The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 1:4 “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 And John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. 7 And he was preaching, and saying, ‘After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8 I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ 9 And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.’” (NASB)
January 6th, this past Wednesday marked the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the Season of Epiphany. Epiphany is a season that celebrates the fact that God sent His Son and the Gospel to the Gentile world. During the Season of Epiphany Jesus is manifested not only as Savior of the Jews, but as the Son of God who came into the world to save all people from the sin, death, and the power of the devil.
The Season of Epiphany is commemorated in liturgical churches by celebrating three major events in the life of Jesus. The first event is the arrival of the Magi to visit the young child Jesus. This visit was the first recorded visit of Gentiles who came to worship He who had been born King of the Jews.
The second event is the Baptism of the Jesus. When Jesus rose up out of the
water of the Jordan River, “He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.’”
The English translation softens the Greek a bit too much here. “He saw the heaven opening”, should is more literally translated, “He saw the heavens being torn open.” God the Father tore open, made a hole between heaven and earth so that the Holy Spirit would descend like a dove and He would say, “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.”
In the Baptism of Jesus a number of things were happening. First among these is an epiphany as to who Jesus is. He is God’s Son first, foremost, and last. That what He is above all else. The pen-ultimate relationship is the one that exists between God the Father and God the Son.
On the last Sunday in Epiphany, this year February 23rd, we will celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, where God the Father said to the chosen three disciples, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!”
The Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration serve as bookends for the season. In both these events Jesus is revealed to us, to the whole world as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Light of holiness who that has come into the world of darkness and sin.
During the season of Advent we spent time learning what it meant to call Jesus the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of Scandal, the Son of Joseph, and the Son of Mary. Epiphany is the time of the year dedicated the revelation that Jesus is the “the Son of God.”
The angel told Mary that she would conceive and the Child would be the Son of the Most High. Here in baptism God the Father tells us Jesus is His Son in Whom He is well pleased. Following His baptism Jesus would be drive by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The devil tempted Jesus with these words, “If You are the Son of God.” Mark begins His Gospel saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Remember what the Roman soldier who oversaw the Christ’s crucifixion said when Jesus had died? “Truly this is the Son of God.” This is the focus of the Gospel lesson this morning
“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (v 4). When it comes to people of the New Testament, with the obvious exception of Jesus, John is the man who casts the greatest shadow over the whole of the New Testament.
His miraculous conception is a subject in the Gospel of Luke.
We hear about him leaping in his mother’s womb when Mary and Jesus come for a visit.
He appeared on the banks of the River Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
He baptized Jesus.
He confronted Herod for his very public sin. For it John is imprisoned and beheaded.
Jesus talks about John as the greatest of all men born of a woman.
John gets a lot of time in the church calendar. He gets a couple of Sundays in Advent.
His conception is celebrated by the church on September 23rd. Sometimes that story shows up as part of Advent and Christmas services.
John shows up in the opening week of Lent.
He even shows up on Holy Saturday services.
He shows up with Jesus here in the opening Sunday of Epiphany. In all but one of these celebrations, John is known for what He peaches and does for sinners. He prepares the way of the Lord by preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sin and baptizing repentant sinners.
This morning the focus shifts to the other thing John did and God the Father’s reply, namely he baptized Jesus into His saving offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. He becomes an agent in Christ’s Epiphany, the demonstration of who Jesus is.
Baptisms were not new among the people of Israel. They had ceremonial washings (baptisms) for different things. For example when Gentiles came into the Jewish faith, they were received with a baptism (usually self-administered).
But John’s was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism was not a ceremonial washing, but a washing away of sins. It was itself a means of grace. God was actually doing something on a spiritual level. He was making sinners clean in the water and the Word. This baptism was administered by God’s ordained messenger– John.
John proclaimed “baptisma metanoias”, which means “a changing of the mind or to turning around”, a turning away from sin in sincere contrition and to the Lord for forgiveness and help. John was preparing the way for the Lord by proclaiming Law and Gospel.
“For the remission of sins.” The Greek word translated “for” should be understood as “for the purpose of.” Those being baptized were receiving God’s grace.
There was one exception. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (v 9). Jesus was the only one who came to John for Baptism who didn’t need the forgiveness of sins. Jesus didn’t need to repent. He didn’t need “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Yet, Jesus tells John it has to be. Jesus must be baptized by John. There’s something different about Jesus, therefore there must be something theologically/spiritually different about Jesus’ baptism.
Jesus baptism was epiphany. It was a revelation of Who Jesus is. God the Father spoke and identified Jesus in a way that was utterly unique. The Son of God. It was also an epiphany of the entire Trinity. All three persons were involved in the baptism of Jesus.
Jesus baptism was also the doorway through which He joined Himself to us and ultimately through which we were adopted and made sons and daughters of God the Father too.
This epiphany shows the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is baptized, the heavens are torn open by God the Father, the Holy Spirit descends on the Son like a dove, and God the Father says to Jesus the Son of God, the incarnate One; “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
Jesus had no sin, but when Jesus went into the water, He joined Himself to us. He took our place. He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was born into the poverty of Bethlehem. He lived the perfect life. He suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried.
2 Corinthians 5:21 “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 1 Peter 2:22,“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.” 1 John 3:5 “In him there is no sin.”
The Biblical witness, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all agreed in this: Jesus was born without sin and Jesus lived a life free from sin, that is from sin that originated in Himself and were committed by Him.
Jesus stepped out of the crowd and into the River Jordan as our perfect substitute. Jesus was not being washed clean in the waters of Baptism. Rather, He was sanctifying the water of Holy Baptism for us; consecrating the water making simple water His means of bringing all the baptized Christians into the family.
Jesus didn’t need a baptism of repentance for the remission of sin. Yet Jesus told John that He must be baptized by John “for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” For the purpose of fulfilling all righteous Jesus needed to be baptized just like the sinners. They fulfill all righteousness by giving His righteousness away.
Baptism is the agency of our adoption. “When the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:20-21)
Galatians 3:25-27 “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 For you are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
Your Baptism was and continues to be “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5), and a washing away of sins (Acts 22:16). Remember what Jesus told Nicodemus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which has been born of the flesh is flesh, and that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit.”
We have been adopted by way of the water and the Word. “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons and daughters. Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6)
The Son of Abraham, David, Joseph, Mary, the Son of God, the Son of Man, and even the Son of Scandal did not need to be baptized for the remission of His sin. He was waist deep in the Jordan River as our substitute before God the Father. He took upon Himself the sins of the world on Calvary’s cross.
In taking baptism unto Himself, He joins Himself to you and you to Himself. This means that just as the Father spoke to Jesus and said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” He also speaks to you, “You are my beloved son” – You are my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.”
When the pastor applied water to you and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” God the Father tore the heavens open and made you His son or daughter because your sins are forgiven.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.