God and Man
January 8, 2023 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2023
Passage: Isaiah 53:12, Psalm 2:7–12
Pastor Ray Lorthioir
Trinity Lutheran Church
W. Hempstead, NY
Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord
God and Man
On Friday, January 6th we entered the church year season of Epiphany. Because of all the hoopla around December 25th, the festival of the Epiphany on January 6th is hardly noticed any more. However, long before the Western church separated out the celebration of Christ’s birth to December 25th, both Jesus’ birth and His revelation to the world by the Magi were celebrated together on January 6th. Indeed, the Eastern Orthodox Church retains this practice. Therefore, Friday, January 6th was Christmas Eve and yesterday, January 7th, was Christmas Day for Eastern Orthodox Christians.
For us in the Western church, Friday was Epiphany — the celebration of the Magi from the East who came to Jesus and revealed who He is. That’s why we sang We Three Kings at the beginning of the service.
The word Epiphany is from the Greek language. It literally means a revelation — something that has previously been kept secret and hidden, but is now publicly revealed. Thus, this season that we’re entering in the church year is the public revelation of Jesus as the Messiah. As is noted in a devotional book I use, Christmas proclaims that God came to us as a man. Epiphany proclaims that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, is God.
In keeping with the theme of Epiphany — revelation — I’m going to begin today with a brief recount of Jesus’ birth narratives. Luke’s gospel begins with Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:5-25 we read how Elizabeth’s barrenness into her menopausal years came to an abrupt end through divine intervention. Zechariah was a priest. And while on duty burning incense within the sanctuary of the Jerusalem temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him. The angel announced that he and Elizabeth would have a special son that they were to name John. Zechariah couldn’t believe the good news and was punished by being made mute until John was born. This in itself was a miraculous sign.
Luke’s narrative then shifts to Mary of Nazareth. In Luke 1:26-38, we learn of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Gabriel announced to Mary that she also would become pregnant with a special child. Mary wondered how this would be, since she was a virgin. And so we read in Luke 1:35, “The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’” Mary accepted the angel’s words. Thus, the whole miracle of a virgin conception and birth began.
In Luke 1:39-56, we then learn that Mary immediately went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, and stayed at their house for three months. Thus, she probably participated in John’s birth.
The moment Elizabeth greeted Mary upon her arrival is a moment of great testimony. We read in Luke 1:40-45, “40. . . she [Mary] entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’”
It was through the Holy Spirit that Elizabeth accepted Mary. For Zechariah and Elizabeth were devout people. If Mary had been impregnated by a man not her husband, they never would have accepted her. And notice that Elizabeth calls Mary, “the mother of my Lord.” That’s worthy of all kinds of sermons. Immediately following their greeting, Mary broke out into song by the Holy Spirit. In Christian liturgy Mary’s song is called the Magnificat, because that’s the Latin word with which it begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” I once knew a Christian minister who had named his cat, Magnificat.
From Luke 1:57-80, we learn of the remarkable events surrounding John the Baptist’s birth. Zechariah’s punishment was ended, and he was suddenly able to speak again. All the neighbors were astonished. By the power of the Holy Spirit Zechariah also burst out in a song. This song is also used in Christian liturgy.
From there, Luke’s narrative turns to the familiar events surrounding Jesus’ birth as recorded in Luke 2:1-20. In order for Old Testament prophecy to be fulfilled, Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem, the city of His ancestor, King David. And so, Caesar Augustus unknowingly set the stage for Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem by ordering a scheme to tax the people of the empire. While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, Jesus was born.
Luke records that on the night of Jesus’ birth, angels visited shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem reporting the news of His birth. The angels told the shepherds that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, “Christ the Lord.” Joseph and Mary were startled when the shepherds suddenly appeared bearing this news. So was anyone else who listened to what the shepherds had to tell.
Eight days after Jesus’ birth, He was circumcised according to Jewish Law as we saw last week in Luke 2:21. About thirty-three days later, Luke records in Luke 2:22-38 that Joseph and Mary appeared at the Jerusalem temple for two more fulfillments of Jewish Law. Mary had to be purified of her birth uncleanness and Jesus had to be offered to the Lord as their firstborn son. It was during these temple rites that a man named Simeon approached them and prophesied that Jesus is Messiah. As part of his prophecy, Simeon said to Mary in Luke 2:34-35, “34. . . ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” Thus, Simeon prophesied all the controversy that surrounds Jesus of Nazareth — controversy that will not end until Jesus appears again in glory. With these rituals accomplished, Luke records that Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth.
And it’s here that Matthew’s narrative kicks in. Matthew’s gospel begins with a genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17. Then, in verses 18-25, we’re told of Joseph’s predicament when Mary told him of her pregnancy. Joseph made up his mind to break the engagement, but do it quietly for her sake. However, in a dream an angel told Joseph not to be afraid of the situation and take Mary as his wife. Joseph obeyed the command.
In Matthew 2:1, Matthew tells us nothing of how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, but simply that He was born there. Then Matthew’s narrative immediately shifts to the visit of the Magi — or Wise Men as they are commonly called. The Magi found Jesus in Bethlehem. This means that either Mary and Joseph came back to Bethlehem from Nazareth at some point after Jesus’ dedication, or they never left and only went back to Nazareth after the events narrated in Matthew chapter 2.
Matthew tells us that the Magi found Jesus by following a star. Traditionally, this star is considered to have been a supernatural event. However, with the advent of computers, it’s now possible to own an app by which you can examine the position of any star, planet or constellation at your latitude and longitude, at any time in the past, present or future. Using such an app, some people have searched for the star the Magi saw at the time and place of Jesus’ birth. Some have come to the conclusion that the star was a series of planetary and star conjunctions that put two of the night sky’s brightest objects, Venus and Jupiter, next to each other on more than one occasion over a short period of time around the time of Jesus’ birth. Just like in modern astrology, these planets, one particular star and the constellation they were in probably had great significance to the Magi. Those who have researched this believe it was the astronomical and astrological calculations of the Magi that brought them to Jerusalem.
In a sermon that I heard over the Christmas season, radio preacher, John MacArthur spoke of the Magi in terms I have never heard before. He didn’t say where his research came from, but he asserted that the Magi were well known in Jesus’ time and the preceding centuries. They were a religious group that were the king makers in Mesopotamia and Persia — to the east of Israel. Whoever they anointed to be king became king of the Parthian Empire. Therefore, when they showed up in Jerusalem searching for the one born King of the Jews, there was good reason for Herod and everyone else to be quite disturbed, as we read in Matthew 2:3.
Being king makers, MacArthur speculated that politically, it probably seemed to Herod that the Magi had come to separate Israel from the Roman Empire and make this King of the Jews the Parthian emperor. For these Magi were not just three guys on camels. The tradition of there being only three comes from the three gifts that were offered to baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the Magi that came were probably a significant armed contingent on horseback.
Matthew tells us that Herod treated such important visitors with respect. But being a long time political player known to eliminate members of his own family if he suspected them of treason, Herod faked interest in knowing where this King of the Jews was living in order to eliminate Him. Thus, Herod sent the Magi on their way, asking them to report back to him with news. The visitation of such a significant group must have startled Joseph and Mary much more than the visit of the shepherds.
Being men greatly interested in the supernatural, these Magi obeyed a dream that warned them not to return to Herod. Joseph was also warned in a dream to get out of town and stay in Egypt until Herod was dead. Thus, we read in Matthew 2:16, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” And so we remember those children as the Holy Innocents Martyrs, whose day of remembrance is December 28th. These were the first ones killed in the controversies that have raged around Jesus of Nazareth ever since.
Matthew tells us that in a subsequent dream Joseph was told to take Jesus back to Israel. Only then did he finally settle his family in Nazareth. In the years between Jesus’ birth and His baptism at about thirty years of age, we only hear about one more incident. At twelve years of age Jesus got separated from his family as they returned home to Nazareth after Passover in Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary found Jesus in the temple speaking with the teachers of Israel who were all amazed at His understanding of Scripture.
So at Jesus’ birth there were at least six epiphanies — six revealings of who Jesus is. One was given to Mary, the second to Joseph, the third to Elizabeth, the fourth to the shepherds the fifth to Simeon and the sixth to the Magi, Herod and Jerusalem. Then everything went silent for nearly thirty years until John the Baptist appeared. During this time Jesus was hidden away in the world, growing up as an ordinary citizen of the world. Following in Joseph’s footsteps, Jesus became a day laborer, able to build structures. He’s often called a carpenter, but the proper translation of the term is skilled day laborer — like the guys who can do any kind of construction work you see outside Home Depot waiting to be hired.
Today, we’re celebrating the first significant public event that revealed Jesus to the world as God’s Son. It’s called the Baptism of Our Lord. For several years prior to Jesus’ ministry, the way had been prepared for Him by His cousin, John the Baptist. Once baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, Jesus’ ministry began immediately. Quickly Jesus superseded John. Indeed, as the Baptist prophesied in John 3:30, “He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less.”
Of Jesus’ baptism we read in Matthew 3:16-17, “16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” That was quite an Epiphany for those who were there to hear it.
This Word from heaven was the first time God had audibly spoken to Israel since Mount Sinai. None of the gospel writers give us any crowd reaction to the event. But what the voice said is most significant.
First, of all it commended Jesus for what He had just done. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Because of Jesus’ virgin birth, He was not born in original sin and was not a sinner. Jesus had the righteousness of Yahweh. Why, then, did He need John’s baptism? Indeed, that’s the reason John protested in Matthew 3:14, “. . . ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’”
One answer can be found in a Messianic prophecy from 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah 53:12, “. . . he [Messiah] poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” As a sinless one consenting to be baptized with a baptism of repentance, Jesus thereby identified Himself with us sinners. In order to bear our sin, innocent Jesus had to be numbered with us transgressors. He had to be in our number. Therefore, God the Father commended God the Son for taking this important step through a baptism of repentance.
Second, when God the Father said of Jesus, “This is my Son,” another important prophecy was fulfilled. This prophecy was written a thousand years before Jesus in Psalm 2:7-12, “7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’ 10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Understand that kissing the Son means the kind of formal kiss on the cheek, hand or ring that is used to greet a powerful person in order to show submission and honor. We don’t do that in America, but it’s still done in many places of the world.
For two thousand years, now, the gentile nations have been coming to Yahweh through the Son, Jesus Christ, just as David prophesied in Psalm 2. For centuries now, the kings of many nations have bowed the knee to Jesus and brought their people under His protection. However, we are living in a time when many kings, rulers and nations that have been historically tied to the Son of God now want to be free of Him. That includes this nation. Such a thing is very dangerous as Psalm 2 informs us.
However, even if the nation they live in goes astray, God’s people can still remain true to Him by kissing the Son. So, how can you and I formally kiss our Messiah, King and Lord, giving Him the honor He deserves in our lives? Every time we confess our sins and receive absolution in the Name of Jesus; every time we confess Jesus as our Lord using the Creeds; every time we recognize Christ’s atoning work for us in our baptism; every time we behold and believe on His body and blood joined with us through the holy sacrament of the altar, we kiss Him. Every time we hear His Word and bring our lives in line with His Word, it’s submitting to the Son with a kiss. And all this is by His gift to us of faith in Him. This day, therefore, pray for Jesus to increase your faith in Him so that you may delight in Him now and forever by His grace through His gift of faith. Amen.
All Bible quotes are from the NIV.
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