A sermon given to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican) by Fr. Justin Clemente on Baptism of Christ Sunday, January 9, 2022 .
Today, we turn the page in sacred history. We move from the obscurity of Jesus’ birth to the revelation of his public ministry. As we look at the baptism of Christ today, I want to focus our time around two things: 1) John’s witness to Jesus and 2) the meaning of Jesus’ baptism and his identity. You can find our passage on pg. 858 of your Pew Bible.
Father, we are here today to make much of Jesus and to set him forth as the hope of the world. Let us not miss the rich mine of comfort that is, by faith, ours through the baptism of Christ. May all who hear this Gospel know themselves to be within it. Amen.
John’s Witness (vs. 15-17)
Our passage opens on the ministry of John, baptizing people with a baptism of repentance – this is preparation for the Messiah. The people witness to John – they think he himself might be the Messiah. But it was John’s joy to be the end and goal of the Old Testament prophets. John says, in so many words, “I am but a slave. The one who comes after me is so great, I can’t even carry his tennis shoes.” This reference to undoing the strap of his sandal is significant. Two meanings are possible here.
First, there was a Rabbinic saying among the rabbisthat“Every service which a slave renders for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher except the loosing of his sandal.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Luke, pg. 97) Apparently that was too much. John’s words demonstrate his humility but also Christ’s identity – his greatness in comparison to John himself.
Secondly, there’s a possible a reference to a Jewish practice found in the book of Ruth. Theologian Arthur Just brings this out for us:
“In Ruth 4, when Boaz redeems Ruth, he receives the sandal from the next of kin of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, who was not willing to buy her back. The receiving of the sandal by Boaz…was a testimony that he had bought her back. Luke tells us that the people were wondering if John was “the Christ” (3:15). John responds that he is not the Christ and says that he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal and receive it as the one worthy of buying back humanity. John may be “next of kin” from the perspective of the [Old Testament], but Jesus is the Redeemer.” (Arthur Just, Luke 1:1-9:50, pg. 154)
So, this may be John’s way of saying, If you think I’m something, wait ‘til you see the one I’m preparing you for!
You see, what we find in John’s witness to Jesus is that Jesus is, in the words of Pastor Charlie Skrine, “off the charts.” No one can stand up next to him. And,as we’ll see in just a moment, not only does John witness to Jesus, but God the Father himself witnesses to Jesus’ identity.
We just came out of the Christmas season. Many there are who stop by the manger to pay their respects to Jesus, as if he were any other human baby. But Jesus’ baptism leaves us with no doubt about who he is. If do not understand his baptism, we do not understand nor do we know him. And that is the invitation of Epiphany. Whether we do not yet know Christ, are need of coming back to him, or are fervently devoted to him – here we see him for who he is.
Now, if this all about Jesus’ identity and if Jesus is as great and mighty as John says he is, the question what will he do with us! But as we read this morning, Jesus is described in Isaiah 42 as the one who will not break a bruised reed nor quench a faintly burning wick. That’s who Jesus is going to be in his ministry. The one who straightens and heals! The one who fans into pure flame a dying candle. You know, for some people what keeps them from coming home to God is that they fear what God might do to them if they do. But Jesus’ Baptism shows us the heart of God for sinners. And we’ll see that as we focus now on his identity.
Jesus’ Baptism & Identity (vs. 21-22)
Christ in our place…
With verse 20, Luke has finished John’s story. It’s interesting, when Luke describes Jesus’ baptism, he doesn’t even mention that John is the one who did the baptizing. Of course, we know from the other gospels that he did. And we know from them also that Jesus did not need to be baptized – he was pure, without sin. But look how Luke describes Jesus in v. 21. He was in the midst of the people. That’s incredibly significant: “when all the people had been baptized!” So there’s all the people being prepared to meet the Messiah – and there’s Jesus, doing it with them. Jesus could have remained aloof, sidestepped the waters, and waited for John to finish his work. But no – he steps into the waters of this baptism. He steps into the place of ruined sinners. He stands beside us. That’s who he is.
And as he does, he receives the confirmation of the Trinity. He receives his mission. He receives his cross. He is on his way to Jerusalem where he will fully and finally stand in our place. Saints, this is the first steps of Jesus becoming, as we pray so often, our great high priest and advocate! On earth, Jesus identified with sinners in his baptism, and all the more so now in heaven he pleads before the face of God our Father as the same. He remains today all the more who he was revealed by God to be on the day of his baptism. When we fall into sin, into depression, into anxiety, then we need to remember who Jesus is for us.
Shameless plug: later this month I’ll be speaking on the Advocacy of Christ for the Church (and men in particular) at the Frederick Church of the Brethren’s men’s conference. We’ll gathered around Gentle & Lowly by Dane Ortlund. Here’s a taste of what you’ll hear:
What does it mean to say that Jesus is our Advocate? It means that “Jesus shares with us in our actual experience. He feels what we feel. He draws near. And he speaks up longingly on our behalf.”
“Why is this advocate able to help us? … [He] is ‘righteous.’ He and he alone. We are unrighteous; he is righteous. Even our best repenting of our sin is itself plagued with more sin needing forgiveness. To come to the Father without an advocate is hopeless. To be allied with an advocate, one who came and sought me out rather than waiting for me to come to him, one who is righteous in all the ways I am not – this is calm and confidence before the Father.” (GL, pg. 89)
Friends, Jesus is not waiting for us to repair our relationship with God – he is waiting for us to claim his advocacy as our own.
…we in his
But Jesus doesn’t come to forgive us and simply leave us we are. Not only does Christ come into our place – we are invited into his. As God the Father regards Jesus – “You are my beloved son” – so he now regards all who come to him by grace through faith in him. This is the Great Exchange of Christian faith: Christ for us and we in him.
Many have noted how there is a step-parallelism at work with John and Jesus – the lesser parallels the greater. That also helps us to understand the relationship between John’s baptism, Jesus’ baptism, and Christian baptism. John’s baptism is not Christian baptism – but it prepares the way for it. And when Jesus steps into those waters, he makes a way for us to now be baptized into him. Now, by baptism and faith in Christ, each and every person can be adopted into God’s very kingdom and received as God’s own.
As we close, let me ask the question: what would it look like for the people of this congregation to first apply to ourselves this great news and then to take advocacy of Christ into places like Frederick, Chambersburg, and Hagerstown? How would it change your daily conversations if you saw them as opportunities to invite broken and weak sinners to meet Jesus, the baptized Advocate for sin? He is the one who can and will welcome them and us into fellowship with the Father.
Today, hear the words of Father, making a way for you to be welcomed home, through the ministry of his incarnate Son. Amen.