First Sunday after the Epiphany Baptism of our Lord (January 9):
The Epiphany season begins with the Star of Bethlehem guiding the three Magi to the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph are staying. This morning, Epiphany continues to shine a light on God’s will, as Christ Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River. This morning, all our lessons have a common theme, they reveal the mission of God. God’s intentions, we find, are to save his people.
Mission begins when God calls Abraham and Sarah, and continues through the time of Moses and the Exodus. At that time, God’s people were identified as the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Today we recognize that Christians are also included in the family of God, since we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. It is because, like Abraham, we live by faith.
Later, the Jews were conquered by the Babylonians. The practice of King Nebecannezzer and the Babylonians was to break the spirits of their enslaved subjects by scattering them throughout the known world, sending them into exile. This would deprive the conquered peoples of any identity, history and memory of any life other than that of slaves. Through the words of the prophet Isaiah, which have come down to us, God’s people remembered who they were. More importantly, they remembered who their God was. He is the Lord who brought them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, and who will bring them home. He is gathering his people again.
God continues this gathering as part of his mission. At this point, we might be wise to remember the words of Peter in his first epistle. Chapter 2:9-10: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the special property of God, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wondrous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you didn’t get mercy, but now you got mercy.
The Lord always gathers his people. He always calls us to be his. And he continues to create and mold us as individuals and as congregations. In Isaiah we discover that God’s mission is to save his people. But in the words of the prophet, we also see the Lord at his most intimate and most vulnerable. For he shares with us that his actions are only motivated by love. We are precious and honored in his sight. I love you, he declares.
And yet, this mission that God has undertaken seems impossible. We remain sinners through and through. We don’t want to give up sin on our own. Nor do we have it in our mortal frame to assist God in this mission.
However, the Good Lord will do everything that needs to be done, will pay everything that needs to be paid, to redeem us. He is our saviour. In the days of Isaiah, the Lord sent the people of Egypt, Cush and Sheba, into the clutches of a new empire, the Persians, in exchange for Israel. This, of course, was a foreshadowing that God would send his own son as a ransom for our freedom from sin and death.
This definitely shows us that we cannot free ourselves, or even contribute to our own salvation. The cost is too high. As slaves of sin, we belonged to sin, death and the devil. We have nothing to offer in exchange for our ransom. No one can pay our ransom except God himself. And so God emptied himself and became man, that we might be redeemed.
I mentioned that God’s mission to save his people seems impossible. You might remember the old “Mission Impossible” TV series or maybe the more recent movies starring Tom Cruise. At the start of each episode of the original series, Mr. Phelps, played by Peter Graves, would go through a briefcase full of photographs to select which members of the Impossible Missions Force, the IMF, he needed for a particular mission. At the Jordan, God reveals the IMF chosen to save his people. It is nothing less than the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the three persons of the Trinity working together to accomplish this mission. And so Christ Jesus could truly declare, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Also in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus affirmed the love of the Father. In itself, water is powerful and dangerous. But with the presence of the word of God, water can be tamed and do great things. Growing up, we all remember wearing our school colors, and maybe even a sweater or jacket that identified us as part of our school. In the same way, now many of us wear the jersey or other merchandise of our favorite NFL team from college or high school. By his baptism, Christ Jesus, who is without sin, became sin for us. 2 Corinthians 5:10. That is to say, Jesus identified himself with us, became one of us and took our place. Jesus put on human flesh the same way we put on this shirt. He did this to redeem us. Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus promises that he will never leave us, but will be with us…always. In this way, God has put his treasure where his mouth is—he has fulfilled the promise he made through the prophets. And at the cross, he could exclaim: “It is finished”.
The New Year is the time when we traditionally make new resolutions. They usually have something to do with our improvement. Maybe it’s to go on a diet or join a gym. Maybe it’s to disciple us so we can get better grades or spend more time with our family. These are all good and laudable goals. How are you doing with these resolutions? It can be comforting to know that your identity, worth, or self-worth is not in weight loss or anything else we can bring ourselves to do. Your true worth lies in the fact that you are God’s beloved child. God called you by your name, as his own and continues to transform you, transform and shape your life to please him. God doesn’t just care about appearances, but about giving you a new heart, eyes, and ears of faith. Baptism is not an initiation rite, like entering a lodge or a secret society. In our baptism, we share in Christ’s death, just as he shared in the punishment for our sins.
After our baptism, we must leave sin behind and be done with it. Same with death. Death can no longer separate us from God. So live as God’s people should. Death has no real power over us. All of this can only be seen through the eyes of faith. It is visible only to those whom God himself has called, sanctified and made his people. God can take us through adversity and challenges, through water and fire – but that is how we are refined to serve God’s purpose. And so we live each day in repentance and grace.
And in this life, we too are called to be part of God’s IMF. We are called to share the word of God, through our own words and actions. We must share the mission of proclaiming the word of God for the salvation of all the people of God. Amen.