Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Sunday Jan 10th 2016 - / Luke 3:15-22 / Is Heaven Open? (Baptism of Our Lord)
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / January 10th 2016: Season of Epiphany - Baptism of Our Lord, Luke 3:15-22 - Is Heaven Open?
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, 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 are 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. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.”
Have you ever taken the time to make an errand only to find, for some reason, that the place you were going to was not open, it was closed? It’s a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things when it's a store of some kind, if it's a business you could always just go on another day or at a different time. Even still, you've taken the time to make that errand and if it doesn't go your way, doesn't that sort of thing try your patience? Does it reveal how even on a small scale the temptation to impatience is always lurking, prepared to upset your day, your week, your month ...
We want things to be open, and we want them to be open when we want them open. Some shop that’s temporarily closed is one thing and not that serious, if it was something more important like a doctor’s office, or a Hospital, or a Bank, or the Government we would be more concerned especially if we didn’t know how long it would be closed for. What if you get there and it is open but you consider the customer service to be poor, maybe it irritates you that the line up, the queue, the checkout, is long and slow. Maybe there's no self check out. Perhaps the automated voice on the other end of the line says, "due to high call volume, the average wait time for your call to be answered is 35 minutes, please stay on the line, your call is important to us."
Generally we are all impatient when the way ahead is not open, when the door is closed, when the line is long, when the service is poor, when we aren’t getting what we want, the way we want it, when we want to have it. This, I guess is why they say patience is a virtue. The truth is that we are not just impatient with each other; the truth is that we can be very impatient with God too: particularly if we feel like God is closed off from us. The virtue of patience is daily assaulted by vainglorious anger, frustration, impatience.
God had stopped speaking through the prophets. At the end of the Old Testament He closed His mouth and the mouths of the prophets. After the prophet Malachi God had stopped sending prophets to the people. During that time life carried on until the coming of the prophet John and the Christ, the baby Jesus: The time that passed between Malachi and John until the incarnation of Christ Jesus was a silent time, a quiet time. Heaven was in a way closed. For 400 years heaven was not open to the children of Israel in the way it had been at different times in their past when God would speak to them through His prophets.
During those 400 quiet years, during those 400 silent years, we even have the Jews mentioning this lack of a Word from God in the Apocrypha. The Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated by the invading Greeks who had defeated them under Alexander the Great and when the Jews were able to get back into the temple, and clean up the mess made by the Greeks (The Greeks had among other things sacrificed unclean pigs in the temple), not knowing exactly what to do the Jewish people took the defiled altar stones and buried them “until there should come a prophet to tell [them] what to do with them.” During those days, those years, God still heard their prayers and was still active but He wasn’t speaking to them by His prophets, and you couldn’t point to events as being influenced by God with any certainty, like you can do with events recorded in the Bible.
In today’s reading God speaks! His Mouth is opened and no longer closed. At the baptism of Jesus, Jesus prayed and, “the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I Am well pleased.” God had sent His angel Gabriel to speak to Zechariah about the birth of the prophet John the Baptizer; God had sent the angel Gabriel to speak to Mary about the birth of Jesus the Christ; He’d sent an angel to Joseph to prepare Joseph for the coming Christ; He’d sent angels to announce Jesus to the shepherds and an angel to warn the Magi of the dangers of King Herod;  God had prepared the way for Jesus with the Word given to the Prophet John the Baptizer: but today, in today’s Gospel reading, God the Father Speaks and says to Jesus, “You are My beloved Son; with You I Am well pleased.” At this point there’s no question as to whether heaven is closed or opened. It is open. And while you may not have realized this along the way, because of Jesus, and His Baptism that Day, Heaven is open to you too. Heaven opened on the Son in prayer; Heaven opened for the descending Holy Spirit; The Heavens were open as the Father spoke.
This opening up of heaven to you is one of the significant parts of Jesus’ Baptism. Here everything changes. Publicly God’s Word would be spoken again to the people and not just by the Prophet John but by Jesus, God the Father’s Son with whom He was well pleased. This public speaking of God’s Word then extends from Jesus to those He had handpicked, the disciples – the apostles, those He sent out to preach and administer the sacraments in His stead and by His command down the line to us today, to you.
What does it mean that Heaven is open to you?
It means that when you pray, you can do so with confidence, with confidence that your prayer is being heard. Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father and teaches us to do the same in the Lord’s Prayer. He teaches us that we are free to approach God the Father as one of His children. Saint John tells us that as Christians “this is the confidence that we have toward [God], that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” In other words as Jesus says, “your heavenly Father knows [what] you need:” Both physically and spiritually.
Imagine a boy at the door of a School and under the sign for the school it says in big block letters “School For The Gifted.” Now the boy has his school books under one arm and with the other hand he is pushing open the door, his head is down as he pushes and above him on the door is another sign that says pull. The door isn’t locked, and the boy sadly doesn’t realize that the door is actually open to him. Many Christians get frustrated and impatient with God believing that Heaven is closed to them when they simply don’t know that Jesus has opened it for them. Someone, a pastor, a fellow Christian, needs to come along and say, “The sign says pull, the door is open, go on in.”
How is heaven open to us?
Not by your own "reason or strength;" as Jesus waded into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized and counted amongst us, heaven was opened to us through Him: Jesus became our Brother, and God the Father became our Father. Because of Jesus, in your Baptism, Heaven has become your Home and we baptized Christians are already – even now – citizens of that Heavenly Home; and while we may have trouble with our earthly parents and may have had trouble in our earthly homes we can be confident that the Heavenly Home opened to us is one that is perfect and without trouble. Saint Paul tells us that, “when the perfect comes, the partial (the imperfect) will pass away.” When the end comes, and you are raised by Jesus, you are promised to receive what Jesus has prepared for you, a place in His Father's house, and further to that He promised that, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I Am you may be also.”
In Christ Jesus Heaven isn’t closed for business: In Christ Jesus Heaven is open to you, in Christ Jesus your wait is over. There is no need to remain impatient. This is the work that Jesus does on your behalf, He opens heaven for you and He takes everything that Heaven will pour out upon Himself first in your place.
Jesus in His perfection, when He opens heaven for us, is first in line to take onto Himself all that Heaven gives, and this is a good thing. This is a good thing because, in the Old Testament there were times when the opening of heaven upon the peoples of the world was not a joyous occasion, mainly because the heavens opening up also meant the righteous wrath of God being poured out upon the world. You might remember the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra when “the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the LORD out of heaven.”
Now in today’s Gospel reading the Prophet John the Baptizer says this about Jesus, that Jesus would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John continues saying that, “[Jesus’] winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now in order for Jesus to do these thing He must experience them first Himself. “The Spirit descends on Him when He is baptised in the Jordan. The fire of God’s wrath at sin is kindled against Him, and [ultimately Jesus] suffers the bloody baptism of death [on] the cross,” after this something happens, “after [Jesus is risen from the dead] and ascends [to heaven], the Holy Spirit is poured out as tongues of fire on [the Day of] Pentecost. But the fire of God’s wrath has become the purifying fire of God’s love because God’s anger has been quenched by Jesus on the cross, and so Christian Baptism conveys the forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38-39).”
For this reason we can look with joy upon the heavens that are now open to us, in our baptism we no longer need to look with fear. You may have heard people joke about being struck by lightning or having fire rain down on them for all of their sins; usually it’s something that they think is small and they want to make a show of it by being dramatic, in our case we know as Christians that the One who truly took onto Himself the full punishment for our sins is Jesus. At the waters of the Jordan River that day, He switched Himself into our place, like a line change in a hockey game, like putting in a new quarterback at the beginning of the third quarter. A Quarterback who will take all the sacks and still complete all the passes needed to win the game. Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan to take our place under the law and did so to fulfill righteousness for us.
In Saint Matthew’s Gospel John the Baptizer, recognizing who Jesus truly was, says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answered John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Saint Peter tells us that “[Jesus] Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” In just one little sentence Saint Peter paints exactly what we heard from Saint Paul in our Epistle lesson today, that as a Christian you are connected to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and that because of this He has given to you His righteous identity in place of your own.
While we have a problem being patient, while we can be tricked and deceived into thinking that Heaven is closed to us, there is Good News. God loves you and is patient with you. "Love is patient and kind," and "God is love." And there are two sides to the patient love of God, one side of God’s patience is Him being slow to anger, holding off on the punishment at hand, relenting from destruction; the other side of God’s patience is Him waiting for us to return to Him, His desire to seek out the lost and the ones who have strayed far away from Him, it’s Him relenting from disaster so that you and I, and as many as can be, can be saved. God is slow to punish and quick to forgive.
In Romans Saint Paul tells us that, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” He also tells us in Galatians that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as [His Children]. And because you are [now His Children], God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” This is the cry that goes up to the now opened Heaven, we cry up to God saying Father! We pray, "Our Father who art in heaven," and because of Jesus and His Baptism God calls back to us with forgiveness in His Word, saying “You are my beloved [child]; with you I am well pleased.”
Dear Christian friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, Heaven is no longer silent, no longer closed; in Christ Jesus the Word is proclaimed, the Good News is preach, sins are forgiven, Jesus is present in His Supper and Baptism is open to all. Listen to His Word. Speak His Word. Receive His patient love and be patient with others as He is patient with you.
In Christ you have forgiveness for your anger, your frustration, your impatience - He forgives it all. Amen.
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 Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”
 1 Maccabees 4:46
 Luke 1:5-25
 Luke 1:26-38
 Matthew 1:18-25
 Luke 2:8-20
 Matthew 2:1-12
 Luke 3:1-22
 Luke 4:43
 Luke 10:1-12, 17-24
 Acts 9:1-19; Romans 1:1
 John 20:19-23
 Ephesians 3:11-12
 Hebrews 4:14-16
 Luke 11:1-14
 John 1:12
 1 John 5:14-15
 Matthew 6:32
 Luke 11:5-13
 The Far Side, "Midvale School: School For The Gifted" Gary Larson 1986
 Matthew 12:46-50
 Philippians 3:30
 1 Corinthians 13:10
 John 14:3
 Genesis 19:24
 Concordia Commentary, Luke 1:1-9:50, Arthur Just, Concordia Publishing House, pg 135.
 Matthew 3:14-15
 1 Peter 2:24
 1 Corinthians 13:4
 1 John 4:8
 Romans 5:6
 Galatians 4:4-6