Archive for January 11th, 2015

Who Did John Baptize?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Epiphany 1-B, January 11, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), but then in the middle of time, “John the baptizer appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem went out to him to be baptized.  They were drawn to John; they confessed their sins to John.  They even wondered out loud and asked if John might be the promised Savior of the Jewish people, and John said very plainly, (No, but He is coming.)  “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then one day, along came Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee and He presented Himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan.  [Mark 1:4-11]  Do you think that John knew whom it really was that presented Himself for baptism?  Certainly he was equipped by God to receive all that Jesus revealed Himself to be, but did He know that Jesus was from before the beginning of Creation?  Do we understand?

So in the middle of our doubts and fears, the Voice that spoke in the beginning speaks again about a new beginning.  “And when (Jesus) came up out of the water, immediately (John) 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.”

In the beginning God… Do you understand what those simple words mean?  Do you understand that in the beginning of all that we know as our reality, there was already God Who has no beginning?  Prior to the beginning, there was no up and no down, no here and no there.  There was nothing—except God.  He always was and always shall be.

So, in the beginning before there was anything, there was God who creates time and space, simply because He wills it.  This is Who we gather to hear from this morning; He alone deserves to be held in reverence and awe by us, His creation.  Everything exists because of Him and for Him, including you and me.  We don’t exists of ourselves or for ourselves.  We have no right to exist outside of our being in harmony and peace with our majestic Creator and His plan for us.  In His plan He makes us right with Him and each other, and He alone gives our lives great meaning.  What does it mean to have life?  It means that as people who live in the middle of time, the Eternal Creator, Who is the beginning comes to us in the middle and reveals Himself and allows us to know our own beginning and our end.

Do you understand who this Jesus that desires John’s baptism is?  He is the Logos, the Word of God, who from the beginning spoke these simple Words “Let there be light” and then there was.  Do you understand that “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 and because of Him, we live and move and find our being.  He is the image of the invisible God.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.  For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him (the Creator of the beginning meets sinful creation in the middle and) reconciles to Himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace with sinful men and women.

But how can that be?  How can one who is in the middle with the rest of us be from the beginning; not just from the beginning, but before the beginning?

Sinful men and women can not understand the truth of who Jesus is, because not only do they run from the beginning of Creation, but they can not perceive of something before the beginning.  For although in their hearts they know there is God, they do not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they cling to their futile thinking, and pretend that their darkened foolish hearts are full of light and wisdom. So, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator they are lost in the middle.  But God still comes to sinful men and women; He will not give up moving their hearts and eyes of faith to the beginning and the end.

And here in the waters of the Jordan stands Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the son of Mary.  Here before John and us this morning is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.  In Him alone is the fullness of God and through Him alone the middle is brought back to the beginning by the blood of His cross.

Why was Jesus baptized?  Simply put, He comes to show us the way back to the beginning; to bring abundant life.  He comes as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so that through grace we can know God’s love.  To ask why was Jesus baptized is really to ask why was Jesus born.  He was born to bring death and life; an end and a eternal beginning.  As He walks out of the waters of baptism He immediately enters into a life of service and suffering that will lead to His death upon the cross; a death that is for us, because it brings us back to the beginning and makes us right with our Creator.  But how does this help us?  Because where He leads, we follow.  We follow Him to the waters of our own baptism, and within those waters we also encounter the cross; we encounter and end to our sinful flesh as we follow Jesus who comes from the beginning.  Like Jesus, we die to live.  We emerge from our own baptism as someone who has been buried with Christ and raised to new life through the glory of the Father; a life that was the intent of the Creator in the beginning.

So consider yourselves dead.  You old self, that is your body of sin was crucified with Christ.

At the end of 2014 we celebrated the truth that God’s Son took upon Himself our human nature; He who was the source of the beginning came to us in the middle.  But He did more than come to us as one of us, He came to take on our sin.  And because of that sin, we can say that the source of the beginning takes on the nature of the middle, so that he can put an end to our fear of the end by bringing us back to the beginning.  For us He is born and for us He dies. In baptism, faith in this Son of God unites us to Him so that His death is truly our death.

In the beginning, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  In your sins, you also were covered by darkness.  But in your baptism, the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters in the beginning, hovered over the waters of your baptism.  In the beginning when the Logos, the Son of God spoke and said “Let there be light,” there was!  And in your baptism; the day you first entered into God’s beginning, that same Logos, the Word of God spoke a beginning for you. Through the obedience of His holy church, Christ commanded that you be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  He commanded that you be taught to observe all that He has commanded and revealed. And behold, in your baptism He gives you this great promise,  “He is with you always,” (even) to the end of this sinful age when He brings you back to the beginning.

So, if you consider yourselves dead with Christ, you must also consider yourselves alive with Him as well.

In holy baptism you have been made truly alive!  You are alive because Christ is raised from the dead.  Remember, in holy baptism you are following Christ, the source of the beginning.  You must not remain at the cross of Good Friday, but you must proceed to the empty tomb of Easter morning.  He is risen indeed!

The Father put His approval on His Son’s death by raising Him up.  Christ’s resurrection seals the atoning power of His sacrificial death for you.  The sins of the world were once and for all paid for.  And now, you too are asked to leave the tomb of death, and follow your Savior in new life; a restored life that finds its source in the beginning.

You are alive.  To be alive is to walk; to be raised to life is to be enable to walk, to move to show great evidence to all who see that you have abundant life.  Remaining in sin is to be without spiritual life; it is death.  But in Christ, that is in your baptismal newness of life you have an abundant life!  You are truly alive in Christ; alive to God.  You are to live your life with a new identity, a new status.  You are a child of God, a child of the beginning.

You are baptized; you have been born again, brought back to the beginning.  And because you are no longer imprisoned in a body of death, you are free!

You are fee to live to God in this New Year with an eternal new beginning.  What will that new life look like this year?  Only God knows.  But I do know this, you will continue to have trouble with your old sinful nature, because it does not like to die, because it is afraid of both the beginning and the end.  But you are of the beginning, and you are a new creation in Christ.  You are free; free to grow and face any challenge that awaits you.  You are free, but your old nature is not; it is bound to die, and it resents that you may live and it may not, so it will fight you.  So, you must fight it back, by daily putting it to death.  You do this when you remember your baptism; by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus is also your death and resurrection.

I will close with this brief story about a jeweler who once told me of an easy but certain way of knowing the difference between a true diamond and a phony one.  This test is called the water test. He said that if I ever want to see the difference between the two I have to go to the water.  “An imitation diamond” he said, “is never so brilliant as a genuine stone. If you drop an imitation diamond into a glass of water, it almost disappears, but a genuine diamond sparkles even under water, and is distinctly visible.”

The moral of that little story is simple.  If through out this New Year you begin to feel discouraged and tired from fighting off your old sinful nature; if you begin to feel like sin is winning and grace and forgiveness are loosing, go back to the beginning; go back to the water, back to your baptism and remember it is there where your Creator met you and gave you new life.  Go back to the washing of the water and the Word, and let God’s Spirit dwell richly within you and shine.  AMEN.