Jesus’ Baptism: What the Eye Sees and What God Decrees

January 9, 2022

Pastor John Hering

Luke 3:15-17, 21-23

Luke 3:15-17, 21-23

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But someone mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor. He will 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. While 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. I am well pleased with you.”

23 Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The phrase “seeing is believing” is well known to us all.  If I tell my grandkids that I’m going to take them to Disney World this afternoon, they probably won’t believe it.  But, if I show them some American Airline tickets and the tickets to get into the Disney World gates, they will more likely believe I’m telling them the truth.  When someone says, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” they are expressing skepticism.  They are implying that they will not accept the truth of something unless we can somehow see it.  We want things to be visibly certified.  While the phrase, “Seeing is Believing” may express a desire for verification, it contradicts a basic biblical teaching. To quote the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is being sure about what we hope for, being convinced about things we do not see” (Heb 11:1). In other words, we do not believe what we see; rather, we believe what we do not see.

Today in Luke 3 there was a large crowd of people gathered next to a flowing river in a remote and desolate area. One by one, each person set foot into the river where they met a rugged looking man wearing clothes made of camel hair with a dried up and cracking leather belt tightened around his midsection. The man’s name was John. There were some times when fire and brimstone came from his mouth, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruits in keeping with repentance!” (Luke 3:7-8).  And at other times he said some very thought provoking words: “I baptize you with water. But someone mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (:16). He was a great preacher who drew people from all around Judea to this barren location to hear his preaching. After hearing John’s message of repentance, many people stepped forward to be baptized, one sinful soul after another.

It is easy for us to see what was going on in the river that day.  Or is it???  As John helped an old man still dripping with baptismal water out of the river, he looked up at the next person who stepped into the water to be baptized and John hesitated—a young, ordinary looking man, maybe 30 years old, stood in front of him. But this was no ordinary man. John knew this man. It was a relative of his. But that’s not why he hesitated. The man who stood before him was the man that John had been preaching about; the one whom he wasn’t worthy enough to even untie his sandals, let alone baptize him. In fact, John thought and even said out loud, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” (Matt 3:14).  Well, today you heard from Luke’s simple account that John’s objection didn’t stand. 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.”  We see it.  We get it.  Jesus was baptized by John.  But, if your friend asked you this afternoon, “Why was Jesus baptized by John the Baptist?” could you answer him?  And why does it matter?  Is there really more here to see?

Today we’ll spend a few moments reflecting on Jesus’ baptism.  Draw your attention to this Word of God because, as it so often happens in the Bible, “What the Eyes Sees Differs from What God Decrees.”  In the eyes of the world Jesus having water splashed on his head by John was nothing big to see.  But, there must be more for us to gain for our journey of faith—there must have been a deeper reason why John hesitated to baptize Jesus.  Yes, the Epiphany miracle that happens before our eyes today is a breathtaking.  Therefore may the Holy Spirit lead us to see

Jesus’ Baptism: What the Eye Sees & What God Decrees

The Blessing for Jesus

A month ago we were at the start of the Advent season getting ready for Christmas.  Now we’re done with Christmas, the angels, shepherds, the star, the wise men, 12 year old Jesus in the Temple, and today the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry at the age of about 30.  Today we find Jesus coming to the Jordan River.  That’s easy to see. But why is the account of Jesus’ baptism so important for us to hear today? Why would we spend time looking at an event from Jesus’ life that is so similar to an event that already took place in your own life—your baptism?  Do you even remember your baptism? Or were you too young to have memories of it?  Are there pictures of your baptism day that are tucked away in a box in the closet or attic along with a baptism certificate that you may or may not have ever seen? So, if you can hardly recall your own baptism, why should we spend time recalling Jesus’ baptism today?  Similar questions came up in Bible Class a couple of weeks ago: Was John’s baptism different from our baptism?  Why was Jesus’ baptized?  The answers lie in what Jesus’ baptism meant for him and how his baptism makes your baptism worth anything.

The people who came to hear John preach were amazed at his message. You see, John had a special purpose and message that he received from God. God sent John to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of the promised Savior, the Messiah, the one who would deliver them from their sin and restore their relationship with God. This was a promise that God’s people had been waiting to be fulfilled for thousands of years. You can just imagine the excitement that welled up in the people at John’s preaching that the Messiah was near. 15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ.” John was getting their hopes up, so much so that they wondered if he could be the one they were looking for! John corrected their thinking, 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But someone mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”   There were some similar characteristics between John and Jesus.  Both of them would do some baptizing.  John would baptize those who were repenting of their sins and eager to receive his baptism of forgiveness.  Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire—which he did on Pentecost to his disciples.  But, there were also differences.  John’s baptism was water that was seen, but granted forgiveness that was unseen.  Jesus baptism was with the Holy Spirit and fire that was seen, but granted spiritual gifts to the disciples that was also seen and heard on Pentecost.  Jesus’ baptism by the Holy Spirit would have continuing visible elements on the Great Day of Judgment when God’s elect would be gathered into heaven and unbelievers would be condemned to hell.   John the Baptist was directing his listeners to the great One, the Savior.  John pointed the people to the actual Messiah – Jesus.  What the people saw was John, but what they heard was the decrees of God’s prophet pointing them to Jesus.  What a blessing for Jesus to have this faithful prophet pointing the people to their Savior.  Some perceived what their eyes could see, and listened to what God decreed. 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.”  What a blessing for Jesus. He was given the testimony of John to be the promised Messiah, and was baptized by John to mark the beginning of his three year ministry to save the world.  This declaration at Jesus’ Baptism has trickled down since that day to become  

The Blessing for You

It was God’s will that John baptize Jesus. Even though Jesus had no sins of his own, he was taking our place as our Substitute and Savior.  Matthew 3:15 records Jesus’ words spoken to John at the moment of his baptism: “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, because it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus was fulfilling every demand of God, even to the point of being baptized for you.  At first, you may not consider this statement to be shocking.  That’s because What the Eye Sees & What God Decrees is often difficult to grasp.  To get a better handle on these blessings for us, let’s consider how many people have questioned if Jesus is the right one, that he’s the Messiah.

You know how many people have said they “see” that Jesus is the Savior, but you see their lack of living as a Christian and it causes you to wonder if they “hear” what God has decreed?  We get the people throughout history that have questioned the claim that Jesus is the Christ.  People questioned whether Jesus was actually the Messiah even during his earthly ministry. Still today, how do you know that of all the people, of all of the claims, of all of the efforts, of all of the lives, of all of the ways, the philosophies, the ideas, the religions, how do you know that Jesus is the one, the true Messiah, the rescuer of your soul? Could the baby born in Bethlehem, who was raised in the home of a carpenter in Nazareth, really be God’s promised Savior for you and me?

Jesus’ baptism gives a clear answer. John baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River and, “While he was praying, heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.” Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, much like you heard happened when the Old Testament prophet, Samuel, anointed David to be the King of Israel. “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers. The Spirit of the Lord rushed on David with power from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).  Just as the Spirit was poured out on God’s chosen King David, so the Holy Spirit came visibly upon Jesus to show that he was the chosen Savior of the world, set aside for the work of redeeming sinners.  Is Jesus the Promised Messiah?  What a blessing, for what you see says, “Yes, he is!”

We also hear what God Decreed from heaven, And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you. The voice of God the Father certified that Jesus was his only, begotten Son. Jesus was the one John was preparing the people for. God spoke and gave his approval. There is no doubt; Jesus is the real Messiah and Savior of the world.

When you go shopping to purchase something, you want to be assured that what you’re buying is the real thing. What do you do? You look for the seal of approval that certifies that the item is authentic. You want to see the USDA Prime on the steak for the grill, the “Intel inside” sticker on your laptop, the “Certified Pre-Owned” label on the used car that you’ll drive off the lot, or the NFL hologram on your favorite team’s gear. Those things tell you that what you have is the real thing. God gave his stamp of approval that certified Jesus as the real Messiah at his baptism by sending the Holy Spirit upon him and voicing his approval. Jesus is the certified Savior of the world.  We thank the Lord for the faith that trusts what we can’t see, but we sure can hear!

Go back to Jesus’ baptism again.  Consider all the Blessings For You from Jesus’ baptism!  Jesus is The certified Savior.  He wasn’t baptized for his good, but for yours. He was baptized by John not because he had sin that needed to be washed away, but to take the place for your sin and to be the substitute for the punishment of hell that you deserve. You and I are not worthy to be with God. We’re not perfect as the Lord God demands. I know we all try hard and want to be decent people. But that’s not good enough. We do sin. We disobey God. We tried to be right with God this past week, and to love the people in our life the right way and to be patient and not get any blemishes on our record. But we didn’t. We weren’t perfect. Never were! We are all naturally like chaff, the fine, dry, scaly casing of seeds that blows away in the wind and burns so quickly in the fire.  And here is yet another blessing we hear from Jesus’ Baptism, 17 His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  Yes, we take God’s law seriously in order to keep our sinful nature in check.  But, we also hear God’s Word through John the Baptist to hear God’s promise to gather us—that is all who believe in Jesus, into our eternal home in heaven.

You and I need a Savior. Not just any kind of Savior. We need a Savior who is unlike us, perfectly obedient to God’s demands. We need a Savior who could take our place in death and pay the price for our sins with his life. Nothing less would save us. Isn’t that the kind of Savior you see coming out of the waters of the Jordan? Isn’t the one on whom the holy Dove descended the one who lived a holy life and died on the cross to pay the price for the sins of the world? Isn’t the one whom God voiced his approval the one whom the Father raised from the dead having defeated death and the devil? These are your blessings from Jesus’ baptism, life, death, and resurrection.

These blessings won for you by Jesus are yours through your baptism. The apostle Paul pulls it all together beautifully in the second lesson from his letter to Titus. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward mankind appeared, he saved us—not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs in keeping with the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4–7). Baptism washes away your sins, giving you new and eternal life as you are connected by faith to the real, authentic, promised Savior, Jesus.

You may not remember your baptism day. Perhaps only pictures or stories from others remind you that you were baptized. Yet even though you may not be able to remember the event, remember the promises of God that he placed on you that day. You are forgiven, washed clean of all your sins. You are set free from the sinful world, your sinful nature, and the temptations of the devil. You are a child belonging to God.

Jesus’ baptism that took place in a desolate region in the less than pristine waters of the Jordan may seem like an unremarkable event. But there we see God setting before us his very own Son to begin the work of being the Savior of all people. Jesus was not baptized to wash away his sins, but to be revealed as the Savior who gives your baptism the power to cleanse you from your sin before the Lord God, that the Holy Spirit may descend into your heart, and the Father can voice the proclamation that you are his dear child, whom he loves, and with whom he is well-pleased. Jesus’ baptism makes it possible for your baptism to be eternally meaningful. Do you want to be certain that you are saved and right with God?  Consider Jesus’ Baptism: What the Eye Sees & What God Decrees blessed the ministry of Jesus, and blesses you as God’s own dear child.  Amen.

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