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LSB Epiphany 1B Sermon – Mark 1:4-11

January 11, 2015

January 11, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’”

Jesus comes down from Nazareth to the Jordan Valley. He goes to where John was busy doing his work: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” That work drew the attention of many in Israel, as the LORD’s spokesman summoned His people to turn and repent: “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.” 

As Jesus travels to the Jordan Valley, He takes His place among those who were going out to John. He numbers Himself among the sinners who seeking the LORD’s righteousness. Jesus is there with them, showing a solidarity that He has with all humanity. For this Jesus is truly God, but He is also truly man, having assumed human nature for Himself.

But this Jesus does not have a guilt to admit or a sin to confess. Yes, Jesus is in the Jordan River, numbered among those who were seeking the LORD’s righteousness. But He is there to be the righteousness that they were seeking. He is there to be the light that they were seeking. He is there to be the life that they were seeking.

For who is this Jesus? He is what John the Apostle declared, as you heard on Christmas Day: “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 any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That’s who stands in the River Jordan and is baptized by John.

So what happens when this Jesus is baptized? “And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’” The heavens which this Jesus created are opened. The Holy Spirit comes down from heaven to Him. The Father makes the public statement about the Divine Sonship and Divine Righteousness that Jesus possesses. Through these acts, Jesus’ identity is revealed for the people to receive.

The events at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River hearken back to the Creation Account that you heard in today’s Old Testament Reading. Once again, the Spirit of God hovers over the waters. Once again, the Father speaks openly. Once again, the Word of God is present. Once again, order is being made out of chaos. Once again, light is provided to the creation. Through these acts, people are to see the LORD as the source of all that is good.

This is what you are to learn from hearing about Jesus’ baptism. There still is the “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” You have committed sins and iniquities that offend Almighty God and make you justly deserving of His temporal and eternal punishment. Each time the LORD’s Law is spoken, that is made evident. Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Have you been disobedient or unfaithful? Have you been rude or quarrelsome? Have you hurt anyone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen or been negligent with other people’s property? Have you loved the LORD above all things? Have you given full attention to the LORD’s Words?

These are the questions that the LORD’s Law asks. They expose your record of wrongdoing. They reveal the sins and iniquities that you have perpetrated. Like the people at the Jordan River who heard John’s preaching, you hear this truth spoken about you. And the truth is not a pretty one. Divine wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation are what your actions have rightfully gained.

But the repentance that is brought about through the exposure of this ugly truth is not answered with these. Instead, you are called to turn and to receive forgiveness of sins. Why is this so? Because Jesus is in the Jordan River, numbered among you who were seeking the LORD’s righteousness. He is there to be your righteousness. He is there to be your light. He is there to be your life. Jesus’ presence in the Jordan River is to provide redemption for you.

In his prayer written for the Rite of Christian Baptism, Martin Luther provides this striking statement: “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” That statement is rooted in the identity of Jesus and the reason why He was in the world. Jesus is the Father’s beloved Son and is well-pleasing to Him. He extends that status to those who are incorporated into Him. Jesus’ identity makes all the difference in the actions that He performs. So when Jesus offers Himself as an atoning sacrifice, it can actually accomplish that for humanity. It is why Jesus can establish baptism as a way of distributing His merits to you. That allows you to receive a baptism for the forgiveness of sins instead of having all the wrath of God poured out on you.

In his baptismal hymn, Martin Luther closes with a stanza that summarizes the connection between Jesus’ righteousness and what is given in baptism: “All that the mortal eye beholds / Is water as we pour it. / Before the eye of faith unfolds / The pow’r of Jesus’ merit. / For here it sees the crimson flood / To all our ills bring healing; / The wonders of His precious blood / The love of God revealing, / Assuring His own pardon.” Jesus’ merit is extended to those who receive the baptism that Jesus institutes. Baptism is getting into the water with Jesus. That takes you from being unworthy to untie His sandals to being like Him. Jesus’ “beloved-ness” is not kept for Himself, but is granted to you. Jesus’ “sonship” is not kept for Himself, but is offered to you. Jesus’ “well-pleasingness” is not kept for Himself, but is made yours.

When that is done, a re-creating happens to you. A regeneration and restoration takes place. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters and descends on you. The Word of God speaks and reshapes you. Light shines in the darkness of your ignorance about God, so that you can rightly know Him. Life is given to overcome the deadness of your sins and trespasses. The chaos and disorderedness of rebelling against the LORD’s Will is replaced by a love of what He establishes as good. The LORD declares you to be well pleasing to Him. This is the effect of being joined to the death and resurrection that the beloved Son of God endured to bring redemption to you.

As recipients of that, you are set into a new life. That is what the apostle wants you and all the baptized to remember and hold dear: “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. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” The newness of life is given to you. You are set on a new path. You have been turned to the righteous ways that Jesus both lived and taught. You are delivered from the bondage of sin. You live as children of the heavenly Father.

That is also part of your being baptized. It isn’t a one-day event. No, it is an event that took place on a particular day, but then governs the rest of your days. As the Collect of the Day noted, you have a calling as the Father’s children and you have an inheritance of everlasting life. These have been established for you, but they stand true not only on the day that you came up out of the waters of the baptismal font but even now. Paul’s declaration outlines this truth: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The dying to sin has taken place in the past. The living to God happens now.

This entire matter of baptism exists because of who Jesus is and what He has done. He is the Divine Son who is well-pleasing. He is the Divine Righteousness that you need. He is the Divine Love shown to you. He is the Divine Creator who grants you new life. He is the Divine Word whose speech establishes life and enacts promises for you. That was seen at Jesus’ baptism. It was made clear at His death and resurrection. And you have encountered it and been incorporated into it when you were baptized according to Jesus’ command. So you have turned and repented. So you have been forgiven of your sins. So you have died and risen to new life. Jesus stands in the Jordan for you, and you got into the waters with Him.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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