Sunday, January 11, 2015

How does one Man take on the sins of the entire world?


And Jesus, having been baptized, immediately came up out of the water, and behold the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and resting upon Him.  And behold a voice out of Heaven said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  Matthew 3:16-17

IF we are thinking of the Lord's divine nature when we hear St. Matthew's report, things don't seem very surprising.  Why should the Spirit not descend on Jesus?  Why would He not be called God's own Son and well-pleasing to the Father?  He is, after all, true God begotten of the Father from eternity.  Yet when we remember that our Lord is also a true man born of the virgin Mary; when we remember that St. Paul calls Him "the Man Christ Jesus," (1 Timothy 2:5) we must take note.  Then we must stand in awe that the heavenly voice should say to Man, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am fully pleased."

What we behold here, dear Christians, is nothing less than the beginning of the new creation!  The old one went bad we know and the evidence is all about us.  It is confirmed for us by man's cruelty to man, by earth's explosive temper against her inhabitants, and by man's steadfast refusal to fear, love and trust in his Creator above all things, but as God once gave His stamp of approval to Adam with the words "very good," He now gives it to the New Adam and to all who are baptized into His holy name with this words, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ:  that men who are born as sons of Adam and who inherit the wages of his sin, should be called the sons of God and inherit the life of Jesus instead!  Such a precious gift as this is not bestowed upon you by the giants of industry or the kings of the earth, but by the King of kings.  It is not something that you might obtain by ardent desire or merit by good behavior, for as Scripture says there is none that is righteous, no not one.  It is, instead, the gift of God that accrues to you in the flood of holy baptism, but baptism would have no power had the Lord not first "fulfilled all righteousness" in the Jordan River that day.  Neither would it be anything more than the "good luck charm" that many mistake it to be were it not for the Lord's death and resurrection because baptism is God's chosen instrument to unite sinners to the redemption that is in Christ Jesus our Lord so that His death is also our death for sin, His burial our Sabbath day rest, his resurrection our resurrection to a new and better life that begins at the font and continues into the ages of ages.

How can water do such great things, you ask?  The day Jesus stepped into the Jordan the life-giving power of the Almighty entered the water too.  From that time on, "baptism is not plain water only, but water that is included with God's Word and combined with God's command." 

The promise still holds good today.  You don't need to be baptized in the Jordan or even be immersed as some people insist.  A few drops will do because baptismal water is water like no other.   It is not intended to cleanse the body of its blemishes, but to purify the soul from the squalor of its sins.  No humanly devised ceremony such as "believers baptism" or "spirit baptism" can do this, but only the sacramental baptism that our Lord commands in the last chapter of Matthew.  No wonder Jesus equates evangelism with baptism and not with the embarrassing antics that churches mistake for mission work today.  Even so, neither baptism, nor the new life that it bestows are mere theological propositions simply to be pondered in the mind.  Baptism has a real and profound effect upon us.  As we learn in our catechism it works forgiveness of sins.  It rescues from death and the devil, and it gives eternal salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare.

In today's Old Testament lesson we learn how Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the sweet land of promise.  This was a type of baptism.   It was an entrance that was precisely planned down to the last detail, attended by a carefully constructed liturgy and marked by a sterling miracle.  As Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea to make good Israel's escape, so Joshua now parts the Jordan to make good their safe arrival into the land of milk and honey.  All this is recorded in the third and fourth chapters of Joshua's scroll, but the fifth chapter begins like this:  As soon as all the kings of the Amorites... and all the kings of the Canaanites... heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan for...Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel."

When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan that day, when the heavenly voice spoke and the Spirit rested upon Him, the Evil One knew that his reign of terror was over.  His cold heart melted with fear and now, since our own baptism, we are no longer his prisoners, but have a new Lord and Savior who is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.  He is the one who empowers us to drown the Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance, to put to death all sins and evil desires and to rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  All these benefits are ours because Jesus fulfilled all righteousness that day in the Jordan, because He died and rose again for us, and because He called us to be His own in this blessed Sacrament.  Now may God grant what we pray for in today's Collect: that we be faithful to our calling as His sons and inheritors of eternal life with Christ.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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