Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Sunday After Epiphany A (2011)

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 3:15
Theme: “To Fulfill All Righteousness”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The favour of God is not commensurate with the exertions of individuals. Our efforts to obey God’s will and pursue godliness are not rewarded with God’s blessings in corresponding degree or proportion. Conversely, our sins and iniquities do not earn a graded measure of punishment. The grace of God is superabundant! This truth is the very heart of the gospel. The mercy of Christ far exceeds all that we could ever merit or deserve. In dispensing that grace He shows no favouritism.

Today is the First Sunday After Epiphany. Epiphany means ‘revelation’ or ‘showing forth’. The Saviour born in Bethlehem was acclaimed as the Christ by shepherds, lauded by the angels and later worshipped by the Magi; but still remained largely unknown in the world. He did not have the publicity that would have come with growing up in the royal palace. All that began to change at His baptism. John the Baptist had already been drawing large crowds to the Jordan River. Even the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body, was concerned enough to launch an investigation. Now the time was at hand for Jesus to begin His public ministry.

The event of Jesus’ baptism was an important occasion in His ministry. There on public display was the activity of the Holy Trinity: The person of Jesus, the voice of the Father, and the presence of the dove as the Holy Spirit. This beginning of Jesus public ministry set Him on the path to Jerusalem and His crucifixion. It is into the name of this triune God we are baptized and have life and salvation.

Personally for Jesus His baptism was not about forgiveness and the gift of faith and so it was fundamentally different from ours. His was not a baptism of repentance. John understood that Jesus had nothing to repent of. He was more than uneasy about Jesus’ request to be baptized. Only Matthew records Jesus short reply, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”1 So what does this mean?

The entire life of Jesus was substitutionary in nature. That is, He had no need of His own to assume our human nature, and suffer through the travails of this life. But He did it in our place and in our stead. Perhaps the church has done a better job of emphasizing the fact that His death on the cross was in our place that it has in teaching that His entire life involved the exchange of our weakness, ungodliness, and sinfulness, for His strength, and holiness. His baptism fits in this category. It was a display of solidarity with humanity. Already He wanted people to see that He would be shouldering their burdens and bearing their sins.

Some would argue the church has done well too in teaching that Jesus was an example of godliness; the perfect example. We learn from Christ humility, we learn from Him sacrifice, we learn from Him servanthood. His perfect obedience is the ultimate standard for all people. But Christ is more that an instructor. To believe in Christ only as an example is a spiritual dead end. Certainly we understand that He is the image of God’s holiness. And in fact God never tolerates falling below this standard. Your sin is never overlook or excused because you tried your best or did as well as you could. God is not affected by guilt-tripping. Repentance doesn’t involve the concession that you tired your best and so that will have to do. Repentance involves sorrow over the fact that you have failed. We truly deserve nothing but condemnation and our consciences should not be pacified by the idea that good intentions are good enough.

Christ, however, was and is good enough. Only He is worthy to stand before the Father. Only He has the power to forgive sins. Dear friends, nothing else compares to this power. This makes Him more than just the one who leads, He is the One who covers all our sin and pays all our debts. He is the both the payer and the payment. In the same way He is both the Shepherd and the Lamb that was slain. In Communion He is both the host at the altar and the food that is offered. He is the one who succumbed to death but also the one who conquered it. He is both the victim of the cross and the Lord of the grave- for you and for your salvation!

Perhaps you don’t believe you’ll even be able to conquer anything in your life; your fears, your confusion, your temptations, your darknesses. Things may seem to drag on without hope or resolution. But Isaiah says, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”2 God means for these trials to keep you dependent on His grace. The moment we think we are self-sufficient is the moment we become estranged from our substitute and source of life.

During the time of Napoleon, in one of the conscriptions for war, a man who was allocated to a place and did not want to go, had a friend who offered to go in his place. His friend joined up in his name, was sent off to the front, and was killed in action. Sometime later, Napoleon wanted more men, and purely by mistake the first man was allocated a second time. 'You cannot take me: I am dead,' he said; 'in such and such a battle you left me buried on the field. Look up your books and see.' They looked and found he had been killed in action. 'It must have been a substitute,' they said. 'Yes, true!' he replied, 'he died in my stead and the law has no claim on me.’

Dear friends, how much freer are we who have been acquitted and justified not by deception or technicality of law but by the genuine sacrifice and substitution of Jesus Christ.
Listen to the words of Scripture. “We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin...for we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him… in the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”3 And again, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”4

Jesus Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. Because you are baptized into His name you are covered with His righteousness. It is only His that avails before God for our salvation. The apostle Peter says today, “All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”5 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

First Sunday After Epiphany
9 January 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 3:15
2 Isaiah 42:3
3 Romans 6:6-7, 9, 11
4 Romans 10:4
5 Acts 10:43