Let There Be Light!
The Sunday of the Baptism of Our Lord
By Rev. Steven D. Spencer
4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. 8 "I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 9 It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Today we continue to celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord with the baptism of Jesus. Remember an epiphany is a moment of enlightenment. It’s that moment that the lights go on and we say aha, I get it. So let there be light!
Today we’ll be looking at three individuals, John the Baptizer and Jesus the Christ and you. When I think of John I am reminded of the passage we use for baptism. It’s 1 Peter 2:9 and it says: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” When it comes to peculiar, John lives up to the title. He’s a peculiar man, in peculiar place with a peculiar message.
II. John is the Peculiar Person
John is the miracle child of Elizabeth and Zacharias. Remember they were too old to have a child. And now he's all grown up. This man stands out in the crowd. His wardrobe is camels' hair and leather belt. Not the most comfortable outfit and not exactly what you’d expect a Levite to wear. After all most men in those days wore cotton tunics, which were quite comfortable. Yet this outfit may not have been John’s choice at all. Maybe he'd dressed that way for a reason: He was the new Elijah. He was dressed in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets because that was the office he held: God had called him to prepare the way of the Lord, to point to the One who is greater than he. John did indeed dress in a peculiar manner, in the uniform of the office.
John chose a peculiar place to be a prophet. There's no temple, synagogue or civic center in sight. He's in the wilderness, far away from any community. His menu is a survival meal of locusts and wild honey. This doesn't make sense; it's much more logical for him to go into Jerusalem with his message. There were plenty of people there and a nice river. But in the wilderness he stays, because that is where God has called him to be; he is to be the voice crying in the wilderness, and his station has been determined since the time of Isaiah. There he preaches, and all Judea goes out to hear his message.
A Peculiar message at that! He preaches a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. No ear tickling here. John hammers his hearers with the Law: He exhorts the soldiers to act justly; he exhorts the tax collectors to be honorable. He’s no respecter of persons; he even blasts the powerful Pharisees calling them a brood of vipers. This is not a feel-good sermon, not yet at least; he warns them of their sinfulness and guilt before God. Of course, he doesn't stop with the Law. He’s not only there to accuse and make them feel despair. He’s there preparing the way; so that after a heavy prescription of the Law, he can turn them to the curing medicine of the Gospel.
John’s peculiar message is one of law and gospel. The Gospel John points out is the One Who is coming after him, the One who is far greater he, the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. There's hope for sinners, because He is (T) coming. And with such a peculiar message, the people undergo a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; repentance to prepare the wilderness of their hearts for the One Who is to come.
The end of John's ministry is close at hand, because on this day the preparation is complete; the way of the Lord is prepared. The Lord stands in the crowd on Jordan's banks on that day. The incarnate Word, the second person of the Holy Trinity stands among His people, and we notice something peculiar alright. Nobody notices that He's there! No one will know that the Savior is in their midst until John points Him out saying: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
III. Jesus is the Peculiar God
When the Word made flesh stands among His people, He has no form or attractiveness; that they should be attracted to Him, there is no beauty that they should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2). Furthermore, He makes no statement of authority that day; He does not seize the reigns of power and declare Himself to be the Almighty One. He comes as a Lamb, not a lion; and instead of boasting of His holiness and authority before the multitudes, He comes to be baptized, just like all the poor, miserable sinners who gathered to listen to John that day.
He comes to be baptized on that day, and so He is. The Gospel of Mark doesn’t record John's protests, because they’re not the point of this Gospel. What matters is that Jesus came to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. And mark this well, dear believers: for He is baptized to fulfill all righteousness for you.
This Baptism of our Lord must be important, because the Holy Trinity gathers at the banks of the Jordan, all three persons are manifested. The Son is baptized. The Holy Spirit descends. The Father proclaims, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Just before the Temptation, the Holy Trinity gathers at the banks of the Jordan, where Jesus is baptized like one of the sinners there. He is baptized for all nations, and He is baptized for you. We know that, in Holy Baptism, the sins of sinners are washed off by water and the Word. In Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan, the sins of all the world are washed onto Him and later dealt with on the cross. As we sang just a few minutes ago: Behold the Lamb of God. That bears the world’s transgression, whose sacrifice removes the devil’s dread oppression. Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away our sin, who for our peace and joy, will full atonement win. Of course you know that atonement was won on the cross. Romans 6:3 says: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”
And that's your hope. By His Baptism, your Baptism is sanctified. As Father, Son and Holy Spirit were working for your salvation at the Jordan that day, so they worked your salvation at the font, when a pastor with the water and Word said I baptize you "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Likewise the Holy Trinity renews your Baptism with the words, "I forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." By this Absolution, you are prepared and renewed for the Lord's Supper, where you dine in the presence of God. All of this goes back to Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River and to His cross. If He is not baptized, your Baptism is not sanctified. If your sins are not washed onto Him there, they are not washed off of you at the font. If your sins are not washed away, you cannot stand the presence of God.
But Jesus is baptized. He is present in Word and Sacrament for your good. So you have no need to fear. Jesus is a peculiar God, a God who loves you more than Himself.
IV. Called to be a Peculiar People
And you are called to be a peculiar people. We are called by God to proclaim this peculiar message of this peculiar God to all who will hear. Like John the Baptizer, you proclaim the one who is greater than yourself, the one who has freed you by His mighty weakness, by His suffering and His death.
If you haven’t figured it out already, the peculiar message is all about the cross. For only by blood are sins forgiven. Baptism point to the cross, remember the verse I just read, Romans 6:3: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” The Lord’s Supper points to the cross, 1 Corinthians 11:26 says: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.”
It’s all about the power of the cross. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It is that power that has made you “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
David said in Psalm 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” The Lord is your light and your salvation. He has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, whom shall you fear? No one, for He (T) has paid the price in full for you. So let your light shine and rejoice, for all your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the (T) Holy Spirit. So let there be light in Jesus name, Amen and Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN