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This Sunday is
The Baptism of our Lord

14 January 2018

Today's sermon is from
Matthew 3:13-17

Old Testament Reading
Isaiah 42:34-38

Epistle Reading
Acts 10:34-38

Psalm
Ps. 45

Chief Hymn
To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord

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"In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by him." So declared St. Peter to the Roman Centurion, and now converted Christian, Cornelius. But he is not speaking only of him.

Everyone should fear God, for he is holy. Because of this he threatens to pour out his wrath upon the sinner. But the person who in his fear of God works righteousness, that is, who lives in perfect obedience to the law by making sure that everything he thinks, says and does is in full accordance with the law, is accepted by God and so becomes the object of his innumerable blessings instead.

Jesus said the same thing. When a teacher of the law asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life, he answered, "You will live, if you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love also your neighbor as yourself." But upon hearing this, that teacher of the law wanted to justify himself, because he knew he wasn't as good as the law demands.

Neither are you. Conceived in the sin of Adam, which you inherited when you were conceived from the seed of your sinful father, you lack what is good and right and desire to do only what is evil in God's sight. Therefore rather than accepted, you together with Adam and all his children deserve to be rejected by God and cast into the everlasting fires of hell.

How, then, can you not fear God, if, that is, you believe what God says about you? And your fear of God should move you to call upon him who did do what was right in God's eyes and by this worked for you the righteousness that makes you acceptable to him.

The Lord through Isaiah called him, "My Servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom my soul delights." And he who chose this servant from before the creation of the world on this day at the Jordan River identified him, when he spoke from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." As evidence of that he anointed him with the Holy Spirit through his Baptism, so that he would have the power to accomplish what he was sent to do: save the sinner from his wrath and punishment.

But why did the Second Person of Godhead need this anointing? As God he can do all things, and Jesus revealed that during his earthly ministry. He calmed storms, healed the sick, fed the hungry, cast out demons, all of which pointed ahead to his greatest miracle of all: "Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead."

That is all true, but then, so is this: "Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself of no reputation... and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself." In this state of humiliation Jesus emptied himself of his power and glory and did not make full use of these Divine attributes. That is why he was anointed at his Baptism with the Holy Spirit, who came upon him in the form of a dove.

And because he did, God's humbled Son could now in the words of Isaiah, "bring forth justice;" not man's justice, which judges on the basis of one's own merits, but God's justice, which because it demands perfection in all things, sent Another to accomplish what sinful man cannot. Jesus brought forth justice, when he suffered sin's death sentence in the stead of all sinners. But Jesus had no sin in him, as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. So for God to punish him for the sins of the world would be gross injustice.

Indeed, it would be, were it not for his Baptism. By this one selfless act of pure grace, Jesus willingly stepped into the place of all sinners. In the words of St. Paul, he who had no sin became sin for us. And his Father in love that goes beyond all human comprehension declared he was pleased by this. Think of it. His beloved Son becomes what he hates most of all, and he is well pleased, because now he can pour out his wrath over sin upon him, and forgive you who were baptized into his Death and Resurrection.

It's no secret that many within Christendom despise this Blessed and Holy Sacrament and regard it as nothing more than an outward show of faith. To be sure, faith is what moves the Christian to be baptized, but not so that he can show it off. He desires this Blessed Bath, because he believes what God's Word says about it.

St. Peter told the crowd on Pentecost Sunday that Baptism is for "the remission of sins." And today at the Jordan you see why. Baptism is not magic water. Rather it is water in which Christ himself is present to sanctify it and make it a washing away of sins. More specifically, it is his Blood, shed on the cross and united to this water by the power of his Word, that, to quote St. John, cleansed you of all unrighteousness

When that which condemned you was washed away from you, heaven was opened up to you, even as it was to Jesus at his Baptism. For by this blessed washing away of your sin you were made acceptable to God. In fact, you were born again as sons of God in whom he is well pleased. And because you are sons, you are also heirs, heirs with Christ of everlasting life.

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


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