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LSB Epiphany 1C Sermon – Luke 3:15-22

January 11, 2016

January 10, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a Voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’”

As you hear the accounts of the Creation and the Fall into Sin from Genesis, you encounter Paradise being closed to mankind: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—’ therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” The LORD expresses His displeasure at what He had generated. He looks at Adam’s sin and drives him out of the Garden. The LORD shuts the door to Paradise.

But prior to closing Paradise, the LORD made a solemn promise to mankind, as He speaks judgment against the Serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” The LORD foretells what will be done by Him. His promise starts the process by which He would bring His salvation. The LORD begins His activity by which He would reopen Paradise for mankind.

That process reaches its stage of fulfillment when the LORD enters His creation. This is what you have celebrated the past several weeks during Christmastide. Notice is given to mankind about what the LORD had done: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Declaration is made about this Savior who was born: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The mission He would accomplish is disclosed: “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

The Savior comes into the world; that is celebrated at Christmas. He begins His actions to bring salvation; that is what you hear from Epiphany through Pentecost. It started with your hearing the Gospel Reading for this day when the Church remembers the Baptism of Jesus. Jesus comes to the Jordan Valley as John the Baptizer was performing his work, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But John had also spoken of a Greater One who would follow after him: “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” That Greater One is Jesus. And when Jesus arrives, He begins to show His greatness that is beneficial for humanity.

Recall what took place when Jesus came to the Jordan River: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a Voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’” When Jesus was baptized, the LORD speaks about Him. But His declaration does not express disappointment with this Man, as He did with Adam. Instead, the LORD states His approval of Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened. The location where the LORD is present is no longer closed off to mankind. For this Jesus—the Incarnate LORD present on earth—is the One begins the reversal of what Adam had wrought, so that humanity could once again take its place within Paradise.

Jesus’ Baptism is wrapped up with His role as the Great Substitute for mankind and the redemption that He accomplishes. Dogmatic books call this the Vicarious Atonement. The simplest way of explaining that concept is that Jesus is a man who does the opposite of Adam and all of Adam’s descendants. But when Jesus does this—when He acts righteously, when He lives as the LORD’s Beloved Son, and when He offers Himself as a sacrifice or propitiation for sins—it has benefits for more than just Him; it has results for all mankind. That is what you confess in the Creed about Jesus’ presence in the world: “…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…”

This is what the events that take place at Jesus’ Baptism reveal to you. It shows how a Redeemer has come for you, just as the LORD had promised. It points out the righteous nature that Jesus possesses, something that mankind had lost. It proclaims the good news that the banishment which the LORD imposed upon humanity is coming to an end. It puts into your ears a new declaration that the LORD has for you because of His Son Jesus.

Those benefits which Jesus effects are given to you. They are yours as you hear and believe the Gospel promises that the LORD makes concerning Jesus’ works of salvation, particularly His death and resurrection. That includes being a recipient of Holy Baptism, where the Gospel promises are connected with washing with water. The LORD’s Gospel promises are there, just as you heard again as Isabella was baptized this morning: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” and “Baptism now saves you.” That salvation is given because of the work that Jesus performed, because Jesus has been humanity’s Great Substitute.

In Holy Baptism, you are united to Jesus’ death and resurrection—the works of salvation that He performed. This is what the apostle Paul wrote about: “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. 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.”

Because you are united to Jesus through Holy Baptism, the events that took place when He stood in the Jordan become your narrative as well. The Holy Spirit descends upon you. Paradise is opened to you. The LORD speaks approvingly of you. You are given a new status, a status that had not been mankind’s since Adam had fallen into sin. Because of Jesus’ work done for you, the LORD says: “You are My beloved children with whom I am well pleased.”

That declaration from the LORD because He sent His Son into the world reveals His graciousness. The LORD made known His gracious nature through the prophet Isaiah: “But now thus says the LORD, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.’” That same statement is made about you who have been baptized. The LORD has redeemed you through His Beloved Son. The LORD has called you by name. The LORD has put His name on you, showing that you belong to Him. The LORD has assured you that you need not be afraid of Him, but can call Him Father with delight.

All this is the result of what He has graciously done for you: “Because you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” The offering that He has given in exchange for you is His Beloved Son, who became your Great Substitute. That makes you and all others who have received the LORD’s gracious work worthy of eternal life. It opens up Paradise for you.

You have been united with Jesus, so that you are called the LORD’s beloved children. You have been united with Jesus’ atoning death, so that you are well pleasing to the LORD. You have been united with Jesus’ resurrection, so that you have entry into the life of the world to come. And so the LORD makes the promise about what awaits for you: “Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.” That is the great inheritance of life everlasting which the LORD has established. It is yours because of the LORD’s graciousness. It is yours because of Jesus’ work done for you. It is yours as you believe and are baptized. For Jesus has opened Paradise for you.

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

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