Sermon from Sunday, January 8, 2023
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture passage: Matthew 3:13-17

Sermon Transcript

Our scripture lesson this morning comes from Israel. Marie Burns, reading by the Jordan River. Right? Okay.

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 sending 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.

The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

So if you go to Israel the next time we go and we’re going in 24, is that right? Becky. Okay. I have to check 24. Part of the tour is to go and see the place where Jesus was baptized. There are two places that tour guides will take you. Archeologists don’t know exactly. The first place is what I call the dangerous place. It is closer to the Dead Sea, And about 15 years ago, the nation of Israel closed the site down and the Jordanians closed their side of the site down because of the pollution of the water. They didn’t want people going into the water Remembering the baptism of Jesus to come out was some kind of virus or something terrible happening to them. It’s a narrow part of the river. The river is not moving as quickly and it just, let’s call it dangerous place.

The second place you can go is what I call the expensive place. It’s closer to the Sea of Galilee. And you, for a mere 10 to $12, can rent a robe and you can walk down to the waters and you can be re-baptized. You can remember Jesus’s baptism. You can remember your own baptism. And when it’s, I mean, look, that’s pretty place. And when it’s over, they have a gift shop. Yes. You can go into the gift shop. This is Buc-cee’s Comes to Israel, and you can get a memento. Take part of the Holy Land home with you. Yes. And I have a glass container of Jordan River water in my office, and I assume it came from that gift shop. But that’s where the tourists want to go. They want to go and figure out where Jesus was baptized. And a lot of folks want to go in the river and either get the dangerous baptism or the expensive baptism. And it’s not unlike what was going on in the time of Jesus. Pilgrims were going to the Jordan River because that’s where John the Baptist was. And John the Baptist was baptizing everybody. He was baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. He was baptizing people as they repented of their sins. He was offering to them a way of being pleasing to God, sort of outside the sacrificial system. And the Sadducees and the Pharisees got a little concerned because it was sort of dipping in to their till. And so they, too, came out from Jerusalem to check out John the Baptist.


And of course, he greeted them as guests in his worship service and said, you brood of vipers, you snakes who warned you to flee from the wrath that was to come? And then he said this to them, I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me. And I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary. But the chaff, he will burn with unquenchable fire.

All of Jerusalem’s coming out to this Old Testament figure, this Old Testament prophet, this one who was like Elijah, pointing to the coming Messiah. And one day Jesus shows up. Cousin Jesus. there’s no reason to doubt that the two of them knew each other and had known each other for quite a while. Jesus knew what John was about, and John certainly had an inkling that Jesus was the Messiah. And here comes Cousin Jesus to be baptized. And John said, wait a minute, this is not right. You need no repentance. You don’t need what I’m offering. John said, I need to be baptized of you, Lord. And Jesus said to John for the time being, This is the right thing to do. And Jesus goes down into the water and John baptized is him. And when he comes up, we’re told that the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove. And there was a voice heard from heaven saying, This is my son, the beloved with whom I am pleased. What was Jesus doing that people go to Israel and reenact Now? what was so important about this baptism thing?

First of all, I think Jesus was identifying with the people. not that he was a sinner, not that he needed repentance, not that he needed to be baptized for repentance. He was just letting them know that he was one of them. That his ministry and what he was about was to be in conversation with them, was to be in community with them, was to walk side by side with them. He understood their need for baptism. He understood their desire for righteousness to live rightly related to God and to live rightly related to each other. Paul said it in this the book of Romans, for no human being will be justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law. No human being will be justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law. Paul was saying, and I think what we see in the ministry of Jesus affirms, You cannot be righteous because you’ve decided to be righteous. You could get up tomorrow morning and go straight to your knees and spend your whole day on your knees before God in prayer. You can pray, adoration. You can pray, confession, you can pray Thanksgiving, You pray supplication, You can pray every every kind of prayer. You know, to pray you can use meditate your music while you pray. You can read the Scripture while you pray. You can pray the Scripture. You pray all day. You don’t do anything else but pray. That’s all you do. It’s not good enough. You can go to work, make money. You can take the money you make and you can give every dime, every nickel, every penny of all the money you make, every cent of it. You don’t hold anything back. You don’t keep anything back for savings. You don’t keep anything back for college. You don’t keep anything back for those golden retirement years. You give all of your money to God. All of it. Every last cent you give to God.
It’s not good enough.

You can wake up tomorrow and you can speak words. You can speak words of Scripture. You can speak words of affirmation over those you love. You can speak words of forgiveness for those who need it. You can clearly articulate the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can tell people about their need for salvation. You can affirm them. You can be encouraging to them. You can practice empathy with them and sympathy with them. You can use every word tomorrow, every word, every utterance for the glory and good of God.

It’s not good enough.

You can wake up tomorrow and decide you’re going to do ministry, and that’s all you’re going to do tomorrow. You can build ramps. You can be a part of the food truck ministry. You can visit people in the hospitals. You can visit shut ins. You can do everything that you ever dreamed you could do as a Christian. And you can do it all day long. And that’s all you do.

It’s not good enough.

There’s a problem. And the problem is, sin is too big, and God’s bar of righteousness is too high. We can never reach the bar. We can never buy our own works by our own activity. Even doing righteous, holy, religious things, we can never be righteous in and of ourselves. What did Paul say? For no human being, will be justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law. You can never be good enough. And that’s why Jesus came and let John baptizing, because Jesus is recognizing the truth that those people are walking in and living in. You can never be good enough. Someone has to intervene. Something has to happen. And it happened on Calvary’s cross where Jesus took our sinfulness and was nailed to the tree. And by identifying with humanity, the paradox is we now identify with Jesus, that that’s our hope. That’s how we’re going to achieve eternal life and the forgiveness of God. That’s how we achieve righteousness. It’s a gift. Paul said this in Romans. Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. And he put it this way to the Galatians. He says, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. That’s how you become righteous. It’s not something you do. It’s something that was done for you. You put on Jesus Christ. you put on Christ.

It’s not what you do. It’s what He’s already done for you. And you received that as a gift. And we just immediately back up from that because we want to work for everything we have. We want to say, I earned it. New Testament says, No, you didn’t. It’s a gift.

So Jesus identifying with the people in baptism paradoxically changes, And we now identify with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection. So that’s one of the things that’s going on in the baptism. Jesus wants to connect with the people. He wants to connect with them in a deep way. The other thing that is going on is Jesus in this baptism is dedicating himself to the ministry He’s been called to. Samuel records it, or it’s recorded this way in second Samuel and it’s the it’s Nathan talking on God’s behalf to David after David has reaffirmed his covenant with God. Here’s what Nathan says to David. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, God says, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. And I will be a father to him. And he shall be a son to me. This is my son, the voice said from heaven. What is going on in the baptism at the end of it is Jesus is being coronated. He’s being made king. King of kings and Lord of Lords. And what you have in the Gospel of Matthew particular, the sort of the subtext of the Gospel of Matthew is the conflict between the early Christians and Rome. You need to read everything in Matthew as people having to deal with an occupying army, the Roman army.

Matthew starts early on in the birth narratives of Jesus by what we call the slaughter of innocents, where Herod sends the soldiers into Bethlehem and demands that all males, two years old and younger, be put to death. Rome versus the people of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to his followers, If you’re compelled to go one mile, go two. Well, who is compelling you to go a mile? The Roman soldiers who could snatch up a Jewish male and make that Jewish male carry their armaments or their backpack for one mile. And Jesus said, Make an impression. When you get to that mile, go another mile. What is it? It’s a conflict between Rome and the early church. The Romans are main characters in the crucifixion of Jesus, and it is the Roman centurion that says at the foot of the cross, truly, this was the son of God. So there’s that subtext there. And the baptism of Jesus is an act of insurrection, because it’s an act of coronating a king. and the Romans are not going to like it, that Jesus is king. They want Caesar to be king. That conflict permiates Matthew. Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus earned our allegiance. There is no, there is no king but Jesus.

A dangerous act, This act of baptism. A dangerous thing happened when the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus. And the words from Heaven confirmed Jesus. So He’s identifying with the people. He’s dedicating himself to a ministry that’s going to take him to the cross. But Paul said it was in that humbling of himself and taking on the form of a servant and being found in obedience, even obedience under the cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and given him a name above every name that at the name of Jesus, Every knee shall bell on every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That word can be translated king and that word can be translated Caesar. And that word can be translated ruler. That Jesus Christ is Lord of all. So if you, my friends, have been buried with Christ in baptism, if you have put on Christ, then you are participating in His baptism and you in your baptism dedicated yourself to the message and the mission of Jesus.

I like to say it this way in your baptism, you were called into ministry. In your baptism, you were given the right to proclaim Jesus Christ. In your baptism, you affirm that you are a priest before God. In your baptism. And the Methodists got quiet when the preacher pointed out that they too, are ministers, probably more effective than those of us who are in the pulpit. How’s your ministry these days?

Jesus gave us in the last part of Matthew’s gospel, the great Commission. And here’s what he said to us, to you and me as ministers. All authority, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Why? Because he’s the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. All authority has been given to me. Go there for and make disciples of all nations. And guess what we do after we make disciples of all nations. We baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, Jesus said, I’m with you to the end of the age. I am with you.

How are you living out your baptism? Do you understand that righteousness is a gift that comes from God? Do you live with only one authority? That being Christ Jesus? And do you see each day as a gift from God and an opportunity to change the world through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in you? My fellow ministers, how are you living out your baptism? Would you stand and pray with me?

We thank your God for the call that you’ve issued to all of us. That through our baptism we have taken on the nature of Christ that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and that as your children and your ministers. We have an opportunity to change the world. Be real to us. Lord Jesus is our prayer.

In your name. Amen.