Sermon for Sunday January 10th, 2016, the First Sunday after the Epiphany
The Lessons: Psalm 29; Isaiah 43:1-7; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-22
Lesson on which this sermon is based: Luke 3:15-22
Theme: Christ revealed at Baptism
A father of a young child told this story:
‘Two days ago, I was kneeling in prayer in the front room of our house at 6:30 a.m. I’d just confessed sins and was asking God for a blessing that day, needing to feel loved by him.
Our little boy, Timothy, twenty-two months old, had just gotten up, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he had sneaked quietly into the front room. He is always quiet in the morning when I’m praying because his mom tells him to be, but this time he ambled straight over to me, put a hand on my clasped hands, and said, “Hi, special one. Hi, special one. Hi, special one.”
Never once has he called me that before. Six times he called me “special one.” He said it enough for me actually to get it — that God was speaking to me and giving me a blessing.’
— Bill White, Paramount, California
“Who am I really?” is a question many young people ask of themselves, as they reflect on how their future lives will unfold. In Christianity, Christians receive their spiritual identity from the Lord Jesus Christ through Holy Baptism, which in itself was instituted and commanded to be observed for all time by Jesus himself. But long before Jesus gave the commandment that people of all nations must be baptized in his name, he himself was baptized, and in his baptism received an epiphany that He is God’s beloved Son.
“Who is the Messiah, Israel’s anointed King, who will save us from the Romans and establish us again as a self-governing nation?” many Jews were asking in the years preceding the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At the time of St. John the Baptist’s preaching and baptizing ministry, they were even wondering whether John was the promised Messiah.
One impressive characteristic of St. John the Baptist was his forthright honesty. He had no hesitation about denying he was the Messiah, or the Christ. He rather pointed to the great contrast between himself and the Christ. He did indeed baptize with water as a sign of repentance, but only the Christ would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The Messiah would come after him, and he wasn’t worthy even to unfasten the Messiah’s sandals. The Messiah would appear as Purifier and Judge, separating the righteous from the wicked, as the threshers separate the grain from the chaff, reserving the grain for the granary, but destroying the chaff. We think of Jesus Christ as Savior as well as Lord, but John prophesies his function as Judge and Lord of all, as for example, he appears in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats at the end of Matthew 25.
THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
The centerpiece of our Gospel Lesson today is the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. As Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens are opened, the Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove, and a voice comes from heaven assuring Jesus he is God’s beloved Son, with whom He is well-pleased. If we want to know what the Epiphany means, then this experience Jesus had of God the Father’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit is one of its greatest examples. “Epiphany” means “revelation” or “manifestation,” especially of God to man. In the liturgical use of the word in the church calendar, it refers to the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, as recorded in Matthew 2:1-12. But in the tradition of the Church, various other events in Christ’s life, such as the Baptism of Jesus, and the miracle at Cana in Galilee, were also celebrated in the season of Epiphany.
Let us turn to consider the epiphany that Jesus experienced at his Baptism. If Jesus alone heard the voice of the Father and saw the descent of the Holy Spirit in the bodily form of a dove, then these details entered the Gospel record because Jesus related this epiphany to his disciples. If St. John the Baptist witnessed this epiphany as well, he could have told it to his disciples, and it could have been one of the reasons that some of John’s disciples became followers of Jesus. What we do also know from the Gospel record of Jesus’ Transfiguration, is that Peter, James and John also heard the voice of God the Father affirming Jesus as his beloved Son, but adding the words, “Listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). So significant was the Transfiguration and these words “Listen to Him,” that they were recorded in all three synoptic gospels, as a testimony to the epiphany that was given to the three foremost Apostles, Peter, James and John.
What a powerful effect this epiphany of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has in the record of the Gospel! It stands as a witness to the Son’s identity and power by the Father and the Holy Spirit. According to St. John the Baptist’s testimony, the Messiah is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). No-one can baptize with the Holy Spirit who does not have the Holy Spirit, in whom the Holy Spirit does not dwell. This account of Jesus’ baptism makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, who baptizes people with the Holy Spirit and with fire, fire being a symbol of the light, life and power of God. Jesus’ own baptism with the epiphany of God in it, changes forever the nature of Holy Baptism. St. John’s baptism of repentance gives way to Christian baptism and a new identity given through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This new identity is that of the child of God, adopted by the Father and given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of his inheritance of God’s kingdom. To take on this new identity requires a renunciation of sin and an expression of faith in God the Trinity, as well as a promise to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, God calls each one of us to a life of discipleship, according to the example set by His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. For each of us, Christian life began uniquely in Holy Baptism, and we ratified this beginning by re-affirming our baptismal vows at Confirmation. But for each of us, as for Christ, there are moments of epiphany, when God reveals Himself to us, and speaks to us of our vocation in life.
Will you respond obediently to God’s call whenever He reveals Himself to you and speaks to you?