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Sermon for January 8, 2023 – Baptism of Our Lord

Speaking of Life 5007 | Jesus is Our Hope

Every time we check our favorite news app, scroll through social media, our daily newspaper, or turn on the TV, we are likely to run into some form of bad news that can leave us disheartened. The prophet Isaiah reminds us to lift our eyes to the one who never fails when everything else does. Jesus is always ready to embrace us in his loving arms. He is our one true hope.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5007 | Jesus is Our Hope
Cara Garrity

Have you ever felt soul-weary with the state of the world or the state of your personal corner of the world? With news of war, disease, scandal, division, and suffering it may feel too easy to be disheartened in this world. To be sure, there is beauty and joy all around us – just catch a sunset, children at play, or the waves upon the shore to be reminded of this. Even so, on our most weary and suffer-saturated days, we may find ourselves questioning if the despair outweighs the beauty.

Even when it seems like solutions to our problems are clear or easy answers are promised over and over again, we find that our willpower falls short of making things right. We’ve been disappointed in our leaders—political, business, even religious—who we expected to lead us towards brighter futures. We’ve been disappointed in ourselves when we’ve failed to contribute to a better world. The truth is, at one point or another, human beings let each other down. If we are honest with ourselves, we might admit that sometimes we lose hope in one another and in this world.  

The good news is, there is one in whom we can securely place our hope. There is one who will never let us down. There is one who makes all things right. His name is Jesus. He is our hope.

Let’s look at what is written in the book of Isaiah about Jesus:

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. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.
Isaiah 42:1-4a

Our hope is secure in Jesus. While we may experience and witness despair in this world, we know despair will not have the last word because Jesus will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on Earth. He is making all things new. While we will not see the complete restoration of all things until the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, we can trust Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom is here and bear witness to the aromas of Jesus’ kingdom and present ministry in our midst even now.

Next time you feel as though despair is outweighing the beauty of this world, look to Jesus – the one who gives us beauty for ashes. Know that even when our hope falters, he never will. Jesus is our hope, and he will not let us down.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 29:1-11 • Isaiah 42:1-9 • Acts 10:34-43 • Matthew 3:13-17

This Sunday, we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, remembering the day that Jesus was baptized on our behalf. It is the first Sunday after Epiphany and serves as a bookend — along with Transfiguration Sunday — to the Epiphany season. Jesus’ baptism revealed something very important about him and about human beings. Christ lived a sinless life, so he did not need to be cleansed of his sins through baptism. Yet, he submitted to the sacrament so that we, in him, could be free from sin. Therefore, the theme for this week is Jesus is our righteousness. The passage in Psalms speaks about the power of God, especially his power to defeat evil (symbolized by the waters or sea). In Isaiah, the Messiah (Jesus) is foretold to be an instrument of God’s justice even though he would face opposition. In Acts, Peter bore witness that Jesus was both Messiah and God. In Matthew, we read about how Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.

Righteousness Fulfilled

Matthew 3:13-17

According to the liturgical calendar, today we commemorate the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, a day when we remember and celebrate Jesus’ baptism. If you are like me, thinking about Jesus’ baptism will bring your own baptism to mind. For those of us who have undergone this sacrament, the ceremony was no doubt very meaningful. We go down into the water and come up new, symbolically leaving the “old man,” or your old self, dead in the water. Hallelujah! But have you ever noticed that the old self — the part of us that is oriented away from God — does not do a very good job of staying dead? Like a horror movie villain, it seems like my old self keeps reanimating no matter how many times I think it has been destroyed. Even though I have been walking with Christ for some time now, the old self somehow knows how to get out of the water and push my new self to the background. When the old self takes over, it can do serious damage to my relationships and spiritual health, so I want it to stay in the water. I want it to stay dead. Unfortunately, my old self does not want to stay dead. Sometimes I feel like I will never be free of my bad thoughts and habits. Can you relate to what I am sharing? I think all Christians can relate to some extent.

Unfortunately, many believers carry guilt and shame because their old selves don’t seem to stay dead. In many Christian circles, a toxic perfectionism has taken root, where some believe that once we start following Jesus, we should stop sinning. Period. Those with this mindset think that our love for Christ should automatically turn off our desire for sinful things, and they are deeply disappointed with themselves when their righteousness falters. This leads to inauthenticity, because the natural response is to hide one’s mistakes and failings so one does not appear to be “un-Christian.” Therefore, toxic perfectionism causes those who suffer from it to wear a Christian mask to hide their sin, guilt, and shame. They often carry anxiety because they fear being discovered as a Christian fraud. It is a heavy burden.

This is not the freedom offered to us in Jesus Christ. The gospel message is not, “Christ died so that we can make ourselves new.” The good news is that Christ died to make us new. It is by his crucifixion and resurrection that we have been declared righteous. As a result, we are liberated from the burden of crafting our own righteousness, which can be understood as correct thinking and behavior that flows from our proper relationship with God. We do not have to wear a mask and hide ourselves. Christ is our righteousness. He was and is perfect for us. The challenge is to accept the grace God offers and live in it, which is often easier said than done.

This truth can be seen in Jesus’ baptism. Let’s read the account as it is recorded in Matthew.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 NIV)

When Jesus appeared before John the Baptist, the prophet gave voice to all humanity’s brokenness when he said, “I need to be baptized by you.” He gave the response that all of us should give when we encounter the Divine. When Jesus reveals himself to us, we are revealed to ourselves. This can be liberating because we see that we are loved and accepted, that we have a purpose, and an eternal place in Christ. On the other hand, when Jesus reveals us, it is also humbling because we see our vast imperfection in the light of his perfection. We see our unworthiness of grace. We more clearly see the contrast between our corruption and his wholeness. In opposition to his true humanity, we see the extent to which the old self is still alive and well in us. If we have any awareness, when we stand face-to-face with Christ the natural human response is, “I need to be made clean!” Like Isaiah, we cry, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). Like Peter, we fall to our knees and say, “Go away from me, Lord; I’m a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).

In truth, Jesus had every right to stand next to John telling the people that they needed to repent. He was morally superior in every way, so he had the right to stand apart from humanity. However, Jesus did not stand apart; he stood in line. He stood in the same line as those created in his image, waiting his turn to be baptized. Jesus’ baptism represented the baptism for all of humanity. Although he was perfect, he allied himself with sinners. Although he was the Savior, he numbered himself among the ones needing salvation. This is why John the Baptist was taken by surprise when he saw Jesus in line. The idea that Jesus waited in the hot sun to receive a baptism that was inferior to the baptism the Messiah offered was absurd. Jesus came to baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire! Perhaps in John’s mind, all he had to offer was muddy water. What need did Christ have for John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins when Jesus committed no sin? What sense did it make for John, an imperfect and corrupted man, to baptize the moral ideal? John spoke truly when he said, “I need to be baptized by you.”

Christ did not tell John the Baptist that he was wrong. Jesus did not downplay John’s sin because the Eternal Son cannot lie. John, as the Baptizer, did need to be cleansed. John’s assessment of the righteous distance between Jesus and him was correct. However, John’s failings were not the focus of Christ and his baptism. Instead, Jesus was concerned with making all humanity whole. That is not to say that Jesus was cavalier about sin. Sin is devastating to humanity, and God hates it because of what it does to us. Jesus is not, and has never been, blind to sin. However, God does not look at us through the lens of our brokenness; he looks at us through the lens of who we are becoming in Christ.

Jesus, therefore, tells John to go ahead with the baptism in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” Again, righteousness can be thought of as the correct thinking and behavior that flows from our proper relationship with God. Since the Fall when Adam and Eve sinned, humanity has been improperly relating to the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our distorted relationship with God corrupted our righteousness — God is the source of all righteousness and there is no true righteousness apart from him. To hide our nakedness, human beings often wrap themselves in self-righteousness, wearing a facade that makes others see them as morally superior. Righteousness is focused on God and being a blessing to others. The distortion of righteousness is self-righteousness, and it is focused on self and seeks to justify its own behavior.

When Jesus spoke about fulfilling all righteousness, he implied that humanity was in debt when it came to righteousness. We were created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with him. This should help humanity more closely resemble Christ in thought and action. But with the Fall that originated with Adam and Eve, sin entered the picture and made that perfect relationship an impossibility. We entered into unrighteousness, both in our relationship with God and with each other. Therefore, when Christ declared that he was fulfilling all righteousness, he announced that he was paying our righteousness debt. This is a stunning statement!

Think about the number of times righteousness was required and a human being failed to deliver. I cannot count the number of times when the Holy Spirit prompted me to do a good thing, and I did not do it. It would take a team of mathematicians to even begin to count the number of times I failed to listen to the warnings the Holy Spirit gave me to not commit a sinful act. There is no way to calculate the number of thoughts that are unworthy of God that I think on a daily basis. My righteousness debt is so large, it is beyond comprehension. Now, multiply that times every man, woman, and child who has ever and will ever live. If we could do that, we would only begin to sketch the outlines of the unfathomable miracle of salvation.

Jesus fulfills all righteousness. That means you and I do not have to try to be perfect. We do not have to carry the guilt and shame of our sin. We do not have to try to be righteous. We have been made righteous by Christ. But what do we do about the old self? Aren’t we supposed to focus on overcoming sin? The surprising answer is, “No!” When we try to stop sinning by our own effort, our focus is on ourselves. In essence, we are saying we can fix ourselves with the same corrupted mind and heart that caused us to sin in the first place. It is not possible. Making us like Christ is a God-sized job, and we have to internalize the truth that we cannot make ourselves good. Jesus fulfills all righteousness. He is the one (and only one) who can pay our righteousness debt. He can fulfill all righteousness because he is our righteousness.

Once we accept that Jesus is our righteousness, we have to learn how to live in that reality. If we cannot make ourselves stop sinning, what are we supposed to do? We stop sinful thoughts and actions not by focusing on ourselves, but by orienting on God. We can orient ourselves on God in three ways: acknowledging our need for Jesus to be our righteousness, submitting and actively participating in the work of the Spirit to conform our thoughts and actions to Christ, and making room for God in our daily lives. Let me say a bit more about each of these.

Acknowledging our need for Jesus to be our righteousness

When we acknowledge our need for Jesus to be our righteousness, we turn to God when confronted with our sin. When we see the ways we do not conform to Christ, instead of turning inward, we humbly bend our knee to the throne of grace. Without reservation, we admit our failure to God, confessing that only he could make us whole. This is what John the Baptist did when he admitted, “I need to be baptized by you.” We proactively acknowledge our need for Jesus to be our righteousness by praying for God to show us ways in which we miss the mark. That may be a hard prayer for many of us to pray because we do not like seeing our own sins. We may be influenced by that toxic perfectionism and be tempted to feel guilt and shame. However, if Jesus is your righteousness, there is no need for shame because Jesus has already paid your righteousness debt. Having faith in God, in this case, means believing that if God reveals your sin to you, he is ready and willing to deal with it. Our realization of a particular sin is the first step in our liberation from that sin.

Submitting and actively participating in the work of the Spirit to conform our thoughts and actions to Christ

Next, we can orient ourselves on God by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us to the spaces where we can be discipled and spiritually formed. In the story of Jesus’ baptism, we see this lived out by John the Baptist when Matthew offers the simple statement, “Then John consented.” John listened to Jesus, and then submitted to being led by Christ. Practically speaking, this would call on us to participate in discipleship activities and groups (which we refer to as “Faith Avenue”), regularly worshiping Jesus and celebrating the hope we have in him (Hope Avenue), and bearing witness through words and demonstrations to the good news about the King and his kingdom (Love Avenue). These are the things that transform us and renew our minds. These are also the things that fulfill the purpose of the church — the things the church is commanded to do. As we, with our fellow believers, are led by the Spirit to do the things that Jesus commanded, we become more conformed to Christ. The old self is uprooted as Christ takes his proper place in our mind and heart.

Making room for God in our daily lives  

Finally, we can orient ourselves on God by practicing the spiritual disciplines. I like to call it either spending time with God or practicing turning towards God. Whatever you call it, we want to carve out time every day to let God reveal himself to us. We want to get our minds off ourselves and our agenda and focus on him. We should take time to deepen our relationship with God, realizing more and more his deep, abiding love for us.

The story of Jesus’ baptism ends with the amazing revelation of the Holy Spirit and the Father. John’s obedience to Christ led him to experience the love that exists within the Trinity. Those who bore witness to the loving relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit were given greater insight into who Jesus was — the beloved Son who pleased the Father. Similarly, when we make room to experience the love of the Trinity, we too are graced with a more complete understanding of Christ. The more we learn who Christ is, the more we are transformed and more greatly resemble him.

On this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, let us celebrate our freedom in Christ. There is no need for shame because Jesus has paid our righteousness debt. We are free from having to fix ourselves because Jesus is on the job. Christ made himself to be one of us in order to be our righteousness. We do not have to be ashamed when our old self makes an appearance because we have faith that Jesus is making everything new.

Making Everything New w/ Julie Frantz W2

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January 8 – First Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 3:13-17, “I Am Well Pleased”

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Program Transcript

Making Everything New w/ Julie Frantz W2

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next passage, which is Matthew 3:13-17 [NIV]. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the baptism of our Lord, which is on January the 8th.

Julie, would you read it for us please?

Julie: Yes. Starting in verse 13,

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Anthony: So, Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness according to this passage. So how should this bless us personally, if at all, and bless those that we share the gospel with?

Julie: We have to remember that in his incarnation, Jesus immersed us into our world, and he reveals a God with us.

In his baptism, humanity is included and immersed into his world where he is our representative. He is the one who responds perfectly to the love of the Father. The weight of being righteous is not ours to bear.

The blessedness of that, the blessedness of Jesus on our behalf has stood in our place. He has included us in his faithfulness. I would call this blessed assurance.

Anthony: Right on. And it says that God the Father, loves and is pleased with God the Son. I think all of us want to hear that, right? That God loves us and is pleased with us.

So let me ask you this. Are we just bystanders to this love relationship? Or participants in some way, whether we recognize it or not? And should the water baptism of Jesus lead us to baptism?

Julie: There’s some things going on in this scripture that’s really incredible. They have sat there and the people on the shore have witnessed people being baptized, and they’re observing this from a distance. And then they themselves are going in and being baptized.

And here we have John—he’s recognizing Jesus standing before him and he is not following a hundred percent why Jesus is wanting to be baptized here in this moment. And it’s in this baptism of Christ that we see that atoning relationship. It’s where we no longer are bystanders.

The one who takes us into his own divine life brings us into perfect communion with Father, Son, and Spirit.

Yeah, and go ahead. I’m sorry.

Anthony: Can you speak to that communion? I’ve heard a theologian once say jokingly, but to make a point that, in this passage we see the Trinity, but the Trinity is not just two guys and a bird. There’s so much more going on.

Can you talk about the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit and how we are in any way connected to it?

Julie: We’re connected to it by grace alone, by what Jesus has done on our behalf. Creation was created out of love. The Father, Son, and Spirit relationship of God says, let us create, let us do this.

And then they celebrate. It’s a celebration of what has occurred within that relationship; this creation that God declares joy over. And we have a relationship where it is for the Father that Jesus acts, he acts in response to the Father.

They’re constantly feeding one another, responding to one another, constantly that other focus. It’s really interesting. It’s a very giving love that is seeking to love, that is seeking to be, that is seeking to know.

And Jesus lays down himself that we can be included in that. So, he seeks that we would know him, other-focused, lays himself down that we would experience that perfect communion with Father. With a Father who says, I love you. A father who says, it is you that I am well pleased.

And it’s just a really beautiful moment and I think of the sacraments of baptism. There’s a book; it’s titled, In Faith Seeking Understanding, and it’s written by Daniel Migliore. And he describes the sacraments as embodiments of grace and goes on to say that “they are palpable enactments of the gospel by means of which the Spirit of God confirms to us the forgiving, renewing, and promising love of God in Jesus Christ and enlivens us in faith, hope, and love.”

This relationship of promise and love and faithfulness and grace, and mercy and forgiveness and renewing. I don’t know that there are enough words to describe this relationship of God, but I think those are some pretty good ones.

Anthony: They are. And all of our God-talk, our words about God, they’re an approximation, right? We just do the best we can, but those are very good words to express the reality of Father, Son, and Spirit and our participation in that, including baptism, which is just a beautiful expression of the gift of faith that we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Have you ever felt disheartened by the state of the world? If so, what are some things that bother you?
  • Can you see ways in which Christ is currently or will eventually resolve the situations that were mentioned?

From the sermon

  • Does your “old self” still try to make an appearance at times? How does that make you feel?
  • What do you think it was like for John the Baptist to baptize Jesus? How would you feel if you were John?
  • What is liberating about realizing that Jesus is our righteousness? Is any part of it challenging?

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