Primary Text: Matthew 3:13-17 Adapted from a previous manuscript (gently used sermon + additional prep) and delivered to First Presbyterian, Apopka.
This is how Matthew describes the first meeting between John the Baptist meets Jesus (he doesn’t include that lovely moment in Luke’s gospel, when the Mary’s arrival at Elizabeth’s home caused John to leap in his mother’s womb).
As a prophet and forerunner to the messiah, John knows who Jesus is, and he knows that their roles should be reversed, and yet he consents to baptizing Jesus – “to fulfill all righteousness.”
Reading through Matthew’s gospel, we see the writer making the connection between Jesus and the words of the prophets… so much so that “to fulfill all righteousness” becomes a bit of a refrain. As Matthew tells the story of the promised Messiah, he draws from tradition and the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament) to make the case that Jesus is the Messiah, meeting expectations of the people who have waited and of the One who sent him.
If we go back to the opening verses of Matthew’s gospel, which read like an Ancestry.com page, he leads 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. We can see the history of God’s people through the lens of Jesus’ lineage: from Abraham to David to Joseph, from Tamar to Ruth to Mary. They are not the whole of Israel, but they are examples and reminders of God’s relationship with humanity….
God claimed them, covenanted with them, called them, led them, and remained with them. God spoke to and through these women and men, providing for them, blessing them to be a blessing. This family scrapbook reestablishes and calls to mind all that God has done. Which is to say, Matthew reminds us who God is.
As the narrative continues, Matthew reminds us what God promised, appealing to the words of the prophets. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, then born of Mary…. which took place to fulfill the words of Isaiah that we read a few weeks ago: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.
Jesus is Born in Bethlehem – out of you will come a ruler to shepherd the people of Israel
The family flees to Egypt and returns – I call my son out of Egypt
And they settle in Nazareth in Galilee – he will be called a Nazarene
Then Matthew lifts up John the Baptist as both the fulfillment of prophecy and a prophet himself. John preaches of the more powerful one to come. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness that Isaiah foretold.
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. And when John does consent to baptize Jesus, the heavens open. John 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 human, with a family and a history. He has an earthly father who has chosen and claimed him.
Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the one described by the prophets.
Jesus is divine , Emmanuel – God with us.
Jesus is one with the God who was, who is, and ever will be. Who covenanted with Abraham. Who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Who provided manna, kings, prophets, priests. Who was with them…. even in exile.
Jesus was now with them – in the flesh.
The son of God emptied himself and came in the form of a servant. The Son that God loved and with whom God is well-pleased, was obedient, obedient unto death, even death on a cross. His first act of obedience was to submit to baptism, not in repentance for his own sins, but for the people he came to save from sin – for me and for you.
Christ brings his divinity to our humanity, inviting us back into relationship with God. Not for our sakes alone, but for the ongoing work of reconciliation. 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 establishing that Jesus will reign, but over a different sort of kingdom.
Jesus will rule a kingdom where the King of Kings has a pretty sketchy background, where the Ruler submits to God’s will and models obedience, not arrogance. A kingdom where Power is about valuing people. The very 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 so loved the world – the people, all the people – enough to make a way.
Jesus was born, baptised 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 affirm and confess them together each week in the Creed. 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 my sins do not grieve the Lord. They do. Nor am I going to say that confession and repentance are unnecessary. Far from it. It is not by mistake that we include a prayer of confession in our service week after week. We must take seriously our call to live as people who are in but not of this world.
But what we do or don’t do… that is not who we are.
When you and I were baptised 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.
Let that sink in for a moment… 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 very same God said, “You are my beloved”
That God, our God, was well pleased.
And 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.
Not because you would never sin again, but because you would come to know about grace that abounds and about mercies made new each morning.
Not because you would never know sorrow, but because you would grow to understand that faith, hope and love really do abide.
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 offer the peace of Christ to one another and pray for peace around the world.
When we confess our trust in the work of Christ for our salvation
When we open the Word, and wrestle with its meaning
When we leave this place and offer love to the people we see in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and schools.
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 them, regardless of gender, age, skin tone or whatever label we can try to stick on them… Every single one of them is a child of God.
Some of them know it and claim it – loudly and proudly.
Some aren’t sure God exists.
Some run from God.
Some call God by another name.
Some struggle to believe.
Some have had their beliefs shattered by the abuse and violence perpetrated in the name of the God we worship.
But all of them, and even those that you or I might never understand to be our siblings in Christ…
All of them are beloved of God, too.
All of them are being pursued by the same God that pursued us until we, too, could believe the good news of his love for us..
Each of those beloved children of God remains, just like you and me, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace every moment of every day. And like John, we all stand wholly unworthy before Jesus.
But because John obeyed that day and because Jesus obeyed, the Spirit of God descended. It 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.
So that the story would spread all the way to central Texas, where I would hear it. All the way to Central Florida, where you heard it, and where we get to tell it again and again.
So that not one of God’s beloved children would go a day longer without knowing who they are and whose they are.
For some of us, reading this passage is enough to stir memories of our own baptism and commitment to live in obedience to all that Christ commanded. Others cannot remember, having been baptized as babies or toddlers. Instead, we must imagine ourselves in the faces of the babies and children we have seen come forward to receive the sacrament in the arms of their parents or grandparents.
Regardless, I hope you can remember the faces of those saints of the church who lived their promise to be your spiritual family, teaching, guiding, mentoring, as you grew to understand God’s love and could stand to claim a faith of your own.
In a few minutes, we will have a chance to renew the vows made at baptism, whether we first spoke them for ourselves or someone made them on our behalf. Like those who came to John in the wilderness, we will renounce sin and enter into a life of repentance.
We will have the opportunity to feel the water on our skin –water that has been around the world…
Perhaps starting as small pieces from the icebergs that break off the tip of Antarctica and slowly sink as they melt, then ride currents into tropical waters…
Or maybe melting from the snowpack of mountains, flowing in streams and rivers to the gulf, stirred back up into tropical storm rains that soak down into the aquifer and bubble back up through the springs.
We can trust that water to soothe our spirits, to bring life to dry bones and weary hearts, and to connect us to the love of God for all his children. We can also trust that God will go with us as we drink deeply of God’s grace, wade heart-deep into God’s love and go dripping back out into the world.
Friends, we love because God first loved us.
We love because God loves us still. And there’s a whole world of people out there who need to see it, hear it, feel it, and even smell it on us. Because you and me… we are God’s plan for sharing it.