ.  Therefore, the Father must be well-pleased with you.  You are marked as a child of God.  You are an heir of God’s kingdom. 
     As you continue on through life, you may not always feel like a child of God.  Satan may taunt you with your sins, even dredging up sins from years past that you would prefer to keep buried.  And since you still commit sins day after day, these may haunt you too.  You may wonder how much of a Christian you really are if you are still doing and saying and thinking wicked things.  If doubts ever enter your mind, do not find ways to ignore or excuse your sins.  That will never help.  If you desire comfort and assurance, then flee back to your baptism.  For, when you were baptized, the Lord marked you as his child.  You were baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  God does not lie to you about these things, and he does not renege on his promises, either.  If you are baptized, then you are forgiven.  Then you are a child of God.  Then you are saved.
     And if you are still plagued by your sins, then come to your pastor for private absolution where, through his minister, Jesus again assures you that you are forgiven.  He takes you back to God’s promise.  You acknowledge your sins—not in pride but in repentance, and you get to hear the words of your Savior through his minister, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  The words which marked you in baptism also mark you in absolution.  Your Lord is pleased for forgive your sins so that you will remain well-pleasing to him.
     Jesus Christ has fulfilled all righteousness in is baptism.  He unites himself to you so that he is your Savior.  He unites you to him so that you are saved.  You are God’s beloved children.  God’s name is upon you, and heaven is open to you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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