Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Luke 3:15-22

C-20 Epiphany 1 (Lu 3.15-22)           Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

Martin Luther, in the Small Catechism, asks the following question about Baptism: “What benefits does Baptism give?” He answers by saying, “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Those are indeed good words for us to remember about the gift of Holy Baptism that God grants to us, but something seems a bit off today. Today, we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. When we look at how Luther defines the benefits of Baptism and Jesus, the two don’t make sense. Why would Jesus need forgiveness of sins, rescuing from death and the devil and eternal salvation?

When it comes to the Baptism of Our Lord, Luke has a condensed version of it. It begins with John the Baptist: “As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ….” Once again, the emphasis is on John and whether he is the long-expected Messiah that had been promised from long ago. Naturally, John pushes the emphasis off of himself and onto the true Christ, Jesus: “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

One is coming, one who is mightier than John. John doesn’t try to steal the limelight, he doesn’t try to puff himself up, to make himself more important than what he is. He knows that it’s not all about him. He knows that he isn’t the focus. His job is to prepare the people for when the Messiah comes. And guess what, He’s coming. In fact, He’s already here and the people don’t even know it.

That’s what makes John the perfect forerunner – He knows there is someone who is more important than He is – Jesus, the true Messiah, the Son of God. He is coming with an important task, one that some of the people will like, while others will not like: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with 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.” In short, Jesus is coming to gather those who believe in Him unto Himself, while those who reject Him will be damned.

Up until now, there is no mention of Jesus getting baptized in Luke’s account. In fact, Jesus’ Baptism is more of a footnote in his Gospel rather than a main focus. Luke goes on to make mention of John’s preaching to the people and of Herod who had John imprisoned. It’s not until the end of Luke’s account do we even hear of Jesus being baptized: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying….” If you blink, you’ll miss Luke’s account of Jesus’ Baptism. Luke’s account is so short, it misses some of the highlights of Matthew’s account, namely, how Jesus comes to be baptized.

Matthew’s account records one of the problems with Jesus being baptized. Matthew records, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.” Why would Jesus need to be baptized in the first place? John has already gone on record saying that his baptism is a baptism of repentance. John knows who Jesus is. He knows He is the Son of God, and since He is the Son of God, what does Jesus need to repent of? To be the Son of God means that you are without sin. Therefore, Jesus has nothing to repent of because He has committed no sin. Going back to what Luther said, baptism works forgiveness of sins. Again, Jesus has no need of baptism because He has committed no sin. For John to baptize the sinless Son of God makes no sense.

So if Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized, then why is He? That is the million-dollar question, is it not? Baptism is for sinners and Jesus is not a sinner. Baptism rescues from death and the devil. From what death does Jesus need rescuing since He is the Lord of life? Clearly, this is all a mistake and must be an error in the Bible, is it not?

Jesus being baptized is no error. It isn’t something extra, something that’s not needed. Remember who Jesus is – Son of God but also Son of Man. Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized, but Jesus needs to be baptized. He doesn’t need to be baptized for His sake but for yours. He says in Matthew’s account, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” You see, this isn’t done for Jesus’ sake but for yours. Man brought sin into the world and man must take sin out of the world. While you are man, you cannot take sin out because you are a sinner. Regardless of what you do, you will never be able to remove your sin. You are conceived in it, you are born with it, you are a walking sin machine. You need to keep the Law perfectly but you cannot. That’s your problem and that’s where Jesus’ baptism comes into play.

This is “to fulfill all righteousness,” that is, to keep the Law of God. That’s what you are called to do, but because you can’t, Jesus does it in your place. It is not for Christ’s righteousness but it is for your righteousness. In order for sinful man to come to righteousness and receive salvation, Jesus must be baptized. He stands in the place of and for the sake of the sinner to fulfill that which God requires of the sinner – perfect obedience to God’s Law.

Here Jesus begins His ministry. Here He stands in the place of the sinner. He takes the place of John. He takes the place of those gathered. He takes the place of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He takes your place and mine. He takes upon Himself the sin of the entire world, offering us His holiness. He becomes the greatest of sinners, not with His own sin, but with our sin.

St. Paul expands on this in today’s Epistle reading from Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Our baptism joins us to Christ and His baptism. Our sin becomes His and His perfection becomes ours. His innocent suffering and death are credited to us. The eternal life and salvation that He earned becomes ours. It is this great reversal that fulfills all righteousness. It is Christ taking our sin and giving us His perfection. It is Christ taking our death and giving us life.

Jesus’ baptism identified Him with the world of sinners. Paul describes Christ’s substitution for sinners by telling us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Even though Jesus never sinned, God made Him to be sin. Paul then takes us back to today’s Gospel. Through baptism, we are joined to Christ. His life is for us. His death is for us. His resurrection is for us. Jesus came to John to be baptized for us.

Here at His baptism, Jesus took our place under the burden of our sin. As our substitute, He carried out God’s plan perfectly. The mission that Jesus began at His baptism was successful. He opened the way to heaven. He offers to join us to Himself through baptism. The Holy Spirit gives us the faith that receives that offer. God the Father adopts us into His family by that faith. When the time comes for us to leave this world, the heavens will open, the angels will carry us home and we will hear the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

C-19 Epiphany (Mt 2.1-12)           Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It has been some time since Christ our Lord was last seen in the manger. Today, Luke records for us the arrival of the wise men. They ask the question to Herod, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” If you’re Herod, the question is one that should not be asked because there is already a king, Herod. And so Luke records, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled….” Of course he was troubled because there was someone who was trying to usurp his authority as king.

Who is this king that the magi speak of? When Gabriel appeared before Mary, he told her, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”” While Gabriel never uses the word “king,” he does speak in kingly language: giving of a throne, reigning, and no end to His kingdom.

Naturally, if you have someone trying to usurp your authority, you’re going to want to know where that threat is coming from. They said that the Christ would come from Bethlehem of Judea. This was already prophesied. This was already foretold. Micah prophesied, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”

For Herod, things don’t look good. He is the king that will be dethroned. What makes this worse is that it will be a Jew who dethrones a Roman. The absolute worst thing about this is that this so-called king isn’t a contemporary of Herod, but rather a newborn child. But while that is bad news for Herod, it is good news for us. Even better, it’s the greatest news for us, for in it, we see God’s promise. We see God’s promise foretold and with the wise men’s appearance, we see God’s promise kept.

Little does Herod know, this baby that the wise men speak of will be everything and more that Micah spoke of. Jesus will be the ruler in Israel, but not as the people understand or desire. He will rule over Israel, but not in the traditional sense. He will rule over Israel as the Lord of Life, just as He will rule as the Lord of Life over all of creation. He is “from of old, from ancient days,” for He is from before all of time. Jesus “shall stand and shepherd his flock,” for He is the Good Shepherd. And he shall be their peace,” for He is the Prince of Peace as Isaiah foretold.

Again, this should come as good news to Herod but instead it puts him on the offensive. He tells the wise men, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Herod has no intention of worshiping this new King, for He is the one and only king, regardless of what prophecies and wise men say.

Following the star, it led them to Jesus. God led them to the Christ child. Who looks for a king in such lowly environs? What kind of God-King lives in such a lowly estate in such lowly conditions? And yet, here He was. And this is where the true wisdom of faith is recognized—they come into His lowly presence in this lowly place and they fall down and worship Him. They humble themselves and rejoice.

Was it enough that these wise men from the east travelled all this distance just to gaze upon a child, even if it was foretold? No, because this child was unlike any child that ever had been or ever would be, for this child was God in the flesh. When the Magi entered the house over which the star had stopped, the first thing they saw was the baby for which they had been looking. Now they could do what they had come to do. These men showed that they knew Jesus was much greater than they. He was God’s promised Savior. In that little baby they saw their Lord and Savior.

Yet the Wise Men are also a marvelous example of faith that those who aren’t great may approach Him. The Wise Men were Gentiles, yet they were confident that the God and King of the Jews would accept them. Epiphany is the day God showed that Christ was for Gentiles also. At the time of Christ, that was no foregone conclusion. Many of Jesus’ own people thought the Messiah was just for them. It took a lot of faith for the Gentile Wise Men to travel those hundreds of miles—maybe a thousand miles—to worship and give gifts to the King of the Jews.

But it was always God’s intention that Christ would be a Savior to all nations. The angel said it was good news for all people, not some. Isaiah prophesied that it was too small a thing for Christ to only raise up the Jews. Likewise, as Simeon held the Child in his arms, he said that Christ was a Light to lighten the Gentiles as well as the glory of God’s people Israel.

The Magi were not any different from us, nor did they have anything we do not. They knew the Word of God, and by knowing it, they believed. When they saw the sign, they followed the sign. They did not let distance stop them. They did not let time stand in their way. They did not let the unbelief and hostility of Herod slow them. Nor did they let the poverty and humility of Jesus’ surroundings confuse them. They read the Word, they followed the Word, they believed the Word. And, as a result, they met the Savior.

The Word made flesh that lived among us. As St. John says in his Gospel, this Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God. Through Him everything was made; for Him everything was made. But for us, He was made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. He grew up as the son of Mary and Joseph. He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and thus began His public ministry, the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins by the blood of the Savior. He made this sacrifice Himself and was resurrected the third day. We are all sinners and cannot justify ourselves before God. We have the promise of eternal life because of Jesus Christ.

As we hear God’s Word, we learn that the only safe way for God’s Kingdom to come to us is through this child that the magi worshipped. It is He who lived a perfect life in our place. It is He who took our sins to the cross. It is He who rose from the dead and opened up the way to eternal life. This child that the magi worshipped is the one and only way for God to come to us without burning us forever for our sins. This child is the one who has purchased forgiveness, life, and salvation and then gives these things to us as a gift.

We can celebrate with the Wise Men of old what God has revealed so clearly in His Word, the Messiah King who would and has died for us. We can rejoice with them in “Immanuel”, God come among us as a man, in human form, for our redemption. We can celebrate more because we have witnessed the cross and the empty tomb, and we know what they each mean for us – both the cross which reminds us of the price paid for us, and the empty tomb which reminds us that we, too, shall rise from the dead unto everlasting life because of Jesus Christ. As the wise men of old rejoiced at the Epiphany of our Lord and His revealing to them, so do we rejoice at His revealing to us and His salvation for us. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 2 – “Good Comes from Nazareth” (John 1:43-51)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

“Follow me.” It’s a very simple command. It means to come with me, to do what I do. It’s straightforward and means what it says. In other words, a simple task. That’s the command that Jesus gives to Philip: “Follow me.” And Philip does just that – he follows Jesus. Good for Philip, you might say. He listened to Jesus and did just what He said to do. And for a brief moment, you might be right.

As Philip follows Jesus, doing what Jesus has commanded, going where Jesus says to go, he finds another, Nathanael. Right now, Nathanael doesn’t seem to be doing anything, and so Philip tells Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Unlike Jesus’ command to Philip, Philip doesn’t tell Nathanael to follow him; rather, he states the obvious – Jesus is here.

That’s great news, isn’t it? Jesus is here! Obviously Philip is happy about that news and so should Nathanael. Instead, Nathanael responds by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Talk about putting a damper on everything. Instead of celebrating the fact that Jesus is here, Nathanael becomes “Debbie Downer,” insinuating that nothing good can come from Nazareth, not even “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Biblically, there may be an answer to Nathanael’s question. Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament. Outside the New Testament, the first mention of the town of Nazareth seems to be in the second century AD. Nathanael’s response may be a piece of flippant sarcasm in view of the insignificance of Nazareth. No messianic prophecy was associated with Nazareth. Hence, Nathanael expresses skepticism that one from Nazareth could be the Messiah, for nowhere in the Law or in the Prophets is Nazareth the origin of the Coming One.

Despite what Nathanael may think about Nazareth or this so-called Jesus, Philip doesn’t bite. He doesn’t give in and say, “Yeah, you’re right Nathanael. What was I thinking!” He doesn’t argue against Nathanael and tell him all the ways that he’s wrong. Instead, he simply tells Nathanael, “Come and see.” Once again, it’s pretty simple for Philip. He doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t doubt. He just does what Jesus says, and in turn, encourages Nathanael to do the same.

You and I are exactly like Nathanael. We want to come up with every reason not to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. We want to come up with any other explanation of salvation than the fact that Jesus died on a cross to forgive the sins of mankind in order to redeem creation. It’s all so bloody, so disgusting, so revolting. That’s not what we want to hear, and so we seek to find a way to sanitize all of it, to make Jesus’ death more appealing and less bloody. But that’s where our problem lies. We cannot make Jesus’ death any more appealing that what is already not. There is no way to sanitize Jesus. If you want Jesus, then you need Jesus for who He is – the blood pouring out of the side Jesus, the blood rushing over you to forgive your sins Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by His blood Jesus.

With fire and Holy Spirit power, the Messiah comes, but instead of being a terrible judge, awesome to behold, He’s a lamb. The Messiah, with gentleness, heals and teaches. In lowliness, the Messiah calls disciples and raises the dead to life. Gentiles will follow Him, sinners will adore Him, little children call Him “Son of David.” The Messiah of God loves the lame, the mute, the seeing, and the blind. In humility, this Messiah touches lepers and washes feet. To be the Lamb of God means to be lowly and gentle and humble to the point of death, even death on a cross.

That’s why we are like Philip. We need that Lamb. In this world where death lords over us, we sinners long for that gentle Lamb, who is our Good Shepherd. That’s why Philip immediately leaves all and follows Jesus wherever He may go. Philip doesn’t follow Jesus blindly, but with eyes wide open. Philip doesn’t follow in the hopes that Jesus is the One; rather, Philip follows because he knows that Jesus IS the One. Philip follows Jesus because Jesus is salvation promised and salvation fulfilled.

This Jesus whom you and I come seeking week after week is the prophetic proclamation of God. With the incarnation of God and the revealing Epiphany light, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, invades the world, and the kingdom of the enemy has no chance. The silence of the prophets is broken with Jesus’ infant cries and John’s recognizing Him as the Lamb to be slain. Christ will come to save those who trust in Him, just as Moses and the prophets said. He will save them by dying for them. He will save you by dying for you. He HAS saved you because He has DIED and RISEN for you!

Despite the fact that we are sinners, God calls us unto Him. He calls us to be forgiven. He calls us to receive. He calls us to be His beloved children. Just as God called Samuel, just as Jesus called Philip and Nathanael, so are we called. We are called in our Baptism to be made forgiven children of God. We are called to serve our neighbor, to spread the Gospel to those who have not heard.

At the end of the day, we want, no, we need to be able to make the same confession that Nathanael did: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Such a bold confession for someone who didn’t think anything good could come from Nazareth. But that’s where Nathanael would be wrong, and that’s where we would be wrong as well. Good things do come out of Nazareth, for that is where your Savior is found. It is because of Jesus of Nazareth that you will hear, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” For all who confess that Jesus is Lord will indeed see heaven open and will see the Son of Man. You will see the Key to your salvation, Jesus Christ.

God has drawn you to Himself and found you as well – here at the font and in His holy Christian Church. And here, when Jesus sees you approaching – every time He sees you approaching – He says, here is a true child of God, in whom there is nothing false. That is, He declares you righteous and welcomes you into His presence. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptized into Jesus” (Mark 1:4-11)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Back to John the Baptist, again. From Advent until now, he has been the focus of the Gospel reading on two separate occasions, all focusing on the same thing – his baptizing of people for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we get the same account – John baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. It sounds like the same old story we’ve heard before, because we have. In Advent 2, it was from Mark’s Gospel, Advent 3 was from John’s Gospel, and then today, the Baptism of Our Lord, we hear again from Mark’s Gospel, in fact, half of today’s Gospel account is a repeat from Advent 2. Again, what’s the big deal about John the Baptist going out into the desert and baptizing people? As has been established on two previous occasions, this was for the forgiveness of the people’s sins. That is something that is notable, because people definitely need their sins forgiven – just ask me and I’ll tell how much I need MY sins forgiven! But there is something new added to our text today from the previous accounts, there is one more baptism, one that is different than all the others – the baptism of Jesus.

Here is John the Baptist, going about his business as the herald of Jesus, baptizing people from all across Judea and Jerusalem. Again, old news, move on to something else. But Mark writes, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Clearly, that must have been a typo on Mark’s part. John is baptizing for the forgiveness of sins and here comes Jesus to be baptized, the only one in all of creation to have no sins. Clearly this must have been a mistake!

It’s easy to think that way, especially if you read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism: “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?”” That sounds more like it. That sounds like the way it’s supposed to be. Why baptize the sinless One of God; it just doesn’t make any sense. But that’s where you would be wrong. That’s your limited thinking, just as it was John’s limited thinking. John has already confessed to the people, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John knows his place and his place is beneath Jesus, hence why it doesn’t make any sense to John to baptize Jesus.

John isn’t the only one who is confused by all of this. We’re confused as well, because Jesus is Jesus and not a sinner. Baptism is for sinners, Jesus is not a sinner, thus, baptism is not needed for Jesus. It’s really simple to connect the dots. But it takes Jesus to reconnect the dots for us: “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.””

We see in our text just how easy it was for John to question and do what he did. And when Jesus came out of the water, heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit came to Him and dwelt with Him. Did Jesus have to be baptized? Was it mandatory for that to happen? No. In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus was showing His solidarity with sinners. Though Himself sinless, He was identifying Himself with sinners by giving Himself to the work of bearing their sins then and our sins now.

We need to make sure we fully understand what took place in the Baptism of Jesus by John. The view that by being baptized by John, Jesus only showed His willing obedience and that Jesus, though not needing baptism and yet submitted to it, makes the baptism nothing but a formality and misconstrues what John’s Baptism really was. It was not law, but gospel, not a demand to obey but a gift of grace to accept and to retain as such. Jesus was baptized by John because He regarded this as the right way in which to enter upon His great office.  He, the Sinless One, the very Son of God, chose to put Himself by the side of all the sinful ones, for whom this sacrament of John’s was ordained. He signifies that He is now ready to take upon Himself the load of all these sinners, that is, to assume His redemptive office. As Luther points out, Jesus was here rightly beginning to be Christ, the Anointed One, and “was thus inaugurated into His entire Messianic office as our Prophet, High Priest, and King.”

Here, in the Jordan River, Jesus became one of us. He took on all that has gone wrong with us, every sin. By taking our sin onto Himself, He becomes the greatest sinner. He becomes the greatest sinner so that He could become our only Savior. He takes His place under our sin, so that He could lift it from us and carry it away. He carried our sin away from us so that the punishment for that sin will not fall on us, but on Him. That is how God has decided that His judgment and His righteousness should go. Jesus should take our sin to Himself with all its condemnation, guilt, and punishment. God turns His friendly face to us because Jesus became one of us and took our sin on Himself.

The Baptism of Jesus reveals the plan of God to restore this love – to heal our relationship with Him – to open heaven to us once again. Here we see the Son of God in the flesh in order to take our place under the law. Here stands the sinless Son of God who carries in Him the sin of the entire world. Here is Jesus standing with us in the waters of baptism in order that we might be joined to Him in eternity.

From the moment that Jesus came to be in the womb of the Virgin, the Son of God has carried the sins of the world. Up until this moment of baptism, He carried our sins in silent anonymity. Now, at His baptism, His role as sin bearer becomes public. The heavens were torn open. The Spirit descended on him like a dove. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The time has come for Jesus to publicize His journey, a journey that will pass through the cross where He will take away the sin of the world, a journey that will also pass through the empty tomb of Christ’s resurrection that demonstrates His power over death.

God the Father is pleased with His Son as He continues this journey of salvation. This is God the Father expressing delight in God the Son. This is God the Father expressing delight in us as well. For Jesus’ journey through the cross and the open tomb earned salvation for us. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit joined us to Christ Jesus. All that is ours belongs to Him, and all that is His belongs to us. So God delights in us just as He delights in Jesus. In a world that has long ago surrendered to sin, death, and the devil, there is one place where we receive the delight of God. That is where we are in solidarity with Jesus who heard the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 7 – “Neighborly Enemies” (Matthew 5:38-48)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

There is something that we are all guilty of – getting even. It’s something that is all too familiar to us, something that comes too naturally. There is a sense of a twisted joy that comes with getting even. We even say, “I won’t get mad, I’ll just get even!” It’s something that we’ve all done at one point or another in our lives, whether it was getting even with the school bully who took our dessert or the driver that cuts us off on the interstate. We could all give many examples of getting even in our lives, but what would be the point? All of our plotting, our thoughts of how to get even all meet its end in our Lord’s damning statement, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How do you do that, you ask? Where’s the fairness in that? What about getting justice, getting even? There is no fairness and there is no getting justice or getting even, there is only love.

Jesus in this portion of His Sermon on the Mount makes no mention of getting even or seeking justice. Instead, He advocates the complete opposite of that. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

There is no question that Jesus’ words make us stop and take an honest look at ourselves. And what we find is never a pretty picture. Just what was Jesus thinking when He told us to love our enemies? He does know what the definition of enemy is, right? There’s times where we cannot stand our families or friends, that we despise them and on occasion wish harm to them. When we dig deep into our hearts, we find that we are corrupt – not just a little bit but corrupt to the core. We confess that we are, by nature, sinful and unclean. That doesn’t mean just a little sinful or just a little unclean. No, sinful and unclean from head to toe, inside and out. Everything about us sinful. Everything about us screams that we do not desire God and the gift of forgiveness He brings through His Son.

In sharp contrast to the Old Testament Levitical laws and to the Pharisees’ twisting of the same, Jesus speaks out in favor of the law of love. There is no place for vengeance in the heart or the life of the Christian. Here He is condemning the spirit of lovelessness, hatred, and a yearning for revenge.

That my friends, is what we are guilty of – the spirit of lovelessness, hatred and a yearning for revenge. It is our sinful nature shining forth as a beacon of unholy and unchristian light. We are too busy wrapped up in hating our enemies that we forget that they are our neighbor.

When the scribes asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He answered them, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Neighbor and enemy, enemy and neighbor. Both are one and the same. That’s what Jesus says. He extends the idea of neighbor to our enemies. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus tells us to love our enemies. What kind of love is Jesus talking about? He is talking about ἀγάπη, that kind of love that sacrifices itself for others. How are you doing with that? Can you truly say that you make sacrifices for your enemies?

If that wasn’t enough, Jesus tells us to compare ourselves to God the Father. God the Father sends His rain on the just and the unjust. As Luther states in the explanation of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people …” So Jesus asks us to follow the example of God the Father who blesses all people alike with the gifts of His creation. Finally, Jesus puts the final nail in the coffin of our self-righteousness with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Remember what I just said – neighbor and enemy, enemy and neighbor. Are you as perfect as your Father in Heaven? Do you put Jesus first in your life? Do you put others next? Do you put yourself last? The answer is most likely no. And yet despite the fact, Christ views us differently, He treats us differently. St. Paul tells us, For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

You and I are the enemies of God. Our sinful nature causes us to want everything that is opposite of God and all that He is and all that He desires. And yet, despite that fact, He sends His only begotten Son into the flesh in order to redeem us, the ungodly. But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were sinners and Christ died for us. We are still sinners and Christ still pleads on our behalf, for He is the once-for-all sacrifice that was needed to bring creation back to its Creator.

Paul says, More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” We have the reconciliation between God and man, between Creator and creation. We have been reconciled, forgiven of our sins and made clean by the blood of Christ that washes over us. And just as Christ has forgiven us, so we too forgive our enemy – not because he is our enemy, but because he is our neighbor. We forgive because Christ has forgiven us, reconciled us unto Himself.

Jesus taught us that we are to place God first in all things, then we are to love our neighbor even if our neighbor is our enemy. The reason is very simple, for our enemy is the same as we are, God’s creation. But even more than that, our enemy is one for whom Christ died in order to save. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 6 – “Spiritual Infants” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

We are all babies! Each and every one of us, regardless of our age, are still babies, that is, spiritual babies. Don’t take my word for it; rather, listen to what St. Paul says: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” Does it sting a little that Paul refers to us as spiritual infants?  What about those who claim that they’ve been a life-long, card-carrying member of the church from the day of their baptism all those years ago? You’re still an infant. What about those who have just confessed their faith in Jesus Christ? You’re still an infant. We are all spiritual infants, regardless of age, regardless of time spent in the church.

As Paul presents the Gospel to the Corinthians, he could not address them as spiritual “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” These Corinthians, so fascinated by man’s wisdom, so bent on acquiring it, so vain about the worldly wisdom they possessed, were insisting that Paul also give them God’s deepest wisdom when he preached to them. That sounds wonderful, with great potential to the Corinthians, doesn’t it? Aside from their fascination with worldly wisdom, which, who could blame them since that’s what sinful man tries to attain, they want the fullness of the Gospel preached to them. But there was a problem with their desire – they weren’t ready for it. They were not capable of drinking from the firehose; they needed to drink from the faucet in little bursts.

Paul was faced with a question: how much of God’s wisdom can you feed an infant? The Corinthians were only babes in Christ, too immature spiritually to absorb much heavenly wisdom. They were too worldly; their flesh was too weak to understand more than the basics of Christianity. Paul gives to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ but in a way that they were able to digest. He says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” It wasn’t a slight to the Corinthians but an honest evaluation of where they were in their Christian faith. No mother gives her infant solid food when they cannot chew or digest it; so Paul could give the Corinthians only the simplest of spiritual food, that is, spiritual milk. They thought they were ready for the spiritual big leagues when they were yet still a farm team.

It really is no different for us. We think that we are able to absorb all that Scripture has to say. We think that we are great Biblical scholars because we have a Bible or have heard the Word of God preached; that we have the full understanding of all of Christianity. In reality, rarely do we comprehend what God’s Word says to us. Rarely are we able to grasp the tenants of the Christian faith to a point where we are considered a novice, let alone an expert. Truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with that, because we are spiritual infants, ever growing in our understanding of God and His Word, ever growing in our faith.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they started bragging about which teacher they followed. There were those that followed Apollos and thought they were getting some extra blessing that those who followed Paul were not getting and vice versa. For them, it wasn’t so much about the message as to who was preaching the message. Paul seeks to put an end to their egotistical ways. He said with regard to himself and Apollos, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” It wasn’t about the man, it was about the message. That was Paul’s point from our Epistle reading. It was vital for the Corinthians to understand that Paul was a mouth, a speaker of the Gospel. He didn’t add anything to it. What could Paul add? Remember, Paul was the former persecutor of the Church: it’s not like he had years and years of good works and merit saved up that he could hand out to others. Apollos was a former Greek heathen who’d lived as an enemy of God for years too. He had no salvation to contribute to what Jesus had won, either. Had both been saints their entire lives, they’d still have nothing to add to Christ! Both teachers were Christians by the grace of God, chosen by God to speak His Word. Whether it was Paul or Apollos speaking it, what mattered was that it was the Gospel.

We see firsthand here at Corinth what happens when the central focus is on the speaker rather than the Doer. Strip away the speaker and what do you have? You are left with the sweet sound of the Gospel, a saving word for all who believe. Strip away the speaker and you are left with the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ and He alone. It’s not the speaker that matters; rather what matters is what is spoken. And so Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

It was a simple truth, but such an important one for the Corinthians to believe. Why? Because as long as they thought Paul was something they needed, they would think that Christ was less than sufficient to save them. But once they realized that Paul and Apollos were simply the messengers of the King, they were ready to rejoice in Christ and Him crucified, that Jesus had done everything necessary for their salvation.

There is a single, all-important fact that we must be aware of, even if we forget it from time to time: we are a people of the flesh who need to hear that there is One who became flesh for all people. That One is Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh. Christ, the unchanging God, became flesh for all of our fleshly sins, for all jealousy, for all strife, for all who are behaving only in a sinful and human way. The wages of our sins is death, but the wages of Christ’s labor on the cross is full and free forgiveness. The wages of Christ’s labor is new life and a never-ending salvation. These gifts of God come to us in the simplest of means – in the water and Word of Holy Baptism, in the precious body and blood of Jesus in His Supper. This is the food that we need to grow spiritually and it is the food that our gracious God provides for us at the expense of His Son.

The Lord gives the growth, and the Lord is faithful. By His Word which endures forever, He has made you His field, His building, His holy people. He feeds you with what you need, the spiritual milk that comes through His precious Word and Sacraments. By that eternal Word, you are forgiven all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 4 – “Foolishness Saves” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Living in the sinful world that we do, we are bound to experience conflict. Conflict can be defined as controversy, quarrel, or discord of action, feeling, or thought. We are going to quarrel, for that is a sin, and we are at heart sinners living in a sinful world. We know that conflict is not what God designed or desires, and yet we engage in conflict as if it comes second-nature to us. When we read the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we see that Christ has called us out of conflict to be what we could never be on our own.

Conflict arises when we think we are something on our own, when we think we are something that we are not. Conflict is nothing new, for we see that it is as old as our human pride. It was a wounded pride that stirred Cain to murder his brother Abel. The church at Corinth was too focused on boasting about whose leader or teacher was the best rather than focusing on the fact that they are all united in Christ. Each member of the Corinthian church had the same Christ, and that fact should have made them equally something – brothers and sisters in Christ. But instead, by thinking that they were more important than others or that they were more right because of the leader or teacher, they failed to see who they were in Christ.

Our conflicts are no different than that of mankind’s history. We are quick to engage in conflict if for no other reason than to prove that we are right and the other is wrong. We are quick to engage in conflict in order to put our own needs above others, to see great attention and love come our way.

The words that St. Paul writes to the Corinthians are words that should bring the focus and attention back to Christ and off of themselves and the conflict and divisions they have. For as many as confessed in Christ, there were just as many as saw this new teaching of Christ as nothing but rubbish and nonsense. That’s why Paul says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Those outside of Christ see Christ and all that He says and does as nothing more than folly, utter foolishness. Quoting from the prophets of old, Paul says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” The so-called “wisdom of the wise” would lead them to hell, for they were perishing in their wisdom. They were so sure that they knew what God was like and how to deal with Him. They were so confident that they had the answers to the problems of sin and guilt that they automatically rejected what God had to say about their salvation through the cross of Christ.

If this is how you thought, Paul is saying that you don’t want to be in this camp, for all the wisdom in the world will not save you unless one has Christ. And so we have conflict. We’re left with one of two choices: go it alone and rely on our wisdom or give in to the foolishness of Christ. The reason why Christ was the foolish option was because how can the salvation of mankind rely upon a single human being. But right there you have a problem. Christ is not just your average run of the mill human being. While He is indeed man, He is also God, and by His perfect life, by His actions upon the cross and by His resurrection, He has won salvation for all who believe in Him.

The problem in Corinth was that they proved to be fools because they, along with all their wisdom, rejected the only way of salvation – Jesus of Nazareth dying on the cross for their sins. But this was not only happening to those within the Corinthian church. It was happening all around the church, the push from outside to conform to worldly wisdom and the like. Paul continues by saying, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom….” Signs and wisdom do not communicate the saving work of Jesus Christ. But Paul knows what does communicate the saving work of Jesus. He continues by saying, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

That saving Good News of Jesus would appall the audience. A crucified Savior? It didn’t make sense. For the Greeks with their logic and fairness and wisdom, it didn’t make sense that God would die so that man was pardoned for sin. But there was something worse — that cross again. In the Roman Empire, only two sorts of people were ever crucified —criminals and disobedient slaves. The idea that the Son of God would submit to such a death was intolerable to the Greeks; to the Romans, it was understood that crucifixion was such a hideous death that it simply wasn’t to be talked about.

No doubt, Paul would explain further. He’d explain that Jesus had accepted the cross to die a criminal’s death — to die at God’s hand for all the crimes and all the sins of all the world. He’d declare that Jesus had been sold for thirty pieces of silver—the price of a slave, and then died for all the disobedience of mankind. But again, the idea was too much. Christ’s death on the cross was a stumbling block for Greeks and Romans — it was too repulsive to mention in polite conversation, much less preach as the centerpiece of the faith.

But to those who believed, this foolishness of Christ crucified was indeed their salvation. This was God’s wisdom, granting mercy and grace for the sake of His Son’s suffering and death.

Make no mistake, when Paul preached Christ crucified, it wasn’t a popular message. It sounded foolish and weak, even scandalous. But Paul continued to proclaim it; because no matter how foolish it sounded to unbelievers, Jesus Christ — crucified and risen — was Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

And so, for us and for the world, we preach Christ-crucified, even though it isn’t, never has been and never will be, a popular message. By faith, we acknowledge that what we believe is foolishness apart from faith. But we proclaim it anyway. Why? For all sorts of reasons. We preach Christ-crucified because we can—because the Lord has given us the privilege of declaring His praises. We preach Christ-crucified because, even though it’s foolishness to the unbeliever, it is the power and wisdom of God for salvation to all those who believe. We preach Christ-crucified and risen for our salvation—because He was cursed by God in our place; because He died for our enslavement to sin; and because He suffered the cross for our crimes.

Christ has died for your sins on the cross and Christ is risen again. That is what we proclaim, because that is the power of salvation for all those who believe. The devil, the world and your own sinful flesh will work overtime to convince you that it’s nothing but irrelevant foolishness and weakness, but by the grace of God you know better: it is only because Christ was crucified that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 3 – “Divisions” (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Wherever you go, you will find divisions. There are divisions among sports teams, there are divisions in politics, there are divisions in gender and color. In the Church, you will even find divisions. There are multiple denominations and even divisions amongst the denominations. Division in the Church is nothing new, as we see in our Epistle for today. St. Paul addresses the Corinthian Church by saying, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Here’s where we find ourselves. The fact that Paul appeals to the Corinthians to not have divisions means that there are indeed divisions at Corinth. Since Paul is writing to the Christians, they should all be unified under the head of Christ, and yet, it appears that they are not. What is it that could be dividing the Corinthian Church? Aside from the teaching of the Pharisees, you had divisions among who to listen to in the church. According to Chloe’s people, there was quarreling among the people, for some were saying, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Instead of focusing on the message, they were too focused on the messenger. The problem that the Corinthians faced was that they were following others rather than Christ and accepting teachings other than Christ’s teachings. By creating factions in the names of these men and in the name of Christ Himself they were actually undermining the work of Christ’s Church.

Paul’s overarching concern was the division happening over following other’s teachings. It was something so divisive that it could split the Church at Corinth, and if left unchecked, it could split the entire Christian Church. So what choice did Paul have other than to address the issue at hand?

We all know the saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That same saying applies to the Church as well. The message that Paul is giving to the Corinthians is one of unity, not of division. Under the heading of religion these people think there is room for doctrinal variety, as if the Lord allows two diverse understandings to be true at the same time! That may apply to the philosophy and human ethics of some, but not so with our Lord. He is a God of order. There is only one way that is God’s way. There is only one doctrine and that is what is found in the Word of God. We can try to make our own doctrine. We can try to make the Word of God say what we want it to say, but in the end it remains the Word of God. The Word of God doesn’t change. It has been the same Word of God for 2000 years and will continue to remain the Word of God long after us.

We can understand why Paul was so troubled as he wrote to the church at Corinth. Word had come to him that this fragile church, barely on its feet, was torn by dissension. The people were not getting along together. They were dividing into competing groups, based on which apostle had led them to faith. One group identified with Paul, another Apollos, another Peter, and another, as a smack in everyone’s face, claimed they belonged to Christ. Instead of rejoicing in their oneness in Christ, they were splitting off into separate groups, each one uncertain about the integrity of the other.

Paul could see that the future of that congregation, set within the turbulent environment of bustling Corinth, was threatened. Paul was not just offering some sound advice, but was calling upon the authority of Christ Himself to set things right. It was immaterial who baptized them; the overriding truth was that they had come into a new kingdom of love and grace, and this determined that they should live in peace and harmony with each other in the name of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the history of the Christian Church from Paul to present day, nothing has changed all that much. There are many and various Christian denominations. These are largely based on doctrinal issues, though not always. When one takes a hard look at the doctrinal issues, they all go back to the teaching of Christ and the teaching that is found in the Holy Scriptures. What is the sole source of doctrine in the Church? It is the Bible and the Bible alone. God’s Word is the pure fountain and source of God’s truth.

Whenever the Church deviates from the Bible, then that is when the Church will have trouble. The Church at Corinth began to face troubles because they began to deviate from the teaching of Christ. Paul sought to bring them back to what the Church is founded upon: Christ and the Gospel.

Why is it so important that you and all God’s people throughout time continually hear one and the same message from Jesus Christ? Only from Jesus Christ do we receive forgiveness of our sins, accomplished for us by His death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the dead. No other teaching can give to us what Christ has given. In the case of Corinth, the teachings of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas could prove to be devastating should those teachings be different than the teachings of Christ. The young Corinthian congregation could have been torn apart by conflicting teachings of doctrine that may or may not have been centered on Christ and His teachings. Unfortunately, that same concern is very much present today. How a church body interprets Scripture; how a church body views Christ; how a church body views teachings of man in relation to the teachings of Christ – all of this can lead to the devastating destruction of the Church of Christ.

The question for Paul and the question for all of us is this: “Is Christ divided?” Paul set out to make sure that the answer to that question was no. So it is today. We as the Church seek out to answer Paul’s question, that no, Christ is not divided; for Christ is still the head of the Church and His teaching still reigns as the only rule and norm of the Christian faith. The Church continues “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Whenever Christ is not proclaimed, whenever Christ is diminished, then Christ means nothing. But when the Word is God is proclaimed and upheld, then it is the power to save.

For those who are resting securely in Christ’s forgiveness, given to us through His life, death and resurrection, given to us at our baptism, given to us through Word and Sacrament, Christ cannot be divided because it is Christ and Christ alone who saves. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 2 – “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29-42a)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

How would someone describe you? You might be described as a father or mother, a son or daughter. You might be described as a husband or wife, a doctor or teacher. Those words describe the role you serve. They define who you are to an extent. As we see in our Gospel for today, John describes who Jesus is and the role He performs with just a single verse: “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!””

Is there any better description in all of Scripture that defines who Jesus Christ and what His purpose and function is than this verse? If you could understand everything there is to know about this sentence, you would be worthy of the title Doctor of Theology many times over. This sentence from John the Baptist is one of the most powerful expressions of the Gospel in the Bible. John is able to capture all of Jesus with this verse. Within the full meaning of these words are all the sentences of all the Creeds of the Church.

Let’s dissect what John says here. “Behold” The word Behold is an epiphany word. It means look here; I want to show you something. John uses this word so that he can show Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to his listeners and to us. He had already received an epiphany from God. Last week we learned that after John baptized Jesus, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice declared that this Jesus was God’s beloved Son. Now John is proclaiming this epiphany to his listeners. He is doing the work of a prophet and pointing to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and savior of the world.

“The Lamb of God” Now, although some sacrifices required bulls, goats, or birds, the lamb more than any other animal was the animal required by most of the sacrificial regulations of the ceremonial law. The word Lamb as it is used in this sentence brings to mind the continuous flow of blood from the altar in Jerusalem. This image was so strong that God often referred to the people as His sheep with Himself as their Shepherd. They understood that the sacrificial lamb was taking their place. Now John was saying that this man who was the Shepherd had become a Lamb in order to become the sacrifice for them. The word Lamb reminds us of the sacrifice that was made in our place.

John is saying that this man is God’s Lamb. He is not just close to perfect. He is perfect. He is the culmination of all the sacrifices of all time. He is the sacrifice that fulfills the first sacrifice that God made when He killed some animals to provide the skins that covered Adam and Eve after they sinned. He fulfills the sacrifice that Abel offered and He fulfills the sacrifices that Noah offered after he landed safely in the ark. He fulfills the sacrifices of Abraham including the sacrifice he made after he nearly sacrificed his own son, Isaac. He is the one time for all sacrifice that makes all the other sacrifices meaningful.

“The sin of the world” These words gather the stench of sin into one disgusting mass of evil. It includes all the sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that anyone at any time has ever had. It includes the sinful nature that we were born with. These words mean that the work of God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ is good for the whole world, not just those who believe. The word here for world in this sentence is the root for the word cosmos. This word means everything that God has created, everything that God has brought into being by the command of His Word.

And so Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus lived in the flesh without sin, “a lamb without blemish or spot,” thus fulfilling God’s Law in our stead. How does He do this? He does this through His bloody sacrifice on the cross. There, the Lamb of God, who came from God and who was God, satisfied God’s wrath against the sin of the world, against your sin. This is done to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for the sinner.

What insight John had! However, the Pharisees of the day did not have that insight. Many people of the day did not have that insight, comparing Jesus to Moses, Elijah or a prophet. And still many today do not have that insight that John had, looking to Christ as nothing more than a moral example to follow, but definitely not the Son of God.

John goes on to further state whom Jesus is, by recounting what He saw at Jesus’ Baptism. He says, “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” Up until now, no one has made that claim except one person: God the Father at Jesus’ Baptism. Not even Jesus Himself has made that claim. So how is John able to make such a claim? John can make such a claim because he was in the presence of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism. He saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. He heard the voice of the Father declare that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Let us stop and think about what it means that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This means that the Lamb takes the load, the curse, the damnation of the total massive amount of sin onto himself. He lifts the awful burden from us and carries it to the cross. There our sin is crucified with the Lamb. There our sin is put to death. This one act of lifting and carrying away our sin is good for all time.

When John said these words, he considered the taking away to already be a done deal. The forgiveness of sins that comes as a result of the Lamb’s sacrifice was already available to all. All the saints of the Old Testament received salvation because this Lamb’s sacrifice is good for all time and all places and all people. God’s promise is as if John had already heard Jesus declare his victory from the cross with the words, “It is finished.”

Jesus is the Savior, and the Savior is the Lamb of God. The Lamb is destined to suffer and die. Who’s going to follow a Savior like that? By faith, John’s disciples do. Trusting in the Word of the Lord proclaimed by John, they are willing to abandon all and follow Him. They don’t keep it to themselves, either: right away, Andrew is telling Peter. It doesn’t seem to make sense: They follow a Savior who will never amount to much in worldly terms, a King who will never gather an army to fight and conquer. They’ll put their trust in the Son of God who will allow Himself to be arrested, beaten, spat upon and killed. And after He is risen, what will happen to His disciples? They’ll tell others of Jesus, and they too will be arrested, beaten, spat upon and killed. Not real attractive to the world.

But that is how Jesus saves. He doesn’t save through worldly means, but with His shed blood on the cross. The only way to make peace between God and man is for Jesus to sacrifice Himself. And so He does what is required of you and I. He does what is necessary and He goes to do what only He can – He gives Himself as a sacrifice. He is the perfect Lamb who goes to slaughter.

All of this was done for you, with you in mind. We are able to echo the words of Andrew, “We have found the Messiah.” We have found Him doing what he John says He will: taking away the sins of the world. The Son of God is with us to give us life, both now and forever. Behold. The Lamb of God declares to you that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptism” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

As we go through life, there are certain monumental occasions that we deem to be important: births, graduations, wedding day, deaths, and other days that mark a significant time in our lives. When it comes to Jesus, there are obviously certain events in His life that we could say are monumental, and one such event takes place today – His Baptism.

Why is today such an important day in the life of Jesus? Surely it’s because of what Baptism gives. Luther asks in the Small Catechism, “What benefits does Baptism give?” He answers by saying, “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”

As we look at Luther’s answer, we are quick to identify some problems: Jesus has no sins to forgive! Jesus does not need rescuing from death and devil. Jesus does not need eternal salvation, for He is the Son of God. It seems as if we are left with a conundrum: based on what Luther says Baptism gives, Jesus doesn’t need it, and yet, He insists on being Baptized.

All of this seems out of the norm, for when Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John quickly responds by saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knows who John is and John knows who Jesus is. John knows that John is a sinner, conceived in sin, born in sin, lives a life of sin, and eventually dies as a sinner. John also knows who Jesus is, that is, the Son of God and therefore, not a sinner. Clearly only one person needs to be baptized, and that person is not Jesus. Does Jesus need to repent? Does Jesus need to be converted from unbelief to faith? Is Jesus among the lost sheep who were no longer members of the true Israel and who needed to be brought back into the family of God? Of course not, and yet Jesus insists upon being baptized by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

What is needed “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus tells John? The sinless Son of God receives the baptism meant for sinners because He shall be the sin-bearer. For Jesus, this is what is necessary because it shows perfectly how Jesus will save His people from their sins. Here, Jesus stands in the place of sinful man and is baptized, literally standing in the place of the many. And so here begins the true work and ministry of Jesus Christ.

What takes place after Jesus is baptized identifies for all who are present and for all of creation who Jesus is: “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to reset on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.””

Immediately following Jesus’ baptism, we see the Trinity present. What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus? The Holy Spirit manifests Himself as a dove descending upon the Son. As the symbol of peace, it is a reminder to us that, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. When the voice of God from heaven speaks, He says something very simple, yet very profound: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Son has been obedient to the Father’s will. Here the Father acknowledges that the Son is indeed living a life of perfection and fulfilling the promises given through the prophets. The Father tells us that Jesus is the cause and target of His good pleasure. He tells us that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Since Jesus stands in our place, the Father’s pleasure with His Son is also His pleasure with you and me. Because the Father is pleased with His Son, Jesus, He is pleased with us. We are now the Lord’s beloved child because of the work of Christ.

Here Jesus begins the work of salvation by taking the place of sinners. Here Jesus takes John’s place – your place – my place. Here Jesus takes up the sin of the world and offers us the gift of His holiness. He becomes the greatest sinner of all; not with His own sin, but with our sin. Here He takes up our burden for us. As John performed the simple act of pouring water on Jesus, God poured on Him the iniquity of us all.

St. Paul expanded on this in today’s Epistle: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Here Paul tells us that our baptism joins us to Christ and His baptism. Our sin becomes His and His perfection becomes ours. His innocent suffering and death are credited to our account. The eternal life and salvation that He earned are already ours. We will rise from death to live in eternal joy just as He rose from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Through His Son, Jesus, God has done everything needed to secure our salvation for us.

Jesus’ baptism identified Him with the world of sinners. Paul describes Christ’s substitution for sinners by telling us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Even though Jesus never sinned, God made Him to be sin. Paul then takes us back to today’s Gospel. Through baptism, we are joined to Christ. His life is for us. His death is for us. His resurrection is for us. Jesus came to John to be baptized for us.

God’s justice requires punishment for sin. Our sin has earned eternal hell for us many times over. God’s love for us seeks to save us from that eternal punishment. The only solution was for God to take up our human flesh so that He could take up our sin. That is what Jesus did. When John baptized Jesus, he baptized the only one who can carry the sin of the world. Jesus carried those sins to the cross. There on the cross, Jesus satisfied both God’s justice and His love. God’s justice was satisfied by punishing our sin IN Jesus Christ. God’s love was satisfied by punishing Jesus Christ instead of us. In this way, God punished our sin without punishing us.

In solidarity, Jesus in the water is one of us. He suffers with us. He died for us. He shows us that He is the sinner’s friend and savior. In His baptism, He publicly continues the work that makes me His own so that I may live with Him forever.

Every time we celebrate a Baptism, the one being Baptized is made a child of God by the waters of Holy Baptism, and every sin that they will ever commit will be washed away by those waters. That person receives sonship in the kingdom of God. Their sins are forgiven. How is this done? It is done by a man named Jesus, sent from God to be our sacrificial Lamb, baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, forever joining Himself to sinful man in order to redeem us. It is accomplished for us by His death on the cross for us sinners. It is accomplished for us only by Jesus who has atoned for all our sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.