Born to save

Epiphany 1   Matthew 3: 13-17

John the Baptist was the last of the prophets, he was a law man. His life was one of calling the Jews to repentance but also pointing forward to the coming of the Messiah. Just as his fellow Israelites had dwelt in the wilderness, wandering with Moses for forty years, he too dwelt in the wilderness, and just as the Israelites of Moses day looked forward to a kingdom in the land of milk and honey, John and the Jews looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah and his kingdom.Like the desert wilderness, living under the law is not pleasant. God’s word tells us that the Israelites failed in keeping the law, and therefore, couldn’t stand before the holiness of God. When God made the first covenant with the Israelites, giving them the Ten Commandments at Sinai through Moses, they failed to keep the law. He had freed them from four hundred years of oppression by cleansing them of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, but they grumbled against God, doubted him and worshiped other gods. So God left them in the wilderness for forty years.Israel’s sin against God didn’t stop there either. Joshua led God’s people into the land of milk and honey through the Jordan River, passing from death to life, and still the Israelites turned their backs on God and the holiness he offered through the law. They chose instead to mix with the local pagan Canaanite and Philistine nations prostituting themselves with the gods of their heathen wives. God even gave them great judges like Gideon, Samson, and Samuel, kings like David, Hezekiah, and Josiah, who led them in the ways of the Lord. And he gave the Israelites prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all of whom called God’s people to repentance and looked forward to a messiah king – a saviour. But the people of God placed their faith in other things rather than the holiness that God was offering through obedience to the law. So God withdrew his presence, the Israelites and Judeans were cut off from their land and they were exiled at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. And God was quiet—deathly quiet—, for four hundred years there wasn’t a word from neither a prophet nor a messenger of God.  Once again God’s people were under oppression from other nations and they lost their land. They were in the wilderness again, but this wilderness was much worse than the Sinai wilderness in which they wandered with God for forty years. Like Egypt, this was another four hundred year wilderness without his word. Some fourteen hundred years after Joshua had crossed the Jordan, John the Baptist baptised the children of Israel in the very same river. And as he washed them of their sins with a baptism of repentance he proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was near (Matt 3:2) and there was One coming whose sandals he was not fit to carry (Matt 3: 11).

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented. 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)Matthew tells us in the gospel for today, ‘then Jesus came’. His coming changed everything forever. He came to the Jordan, the same place through which Joshua led the people of Israel after wandering in the Sinai wilderness for forty years. Jesus came to save all people from their sins, his name, Jesus, literally means – he will save. And it’s also no accident that the names Joshua and Jesus are the same name but just the Hebrew and the Greek variants.These men both came to the Jordan for life changing events. So we can’t let the significance of this location pass us by. The Jordan River is important; it’s the boundary over which the Israelites passed from a deadly wilderness environment into Canaan, the land of milk and honey. It’s the same waters which brought healing to Naaman, the same river through which Elijah passed before being taken into heaven, the same river carrying precious water, bringing life to the people and the land of Israel. This was the river where John the Baptist baptised the Jews for the forgiveness of their sins, the very sins God called them to turn away from through the observance of the law. And this was also the river where Jesus was baptised into his ministry of saving humanity.So as John the Baptist stood by the Jordan he knew who it was coming toward him. He also knew Jesus was far more powerful than he. He was aware that for him to baptise the One who could truly bring all people into the kingdom of heaven, the eternal land of milk and honey, just didn’t seem right. So he said, “Jesus I need to be baptised by you, and you come to me.” John baptised simply for repentance, Jesus didn’t need to repent, rather the one who needed to repent in Jesus’ presence was John. He needed the Holy Son of God to baptise him into the kingdom of heaven, to cleanse him from sin so he could stand holy before God the Father Almighty.John knew who he had baptised and everyone else present soon found out too. God had been silent for four hundred years, the doors of heaven were closed it might have seemed. But at that moment heaven was opened and God spoke to all saying “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” After four hundred years God the Father spoke, and sent the Holy Spirit down on Jesus. The Triune God has been speaking ever since. He does so through his written word by the power of the Holy Spirit as a result of his Apostles, who witnessed Jesus’ death, and resurrection from death, and whom he commanded to proclaim what they saw.Jesus came from the perfection of paradise, was born into his creation, was circumcised as a Jew under the old covenant, and was baptised in the Jordan into the wilderness of humanity’s sin, your sin and my sin, the sins of Israel and the sins of all people revealed by the law. In a very public way John consented to baptise Jesus so that righteousness for every person might be made complete in him. We live under righteousness because of he who was baptised into his public ministry, tempted by the devil, and tested by all around him. He did this and never placed a foot wrong. Then he took all our wrongdoings to the cross and buried them in hell, from which he rose victorious over death. He came from heaven and gives us heaven; he came into our wilderness and is taking us from our troubled wilderness wanderings. He gives us his holiness and has taken our sinful lives on himself in the waters of baptism.Nevertheless, we still live in chaotic times. Waves of sin continue to ripple through our lives wreaking havoc and seeking to separate us from our Heavenly Father and his Kingdom. However, the chaotic world in which we live constantly shows us why we need assurance and hope in Christ through the tranquil waters of holy baptism and his life giving word. So God the Father continues to give us his Holy Spirit. And in his written word, the Spirit always guides us to the gift of God’s Son whom he sent to take our hand and lead us through the wilderness of this life and into the paradise of eternity. Amen

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