1st Sunday after Epiphany
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests! In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, my wife and I occasionally enjoy relaxing and watching a good movie. I typically enjoy movies that have mystery and action and adventure, that you can get into and get your heart beating, that keep me engaged for the whole movie. My wife, not that she doesn’t enjoy some movies like that, but she has a fondness for movies that are somewhat slower, heart-warming, classic shows- even black and white movies. And so, sometimes she’ll pick out a movie, and just from the title I already begin thinking, “Oh dear, here we go, this one’s going to be a bore.” And after her coaxing and encouraging I give in with the warning, “I may fall asleep half-way through.” But then the movie starts and goes along and I’m engaged and find myself laughing and enjoying it and in the end actually appreciating the movie’s message! The movie didn’t turn out at all like I had expected! And then I sheepishly have to hear from my wife those famous words, “I told you so.” Has that ever happened to you? Something turned out totally different than you expected and at the same time totally better?
Well, the same is often true when we consider God. Ever since the fall into sin human beings have been coming up with their own and often wrong expectations of God, of Jesus. And to a certain degree we see it in our text. John the Baptist was highly praised by Jesus. He was the last prophet before Jesus and had the most important work: to prepare people to receive the coming Messiah, the Savior. So, God directed him to go into the desert wilderness and to baptize people for the forgiveness of their sins. And that’s exactly what God wanted. He wanted Hs people to go out to John the Baptist, confess their sins and receive John’s baptism. It was also part of John’s purpose to point ahead to the Messiah who was coming after him. And just before our text God gives us a sample of what John taught, he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Wow! And he was exactly right. The Messiah will come with the Holy Spirit and fire, being sinful himself John wasn’t even good enough to do the lowliest task for the Messiah, and the Messiah would come and take His people to heaven and send all who reject him to hell.
And then we come to our text. Jesus went from Galilee to the place where John was baptizing on the banks of the Jordan River. And Jesus went there in order to be baptized by John. But John didn’t get it, he even tried to deter Jesus. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knew he was sinful and Jesus was sinless, he understood that. John knew that Jesus didn’t need to repent, Jesus didn’t need to be brought from unbelief to faith, Jesus didn’t need to be brought into God’s kingdom through baptism. John knew that.
But John’s also just got done telling the people about the mighty Messiah, a Jesus so much greater than him that he’s not even worthy to provide him the most menial service, and here Jesus arrives not in a great display of power, where’s the fire? Where’s the judgment? Where’s the winnowing fork?! Instead, the Savior stands before John in lowliness, in humility, ready to be baptized by John! Everything seems backwards! Indeed, everything John said about Jesus was correct, yet his expectations were off.
And yet, maybe we find ourselves not so different than John. I mean, what kind of God gets baptized? Perhaps we carry with us our own misconceptions of who God should be, who Jesus should be. And there are all kinds out there, aren’t there? Let’s consider a few of them: “Jesus wants me to be happy, so I must do whatever it is to be happy – even if it means sinning. Jesus wants me to be happy so I should get a divorce instead of working at my marriage, Jesus wants me to be happy so I should do what pleases me first and neglect those God has put around me.” Or another one, “Jesus wants me to be healthy, wealthy, and wise, if I’m not something’s wrong.” But the truth is, God may determine it to be NOT in our best interest to be health or wealthy or “wise” as the world defines it. Certainly God wants us to take care of the bodies He’s given us as best we know how, but that doesn’t mean God may allow some sickness to come and use it for my benefit – maybe even use it to bring me home to heaven! Becoming wealthy might be the worst thing for my faith and gaining worldly wisdom may cause me to lose my faith! Or another one, “Jesus must like me because I’m such a good person, I do this or that, I’m not like other people, I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of all I have…” And buying into that misconception we turn ourselves into Pharisees. Or even this one, “Jesus will forgive me so it doesn’t matter if I sin here or fall into that temptation there.” And that misconception puts our souls in eternal danger.
Having the wrong expectations about a movie is one thing- you may miss out on a good show or hearing a good message. But any misconception that we might have about Jesus will lead us further away from the true Jesus, the Jesus whom God sent. Any misconception that we might have will leave us confused or frustrated because “God doesn’t seem to be acting the way that we think He should be acting.” And it’s thoughts like those that can really damage or even destroy our faith.
So God gives us texts like this to set our minds right. You see, Jesus is the Savior that we NEED, not always what we might EXPECT. John the Baptist understood Jesus would come in fire and judgment, power and prestige. And he was right. But he missed what else God told us about the Messiah – like from our OT lesson. You see, before Jesus comes in power and might on the Last Day, Jesus must first be the lowly servant, who won’t shout or cry out, who won’t break bruised reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks, who won’t falter or be discouraged until He establishes justice- true justice between humans and God.
So contrary to what we might expect, the mighty Messiah in lowliness goes to John to be baptized. Why? “To fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus associates Himself with sinful mankind. It was God’s will that everyone went to John to be baptized by him. So, as the obedient Son and faithful Servant, Jesus too was baptized. So that he might in every way take your place and live under every one of God’s laws and commands perfectly as your substitute for you and me who’ve failed to do so. So perhaps not the Jesus we expect, but exactly the Jesus we NEED!
And as Jesus was stepping out of the water the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Here Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit, not that He didn’t already have the Holy Spirit, but that God might show publicly that Jesus was anointed for the specific task for which God had sent Him into the world: to win our salvation. And how did God the Father feel about this? God the Father was of course pleased with the Son from eternity, but here and now, as Jesus shows Himself fully willing to do God’s will in saving people from their sins, God is delighted! And what could be greater than that? Jesus coming to save us is what pleases God the most!
And John got it. Later he would point to Jesus and say, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s exactly the Savior we need.
We might have all kinds of expectations about who Jesus should be or what Jesus should do, but here God shows us that Jesus is the Savior we need, perhaps not the one we expect. And what could be more glorious than this? Jesus came to do the Father’s will, first to be baptized along with sinners and then to suffer and ultimately die on the cross for sinners like you and me, so that we might live with Him in His kingdom forever! That’s the Savior we need!
Think about this when you look at the news events of the world, God hasn’t come in fiery judgment yet, but is patient not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth- Jesus is the Savior we need, not always what we might expect. Think about this when you struggle to make ends meet or are fighting a sickness or never are able to have everything that you want, Jesus is the Savior we need, not always what we might expect. Think about this when you’re discouraged, think about it when you’re frustrated, think about it when times are difficult, think of it when times are good: Jesus, anointed for you, might not be the Savior you expect, but He is exactly the Savior you NEED! Amen.