A Striking Appearance
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 it 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 heavenly 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 as the Son of the Most High.
Jesus begins his ministry of grace and mercy in a very striking way with a very striking appearance. Jesus goes to see John the Baptist. He goes to do something very striking, very important.
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 as God’s ultimate prophet.
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 came to shake up a world that had become comfortable with sin and death.
John’s message was simple, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He was calling people to confess that God is right when he shows them their sins. John was telling them they needed to be cleansed from all their unrighteous thoughts, words, and deeds. John was preparing them to see the One who came to save them from their sins.
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. John baptized those who confessed their sins, those who called out “Lord have mercy.”
In the water, sinners confessed their unfaithfulness to God and God in his mercy and grace was faithful to his promise to forgive their sins. To those who repented and turned to him he gave them salvation.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by [John].” John was calling sinners to step into the water. He was calling sinners who needed forgiveness and here comes Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God.
It was a striking appearance. 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 chapter five, “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. He did not need God’s mercy. He needed no forgiveness for his thoughts, words, or deeds. Jesus was righteous; he alone could stand holy before God’s throne.
This righteous Jesus, walked into the Jordan River to identify himself as the One who was taking upon himself the sin 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 Righteous One for the unrighteous ones.
Jesus took upon himself your status before God. Your sin was given to an innocent man. He was declared guilty of your sin. God’s wrath was focused on him instead of on you. The final act of this Great Exchange took place when Jesus was hung on a cross to suffer and die in your place.
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 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. But the striking appearance is that it is not you who is forsaken. The Father will not send you to the cross, you will not pay for your sins.
By God’s grace heaven is open and the Father says to you, “You are my chosen one, you are my beloved.” In your baptism God has placed his name on you and you are his child. 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 your actions are no longer yours, but his loving action through you.
Through his Word, 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. That part 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.”
If you look into a mirror you will see the appearance of a sinner. If you see yourself through God’s Word you will see a striking appearance. You will see what God sees. You will see yourself washed clean of your sin and covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
You are washed anew with life giving water, bathed and cleansed. Baptism is God’s gift for you washing away your sin so that God sees you and says, “Behold, my beloved.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen. Soli Deo Gloria