Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sermon --1st Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of our Lord (January 8, 2017)

MATTHEW 3:13-17

THIS ONE IS THE LORD'S ANOINTED.

In the name + of Jesus.

     We have entered Epiphany.  Epiphany means appearing or revelation.  When something becomes apparent to you, you say that you had an epiphany.  During Epiphany season, we hear how Jesus of Nazareth is revealed as the Christ.  Through his words and works, Jesus makes it manifest that he is the Son of God.
     Perhaps you feel that this already occurred at Christmas.  But the reason we marvel at Christmas is not because Jesus entered the world in some spectacular way.  What was apparent at Christmas is that a peasant woman from Nazareth gave birth to her firstborn son.  What had to be revealed came through the angels' word: “He is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)  The Magi needed a star to reveal what Herod and the priests did not know, that “the King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2) was born.  Anyone who was at the manger scene would have observed nothing out of the ordinary.  That’s because Jesus was born and grew up in a most ordinary way.
     The Gospel writers record next to nothing about Jesus’ life from his infancy until he was 30 years old.  St. Luke sums up Jesus’ childhood in this way: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) That extraordinary silence reflects a most ordinary existence.  But now things change at Epiphany.  Jesus manifests that he is the Lord's anointed.
     Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. (Matthew 3:13)  God the Father had commissioned Jesus to come into the world to do the work of the Savior.  Jesus was not volunteering; he was reporting for duty.  Jesus was the only one qualified to do this work; for Jesus alone had the favor of God upon him.  Jesus had no need to be baptized.  Jesus is innocent in words and deeds.  Jesus is pure of heart.  John the Baptist recognized that.  John said, “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.”  (Matthew 3:14-15)  
     It was fitting for Jesus to be baptized so that he would save us.  As I said before, Jesus did not need to be baptized.  Baptism is for cleansing.  We baptize our babies because they are sinful.  That is not apparent,  That, too, God needs to reveal to us, although by the time they are toddlers it is apparent to us.  We are baptized because we are not pure—although we like to think that we are.  We like to think that our intentions are enough to excuse us for our lies.  We recognize that giving to charity, praying, and giving our mothers a phone call are good things.  We also think that we should get credit for recognizing it even if we don't do these things as we should.  We like to think that our dreams and musings are how God speaks to us, and we assume we have God's approval on our plans and schemes.  We are convinced that, because we are convinced about something, that it must be from God.
     Thus, we rob ourselves of any assurance that God's favor actually does rest upon us and our lives.  Unless we have a clear word from God, we can never be sure that God blesses us or our actions.  Even worse, without a clear word from God, we can never be sure that God is pleased with us.  And when our consciences remind us that we are impure and unclean, no inventive thoughts of ours can put an end to that accusing voice.  Our hearts are deceptive.  Our thoughts are impure.  Our lives are unclean.  We are not innocent, and we are not even neutral.  We are sinners.  We need to be cleansed and purified.  We need to have forgiveness and salvation revealed to us.  We need an epiphany, and our Lord gives us one.
     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.” (Matthew 3:16-17)  And here is part of the Epiphany.  It is God the Father revealing, “This one.  This one is my Son.  This one has my favor.  This one is the Christ.  He is anointed not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit to do the work of salvation for you.  This one is my anointed who will save you.”  Here you do not need to assume.  You have God's own word: This one is the Lord's Anointed.
     Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism.  This anointing marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  This is where Jesus is revealed as the Christ.  He begins the office into which he is commissioned.  In the Old Testament, people were anointed into their various offices.  Aaron was anointed to be Israel’s high priest.  David was anointed to be Israel’s king.  Elisha was anointed to be Israel’s prophet.  The Lord put them into their respective offices and gave them the authority and responsibility that came along with it.  Throughout Epiphany, it is revealed about Jesus: This one is the Lord’s Anointed.
     Just as offices were conferred on prophets, high priests, and kings in the Old Testament, so these offices were conferred upon Jesus.  At his baptism, Jesus was anointed not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit.  This one is the Lord's Anointed, and he is anointed to carry out the work of all the Old Testament offices—of prophet, high priest, and king.  This one will perfectly fulfill their work.
     This one is the Lord's anointed, anointed to be the prophet who proclaims the Lord's favor, who declares salvation, and who forgives sins.  Jesus does not merely talk about these blessings, he delivers them.  Your sins are, therefore, forgiven because you have God's word on it.  You don't have to assume you are forgiven.  You are assured of it.  It is not your inventive thought; it is God's gracious declaration.
     This one is the Lord's anointed, anointed to be our great high priest.  As our high priest, Jesus makes the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  It is Jesus who enters the very presence of God the Father with holy, precious blood offered up to pay for our sins.  But Jesus is not only the high priest.  He is also the Lamb of God who is slain for our sins.  Jesus sheds his own blood for us.  He has taken our sin from us in order to be the sin offering for us.  He gives his holy life for sinners, and pours out his innocent blood for the guilty.  The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)  
     This one is the Lord's anointed, anointed to be your king.  He is not a tyrant who taxes and terrorizes you.  He is not a king who sends you into battle to win a glorious victory for him.  He is the king who goes into battle to win a glorious victory for you.  He goes forth alone to take on your enemies of sin, death, and the devil for you.  Your sins he covers.  Your death he overthrows.  And the devil he destroys.  Therefore, you are pardoned of your guilt.  You are heirs of the resurrection.  And you are delivered from the torments of hell to the joys of heaven.
     Jesus does all this for you because he is the Lord's Anointed.  He is not your Savior because you say it is so.  Jesus is not even the Savior because he says so, even though he does.  Here is your Epiphany:  The words and the works of Jesus reveal your Savior to you.  God the Holy Spirit anoints Jesus for the work, and God the Father gives you his word: “This one.  This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)  This one has my favor.  This one is the Christ.  He is anointed with the Holy Spirit to do the work of salvation for you.  This one is my anointed who will save you.”  Here you have God's epiphany: This one is the Lord's Anointed.  He is baptized to unite himself to you.  Through baptism, you are united to him.  He takes away your sin.  He bestows on you his righteousness.  Through your baptism, he opens heaven to you.  He puts God's favor upon you.  You are his beloved, and with you he is well pleased.

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

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