Baptized For Us

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
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!

He Comes Bearing Gifts

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
January 5, 2014 – Christmas II – Epiphany Sunday
Sacrament of Holy Communion

Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 147: 12-20, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:10-18

From the Prophet Jeremiah:
For thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘The Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel.’”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

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.

The New Year is a good time to take stock of the past year and to consider what has been good and what things you might consider changing. Are there parts of your life which you want to make wholesale changes to, or are there areas you want to tweak a little?

What about who we are as a congregation? We still have some tough decisions to make this coming year. God’s Word encourages us to measure our actions – not according to what we think is right or wrong, but against what God wants to give us and how he calls us to respond to His Word.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and a joyous New Year. Hopefully, Jesus was not left out of the festivities. Most of us should be familiar with what the Magi brought Jesus: Gold (represented His royalty), frankincense (spoke of His divinity), and myrrh (represented His death for us).

Do we know what Jesus brought us?

There was this cartoon about a lawyer reading a client’s last will and testament to a group of greedy relatives. The caption read: “I, John Jones, being of sound mind and body, spent it all!”

When Jesus Christ wrote His last will and testament for His church, he made it possible for us to share His spiritual riches. Instead of spending it all, Jesus Christ paid it all. His death on the cross and His resurrection make possible our salvation.

He wrote us into His will, and then He died so that His will would be in force. Then He arose again that He might become the heavenly Advocate (lawyer) to make sure the terms of the will were correctly followed.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he mentions a few of the blessings that God has given us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus chose us to be His people. God chose us even before He created the universe, so that our salvation is wholly of His grace and not on the basis of anything we ourselves have done. He chose us in Christ, not in ourselves. And He chose us for a purpose: to be holy and without blame.

There were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, and often they were bought and sold like property. But a man could purchase a slave and set him free, and this is what Jesus did for us. The price was His own blood (1 Peter 1:18ff). This means that we were set free from the Law, free from slavery of sin, as well as free from the power of Satan and the world. He freely gave His life for us; He gave His all.

God paid a high price to purchase us and make us part of His inheritance. God the Son is the Father’s love gift to us; and we are the Father’s love gift to His Son. The church is Christ’s body, building, and bride; wrapped up in His church. We are “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

It was given to John, the beloved disciple, to write a book for both Jews and Gentiles; presenting Jesus as the Son of God, and if you commit yourself to Him, He will give you eternal life (John 20:31).

Much as our words reveal to others our hearts and minds, so Jesus Christ is God’s “Word” to reveal His heart and mind to us. According to Hebrews 1:1-3, Jesus Christ is God’s last Word to mankind, for He is the climax of divine revelation.

How was the “Word made flesh”? By the miracle of the Virgin Birth (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25). He took on Himself sinless human nature and identified with us in every aspect of life from birth to death.

The revelation of God’s glory is an important theme in John’s Gospel. Jesus revealed God’s glory in His person, His works, and His words. The glory of the Old Covenant of Law was a fading glory, but the glory of the New Covenant in Christ is an increasing glory. The Law could reveal sin, but it could never remove sin. Jesus Christ came with fullness of grace and truth, and this fullness is available to all who will trust Him (John 1:16).

Life is a key theme in John’s Gospel. There are at least four essentials for human life: light, air, water and food. Jesus is all of these! He is the Light of life and the Light of the world (John 8:12). By His Holy Spirit, He give us the “breath of life” (John 3:8; 20:22), as well as the Water of life (John 4:10). Finally, Jesus is the Living Bread of Life that came down from heaven (John 6:35ff). He not only has life and gives life, but He is life (John 14:6).

Light and darkness are recurring themes in John’s Gospel. God’s light is very prominent at this time of the church year. As we begin the New Year, the gospel reading from John begins with the light of the world being born into a world of darkness. Through this reading we are reminded of God’s creative work in Genesis where the first thing created was light to separate the darkness. Jesus, “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)

So God’s world is about light. Satan’s world is the darkness which has not overcome the light. It is in the light that we are called to do our work as Christians and that work is to shine the light of Christ into the world which does not yet know Jesus. People love either the light or the darkness, and this love controls their actions (John 3:16-19). Those who believe on Christ are the “sons of light” (John 12:35-36).

Just as the first Creation began with “Let there be light!” so the New Creation began with the entrance of light into the heart of the believer (2 Cor. 4:3-6). The coming of Jesus Christ into the world was the dawning of a new day for sinful man (Luke 1:78-79).

Whenever Jesus taught a spiritual truth, His listeners interpreted it in a material or physical way. The light was unable to penetrate the darkness in their minds. This was true when He spoke about the temple of His body (John 2:19-21), the new birth (John 3:4), the living water (John 4:11), eating His flesh (John 6:51ff), spiritual freedom (John 8:30-36), death as sleep (John 11:11-13), and many other spiritual truths. Satan strives to keep people in the darkness, because darkness means death and hell, while light means life and heaven.

As you study John’s Gospel, you will find Jesus teaching the people that He is the fulfillment of all that was typified in the Law. It was not enough to be born a Jew; they had to be born again, born from above (John 3). He deliberately performed two miracles on the Sabbath to teach them that He had a new rest to give them (John 5; 9). He was the satisfying manna (John 6) and the life-giving Water (John 7:37-39). He is the Shepherd of a new flock (John 10:16), and He is a new Vine (John 15). But the people were so shackled by religious tradition that they could not understand spiritual truth. They saw His works and heard His words.
They observed His perfect life. He gave them every opportunity to grasp the truth, believe, and be saved. Jesus is the way, but they would not walk with Him (John 6:66-71). He is the truth, but they would not believe Him (John 12:37ff). He is the life, and they crucified Him!

But sinners today need not commit those same blunders. John 1:12-13 gives us the marvelous promise of God that anyone who receives Christ will be born again and enter the family of God!

John the Baptist is one of the most important persons in the New Testament. John had the special privilege of introducing Jesus to the nation of Israel. He also had the difficult task of preparing the nation to receive their Messiah. He called them to repent of their sins and to prove that repentance by being baptized and then living changed lives.

John summarized what John the Baptist had to say about Jesus Christ (John 1:15-18). First, He is eternal. Jesus always existed. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3).

Jesus Christ has fullness of grace and truth. Grace is God’s favor and kindness bestowed on those who do not deserve it and cannot earn it. If God dealt with us only according to truth, none of us would survive; but He deals with us on the basis of grace and truth.
Jesus Christ, in His life, death, and resurrection, met all the demands of the Law; those who trust Christ. Grace without truth would be deceitful, and truth without grace would be condemning.

John did not suggest that there was no grace under the Law of Moses, because there was. Each sacrifice was an expression of the grace of God. The Law also revealed God’s truth. But in Jesus Christ, grace and truth reach their fullness; and this fullness is available to us. We are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), but we also live by grace (1 Cor. 15:10) and depend on God’s grace in all that we do. We can receive one grace after another, for “He giveth more grace” (James 4:6).

Finally, Jesus Christ reveals God to us (John 1:18). As to His essence, God is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17). Man can see God revealed in nature and in His mighty works in history; but He cannot see God Himself. Jesus Christ reveals God to us, for He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and “the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). Jesus Christ explains God to us and interprets Him for us. We simply cannot understand God apart from knowing His Son, Jesus Christ.

True riches come from God. It is a source of great encouragement to know that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all working on our behalf to make us rich. There is always more spiritual wealth to claim from the Lord as we walk with Him. The Bible is our guidebook; the Holy Spirit is our Teacher. As we search the Word of God, we discover more and more of the riches we have in Christ. These riches were planned by the Father, purchased by the Son, and presented by the Spirit.
All these gifts are freely given by God; and the greatest gift we can give Him is our lives; to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

Let us pray:
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

Save the King

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
December 29, 2013 – Christmas I

Isaiah 63:7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18, Matthew 2:13-23

From the Prophet Isaiah:
In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews:
For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

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.

When we look at the church calendar after Christmas, it almost seems as if the church fathers made it their business to remind us that Jesus was born into a sin filled and cruel world. The three days after Christmas are some of the deadliest days of the church year. We do not celebrate these commemorations, but some denominations do.

The day after Christmas, December 26th is the Feast of Stephen. It is the day we remember his death. The feast commemorates the first martyr of the New Testament Church. We read his story in the sixth and seventh chapter of Acts. There we read how the Jewish ruling council stoned him after he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ.

December 27th, the next day, is the Feast of John the Apostle and Evangelist. It is the day we remember his death. Although he was the only one of the original twelve apostles to die of old age, that was not for a lack of trying. He suffered much for his confession of faith in Jesus Christ, but, for some reason, all the efforts of the executioners and assassins failed to end his life.
Then, on December 28th, we remember the Slaughter of the Innocents, the story we read in today’s gospel. The events of today’s gospel are so disturbing that it is hard to believe they are part of the Christmas story. Yet, it is something that truly happened. King Herod really did send his troops to kill all the boys of Bethlehem who were two years of age or less.

A person is identified not only by his friends, but also by his enemies. Herod pretended that he wanted to worship the newborn King (Matt. 2:8), when in reality he wanted to destroy Him. God warned Joseph to take the Child and Mary and flee to Egypt. Egypt was close by. There were many Jews there, and the treasures received from the magi would more than pay the expenses for traveling and living there.

King Herod was one of the most ruthless politicians of his time. He managed by cunning and the spilling of a great deal of blood to remain in power through several transfers of power in Rome. Most of the time, a new emperor took control in Rome and then purged his government. This usually included killing all those who were loyal to his predecessor. Somehow, Herod not only survived these purges, but even managed to gain power while those around him lost their heads.

Herod was cruel and paranoid. Since he often maintained his hold on power through bloodshed, he expected others would do the same. As a result, no one was immune from his sword. He freely killed his sons, wives, and anyone else who might make a claim to the throne. According to legend Caesar Augustus remarked: “It is better to be Herod’s swine than his son.” Some historians didn’t bother to include the slaughter in Bethlehem in their accounts because it paled in comparison to Herod’s other atrocities.

Herod’s anger was evidence of his pride; he could not permit anyone to get the best of him, particularly some Gentile scholars (he was referring to the magi)! This led him to kill the boy babies two years of age and under who were still in Bethlehem. We must not envision hundreds of little boys being killed, for there were not that many male children of that age in a small village like Bethlehem. Even today only about 20,000 people live there. It is likely that not more than 20 children were slain. But, of course, 1 is too many!

St. Matthew introduced here in our gospel reading the theme of hostility, which he focused on throughout his book. Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), as was King Herod. He lied to the magi and he murdered the babies. But even this horrendous crime of murder was a fulfillment of prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:15. In order to understand this fulfillment, we must review Jewish history.

It is obvious that Satan inhabited Herod in the same way that a hand might inhabit a glove. Herod may have given the appearance of a man with a lot of power, but he was really a slave – a slave of Satan. When Herod gave the order for the death of the young boys in Bethlehem, Satan was stretching out his hand to put a quick end to God’s plan of salvation.

This was only the latest in a series of satanic attacks that stretched back to the Garden of Eden where Satan began his war to stop the coming of the Savior who would crush his head. Down through the centuries, Satan waged continuous war in a vain attempt to exterminate the remnant of God’s people who carried the promise of the coming Messiah. Sometimes, it almost seemed as if Satan was winning as the remnant dwindled in size to almost nothing – the church of eight people that met on Noah’s Ark – the lone prophet Elijah who thought he was the last God-fearing man on earth – the exiles in Babylon. There were several times that the remnant of God’s people almost disappeared, but God always preserved a few faithful people.

Today’s Gospel tells how this war focused on one child born in Bethlehem. That child was all that stood between Satan and total world domination. Is it any wonder that Satan instigated Herod, his slave, to wipe out those toddlers and infants of Bethlehem? This was not just a political assassination on Herod’s part. This was spiritual war on Satan’s part.

In spiritual warfare, no holds are barred. There is no Geneva Convention. Satan will attack men, women, and as today’s gospel indicates, even children. All are his targets. All are his enemies. There are no non-combatants.

This has been the case throughout history. If we look back at the Israelites who conquered the Canaanites and took their land away from them, one might think that that was incredibly unfair. However, if we look closer at the Canaanites, we learn that they worshiped a god of the underworld and frequently offered their children as burnt sacrifices to that god. God not only gave the land of Canaan to the Israelites, but He also punished the Canaanites for their detestable worship practices including the sacrifice of children.

In today’s world, many dictators use starvation and poverty as a weapon to subjugate their own people. In such cultures, children often take the brunt of this attack and die of malnutrition and other curable diseases.

Some of you may not agree with me on this analogy. We in this country also sacrifice our children to the gods. We simply sacrifice them before they are born. We sacrifice them to the god of convenience – “this is not the right time for me to have a child,” the god of fashion – “I look so fat when I am pregnant,” the god of finance – “we just can’t afford a child right now,” and all the other gods of greed and narcissism. On an average day, elective abortion, in this nation alone, kills about 300 times as many children as died in Bethlehem at the order of Herod. Since 1973, when Roe vs. Wade was enacted, thus legalizing abortions, over 56 million abortions have been performed in the United States. There is a website that has an abortion clock, which keeps track of abortions around the world by country. It was very disturbing to see the clock ticking away right before my eyes. Every few seconds another abortion had been done.

There are some in our culture who believe that children are somehow exempt in the spiritual war – that children are somehow innocent. They claim that children are guiltless until they can actually understand the nature of the spiritual war against them. They speak of an age of accountability. They speak as though Satan has a sense of fairness or honor. He doesn’t. Today’s gospel makes that very clear. The wages of sin is death and even children draw the wages of their sins and die. As King David said in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Fortunately, God saved a remnant from the slaughter of the innocents – a remnant of one child. God warned Joseph by way of a dream that Herod sought to destroy the child. He told Joseph to take the child and His mother to Egypt. There Jesus was beyond the reach of Herod. There Jesus would be safe until Herod died.

Joseph obeyed. He awakened Mary in the middle of the night and they left Bethlehem. Ultimately, Jesus retraced the trail of his ancestors – the time, long before, when another Joseph brought his father, Israel, and the rest of his family to sanctuary in Egypt. Later, after Herod died, Jesus would follow the trail that His ancestors – the Children of Israel – took back into the Promised Land.

Herod died in 4 B.C., which means that Jesus was born sometime between 6 and 5 B.C. It is impossible not to notice the parallel between Jesus and the call of Moses. As God’s Son, Jesus was in Egypt and was called out to go to Israel. Moses was outside Egypt, hiding for his life, and he was called to return to Egypt. But in both cases, God’s program of redemption was involved. It took courage for Joseph and Mary to leave Egypt, and it took courage for Moses to return to Egypt.

Archelaus was one of Herod’s sons, and to him Herod had willed the title of king. However, the Jews discovered that, in spite of his promises of kindness, Archelaus was as wicked as his father. So the Jews sent a delegation to Rome to protest his crowning. Augustus Caesar agreed with the Jews and made Archelaus an ethnarch, or ruler of the province, which encompassed only half of his father’s kingdom.

The whole episode is a good example of how God leads His children. Joseph knew that he and his family were no safer under the rule of Archelaus than they had been under Herod the Great. It is likely they were heading back to Bethlehem when they discovered that Archelaus was on the throne. Certainly, Joseph and Mary prayed, waited, and sought God’s will. Common sense told them to be careful; faith told them to wait. In due time, God spoke to Joseph in a dream, and he took his wife and her Son to Nazareth, which had been their home earlier (Matt. 2:19-20).

But even this fulfilled prophecy! Once again, Matthew points out in his gospel, that every detail in the life of Jesus was foretold in the Scriptures. It is important to note that Matthew did not refer to only one prophet, but instead says “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets” (plural).

We will not find any specific prophecy that called Jesus a “Nazarene.” The term “Nazarene” was applied to both Jesus and His followers (Acts 24:5); and He was often called “Jesus of Nazareth” (Matt. 21:11).

But perhaps Matthew, led by the Spirit, saw a spiritual connection between the name “Nazarene” and the Hebrew word netzer, which means “a branch or shoot.” Several prophets apply this title to Jesus. “There shall come forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, and the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11). God planted a Christmas tree some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.

When Jesus grew up in Nazareth and began His ministry, He began with baptism in the Jordan River. Through that Baptism Jesus sanctified and instituted water to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.

When we combine water with God’s Word in Baptism, we see the Holy Spirit working faith in the heart by means of the Word of God that makes water into a Baptism. Through this faith, God works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation. Through this miracle of faith worked by the Holy Spirit, God can give protection against the spiritual warfare of Satan even to infants.

Jesus showed His love for children throughout His ministry. He said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” God loves children. And since at one time or another, we were all children, that means He loves all of us.

Eventually, Jesus stood trial before another Herod, the son of the Herod who tried to kill Him in Bethlehem. After that trial, Jesus finally did die.

He did not die in Bethlehem when the first Herod wanted. Instead, He died when He finished His mission here on this earth. He died after He had led a perfect life and after He had taken our sins to the cross. He died as God’s sacrifice for our sins. He died at the time God established and not at the time Herod established. He died only after Jesus Himself said, “It is finished.”

He not only died according to God’s timetable, but He also rose according to it and ascended into heaven. His resurrection and ascension mean that all who have faith in him, men, women, and even infants, will spend eternity in His presence in heaven. It means that God gives us protection against Satan’s spiritual war. It means that even when we die, God will always be with us.

From a human point of view, it would seem foolish for God to become Man; yet it was this very act of grace and humility that made possible our salvation and all that goes with it. If Jesus Christ had not come to earth and become man, He could not take us from earth to share in His glory. The incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection must go together. They all lead to glory.

Satan can fill the world with evil forces like Herod, but the cross and the empty tomb assure us that he cannot win. The worst he can do is kill us and then we shall be with the Lord in heaven. In the end, God’s Word will remain and Satan will suffer eternal condemnation. The God, who preserved and saved His Son from the Satanic hand of Herod, but who did not spare His Son when the fullness of time had come, will graciously protect us from Satan and preserve us in the one true faith unto life everlasting.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

Jesus Christ Is Born

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
December 24, 2013 – Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

Isaiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97, Titus 3:4-7, Luke 2:1-20

From the Prophet Isaiah:
Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”

From the Letter of St. Paul to Titus:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

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.

Augustus Caesar sent out a decree to the entire world that a census should be taken. Caesar was ruling, but God was in charge, for God used Caesar’s edict to move Mary and Joseph eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill His Word. Rome took a census every fourteen years for both military and tax purposes, and each Jewish male had to return to the city of his fathers to record his name, occupation, property, and family.

When Mary said “Be it unto me according to Thy Word” (Luke 1:38), it meant that from then on, her life would be a part of the fulfillment of divine prophecy. God had promised that the Savior would be a human, not an angel (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:16), and a Jew, not a Gentile (Gen. 12:1-3; Num. 24:17). He would be from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), and the family of David (2 Sam. 7:1-17), born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14) in Bethlehem, the city of David (Micah 5:2).

Mary and Joseph were already husband and wife but since they did not consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born, she is called his “espoused wife” (Matt. 1:18-25). The journey must have been very trying for her, but she rejoiced in doing the will of God, and she was no doubt glad to get away from the gossip of her pregnancy in Nazareth.

This was God’s way. He used the ordinary to do the extraordinary. Bread and Wine become the body and blood of Christ – the very medicine of immortality. Simple water becomes a flood of righteousness, washing away every spot and stain of sin. The simple doing the extraordinary. The everyday touching the eternal.

Mothers in that day wrapped their infants in long bands of cloth to give the limbs strength and protection. Jesus was laid in a manger. The words “manger” or “stall” can either mean a feeding trough or an enclosure for animals. You see ancient stone troughs even today as you travel in the Holy Land, and it is probable that such a trough cradled the Infant Jesus. Many scholars believe that our Lord was born in a cave where animals were sheltered and not in a wooden shed such as you see in modern manger scenes.

Bethlehem means “house of bread,” the ideal birthplace for the Bread of Life (John 6:35). In this extraordinary infant, we see the very image of God – the living word of creation made flesh. The eternal Son of the Father humbled, made low, for us; always for us.

What a blessed union of the everyday and the once and for all. A paradox of cosmic proportions – God and man joined in this one small person. Unfathomable power and authority placed in the care of these two humble travelers of little means by our standards. Indescribable glory and majesty shrouded in the swaddling clothes of a newborn. It was God’s plan for eternal salvation hidden in the peace and calm of a dark night in a small town, long ago.

The first announcement of the Messiah’s birth was given by an angel to some anonymous shepherds. Why shepherds? Why not to priests and scribes? By visiting the shepherds, the angel revealed the grace of God toward mankind. Shepherds were really outcasts in Israel. Their work not only made them ceremonially unclean, but it kept them away from the temple for weeks at a time so that they could not be made clean.

The shepherds knew what to look for: a newborn Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And they found Him! They worshiped Him and marveled at God’s grace and goodness and the miracle he had wrought for them.

These shepherds are good examples for us to imitate today. They received by faith the message of God sent them and then responded with immediate obedience. After finding the Baby, they reported the good news to others, “glorifying and praising God.” Then they humbly returned to their duties, new men going back to the same old job.

The Messiah came to be both the Good Shepherd (John 10) and the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world (John 1:29). Perhaps these shepherds were caring for the flocks that would provide sacrifices for the temple services. It was fitting that the good news about God’s Shepherd and Lamb be given first to humble shepherds.

And who brought the Good News? First one angel appeared, probably Gabriel, and brought the glad announcement; and then a chorus of angels joined him and gave an anthem of praise.

“Fear not! I announce to you good news, a great joy which shall be to all people.”

What was the good news?

This Messiah was one who came to die. If we look into the manger and gush over the image of a sweet and pure child, but see no cross, we miss the whole point. If we forget that this precious child came to shed His precious blood for our sin, then why are we celebrating Him anyway? For this is the perfect and spotless Lamb of God, appointed for sacrifice, to take away the sins of the whole world.

This doesn’t happen every day. But it did happen on Good Friday. The Christ that laid in the manger is the same Christ nailed to the cross. The Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes is the same Christ wrapped in grave linens. The one whose birth was peaceful and humble and ordinary was destined for a death that was violent and humiliating, and …ordinary. Romans crucified people all the time. Such a death was part of life for ancient Jews.

But then the usual gave way to the unusual once again, and Christ conquered death. And this is His greatest miracle. This is what no one expected, even though He said so.

On this Christmas Eve, we do all the usual things, read the usual readings, sing all the usual hymns, light the candles, like we always do. We’ll go home to our regular places at the regular times, and do our holiday traditions in the usual way, with the usual foods, and the usual folks. But through it all, and behind it all, and in it all is our God – present and working his extraordinary salvation. There is nothing common about His grace in Jesus Christ.

May your everyday Christmas be filled with those unique blessings brought by the Lamb of God, the babe of Bethlehem, true God, true man, the firstborn of the dead, Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He sent us His Son, and that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have eternal life.

Let us pray:
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

His Divine Credentials

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
December 22, 2013 – Advent IV

Isaiah 7:10-16, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

From the Prophet Isaiah:
Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh, and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

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.

A few of you traveled great distances to be here for the Christmas holiday. A time to be with family and friends; a time to share good food and fellowship; and of course to thank God for His most precious gift: His Son Jesus Christ.

When you arrived at the airport and proceeded through the security area, you needed to show some form of identification or credentials before you could proceed.

When you apply for a job, you present to your prospective employer a resume. This gives a summary of your experience; your resume is your credentials for the prospective job. It is also important to check a person’s credentials to make sure they are telling the truth. This is so important that we do this for our politicians.
If a man suddenly appears on the scene and claims to be a king, the public immediately asks for proof. What is his background? Who pays homage to him? What credentials can he present? Anticipating these important questions, Matthew opened his book with a careful account of the birth of Jesus Christ and the events that accompanied it.

Genealogies were very important to the Jews, for without them they could not prove their tribal memberships or their rights to inheritances. Anyone claiming to be “the Son of David” had to be able to prove it. It is generally concluded that Matthew gave our Lord’s family tree through His foster father, Joseph, while Luke gave Mary’s lineage (Luke 3:23ff).

Many Bible readers skip over this list of ancient (and, in some cases, unpronounceable) names. But this “list of names” is a vital part of the Gospel record. It shows that Jesus Christ is a part of history; that all of Jewish history prepared the way for His birth. God in His providence ruled and overruled to accomplish His great purpose in bringing His Son into the world.

This genealogy also illustrates God’s wonderful grace. It is most unusual to find names of women in Jewish genealogies, since names and inheritances came through the fathers. But in this list we find references to four women from Old Testament history: Tamar (Matt. 1:3), Rahab and Ruth (Matt. 1:5), and Bathsheba “the wife of Uriah” (Matt. 1:6).

There were many Jewish men of that day who could trace their family back to King David. It would take more than human pedigree to make Jesus Christ “the Son of David” and heir to David’s throne. This is why the divine heredity was so important.

Matthew made it clear that Jesus Christ’s birth was different from that of any other Jewish boy named in the genealogy. Matthew pointed out that Joseph did not ‘beget” Jesus Christ. Rather, Joseph was the “husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Jesus was born of an earthly mother without the need of an earthly father. This is known as the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

Every child born into the world is a totally new creature. However, Jesus Christ, being eternal God (John 1:1, 14), existed before Mary and Joseph or any of His earthly ancestors. If Jesus Christ was conceived and born just as any other baby, then He could not be God. It was necessary for Him to enter this world through an earthly mother, but not to be begotten by an earthly father. By a miracle of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary, a virgin (Luke 1:26-38).

Both Mary and Joseph belonged to the house of David. The Old Testament prophecies indicated that the Messiah would be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15), of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18), through the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), and of the family of David (2 Sam. 7:12-13). Matthew’s genealogy traced the line through Solomon, while Luke’s traced it through Nathan, another of David’s sons. It is worth noting that Jesus Christ is the only Jew alive who can actually prove His claims to the throne of David! All of the other records were destroyed when the Romans took Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
To the Jewish people in that day, betrothal or engagement was equivalent to marriage – except that the man and woman did not live together (not like today). They were called “husband and wife,” and, at the end of the engagement period, the marriage was consummated. If a betrothed woman became pregnant, it was considered adultery. But Joseph did not punish or divorce Mary when he discovered she was with child, for the Lord had revealed the truth to him. All of this fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 7:14).

Let’s take a moment and look at the three names assigned to God’s Son. The name Jesus means “Saviour” and comes from the Hebrew name, Joshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation.” Jesus was also called “Jesus the Christ.” The word Christ means “anointed”; it is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. He is “Jesus the Messiah.” Jesus is His human name; Christ is His official title; and Immanuel describes who He is – “God with us.” Jesus Christ is God!

The King, then, was a Jewish male who is also the divine Son of God. Was He worthy of worship? Was he really both God and man? Did anybody acknowledge His Kingship? Yes, because He was born with a divine nature. He was born a child, but He was also born the Son of God with power and authority. The magi from the East got it right and they came and worshiped Him.

Have you ever noticed that St. Paul always begins his letters with something like: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ…” In ancient days, the writer of a letter always opened with his name. But there would be many men named Paul in that day, so the writer had to further identify himself and convince the readers that he had a right to send the letter. What were Paul’s credentials?

The word Paul used for servant would be meaningful to the Romans, because it is the
word slave. There were an estimated 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. In loving devotion, Paul had enslaved himself to Christ, to be his servant and obey His will.

Paul was an apostle, which means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. One of the requirements for an apostle was the experience of seeing the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1-2). Paul saw Christ when he was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), and it was then that Christ called him to be His apostle to the Gentiles. Paul received from Christ divine revelations that he was to share with the churches.

When Paul was a Jewish rabbi, a Pharisee, he was committed to the laws and traditions of the Jews. But when he yielded to Christ, he was committed to the Gospel and its ministry. He was to preach and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again, and now is able to save all who trust Him (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It is “the Gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1) because it originates with God; it was not invented by man. It is “the Gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) because it centers in Christ, the Saviour. Paul also calls it “the Gospel of His Son” (Rom. 1:9), which indicates that Jesus Christ is God!
Jesus Christ is the center of the Gospel message. Paul identified Him as a man, a Jew, and the Son of God. He was born of a virgin (Matt. 1:18-25) into the family of David, which gave Him the right to David’s throne. He died for the sins of the world, and then was raised from the dead. It is this miraculous event of substitutionary death and victorious resurrection that constitutes the Gospel; and it was this Gospel that Paul preached.

Jesus Christ became one of us so that He could redeem us. That’s what we celebrate when we talk about Christmas – the child that is born in Bethlehem. You’ll notice that it says, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” His sonship has to do with His divinity. Jesus Christ’s humanity began two thousand years ago, but His divinity was there from the beginning of eternity.

His redemption is based on a relationship with Him. It’s based on faith. It’s based on trust and that is developed through reading of His Word.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwell in the land of darkness, on them the light has shined.” (Isa. 9:2) Open your heart to the light – to the Saviour.

There is no Christmas without Christ. And there is no Christ without the cross. There’s no manger scene apart from a crucifix. No Bethlehem without Jerusalem. No Saviour born unless He is born to die. And there is no salvation for sinners like you and me; without Christ crucified.

May we rejoice today with the angels that sang when that great gift of salvation came – when that child was born in Bethlehem and the Son given.

Advent now closes. Christmas is almost here. And now we are prepared to celebrate His birth because we know who He is. We have seen His credentials. He is Jesus Christ. He’s our Saviour from sin. He is our true Christmas joy!

Let us pray:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation; that Your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.