This sermon was prepared for and delivered at Oviedo Presbyterian Church.
Primary text: Matthew 3:13-17
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”Then John consented. 16 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 descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
There’s a lot going on in these few verses…
This is when John the Baptist meets Jesus – unless we count that lovely moment in Luke’s gospel, when the Mary’s arrival caused John to leap in Elizabeth’s womb. We see that John knows his place. He knows that their places should be reversed, and yet he consents to baptizing Jesus – “to fulfill all righteousness” Now, if you read through Matthew’s gospel, this idea of fulfilling all righteousness becomes a bit of a refrain. As Matthew tells the story of the promised Messiah, he is careful to share with us, his readers, how Jesus matches the descriptions from the prophets and the expectations of the One who sent him.
His opening verses take us through fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile in Babylon and fourteen more from the exile to the Messiah. This earthly genealogy reveals some surprises, but it also connects Jesus to the House of David, as was prophesied.
Mary and Joseph’s story also took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet Isaiah:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (“God with us”).
Matthew then tells the story of the magi, the slaughter of the innocents, and the holy family’s flight to Israel, during which he points back to the prophets four more times.
Which brings us back to John, the one about whom Isaiah said:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
John does cry out in the wilderness- calling people to repentance, calling people to be on the lookout for the one whose sandals he was not fit to carry. He was preparing them for the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. When John does consent to baptize Jesus, the heavens open. He saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus. Then came the voice saying “This is my son, my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
In these 3 short chapters, Matthew has established who Jesus is:
Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the one described by the prophets.
Jesus is human, with a family and a history.
Jesus has a father who has chosen and claimed him.
Jesus is divine, Immanuel – God with us
Jesus is God’s beloved son.
And because God is above all other gods, because the Spirit of God has descended on Jesus, because Jesus is the son and heir of God, Matthew is beginning to establish that Jesus will reign, but over a different sort of kingdom.
A kingdom where the King of Kings has a pretty sketchy background,
A kingdom where the Ruler submits to God’s will and models obedience, not arrogance.
A kingdom where Power is about valuing people-
people that Caesar has marginalized and impoverished,
people that even his own tradition pointed to as undesirable, unclean.
Jesus will reign in a Kingdom where the greatest currency is love
This is why Jesus is as interested in people’s hearts as he is their actions. When the Light of the World shines on the law, it reveals God’s divine plan for reconciliation.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, because God loved the world – the people, all the people – enough to make a way:
Jesus was born, baptized and tested.
He taught, loved, healed, and forgave.
He was rejected, crucified and buried.
He rose, appeared and returned to God’s right hand.
We believe all these things. We celebrate all these things.
We affirmed and confessed them just moments ago. And yet…
And yet, it is so easy to make our salvation about what we do for God, rather than who we are in Christ. We run the risk of making our relationship with God all about reconciling a balance sheet of sins and confessions.
Now, I am not going to stand up here and say that our sins do not grieve the Lord. They do.
Nor am I going to say that confession and repentance are unnecessary. Far from it. Otherwise we would not include a prayer of confession in our service week after week.
But I do want to say this:
When you and I were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whether you can remember that day or not, that sacrament was an outward sign of the inward reality that you are God’s beloved.
The God who knew you from the beginning of time
The God who was well pleased with Jesus on the day of his baptism
The God who rejoices over you with singing
That God… Our God… was well pleased.
God rejoiced on that day. God rejoiced on that day, because when God begins a good work in you, God is faithful to complete it.
God rejoiced! Not because you would never sin again, but because you would come to know about grace that abounds and mercies made new each morning.
God rejoiced! Not because you would never know sorrow, but because you would grow to understand that faith, hope and love abide.
God rejoiced! Not because you would never know regret, but because you would trust and love the one who can work all things together for good
And God rejoices this day…
When we offered the peace of Christ to one another and prayed for peace around the world.
When we confessed our trust in the work of Christ for our salvation
When we break the bread and share the cup, proclaiming Christ’s death until he comes
When we leave this place and offer love to the people we see in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and schools.
You see there is something I’ve noticed about the way the Bible says Jesus looked at people.
And it’s changed the way I see the people I run into every day.
Every single one of those men and women, young or old, is a child of God.
Some of them know it and claim it.
Some aren’t sure God exists.
Some are running from God.
Some are struggling to believe.
Even those that you or I might never understand to be our siblings in Christ…
All of them are beloved of God.
All of them are being pursued by the same God that draws us nearer every day.
Each of those beloved children of God remains, just like you and me, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.
And like John, you and I stand wholly unworthy before Jesus. Wholly unworthy of the work he is asking us to do.
But because John obeyed and because Jesus obeyed, the Spirit of God descended.
The Spirit filled Jesus- the very human and very divine Jesus, making a way for the Spirit to fill our hearts.
So that we might know Jesus.
So that we might live and bear the fruit of the Spirit
So that we might know peace
So that we would know the power that raised Christ from the dead and sent a tiny band of terrified disciples out into Jerusalem, Judea, and to the ends of the earth.
All the way to Oviedo, Florida.
Friends, we love because God first loved us. And God loves us still.
Drink deeply of that love. Feast on it.
The world needs desperately to see it,
and even smell it on us.
Because you and me… we are God’s plan for sharing it.