Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
January 12, 2014 – Epiphany I
Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17
From the Prophet Isaiah:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.
From the Acts of the Apostles:
You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ, the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
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?”But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Today we are going to talk about baptism. More specifically, John the Baptist and how he baptized Jesus, the Son of God. Why was he called, John the Baptist? Was it because he was a Baptist, or was it because he baptized a lot of people in the Jordan River? Crowds of people came to John to be baptized and as they came, they were confessing their sins. We also know that John wouldn’t baptize just anyone. You actually had to believe you had sinned and were sorry and repented.
Some Pharisees and Sadducees came to John, and John wouldn’t baptize them. And indeed it seems they didn’t want to be baptized anyway because they didn’t think they needed it – they thought they were already okay with God. And John wasn’t exactly welcoming of them either, in fact, he refers to them as a “brood of vipers” – that is – children of snakes!
John foretold the coming of their Messiah; Jesus – the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, and who would separate everyone in the world into one of two camps. One camp: who would live with Him forever. And the other: to be cast into never-ending fire – hell. And it has nothing to do with being born into the right family, or doing all the right religious rituals. The basis of each of our destinies is on our repentance and belief in Christ. True repentance followed by a changed life, a life that puts God first. And it should be obvious to everyone that you put God first. God comes before TV, sports, fishing, the beach, iphones, iPods, and holidays. God comes first before anything else, and it will be obvious in the way we live.
So, here is John baptizing one person after another, when a special person stands before him. It is none other than Jesus! We read in our Gospel reading today that Jesus has come from Galilee – in the north of the country, down to the Jordan River. Why? To be baptized by John. Now before we go any further, we should probably look at what baptism is; what it means, and what it meant on that day that Jesus came to John to be baptized.
What does “baptism” mean? Does it mean the christening of infants? In the Christian church: some say we should baptize babies, while others say we should only baptize adults: those old enough to say they believe in Christ and want to be baptized. Some say baptizing is by a sprinkle of water, while others say it should be by immersion.
In Jesus’ time, the word “baptism” meant to dip or immerse something in a liquid, usually water. Baptism could mean to dip cloth into dye to dye it a different color. Also, the Jews would baptize their cups and pots and so on in order to clean them. Now by the time of Jesus, the word meant not only to dip or immerse, but was used for “wash” in particular for when a person bathed in a pool or bath. That was baptizing. And the Jews began to use the word to symbolize ritual washing or bathing in water. And this bathing – this baptizing – it would symbolize not just physical cleansing, but spiritual cleansing. Some Jews used baths and others would bath in rivers. The practice of full immersion for baptism was the norm for at least 100 years after Jesus.
John the Baptist points out that true repentance, true belief in God, is a decision that each person must make for himself. You become a Christian not by birth, but by repentance and faith – a spiritual rebirth, being born again. Baptism is the mark of that decision to follow Christ.
Now, let’s get back to Jesus. Notice that Jesus came to John to be baptized. Then notice John’s reaction when Jesus stood before him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:14).
Why did John say that? Well, people had been coming to John to be baptized as a sign of their repentance, confessing their sins. And now Jesus comes, the only person who has ever lived who had nothing to repent of. The only perfect, sinless, human came to be baptized.
No wonder John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized, because of all the people in the world, Jesus was the only one who actually didn’t need to repent and be baptized.
How does Jesus answer John?
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
What does it mean, “To fulfill all righteousness”? Well, there is some disagreement amongst scholars, but it probably means that it is linked to Jesus’ mission. What did Jesus come to do? He came to die for our sins. The reason Jesus came and lived among us, was to pay the penalty for all the wrong things we have done. This is – sin, Jesus was without sin, perfect, and so He came to die in our place on the cross. So that if we repent, that is, turn from life without God or ignoring God, and turn to Him, then we will be forgiven of our sins, and can have eternal life with Him in paradise.
And so Jesus’ mission to earth, was to die for our sins, and to fulfill our righteousness, to be righteousness in our place. He took our place on the cross, and so He was baptized too, perhaps as an example for us, in our place, showing that He too was willing to undergo the waters of baptism. And then what happened to Jesus?
And 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.”
We see some amazing things here. We see the Trinity in action. God the Son – Jesus – is being baptized. And as Jesus comes up out of the water we notice the heavens opened, and God the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended upon Jesus. And we hear from the heavens the voice of God the Father. And what does God say?
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
This was foretold by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 42: “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
The word “servant” here in the Greek can also be translated as “child” or “son,” and He is the one in whom God delights. And we see that here at Jesus’ baptism, Jesus is the Father’s beloved Son in whom He delights. We’ve also seen at Jesus’ baptism, that the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, just as prophesied in Isaiah 42. So for a Jew familiar with the Old Testament, when he or she heard about Jesus’ baptism, he or she would realize that Jesus is this servant or child, God’s chosen one, prophesied hundreds of years before.
It is through the ministry of the Servant that God will accomplish His great plan of salvation for this world. God chose Him, God upheld Him, and God enabled Him to succeed in His mission. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one day there will be a glorious kingdom, and God will “bring justice to the nations” (Isa. 42:1). Jesus Christ is “the light of the world (John 8:12), and that includes the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6; Acts 13:47-48).
And now see at the end of Matthew 3, God the Father says: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God the Father is well pleased. God was pleased with Jesus at this specific moment in time. That is, we know that God the Father is pleased with Jesus all the time. But in this particular case here it refers to a specific moment or occasion when God the Father is well pleased, and this refers to the occasion of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus was born, He grew in stature and wisdom, and now He stood there as an adult, and God the Father was proud. God the Father is pleased with Jesus’ baptism, during which time Jesus identifies with us by being baptized, and starts His mission to fulfill all righteousness on our behalf.
And we see in Jesus’ baptism something that we didn’t see in John’s baptisms. Remember that John said that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. After Jesus Himself was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. And later Jesus rose from the dead, and gave His final commission to His disciples, by saying to them:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Evangelizing is telling people about Jesus Christ, and then as they repent and come to faith, baptizing them with or in water as the sign of their repentance. And as they believe, God Himself also baptizes them with the Holy Spirit.
Our Epistle reading this morning takes us to Chapter 10 of the book of Acts which records the salvation of the Gentiles. We see Peter, one of the original twelve, using “the keys of the kingdom” for the third and last time. He had opened the door of faith for the Jews (Acts2) and also for the Samaritans (Acts 8), and now he would be used of God to bring the Gentiles into the church.
This event took place 10 years after Pentecost. Remember, Pentecost was when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples as tongues of fire and they began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4). Why did the Apostles wait so long before going to the lost Gentiles? After all, in His Great Commission, Jesus had told them to go into all the world; and it would seem logical for them to go to their Gentile neighbors as soon as possible. But God has His times as well as His plans, and the transition from the Jews to the Samaritans to the Gentiles was a gradual one.
The stoning of Stephen and the subsequent persecution of the church marked the climax of the Apostles’ witness to the Jews. Then the Gospel moved to the Samaritans. When God saved Saul of Tarsus, He got hold of His special envoy to the Gentiles. Now was the time to open the door of faith (Acts 14:27) to the Gentiles and bring them into the family of God.
There can be no faith apart from the Word (Rom. 10:17), and Peter preached that Word. God is no respecter of persons as far as nationality and race are concerned. When it comes to sin and salvation, “there is no difference” (Rom. 2:11). All men have the same Creator (Acts 17:26), and all men need the same Saviour (Acts 4:12). To fear God is to reverence and trust Him (Micah 6:8). The evidence of this faith is a righteous walk.
Peter made it clear that Israel was God’s instrument for accomplishing His work (Acts 10:36), but that Jesus is “Lord of all,” and not just Lord of Israel. From the very founding of the nation of Israel, God made it clear that the blessing would be from Israel to the whole world (Gen. 12:1-3).
The public at large knew about Christ’s life, ministry, and death, but only the Apostles and other believers were witnesses of His resurrection. Peter laid the blame for the Crucifixion on the Jewish leaders (Acts 3:15; 4:10), as did Stephen (Acts 7:52). Paul would pick up this same emphasis (1 Thes. 2:14-16).
After giving a historical basis for the Gospel message, Christ’s death and resurrection, Peter then announced the good news: “Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sin” (Acts 10:43). Those who heard laid hold of that word “whosoever,” and applied it to themselves, and believed on Jesus Christ and were saved.
Most of us were baptized when we were an infant or a small child. When this happened our parents vouched for us or they stood in for us. Well, that was a temporary measure. Although it is very helpful having a good Christian upbringing, it still isn’t good enough.
True repentance, true belief in God, is not a decision of one’s parents, it is a decision that each person must make for himself. You become a Christian not by birth, but by repentance and faith – spiritual rebirth, being born again.
When we become an adult, each and every person must repent himself, and be “baptized” in the faith of Jesus Christ. We must die of self and be born anew through Jesus Christ. We must “wash and cleanse” ourselves of our old sin nature and be born again in a new life in Jesus Christ. So, let us go out and proclaim the good news of salvation and look forward to the day when the heavens open up; and you hear a voice from heaven saying, “well done, good and faithful servant; of whom I am well pleased.”
Let us pray:
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen!