Jesus is Revealed… As the Messiah
A sermon based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Sunday, January 10, 2016 – Baptism of Our Lord C
Maybe some of you have seen the game show on TV that was popular a few years back called, "Deal or No Deal." In this game, contestants either kept or sold a briefcase full of money to a group of bankers. But the catch was, they didn't know how much they had in the briefcase. They might have sold $1 for $1,000 or $10,000 for $1,000. They could try to figure it out, but they didn't know for sure until after the deal was made. Then, in eager anticipation, they would wait on the edge of their seats, so to speak, for the amount of money in their case to be revealed to see if their decision to make a deal or no deal was a good one.
That eager anticipation, waiting on the edge of the seat, biting the nails, the feeling the kids get the night before they get to open their Christmas presents—that was the feeling the believers felt in the day of John the Baptist. He got the crowds excited. He got them pumped up. "The Day is coming! The Messiah's almost here!" And they couldn't wait until he was revealed. Some were so excited, they even began to wonder if John wasn't the promised Messiah himself.
But John set them straight. He revealed that he wasn't the Messiah. He revealed that the Messiah would be one much more powerful than he—that the Messiah would be a righteous judge of whom even John wasn't worthy. And when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, God revealed Jesus as the Messiah—the Anointed One—who had come to carry out God's plan of salvation. Listen to select verses of Luke 3 where Jesus is revealed as the Messiah…
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." …
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
I. By John the Baptist (v.15-17)
What an awesome preacher John the Baptizer must have been! He didn't hold back, but told it like it was! "Quit trusting in your ancestry to save you!" he told the Jews, God's chosen people. "You poisonous snakes!" he shouted at the most religious group of people there were. "What you're doing is a sin!" he cried, even to King Herod, a ruthless man of great power with the ability to imprison, even kill, John. No holds barred, he pulled all the stops and preached the law in all its force.
And the crowds came in droves. This was exactly what they wanted—someone who wouldn't hold back, someone who would confront the injustice and corruption they'd been living with head on. And he was awesome! So great in fact, that as the people anticipated the coming Christ, the Messiah, they began to wonder if just maybe John was it.
But, no! 16 John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." …
As it turns out, John was just the appetizer, not the main course! He was the opening band, not the main attraction! Someone else was coming—someone even greater than John—someone who would display more power, like the countless miracles Jesus performed, even raising the dead to life—someone who would baptize with the Holy Spirit directly and with fire, like Jesus did when he sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost—someone who even John was not worthy of, not even worthy enough to help him untie his shoes.
John pointed out in no uncertain terms that this someone was Jesus. The day after Jesus Baptism John made that clear. John 1 says, "29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said… 30This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' …the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." (John 1:29-31)
John revealed that Jesus, not himself, was the Messiah. And he revealed what the Messiah had come to do. "His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." John proclaimed that he had come to bring God's promised Judgment. That he would gather the wheat, his righteous believers into his barn, but the chaff—wicked sinners—he would burn up with the unquenchable fires of hell. Wow! Pretty scary stuff! God's just judgment was coming with the Messiah. And there was unquenchable fire awaiting those sinners who were on the wrong side.
And John's message can be a scary one for us too. Are we wheat? Or are we chaff? On our own, we are the chaff. If John called the Pharisees—the most righteous people of that society, the religion leaders—a brood of vipers, then how do we fare? In an ironic twist, we prove that we are just as self-righteous and sinful as they for even thinking, "Hey, come on now, I'm not that bad. I'm no Pharisee." By thinking we don't need Jesus as much as someone else, we show how worthy of the unquenchable fires of hell we really are.
Luke 3:18, which our lesson for this morning omits along with John's imprisonment by Herod, says, "18And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them." But "good news"? What "good news" did John have? Sounds like all law. But it wasn't. John had "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 1:4) John pointed to Jesus as the one who would make that forgiveness possible. "Look, the Lamb of God," he said of Jesus, "who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)
By becoming a human like us, by associating with sinners like us, by dying on a cross for sinners like us, by suffering hell there for sinners like us, Jesus took away the sins of the world. Jesus took away our sins. That's why the Messiah came! Now that's good news!
John clearly revealed who the Messiah was—Jesus. And he clearly revealed what he had come to do—to take away the sins of the world. But, how did John know about Jesus? God revealed to him that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Christ, the Anointed One. "32Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' 34I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." (John 1:32-34) It was in his baptism that God revealed Jesus for who he was…
II. By God at His Baptism (v.21-22)
In the Greek the excited Luke describes Jesus' baptism in a big, excited, piled-up, run-on sentence… 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Does it seem odd to you that Jesus, who was perfect and sinless in every way, was baptized? After all it was "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 1:4) But Jesus didn't have any sins! He had nothing to repent of! It certainly seemed odd to John. Matthew tells us that "John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" [But] 15Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented." (Matthew 3:14-15)
Jesus was baptized for two reasons—both of which were "to fulfill all righteousness" for us. First, Jesus was baptized to associate himself with us sinners. In the book The Deputy the author describes the struggles of a Catholic priest in the Second World War. He tries to stir other priests to speak out against the atrocities against the Jews, even appealing to the Pope. But when his pleas all fall on deaf ears, the priest sews the six-pointed star on his sleeve, identifying himself as a Jew, and turns himself in to a concentration camp to die with those he'd been trying to save.
In a similar way, though Jesus wasn't sinner, just as that priest wasn't a Jew, he identified himself as a sinner. He took the fate that was ours. But the key difference is that while that priest could do nothing to save the Jews from Hitler's regime, Jesus could do something to save sinners from God's wrath. Jesus did do something.
That's the second reason Jesus was baptized—to mark the beginning of his mission to rescue sinners. There were only three offices that were inaugurated with an anointing. Can you name them? 1) the prophet, 2) the priest, and 3) the king.
Jesus was all three. As the perfect Prophet who would speak God's Word faithfully, saying all God wanted him to say, as the perfect Priest, who would sacrifice himself and give his very life to atone for mankind's sin, and as the perfect King, who would rule in believers' hearts and bring them a real and lasting peace, Jesus would be anointed. And he wasn't anointed with just oil, but with a special anointing.
Just as God prophesied through Isaiah in Isaiah 42:1, "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations," God did put his Spirit on Jesus. He anointed him with the Spirit…
"Heaven was opened"— "torn open," Mark says (Mark 1:10)—"and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Jesus was revealed as the Anointed One—the Christ, the Messiah. And what a perfect Messiah he was. God said of him that he was "well pleased." Of whom among us could God ever speak like this? On our own, no one. In our sin, we are not well-pleasing to God, but detestable to him. He sees the filth of our sin and is repulsed by it. And in that sin, a just and holy God has no choice but to burn up the chaff in unquenchable fire.
But that's not our fate, dear friends, because through Christ, the Messiah, we are sinless. In our baptisms, Jesus' perfection has become our own. In our baptisms God saved us, as Paul wrote to Titus, "not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy… through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit… so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-7)
That's why it's such a comfort to hear God the Father say of his Son, "I love him. I am well pleased with him." Since we are baptized in Christ, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—that same Triune God that was present at Jesus' baptism, we are reborn. We are renewed. We are justified and declared to be righteous, sinless, and innocent. We are heirs of eternal life.
And you're not left wondering if there's a better deal. You've already got the best deal there is because what God said of Jesus at his baptism, he now says of you: "You are my child, whom I love. With you I am well pleased."
Rejoice, dear friends, in the baptism of our Lord and in your baptism! And wait in anticipation—in eager expectation—of that day when Christ comes to gather us, his righteous wheat, into his heavenly barn. And in the meantime, live each day of your life in thanks to God for revealing to you Jesus, the Messiah—your Savior from sin. And do your part to reveal the Messiah to those who don't yet recognize him for who he is. God help us for Jesus' sake, dear friends. Amen.