Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after Epiphany (Baptism of our Lord)

LUKE 3:15-17,21-22


In the name + of Jesus.

     We have entered the Epiphany season.  Epiphany means “appearing, or revealing.”  If you have ever said, “I had an epiphany,” you meant that something had been revealed to you or that you finally got it.  During the Sundays of Epiphany season, the Gospel reveal that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.
     On the night Jesus was born, the angel revealed to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ....” (Luke 2:11)  Jesus was called the Christ, but for the next thirty years Jesus did not act as the Christ.  He did not do miracles.  He did not preach sermons.  Even though Jesus is Lord and was sent to be the Christ, he did not usurp an office which would be bestowed upon him by the Father.  He did not act as the Messiah in his teen years because he felt called or because God had laid it upon his heart.  Jesus began his ministry only after he had been anointed to serve as the Lord's Anointed. 
     After Jesus' birth, the word “Christ” does not show up in Scripture until Jesus was about 30 years old.  When it did get brought up again, it was in connection with John.  The people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ... (Luke 3:15)  John is not the Christ.  John was appointed to be the Lord's prophet, but he was not the Anointed of the Lord.  John was the Baptizer; the Christ was to come soon. 
     When Jesus came to the Jordan, he was baptized by John and anointed to take up his office as the Christ.  St. Luke records it in two brief verses: Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)  Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit to take up the work which he was sent to do.  Jesus is the Lord's anointed who serves you. 
     Throughout the Old Testament, men were anointed into a particular office.  Aaron was anointed by Moses to serve as the high priest.  David was anointed by Samuel to serve as king of Israel.  Elisha was anointed by Elijah to be the prophet of the Lord.  At each anointing, God designated that particular man and gave him a measure of his Holy Spirit to carry out the duties of his appointed office.  When Jesus was baptized, he was anointed by the Holy Spirit to be the Christ.  And as the Lord's anointed, Jesus serves you as the fulfillment of all three offices—prophet, high priest, and king.
     John the Baptist had described what Jesus would do as the Christ.  He said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16-17)  In other words, Jesus came to gather in a harvest.  The good will be brought in; but the bad will be delivered into unquenchable fire—that is, a fire that never goes out; eternal hellfire.  Of course, you and I want to consider ourselves among the good because the alternative is terrifying.
     Jesus has come as the Prophet to proclaim the word of the Lord to us.  He defines what is good and what is wicked.  Among the many things he teaches is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)  Now, we all tend to credit ourselves as being obedient to that.  But Jesus also teaches God's demand is greater than what we credit ourselves with.  He declared, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...  If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same. (Luke 6:27,32-33)  Jesus shows us that we are not as good as we like to think.  We are good at loving our friends, but our enemies?!  We don't like people who annoy us; why would we love people who hate us?  They are our enemies for a reason, right?  This shows that our love is limited, selective, and selfish.  We are not as good as we think.  Repent.
     Although Jesus shows us that we are not good, he proclaims a heavenly Father who is.  For God sent his Son to serve and to save sinners.  By being baptized, Jesus has taken up the cause of sinners.  That means he takes up your sin and guilt.  He suffered what sinners deserve.  He was consumed in God's fiery wrath when he hung from the cross so that you will be delivered from unquenchable fire.  Your holy prophet reveals the divine mercy which forgives sins, and he proclaims the grace that opens heaven.
     Jesus is the Lord's Anointed who serves you.  He fulfills the office of high priest.  As high priest, Aaron represented God before the people, and he represented the people before God.  Israel's high priest made sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people, and then he declared God's peace upon the people.  Jesus is your great high priest.  He comes in the name of the Lord to declare salvation to you.  But he also comes before the Lord for you to secure that salvation.  He serves not only as your high priest, he is also the sacrifice which was given up for you.  Jesus shed his innocent blood for the guilty.  And through your baptism, he has covered you with his innocence.  Through your baptism, you have been clothed with Christ.  This is how Jesus declares God's peace upon you; for God will not despise that which is holy.  His favor rests upon you.  And Jesus lives to intercede for you to assure you of God's favor and God's peace.
     Jesus is the Lord's Anointed who serves you.  Jesus was anointed as king, just as David was.  When Samuel anointed David as king, Saul was still on the throne.  David did not stage a coup.  He waited for the Lord to give him the throne as God's timing.  But what David did do immediately after he was made the Lord's Anointed was to go out and battle the giant, Goliath.  David single-handedly faced the enemy of God's people and slew him.  In the same way, Jesus single-handedly went forth and slew your enemies.  Your sins no longer condemn you;  you are forgiven.  Death and the grave do not own you.  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, so also you and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  And Satan lies crushed under Jesus' feet.  The devil may try to dredge up the past and remind you of your sins.  But he is a liar.  He has no claim on you, no matter how convincing his arguments are.  Jesus has taken your sins from you.  Jesus has rescued you from the devil's grasp and has brought you into a kingdom of grace.  Jesus lives and continually reigns over you for your eternal good.
     Jesus is the Lord's Anointed who serves you.  Just as Jesus was baptized to unite himself to you, so you were baptized into Jesus to be united to him.  All that Jesus has won is now yours.  When Jesus was baptized, the Father was pleased to identify Jesus as his very own.  And so also, the Father is pleased to identify you as his beloved children.  When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were ripped open.  And when you were baptized into Jesus, heaven was opened up to you, too.  You are heirs of God's heavenly kingdom, just as you live under God's gracious rule now. 
     Jesus is the Lord's Anointed who serves you.  He was baptized to take up your cause, and so also you were baptized into Jesus to take up his cause.  The Holy Spirit was poured out upon Jesus at his baptism to anoint him for his office as the Christ.  The Holy Spirit was also given to you at your baptism.  He has made you a new creation—creating in you a clean heart and renewing in you a right spirit.  That is why you desire to continue in a pure and decent life.  The Lord Jesus has used his winnowing fork to deliver you out of the fiery judgment and to bring you into his kingdom. 
     How we long to remain under his grace and to enter his glory!  For, we have had an epiphany.  We see that all that God declares is good, and that God does all good for us.  Therefore, we strive to honor our Lord with our lives—loving our neighbor, and even our enemy.  For, we are the Lord's.  He continues to work in us and to work for us.  Jesus is the Christ; and we are his—baptized into his name, and beneficiaries of his grace.

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

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