January 10, 2021

Matthew 1:1-15

Sermon:  “By Water and the Spirit

Mark starts his Gospel with: “This is the beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son…”  “This is the beginning…”  The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ is the beginning of THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD for you and me.  It is the Good News that this dark wilderness of life is not where we must stay forever.  It is the Good News that death does not have the final word.  It is the Good News that there is meaning and purpose in life.  It is the Good News that God, the God Who created this universe is REAL, and that God is incredibly concerned with human beings.  God loves human beings.  God cares about the difficulties we face.  God cares deeply, compassionately about those of us who hunger and thirst for something more than what this lost and sinful world has to offer.  God cares about what is laying heavily on your hearts and minds.  God cares deeply about those of us who are depressed, overwhelmed, underemployed, hopeless, helpless, at the end of our rope walking in the darkness, the lost-ness, of the lonely seemingly endless wilderness.  God sent John the Baptist into the wilderness of hopeless humanity to announce this Good News.  “Look, I am sending my messenger before you.  He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord…”  So, John was in the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness of human despair–calling for people to be baptized “to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.”  And we are told that “Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins.”  That is a lot of hungry people!!!  That is a lot of folks starving, searching, needing GOOD NEWS in this lost and broken wilderness of the world.  We are no different than they were 2,000 years ago.

Everyone in every time has needed the Good News of Jesus Christ–the Good News that God so loves the world.  Where would we be without it?  I would be so lost and empty I do not even know if I would be alive at this point in my life.  I need Jesus every moment of every day.  I need the Church (the Body of Christ) all the time.  I need YOU!!!  And I thank God for YOU!!!

I do not do well in the dark, dangerous, rocky, bumpy wilderness of life without Jesus.  People die in the wilderness when they are out there–lost and exposed–by themselves.  That is why John came to the wilderness to prepare people for God’s great entrance.  As John was baptizing folks who were desperately wanting to change their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins, he announced to them: “One stronger than me is coming after me.  I am not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Then we are told that “About that time…Jesus came up from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River.”  This is one of the most radical things ever.  Think about this for a second.  The One through Whom the world came into being…God Himself…decides to come down into our wilderness as a human being.  And rather than deciding to be “set apart on some pedestal way above the rest of us sinners” He takes part in the same baptism as us.  In Jesus, God decides to identify with human beings–with you and me–without a bunch of fanfare…without a parade…without CNN or FOX NEWS covering the event…without applause, bright lights, and loud music…without all the trappings that go along with narcissism and ego…

Jesus goes down into the muddy waters of the Jordan River along with a whole bunch of human sinners–desperate helpless folks–and is baptized with all the rest.  And in doing so, God shows God’s humility, God shows God’s solidarity with you and me–with every human being who has ever lived.  Could there be any better “NEWS”???!!!  One thing we see throughout the entire New Testament is that Jesus never asks us to do anything that He is not willing to do Himself.

During His time on earth, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, but was without sin.

During His time on earth, Jesus battled the wild beasts of the wilderness–the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking to devour us all–and Jesus defeated him!  Jesus is our trailblazer.  Jesus is our example to live by.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life.  Jesus is our salvation.  Jesus is our Lord and our God.  Jesus is our Savior!!!

We are told that while Jesus was “coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him.  And there was a voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.'”  We are told that as soon as Jesus was baptized– “at once” it says, “the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness” and in the wilderness He was tempted by Satan.  “He was among the wild animals.”  Truly, this is the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ!!!

Jesus spends all the days and years that follow His baptism living out what it means to be God’s dearly loved Son.  Jesus gives everything He is and everything He has for the sake of the saving of humankind.  He takes His place with hurting human people–folks like you and me and our neighbors next door–even our enemies around the globe and in the halls at school.  In doing so, Jesus stirs up demons, and incites the authorities–those who lust for power and control–to start plotting His death.  During the week before He is Crucified, the leaders of the temple challenge Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things?” they ask.  And Jesus answers them with a reference to His baptism: “Was the baptism of John [the Baptist] from heaven or not?  [I was baptized. That’s why I do these things.]”

So, Jesus does not die of old age.  He dies because He takes His baptism seriously.  For His baptism is His Commission to Ministry.  When Jesus cries on the Cross, “It is finished,” it is His baptism that is finished.

In Mark Chapter 10, when two of Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus: “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory,” Jesus replies, “You don’t know what you are asking!  Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?”

“We can,” they answered.  “You will drink the cup I drink and receive the baptism I receive,” Jesus says to them.  What I am trying to get at here is that our baptisms–remember John said that Jesus will baptize us with “the Holy Spirit”—our baptisms are not just a one-time deal, over a water basin or in a river.  That is just the beginning.  Our baptism is something, that, if we take it seriously–continues for our entire lives!!!  It is God saying to us: “You are my child”…and it is our decision to live that out.  It is our decision to die to self with Christ, so that we may be raised to new life in Christ.  It is our decision to give our lives for the sake of God and others.

It is our decision to live for SOMETHING greater than money, something greater than power, something greater than politics, something greater than celebrity–something much, much greater!!!  It is our decision to tell the truth in a world that lies, give in a world that takes, love in a world that lusts, make peace in a world that fights, serve in a world that wants to be served, pray in a world that wants to be entertained and take chances in a world that idolizes safety.  It is our decision to live a life in which financial success is not the final goal, security is not the highest good, and sacrifice for the sake of mercy and compassion is a daily event.  It is our decision to be saved from self, hell, and the devil.  It is our decision to live in the wilderness, but not to be lost in the wilderness.  It is our decision to live this life in the wilderness, for our mortal bodies to die in the wilderness–but to live the immortal life forever with Jesus.  It is our decision to live out the baptism of Jesus, and to drink of His cup.

Most of us here have been baptized, and if we are walking with Christ–our baptism is something which is occurring continually every moment of every day.  When we are baptized with water by a preacher, we are professing our identity as people for whom Christ died.  We are professing our faith.  We are publicly acknowledging God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and our lifelong process of living as saved persons in the wilderness of the world. If you were baptized as an infant or as an adult…remember your baptism. Amen.