Two weeks ago we celebrated Jesus Christ’s birth. Today our text moves us ahead thirty years later to Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. We really don’t know much about those earlier years between Jesus’ birth and His baptism. The Gospel writers didn’t seem to think it was important for us know. Luke, however, tells the story of Jesus as a boy being left behind in Jerusalem by Joseph and Mary. When they find Him, He is in the Temple listening and asking questions of the religious experts. Then Luke finishes off that part of Christ’s life by saying Jesus increased in wisdom and years with human and divine favor.
We also know Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth, and He worked in a carpenter shop with His father, Joseph. Now, at the age of thirty, we find Jesus coming to the Jordan River to be baptized.
One of the things that jumps out at us right away is John’s surprise at Jesus’ request. “You ought to be baptizing me instead!” John said. Actually, many people through the ages have been puzzled by this action on the part of Jesus. Why was Jesus being baptized anyway? He was sinless, right? John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for sin, so it doesn’t seem to make much sense.
I think Jesus’ answer to John is helpful. “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Basically, Jesus was saying, This is part of God’s salvation plan. Let’s carry it out. Jesus’ earthly ministry to accomplish the work His Father had sent Him to do officially began that day. Jesus had come to save the world from sin and death, and bring salvation to humankind. This baptism was His anointing ceremony, His commissioning, His inauguration. God presided over it. As Jesus rose up out of the water, the heavens opened, and the Spirit descended upon Him. God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
If you examine God’s statement closely, you’ll find these words are actually taken from two places in the Old Testament. The first is Psalm 2, which is a song for the anointing of a King in Israel. The second is Isaiah 42:1 where we hear the announcement of the suffering servant of God. God’s announcement after Jesus’ baptism was our Lord’s title and job description – to be a Suffering Servant for the sake of the world.
The mission of Jesus, which began that day, culminated three years later on a cross when He announced, “It is finished.” Jesus had fulfilled God’s will. The sinless One had taken our sins upon Himself, suffered our punishment, experienced God’s wrath, and died for us. He paid for our sins at the cross. That chapter in the history of God’s salvation plan was now complete. God raised Him from the grave, and nothing can be added to it. All people may now enter into a personal relationship with God because Jesus has atoned for their sins at the cross. Hallelujah!
However, there is another chapter. The mission continues. Let me explain.
Jesus did this for us. What will we do in response to this Good News? We are created in the image of God. This means we have a will to say I do (or I don’t) want to get in on God’s salvation plan. God’s mission is not completed in our lives until we have received Jesus Christ. The Gospel writer John reminds us of this in the first chapter of his Gospel when he writes, “He came to his own, but his own received him not. But to those who have received him, he gives the right to become children of God.” In spite of all God has done for us through Jesus Christ, we must receive Him. And so I ask you, have you received Christ?
Some might respond, Isn’t that a redundant question? Aren’t all members of the Church those who have received Christ, and aren’t all those who are baptized, saved? The answer to both of those questions is, No, not all people who belong to an organized church are believers in Christ. They are still relying upon their own good works to save them. I know this from personal experience – conversations and encounters with people down through the years of my ministry.
Not all baptized people are saved. Our Lutheran Church does not teach baptism alone saves us. We believe God acts in baptism as He enters into a covenant relationship with us. He adopts us into His family and gives us His Spirit. However, when a child is brought for baptism, the parent is instructed to bring the child up in the faith, to disciple him or her. It is important for the child to know the way of salvation and come to love Jesus. It is vital for the child to be brought up in the Church and instructed in God’s Word. The Holy Spirit works through that Word in the child. It is important as parents to read, teach, and model the faith. All of this is done with the hope that the child will be awakened to what Christ has done for her or him. It is then that the baptized child says “yes” to Christ and to following Him.
Likewise, when a person is baptized as an adult into the faith. Then begins the process of discipling the individual so they might to continue to walk with Christ and grow. I know many who have been baptized but walked away from Christ. This puts them outside of a relationship with God. It doesn’t mean God loves them any less, but if the relationship is to be restored, such people must be converted and turned back to the Father who has never stopped loving them and continues to wait for them.
So where are you in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you living in the covenant of your baptism, trusting Him and following Him? If you are like the prodigal son Jesus talked about who ran away from his father, the appeal this day is to turn around and come home. Your Father is waiting for you with open arms. He loves you. He wants you.
However, receiving Christ doesn’t finish the story of His mission in our lives. Let me explain. God has a plan for us to mature in our faith and grow closer to Him – bear fruit that glorifies Him. Only as we grow in our relationship with Jesus is God’s mission being fulfilled in our lives.
Some receive Jesus, but never mature in the faith. We read about them in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. These Christians are being chastised for not growing up, still being babes on spiritual milk, needing solid food. God has given us His Scripture, the community of faith, and the sacraments to grow us up into people who conform to the very image of Jesus. We need to look like Jesus, think like Him, act like Him. Our spiritual maturity begins to take place when we walk the talk and live out the faith we confess.
God’s Word should hold sway over the decisions we make in life. The maturing person in Christ is asking God, What is Your will in this matter? As a citizen of Your kingdom, how should I conduct myself in this particular situation? For instance, if you are a younger person, what will happen when it is suggested that you live with your fiancé before marriage? We live in a society where it is condoned these days. The question is, are you going to operate Christ’s way believing He knows what makes your relationship work best, or will you operate by the ways of the world?
Let’s consider marriage. You found someone who brings you such joy and are thinking of entering marriage with that individual. The maturing Christian would ask these questions:
• Can I worship with this person?
• Is he or she a believer in Christ?
• Can we share Christ in our everyday life, or will it be an issue for us?
• Will we be able to raise our children together in the Christian faith?
Let’s try one more. You’ve been terribly hurt by someone along life’s way. The question is, are you going to hang onto the hurt and nurse a grudge believing revenge is sweet, as the world around us teaches, or will you forgive that person and move on, as Jesus instructed His disciples to do?
Obviously God’s admission in our lives is not completed in us until He takes us to His heaven. However, He really does have a plan for you and me to mature us, to transform us in this life through the working of the Holy Spirit. He intends to shape and mold us to the image of Jesus Christ so we would live obediently and fulfill the great commandment to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.
Finally, Christ’s mission continues through us. He clearly commissions us to take the Good News of Christ to others around us who haven’t received Him yet or have wandered away from God. They need His saving grace, and Christ counts on us to reach out to them. He tells us, “Go, make disciples of all nations baptizing them . . . , teaching (all that I have taught to you)” (Matt. 28:20-21). Or He says, “You are my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Matt. 5:16, He says to His disciples, “Let your light shine before others so they see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Life presents us with many missions: raising a family, providing for ourselves and them, being a good member of my community. But only one mission is eternal. It began that day at the river Jordan when Jesus was baptized and commissioned – His Inauguration Day. His mission continues in and through our lives this week, in our encounters with various people we run into who need Jesus Christ in their lives.
Christ’s mission continues until the day when Jesus returns in power and majesty and glory once and for all when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
Until that day comes, brothers and sisters, we have a lot of work to do. The mission continues through us until our last breath. We never retire from kingdom work. So we keep trusting, following and serving Jesus until we close our eyes in this world and awaken to behold Him face to face in the next. Until then, the mission continues.
So, dear brothers and sisters, press on for the sake of the Gospel. May the mission of Jesus Christ continue in and through your life. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer