09 January 2017

Homily for the Baptism of Our Lord - 2017

"About Being 'Sinner'"
Matthew 3:13-17

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Epiphany—revealing—continues today with the Lord Jesus being baptized. Jesus went to His pastor, John the son of Zechariah, and asked to be baptized. Today commemorates Jesus’ own “baptismal birthday.” But if you think about it, something awfully strange is going on. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? The answer really has two parts: 1) to reveal Himself publicly as the Savior, and 2) to show Himself to be a “sinner.” Jesus’ baptism is the first time He comes out publicly to begin His ministry among people. And in that revealing, in that coming out, Jesus identifies Himself as a “sinner.”

First, bear in mind the message Jesus sent just by going to John for baptism. John preached and practiced “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk. 3:3). As John was preaching, he was calling sinners to repentance. He was boldly confronting people with the truth: they were sinners who sinned; they were sinners who truly needed help and rescue. John called for repentance—“a new thinking”—as the way to receive the revealed Messiah.

The Greek word for “repentance” quite simply means “a new mind-set," or "a new way of thinking.” This is not a new thinking that you can conjure up on your own. Here’s why. We have to go back to the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve fell into sin. There we see God’s original thinking. He wanted all creatures to live and exist for His praise and glory. Humans were the crown of His creation. He would graciously provide everything for them. He would be in the closest, purest relationship with His people, and His created people would trust and worship Him alone.

But something went tragically wrong. Adam and Eve conjured up a thinking of their own. Let’s call it a “free-thinking.” Adam and Eve thought, and then acted, as if no one—not even their God and Creator—should tell them what to do. “I’m free, man; don’t tell me what to do. Don’t bind me with your notions of good or bad, right or wrong. Life is about what feels good to me.” Sounds like our “free-thinking” today, doesn’t it? Now, Eve could rightly say the devil made her do it. But that was no excuse for having a “free-thinking” that led her into the prison cell of sin and death. It’s no excuse for you either. Freedom from the God who made you and loves you is really no freedom at all! Instead, it’s a curse…on you, me, and all humanity.

Then an amazing thing happened. God decided He would not throw out the whole dead, rotten, sinful mess. No, He decided to cleanse it, purify it, and give it a new thinking—a thinking that would return Adam and Eve, and you and me, to His original thinking.

When Jesus is baptized, we see that plan kicking into high gear. But baptism is only for sinners, not for “good, upright people.” Only sinners, only Satan-seduced “free thinkers,” need baptism. Remember how John the Baptizer chastised the “good” Pharisees when they showed up. They weren’t looking to be baptized; they were merely curious. Besides, the “good, upright” Pharisees themselves would never dare be baptized. That would mean they’d have to confess their sins. After all, they just knew—they presumed—that God saved them without worrying about that messy, ordinary water stuff.

So when Jesus shows up and asks to be baptized by John, John did not want to baptize Him. John knew that Jesus was not a “sinner.” He was without sin, after all! Despite John’s protests, though, Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus also knew He had no sin, but He was making Himself a sinner by being baptized.

Yes, you heard that right. Jesus made Himself a “sinner.” He made Himself the chief of sinners. Jesus’ baptism is about Him identifying Himself as “sinner.” You see, Jesus becomes sinner for the benefit of all sinners. Not only does Jesus take on our flesh and blood, and everything about us, but He also takes on our sin, our guilt, our curse. This was to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus does this to identify Himself with the cesspool of our lives. Not just the rotten things we do or say or think—that’s too shallow and superficial. Jesus identifies Himself with the rottenness and corruption that dwells within us, within our heart.

You and I could never fulfill all of God’s righteousness. Even if you and I lived a thousand lives and died a million deaths, we could never fulfill God’s justice. When a crime is committed, we want justice to be served. We want the murderer or the thief or the vandal to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced. Rightly so. The same holds for God’s justice. A crime was committed—on God’s perfect creation, on God’s loving care, on whole-hearted trust in God. And we—you and I—are the culprits. There must be justice. Sinners must pay. So Jesus identifies Himself as a sinner by being baptized. He would, and later did, receive the full, crushing weight of God’s arrest, conviction, and sentencing—God’s wrath. When He was baptized, Jesus was marked for death all the way to the bloody cross. And here’s why: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Cor. 5:21).

In His baptism Jesus made Himself a dirty sinner, so that in our Baptism He might make us clean saints. When Jesus goes through baptism, He hallows it and holds it up as a treasure for us. And, at the same time, our Baptism teaches us to be “sinners.” Ponder that for a moment. When you were baptized, you were identified for all of life as a sinner who needs daily forgiveness. This is the “new thinking” of repentance. You are freed to admit it—you are “sinner.” You cannot save yourself. And once saved, you cannot keep yourself saved. Because of your sinful flesh you are too weak to do that. And so, you need Jesus. You need His Baptism.

It’s a bit like the Alcoholics Anonymous routine. Their first step—and it’s a good one—is for an alcoholic to admit that he/she is an alcoholic. Denying it or avoiding it only prevents the help. The same is true—even more so—for baptized Christians. What does such baptizing with water indicate? “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Remember, sinless Jesus made Himself the chief of sinners for you. You and I have nothing to lose by daily admitting we are sinners who constantly sin in all we do or say or think. In fact, we have everything to gain. The “new thinking” of repentance also includes Jesus’ forgiveness in Baptism. “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” (Rom. 6:3-4). That newness of life is the life of forgiveness—confessing you need it and receiving it in all the ways that God gives it: in water, in words, and in bread and wine. “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).

This is how Baptism opens heaven for “sinners”—for you, for me. As Matthew tells us, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus as a dove, and the Father’s voice was heard: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In your Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on you in His gentleness and peace. Now that same Spirit leads you in all of your believing and living. In your Baptism, the Father speaks for you just as He spoke for Jesus. Your Father tells you, “You are My beloved son or daughter. I am pleased with you.” How can God say that? Because you are joined to Jesus in that Baptism.

It’s all about being “sinner.” When Jesus was baptized, He identified and revealed Himself as “sinner.” He made Himself one of us so that He might make us like Himself: beloved children of God our Father. Amen.

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