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Christ was Baptized? January 8, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Mark 1:4-11

 Epiphany 1

January 7-8, 2012

Focus: God fulfilled the covenant of the Old Testament in His Son into a new covenant.

Function: That the hearers may rest assured of their forgiveness and salvation in the New Covenant.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

Christ was Baptized?

            We all know that babies are breastfed.  They’re nurtured by their mother’s milk, and the nutrients in it.  That’s just part of the way that God created human life.  But at some point, every little child is weaned off their mother’s milk and starts eating solid food.  This is the point that the author of Hebrews thought the Christians of his day needed to hear.  Now he was speaking of it metaphorically.  “You’re mature enough that you shouldn’t be on milk any more, but should be       on solid food. You know Jesus loves you.  You know your sins are forgiven.  You should be exploring the spiritual and theological depths of Scripture, continuing to grow in knowledge and wisdom.”

Our gospel reading today is solid food.  In our text, Jesus is baptized.  The thing here that makes us confused is our own theology of baptism.  What is baptism?  We view it as a sacrament that both forgives sins and grants the gift of the Holy Spirit.  John the Baptist is even baptizing in our text for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

So why does Jesus Christ, the holy, perfect Son of God, need to be baptized?  That’s the puzzler.  And Mark didn’t see fit to provide a clear answer to that question.  While all four gospel writers tell of Jesus’ baptism, only Matthew gives a reason.  In his account, Jesus tells John the Baptist that it was to “fulfill all righteousness.”  Maybe that made sense to John, but it seems vague to us.  It really doesn’t do much to help us understand.

The most common answer among Christians doesn’t do us much good either.  The simplest answer has typically been: “Christ was baptized to set an example for us.  Because He was baptized, we should be baptized.”  And while I’m not going to tell you not to follow Christ’s examples, to live as Christ did, this answer falls short.  Christ wasn’t a sinner.  Therefore, He didn’t need baptism for forgiveness, because there was nothing to forgive.  Christ didn’t need the gift of faith either.  We aren’t simply following His example then, because in our baptisms we are forgiven of our sin and given faith.

For those of you who have heard a number of my sermons by now, you’ve probably realized that I really like the language of the covenant.  And honestly, why shouldn’t we all?  It’s God’s relationship with man.  In the Old Testament covenant with Abraham, God bound Himself to create a people, a nation, and then to always be there with them.  That’s powerful stuff.  I like God’s covenants.  So by now, it really shouldn’t surprise you that my answer to the question of why was Jesus baptized is for the covenant.  Let me explain, because this is truly solid food.

Over the past couple of months, we talked a lot about God’s covenant with Abraham.  If you didn’t already know, you’ve learned that covenants were pacts that were made in blood.  Sacrifices of animals were offered, blood was shed, to establish a covenant.  That’s probably why the Hebrew phrase is to cut a covenant, rather than just make.  And we also learned that the result, the penalty, of breaking a covenant is death.

There are a number of covenants in the Old Testament, but in some ways, they are all related.  It’s not that the other aren’t important, but we’ve focused so much on the covenant with Abraham, because that’s more of the focal point, the backbone of the Old Testament.  In that covenant, God created and established a people for Himself, the nation of Israel.  And through that covenant, there were many foreshadowings and prophecies of the Savior who was to come.

But as you know, and as we’ve discussed, Israel failed.  They were riddled with sin, and struggled mightily to be God’s people.  You could even argue that they didn’t want to be God’s people.  The punishment for their sin, for breaking the covenant, was to be death.  And so, Jesus Christ, the Savior, came into the world to redeem Israel, to fix the broken relationship they had with God.

Sometimes when we talk about Jesus, we lose sight of the idea that He was the fulfillment.  He fulfilled the covenant.  In Him, God’s kingdom came into the world.  The forgiveness He gives us is important without a doubt, but it’s because He fulfilled the covenant and brought about the kingdom of God that He was able to offer us forgiveness.

Throughout my studies at Concordia University in Nebraska and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, both of the theology staffs liked this idea of a title for Jesus that is still fairly unknown.  We know He’s Christ and Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, Prince of Peace, Immanuel and many more.  But they sought to add this one: “Israel Reduced to One.”

In God’s covenant with man, those are the two sides.  God, and man.  Jesus was on God’s side of cutting the covenant.  So in order to fulfill the covenant, to be the sacrifice that mankind needed, Christ had to take man’s place.  Man’s punishment was death.  To save us from it, Christ had to take our place.  He had to become Israel of the covenant.

So there’s the idea behind “Israel Reduced to One.”  But in the life of Christ, we see a lot of things that fit this depiction.  Christ took on flesh and was born of Mary.  He became man.  On the eighth day, like all other little Hebrew boys, Jesus was circumcised.  In Matthew’s account of Jesus, we hear, “Out of Egypt I will call My Son.”  Matthew refers to this as Christ, because Joseph and Mary took an infant Jesus to Egypt to hide from Herod.  But the origin of the text is the nation of Israel being called out of slavery to enter the Promised Land.

Growing up, He did what they did, He went to temple; He grew in knowledge and wisdom.  And He also did many of the normal things.  He formed relationships, He learned a trade, and He kept to the Word of God.

So it’s no surprise that the events that we say mark the beginning of His ministry are really events that securely bind Him to the covenant.  We say His ministry began at His baptism.  There a few ties here.  The simplest is that the Jews by this time were performing a ritual washing, a cleansing.  So He did as the Israelites.  Then some say that Jesus was baptized by John so that all of Israel would begin to acknowledge Him.  But it’s deeper than that.

What are the primary events that make Israel into a nation?  What are the things that truly bring about God’s part of the covenant?  A nation has land.  God promised Israel land.  And as we know from the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were led out of slavery in Egypt.  And when they’re backs were up against wall, the Red Sea, pinned by Pharaoh’s army, God parted the Sea.  The water opened and allowed God’s people to cross.  And when Pharaoh’s men tried to follow, the waters closed and they were drowned.  Saved by God through water.  Sound like baptism?

And at the end of their wandering in the wilderness, the people, led by Joshua, crossed the Jordan River.  Similar to the crossing of the Red Sea, God stopped the water from flowing in the Jordan and allowed the people to cross.  As they came up the other side, they were entering the Promised Land, the land that God had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.  He gave it to them.  Through water, they became a nation.

The Jordan River became a prominent natural feature for the Israelites.  And it’s no coincidence then that is where John the Baptist was baptizing people.  So when Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized, He is drawing Israel back to their past, to the covenant faithfulness of God.  We say He’s beginning His ministry, but it’s bigger.  He’s becoming Israel for us.

We see it further when He comes up out of the water and God calls down to Him from heaven “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”  God said this to David when he became king of Israel.  “You are My son.”  It’s yet another connection.  And in the verses after our gospel, Mark describes Jesus’ time being tested in the wilderness by Satan.  The forty days of testing hopefully remind you of Israel’s forty years of wandering, being tested along the way.

When we talk about Jesus fulfilling prophecies, these are some of the things we’re talking about.  Jesus came into the world to be Israel Reduced to One.  You can think of it as a funnel if it helps.  All of the Old Testament, all of God’s people, go through the funnel and there’s Christ.  Jesus was the final Israelite.  Right down to the cross, He was the last faithful Jew.

In His life, He fulfilled the Old Testament; He became Israel in our place.  And in His death, He did something even bigger.  He restored our relationship with God.  He forgave our sins.  But then there’s the how.  How did He do it?  Yes, Christ’s death was the death required for the broken covenant.  But it’s also more than that.

Jesus informed His disciples that His death was something incredible.  Again fulfilling things, Jesus’ death would bring about the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares Yahweh, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares Yahweh.

33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares Yahweh, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares Yahweh, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

 

Think of the words Pastor says before the Lord’s Supper.  The Words of the Institution that we use: “Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Greek there, and most English translations get this right, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1 Corinthians, they all call the blood of Christ the blood of the New Covenant.  Christ’s death on the cross not only takes the place of our punishment for the broken covenant of old, but it is also the required bloodshed to form, to cut, a new covenant.

When Christ bled on the cross, the new covenant that Jeremiah spoke about began.  The forgiveness of sins is given.  When you come to the altar and partake of the body and blood of Christ, you partake of the new covenant, you receive the forgiveness that Christ died to give you.

Earlier I said you could think of this as a funnel.  But now, it’s really more like an hourglass.  Israel and the Old Testament are the sand at the top.  And as they funnel down, they all are reduced to Christ.  And through Christ and the new covenant, the sand that comes out the of the bottom of the hourglass, the funnel, widens.  Another way to see it would be the old covenant at the top with the new covenant coming out the bottom.  Either way, before Christ, everyone who was God’s child was considered a Jew.  After Christ, they are called Christians.  We are called Christians.

This is why Paul says what he says throughout Romans.  In our text today, we are buried with Christ in our baptisms.  By being baptized, by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and coming to faith, we become a part of the new covenant.  We become children of God.  That’s what covenants do: they form the basis for our relationship with God.  That’s why we should all love covenants.  The new covenant is the means by which God chose to save us in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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