In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Christmas season is over. The Advent wreath with its candles and the Christmas tree with its lights and ornaments have been put away for another year. We have moved into the season of Epiphany. One definition of the word epiphany is “a striking appearance.”
When all of a sudden something becomes clear or better understood people might say, “I’ve just had an epiphany.” When the wise men came to worship Jesus the “striking message” became clear that Jesus came to save the whole world.
When Jesus was in the temple at the age of twelve, it became clear that he was in the family business of redeeming people from their sins. In the season of epiphany, we start to see Jesus no longer as a baby or a twelve year old boy, but as an adult.
His life was no longer going to be confined to the city of Nazareth. It was time for Jesus to speak words of grace and mercy, love and forgiveness, life and salvation to the world. He was going to speak these words “strikingly as the Son of the Most High.
Jesus began his ministry of grace and mercy in a very striking way. He went to the Jordan River where there was a man John. John had been called to prepare the way for Jesus by calling the people of Israel to repent of their sins. Jesus went to do something very striking, something very important for you.
John the Baptist was a prophet, one who was chosen by God to do what prophets do, to speak for God. John was chosen by God to be the last prophet before the Son of God would come into the world to speak to the world and to redeem the world.
John’s father, Zechariah spoke these words about his son, “You child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” Lk. 1:76-77
When the time was appropriate, John went out into the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River and began to preach, to speak for God. The wilderness was a perfect place for John to tell the people that without God’s mercy and grace they were living in a wilderness, a wilderness of sin and death.
John’s message was simple, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He was calling people to confess their sins, their need to be cleansed from all their unrighteous thoughts, words, and deeds. John was pointing to the One who would save them from their sins, the One through whom they would receive forgiveness.
John baptized those who confessed their sins. Their baptism was a promise of God’s forgiveness, his ongoing grace for those who call to him, “Lord have mercy.” Baptism was a promise that God would be faithful in forgiving.
John’s call was to everyone, to men and women, to adults and children, to the rich and the poor. If we were there, the call would have been for us. Thousands came and were baptized. Some came only out of curiosity because they did not think they needed to repent.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by [John].” Jesus wanted John to baptize him, but John was calling sinners to step into the water, he was calling sinners who needed forgiveness to be baptized and here comes Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, the One who was without sin..
It was a “striking appearance” to see Jesus enter the Jordan River. From John’s human point of view, Jesus did not need to be baptized. John was right in saying it should be the other way around, “I, [John], need to be baptized by you.”
Not A Human Point of View
Jesus did not come to John from a human point of view. He came as the divine Son of God to do what was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus came to be baptized by John as part of A Great Exchange.
Saint Paul writes in Second Corinthians, “For our sake [God] made [His Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
John was right, Jesus had no sin to confess and no sin to be washed away by the mercy of God, no forgiveness was need for his thoughts, words, or deeds. Jesus was righteous; he could stand holy before the throne of his heavenly Father.
This righteous Jesus, walked into the Jordan River to identify himself as the One who was taking upon himself the sins of the whole world. Jesus, the One who knew no sin in his heart or mind took upon himself your sin. It was The Great Exchange, the “striking appearance” of the Righteous One changing places with us unrighteous sinners.
Jesus took upon himself your status before God. He was declared guilty of your sin. Your sin was given to an innocent man. God’s wrath was focused on Jesus. The final act of this Great Exchange took place when Jesus was hung on a cross to suffer and die as the punishment for your sins.
Yes, This Is The Plan
After Jesus was baptized the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descended on him. The voice of the heavenly Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus had not gotten it wrong; this was God’s plan, the life and death of Jesus in exchange for your life and death. The baptism of Jesus is a declaration of God’s grace. He sent his Son to make this Great Exchange, to make sure that justice was done; to make sure that punishment for sin was full and complete without you having to pay for your sins.
Jesus came to fulfill the words of Isaiah, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
In Jesus justice was done. The punishment on the cross was full and complete. By God’s grace, Jesus took upon himself not only your sin, but the punishment for that sin.
The Exchange Is Complete
The exchange became complete when you were baptized. Christ’s holiness covers us and we are clean. The Father will not forsake us. He will not send us to a cross. You will not pay for your sins. At your baptism, you died with Christ so that just as he was raised from the dead you too were raised from that baptism to live a new life.
Your old sinful nature was drowned and you were given the Holy Spirit to lead and direct your hearts and minds. Because Christ’s Spirit lives in you the heavenly Father looks at you and see you as his beloved child. Because Christ’s Spirit lives in you your actions are no longer yours, but his loving action through you.
Your old sin filled nature will try to come back to life, back from being drowned. By God’s grace you do not need to defeat your sin filled nature, you do not need to drown it again by trying harder or punishing yourself.
Instead, through faith, Jesus calls you to remember that he has made The Great Exchange for you. He calls you to remember that you have been baptized by him, a baptism that is sure and certain because it is his baptism of you and for you.
Martin Luther wrote a prayer that he used at baptisms. One part of that prayer speaks about the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The prayer goes like this, “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sins.”
Each day when you repent and confess your sins you know that in baptism you have God’s promise that Jesus died for you. Baptism is God’s gift for you washing away your sins so that God sees you and says, “Behold, my beloved.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria