Sermon / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Baptism of Our Lord - Season of Epiphany / Sunday January 7th 2018 - / Mark 1: 4 - 11 / "From the River to you."
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday January 7th 2018: Baptism of Our Lord - Season of Epiphany / Mark 1:4–11 "From the River to you"
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Last Wednesday Pr. Albrecht had an excellent Sermon on Psalm 72; I recommend you track it down on our website if you weren’t at the Prayer Service that night or ask him for a copy of it if you’re not one who’s on the internet. In that sermon he preached about what makes one great, what the World thinks about greatness, what greatness is in Christ Jesus and the fact that, in Jesus, we Christians have the greatness of Christ applied to us as a gift.
That Psalm, Psalm 72, also talks about the coming Messiah King, our Jesus, as the Royal Son. In our Gospel Reading today at Jesus’ baptism when the heavens where torn open and the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, there was also a voice which came from heaven that said, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” That’s God the Father’s voice spoken to His Royal Son, the same Royal Son that King David pointed to almost 1,000 years earlier in Psalm 72. And in that Psalm King David speaks of this Royal Son’s kingdom, when he says “May He have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” In the Ancient Middle Eastern World “the River,” the great River that people thought of first was the Euphrates River and at 2,800 km it’s one of the longest and most famous rivers in the region. In fact we hear in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible detailing the earliest history of the earth and humanity, that, “the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,” When God says, “this land” the LORD is making a promise to Abraham concering what would later be called “the promised land” which again later becomes the land of Israel: Many now call it “The Holy Land.” So when people then go the step further to talk about a kingdom that extends from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth it was a way of saying that such a kingdom will be a worldwide kingdom, encompassing the whole world. This is what Psalm 72 says but we talk about Jesus’ kingdom in the same way: Think of the hymn, “Jesus Shall reign” (LSB 832) where in the first verse we sing, “Jesus shall reign where’re the sun does its successive journeys run; His kingdom stretch from shore to shore till moon shall wax and wane no more.” Let’s put a pin in that thought and come back to it quickly, but first we move to another river. A more modest river, not 2,800km in length but just a small 251km in length, a river that flows roughly north to south through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. It’s the Jordan River which is the setting of our Gospel Reading from the Gospel of St. Mark today as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord.
The walk down from Nazareth where He lived was about a two day’s walk over to where John the Baptizer was baptizing, and neither Mark nor any the Gospel’s say that Jesus rode a white horse on His way over there, it doesn’t say that He was carried in a sedan chair, or that angles bore Him up on eagles’ wings to deposit Him there. No Jesus would have walked from Nazareth to that spot on the River Jordan. His sandaled feet would have been dry and dusty, dirty with travel, Jesus like the rest of the people just arriving at the Jordan River would have needed a conventional washing. And furthermore, He would not have stood out in the crowd that day; this is why John the Baptizer in the Gospel of St. John says, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” Mark in our Gospel today makes note of this too when he records John’s comment, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
It wasn’t that Jesus’ sandals were extra special; they weren’t made by Versace or Gucci, the straps of the sandals weren’t embroidered with gold or anything like that, they were like everyone else’s sandals: no, it was the one who stood in the sandals, the one who walked in the sandals that was great. Great yet great in humility and kindness, great in love and forgiveness, not great as the World counts greatness. At this modest River, where God had done great things before, making a dry path for His people to cross into the Promised Land in the time of Joshua and the conquest, at this relatively modest Rive stood the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ Jesus the modest and down to earth king. And right there in the waters of the Jordan River Jesus was anointed King, heralded by His heavenly Father, and from that moment on the words of King David begin to come to pass, “May He have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” Spreading out from Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit resting upon Him, the Words of His heavenly Father ringing in the Royal Son’s ears, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased,” the reign of Christ the King broaden, widened and expanded. Wherever Jesus came, wherever His Word would go, there it was, there it is that one could say, “The kingdom of God has drawn near to you.” And what does it say just a couple verses after our Gospel Reading from Mark today? Still in chapter one of the Gospel it says, that, “after John [the Baptizer] was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” These are the words of the anointed Royal Son.
But therein lies the rub, if you have a king, then you are subject to him and we today desire being subject to no one but ourselves and our self interests. Day by day more and more our culture is built on this idea of independence and identity politics. Even we in Canada where we have a Queen and live under the crown prefer to call ourselves citizens of Canada rather than subjects of her majesty the Queen. And then some of these folks go a step further, many don’t want to be subject to the law of the land either … and if they don’t like the law of the land well then they might just lobby to change it to suit them. Rather than live lives subject to centuries’ old wisdom upon which western civilization was built, rather than be subject to the even more ancient and enduring Word of God we would rather have it our own way. This is a violation of the 4th.
Here’s an important thing to remember, here in Canada Queen Elizabeth is your Queen whether you believe she is or not. If you commit a grievous crime worthy of incarceration, you can stand in front of the court of Queen’s Bench and claim that you don’t believe in her, but that won’t stop the judge who sits on that bench from passing a sentence on you and placing you in prison. In like manner Jesus doesn’t vanish from existence the movement someone fails to believe in Him and this Royal Son of God the Father eternally begotten before all worlds who was baptized in the Jordan River shoulder to shoulder with sinners of every kind is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, He is of one substance with the Father and They, along with the Holy Spirit, made all things as we heard in our Old Testament Reading from the beginning of the book of Genesis. This Jesus is your King, and you are subject to Him. John the Baptizer knew this.
Jesus’ name is, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Christians of Philippi “highly exalted” God that Father has, “bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Now we are not told from Scripture that every knee in reverence bowed that day when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, every knee doesn’t bow to Jesus today, but on The Last Day when His final Epiphany takes place, and His Second Advent is at hand, when the Risen and Ascended LORD returns to us in the same whey that the apostles saw Him depart from us, on That Day every knee will bow. In the mean time we live in a world where certain strata of our society feel free to deride and mock and abuse Jesus and His name, He and we are persecuted day in and day out, online, on TV, in Movies, in print, on the News, and sometimes even to our face.
In reverence John the Baptizer, in Marks Gospel, says, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” And in the Gospel of St. John we get the additional information as to who it was that John is saying these things to, John says it to priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem to the Jordan River by the Jews to investigate what John the Baptizer was up to with all his baptizing, they were sent to ask John “Who are you?” John points them to Jesus. Some three years later after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and His public Ministry was coming to a close it was the priests and Levites of Jerusalem who considered themselves not just worthy enough to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals but worthy enough to stand in judgment over their King and orchestrate a series of events that would not just strip Jesus of His sandals but would have Him stripped bare of all His clothes, leaving Him naked nailed to a Roman cross, dead. The priests and Levites of Jerusalem didn’t listen to God’s Word as spoken by John the Baptizer. Right down to our present time there are people who stubbornly refuse to hear God’s Word, they do not gladly hear or receive it, they refuse to believe the Word’s of God the Father about Jesus recorded in Scripture, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” They will not believe that they, because of Christ Jesus the Royal Son, could be adopted as a child of the same heavenly Father: That they could have all this in Christian baptism. They fight against the fact that Jesus didn’t remain dead, that on that first Easter Morning three days after His crucifixion Jesus was raised from the dead and remains risen from the dead unto all eternity.
So today, here in this modest little church, by far not the greatest or most impressive of churches ever built, a little Jordan River of a Church, you hear God’s Word read to you, you hear His Word preached to you, you sing God’s Word upon your lips and Jesus who is King of Kings from the grandest and most magnificent of Churches to our little church to even smaller and more humble churches, right down to your arm chair and the night table by your bed where you rest your head at night, is you King even there. He doesn’t dwell exclusively in heaven or in the halls of the rich and powerful, He whose sandals we are not worthy to untie, comes to us, chooses to live in our hearts through our Baptism, by His Word. For all the times you have lived your life like He isn’t your King, for every time you bowed your knee to something or someone other than Him, for all the times you’d rather have it your way that His way, there is forgiveness. Subject yourself to Him head His Words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” This King comes to rescue you from yourself, to save you.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Psalm 72:8
 Genesis 15:18
 John 1:26–27
 Mark 1:14–15
 Philippians 2:9–11
 John 1:19