God’s Compassion Comes in the Water and the Word

Baptism of Our Lord-A, January 8, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

baptism-holy-spiritWe just finished singing that we are “God’s own Child.” As sinful as we are and through no work of our own, God has declared and we have declared and sung right along with Him that through God’s Compassion and the waters of our baptism, we have been taken out of the reign of sin, death, and the devil, and translated or transferred into the Kingdom of God… Paradise. How did this happen? Well that is what we will discover in our message this morning.
God’s Compassion first comes in the form of a warning.

Picture if you will, thousands of people being moved and gathered at the banks of the Jordan river by the Word of God, through the preaching of John the Baptizer. Most of them have been cut to the very soul, because God has shown them their many sins, but He’s also promised that because of their repentance, that is because they have turned to God for salvation, He alone will wash them clean! Now I said most of them had been moved by the Word, but a notable few hadn’t! They were the Pharisees, the hypocritical teachers of the Law! They loved to point out other people’s sins while conveniently ignoring their own. To these few who are gathered at the banks of the Jordan, John shouts out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath and judgment of God that’s coming? (Do you really want this baptism? Then) Bear fruit (true fruit that comes only through) repentance. [Matthew 3:7-8]

Wow! Right away we know that this baptism business is serious business, and why wouldn’t it be? You see, it is the business of God and any business of God’s is ALWAYS serious business! So why was Jesus there? What did He want with this baptism? This is a baptism of confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sins, and now Jesus has come to the same place, why? And a shocked John asks this exact thing when he says, “I (myself) need to be baptized by you, and (you are coming) to me?”

Do you hear the confession of the very one who is performing the blessed Sacrament? John had just proclaimed that while He was baptizing with water for repentance, there was one who was coming soon after Him Who is mightier than Him, Whose sandals He was not worthy to untie. He said that this one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire! He warned that when this One would come, He would bring judgment and the punishment of Hell’s fire with Him. And now here He stands waiting His turn at the font of forgiveness? So John was saying in essence, “For some unknown reason, God has chosen a wretched sinner like me to give this gift of forgiveness to other sinners, which I don’t understand but am obediently doing; if you were here to perform this miraculous sacrament on me, I would understand, because You are the only one who could wash others of their sins and yet have no need to be washed Yourself. But now You ask me to wash what is already pure and holy, why? I don’t understand Lord!”

This was John’s conundrum and it is also a stumbling block for many today. Here the Creator and judge of all sinful flesh comes as promised, but not as One who baptizes with the Spirit and fire of judgment, but as a passive recipient of John’s own baptism. Why?
Jesus quickly reassures John and us that all is going as God desires through His answer.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” [15a] Friends, do you want to know along with John why Jesus is at the banks of the chilly and cold Jordan? Do you want to know why He who has no sin or need of baptism steps into those life cleansing waters? He does it to fulfill all righteousness. But what does that mean?

Well, it means, that God through Jesus Christ has broken into our sinful reality to do what He said all along He would do, save us from our own sinfulness. John’s message of repentance was direct and true, God would come through Jesus Christ to judge and punish sinful man, but first He would come through Jesus Christ to save sinful man. Before Jesus comes with power and might, He must come in lowliness to be baptized by John. Here we begin to understand the true ministry and mission of Jesus first for the Jews and then for you and me. Jesus comes as was declared long ago; He comes as Emmanuel… God with us! Remember, John declared and asked, “I need to be baptized by You, and You YOURSELF are coming to me?” And to this Jesus answers, “Of course I am! I’m Emmanuel and that is my mission. I have come to you and I will stay with you, and if you’ll let me I will save you!

What John didn’t understand, many still don’t; Jesus who is the One who was promised to come and be judge and punisher for sins is also the One who comes as the descendant of David to bring comfort to God’s people. He comes with the Balm of Gilead to heal the sin sick hearts. He comes as the compassionate, humble sin-bearer. He comes to fulfill all righteousness.

What does it mean to fulfill or enact the scriptural plan of all righteousness? It means that God’s compassion and real presence have broken into our sinful reality. It means that God’s mighty act of creation has come to us for re-creation. Jesus who is the God-man will not only repeat John’s message of repentance, but He will also make it come true in the hearts of many by giving Himself in both power and might! Friends, when Jesus stepped into those waters God was beginning to act, and God’s promised righteousness among us had begun to be fulfilled once John baptized Jesus.

And what is God’s righteousness? It is His saving act that He performs on behalf of all the people on this earth. It is God accomplishing what we could not; in God’s righteousness He gives you an eternally clean heart! Jesus Himself will perform all righteousness, that is, He will begin God’s act of salvation for His people by literally standing with sinners, taking the place of sinners, and receiving from John what only sinners need to receive. Ultimately, by stepping into those waters, Jesus was committing Himself to all that Holy Scripture foretold about our Messiah. When He stepped into the waters, He was really laying down at the cross! When Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan He was the sinless One. When He left those waters, in a sense He left bearing all of our sins… all of your sins! And from those waters He methodically proceeded over the course of three years to the cross. And at the cross, the sinless One would offer up His own life as a ransom payment in your place.

John was obedient even though God’s plan was a great mystery to Him. And because of His obedience, God confirmed to Him and to us who read this gospel today, that everything is going according to God’s plan. And after “Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” [vs. 16]

This opening up of the heavens is hard for us to understand.

I like to think of it as something like our picture in a picture technology we have in our televisions. Somehow a window was opened and for a brief moment we were allowed to see what one day we will see eternally; heaven and earth become one! This opening of the heavens to Jesus signals to John and to us that John’s proclamation of the end times and judgment are coming, but only at God’s prescribed moment. And what of the dove descending upon Jesus? Well we know that through this open window into heaven that answer was clear; it was God the Holy Spirit who would forever be with the flesh of God the Son and within and among even our own flesh. And in our own baptism the very same Holy Spirit descends upon us and begins to live in us, and with His presence, He also brings to us God’s compassion; the heart of Jesus Christ!

It is Jesus Christ who comforts all those who are contrite and mourning because of their own sinfulness! Jesus who is God’s Son from eternity friends has come to you; He takes on your own flesh and even your sins, and now confirms that God has come to us. And He does this by declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” [vs. 17b]

But what does this mean for us? Well it means dear friends, that God has come to you personally in the waters of your own baptism! Through simple water, God’s promises of Salvation through His Word are applied to you in a miraculous way; in a way that gives you peace with God first and then peace with each other. And behind this peace is your new nature. A new nature recreated with the Compassion and heart of Jesus Himself.

When you consider that God, in Jesus, has been about the work of helping the helpless — and by God’s definition, that includes you and me, because we matter to Him — it makes perfect sense that God would have a heart for the literal poor in this world.
And as followers of Jesus, so should we.

Now, certainly there are all kinds of reasons I could come up with for not getting involved with caring for the poor, reasons like, you know, others have the appropriate experience and resources to do a better job. Or, there is so much poverty in this world, how in the world can I, as one person, ever hope to make any kind of significant difference? And, you know, there may be some truth, in fact, to the hesitancies that we have to reach out to the poor. But again, the bottom line, more than anything is that the heart of Christ lives in you, and that heart is a compassionate one! In other words, Jesus is always adjusting your heart so that it is more like God’s heart.

Jesus Word always seems to work towards filling us with Compassion, of giving grace to others as we have received that grace. Jesus said, “I came not to be served, but to serve.” So should you. “Love one another,” He said, “just as I have loved you.” “Whatever you do to the least of these, you in turn do it to Me.” In so doing, Jesus knew we would begin to develop a heart that reflects the image of God’s heart for all people.
We’re calling today’s service “Compassion Sunday” because we’ve created a connection with Compassion International. Compassion is an organization that works throughout the world. There are 17,000 children waiting to be sponsored. And that sponsorship means that they eat in a healthy way; they have education opportunities provided for them, they have faith opportunities provided for them, and health opportunities, and good health care. And that takes place in the context of an organization that is second to none in terms of getting the money that you give directly to the children. And so, this is a good organization, and it is a way to make a difference in the life of one person, a child. And that will impact their family and others as well, the whole community.

This morning we are giving you an opportunity to discover if that heart of Jesus is leading you towards compassionately supporting this ministry. The demonstration area is open right now in the lower parking lot. I would encourage you to simply take the tour and then let the heart of Christ lead you in your decision to get involved.

Dear friends, your baptism isn’t something that you can play with and attach your own meaning to, because it’s really Jesus baptism; a baptism that fulfills all righteousness. You can never say that it’s simply an ordinance of the church. Why is that? Because it comes with God’s own command and the promise of salvation. And with that promise comes the heart and compassion of Jesus. This is why we must always insist that what God declares as His own means of salvation can never be considered simply a formality. Instead, we must see our baptism, Jesus baptism that fulfills all righteousness as the most precious gift that God can give. Because within those waters of your baptism are the very life and blood of Jesus, poured out for the forgiveness of the entire world’s sins… even yours! The Waters of your baptism are really the waters of Jesus baptism poured into the cup of God’s own Word, so that by clinging to Jesus’ work for you and His promises of forgiveness you might know forever that you truly are a “child of paradise!” I pray that you will always cling to these truths and to the source of them, Jesus Christ your Savior, the Son of God. I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

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