First Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord Jan.13, 2019
Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21,22 CW-ILCW Series 19:2105
Theme: The Day God Opened Heaven
Important dates…how good are you at important dates in history? Every now and then I ask that question in Bible classes. Let’s see how well you know some important Bible dates.
Now, these aren’t exact dates but approximate dates of important events or people in the Bible. 4000 B.C. – what happened about that time? (creation). 2000 B.C. – who lived then? (Abram). 1446 B.C. – what took place that year? (Exodus). How about 536 B.C.? (return from Babylonian captivity). 4 B.C.? (birth of Christ). One last date – A.D. 1517? (Reformation).
What do these dates have in common? Each was a turning point in the history of God’s Kingdom on earth and His redeeming work in the world. You might say they marked the beginnings of or a new chapter in His saving blessings for sinners.
How about important dates in God’s dealings with you? Can you think of some special days in the past that marked great turning points in your life of faith?
For me I thought of July 7, 2007, the day God united Elizabeth and me in Christian marriage. How about July 18, 1982? (Ordination). March 19, 1967? (Confirmation). And in many ways the most meaningful of all – March 8, 1953? It was the day I was baptized, the day that meant the most to me eternally, the day God opened heaven for me. Some people might wonder how can I dare to say that.
I. To reveal a Savior more powerful than any man.
God opened heaven for me on the day I was baptized because at that moment He declared me, conceived and born in sin, holy in His sight. In baptism God washed away my sins for Jesus’ sake and made me a member of His Church. How do I know this? The Bible says: “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Ep.5:25f).
God opened heaven for me on the day I was baptized because then He clothed me in Christ, declared me to be His son, and made me an heir of eternal things. How do I know this? The Bible says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ…you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir”(Ga.3:26f).
God opened heaven for me on the day I was baptized because on that day He showed me mercy and saved me, bringing me into His kingdom of grace. How do I know this? The Bible says, “Baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt.3:21). And from the Epistle Lesson this morning: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…because of His mercy…through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Tit.3:5f).
What gracious things God did for me when I was baptized! Without baptism, I don’t know where my life might have taken me apart from Him. But in baptism He assures that I am His, He is mine, and as I remain in faith which the Spirit worked for me in Christ, I will be His forever. What a day Baptism is for all who are baptized into the Triune God. On it, God opened heaven to us!
The day Jesus was baptized, heaven opened too. But at that time heaven actually opened and was seen somehow in a physical way.
Jesus was 30 years old, about to begin the most important ministry t+his world would see. People were waiting expectantly for it to happen. Now that tells you something about the faith of at least some people in the Old Testament times.
Right before Christmas we heard in the O.T. Lessons during the Advent season that things weren’t going very well in Israel before Jesus was born. Some people were stealing from God by offering Him less than acceptable sacrifices. That’s what Malachi told us. Zephaniah showed how Israel was unfaithful and indifferent to God in chasing after idols, worshiping them in God’s own House. Things had gone so badly that through Micah God called them into His courtroom to stand trial. They had emptied their hearts of Him and filled them with greed and lust instead. The days were evil.
But not everyone had turned completely away from God, for when the time was right to send the Lord Jesus onto the scene, John the Baptizer did his preparatory work and people flocked to him. Why? Because they were waiting for something. Some were looking for the coming Messiah, others didn’t quite understand. They debated about John. Was he or was he not the longed-for Messiah? Our text began, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” John assured them he wasn’t.
Then one day Jesus came, and they knew. It became a great turning point for them all, the beginning of God’s saving work in Christ among mankind. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice from heaven spoke.”
“Heaven was opened” – what could that mean? Did people actually get a glimpse into heaven? Did they see streets of gold? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others? The angels? God Himself?
We aren’t told what became visible when the heavens were torn apart. But we can say that heavenly glory was visible at least to John for John bore witness to it later (Jn.1:29ff). He, and perhaps those present, saw the Holy Spirit come down in the form of a dove and heard the Father speaking His love of Jesus. I don’t know what they exactly saw when heaven opened, but just before God opened heaven over Jesus, John told them, “One more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” – the purifying fire of saving faith. Shortly thereafter God revealed Him, One greater than anyone else, One with divine power to save us from sin.
How great are you…good are you…able are you? People ask questions like that. They want to know your capabilities. Are you good at sports, art, dancing, etc? How great are you?
If anyone could have assumed greatness in those days, it would have been the forerunner of the Savior – John. Later on, Jesus called John, “the greatest man among those born of women” (7:28). But none, not even John, was greater than the Savior, and John knew it. He considered himself small before Jesus, as a servant to his Master, not even worthy enough to untie the sandals of Him who created and now would redeem the world.
How little we sinners are in the presence of the righteous God. We all fall short of His glory. We stumble in His presence. We are unworthy. Even our best is spoiled. But the One more powerful than any man is here. He was revealed for our comfort and hope the day God opened heaven above Him. God opened heaven…
II. …to reveal a Savior who enters our world to help us.
He enters our world to help us so that we can have a new beginning, so that we won’t be thrown like chaff into the unquenchable fire of hell because of our sin. He entered our world to carry out God’s saving plan for sinners. But even though He was greater and more powerful than we as the divine Son of God, He also took on human nature and gladly took up a spot next to us. His baptism shows it for when the people were coming to John to be baptized, He identified with them and came too, even though He had no sin to be washed away. He came with one goal in mind – to help us who were lost in sin.
It was going to get hard for him, harder than any of us will ever understand – the rejection, the whippings, the death on a cross. But that’s exactly why we needed Him, the more powerful One, who willingly endured it for us. Even when it brought Him such horrible anguish as God abandoned Him on the cross, He did not falter or give up, nor did He regret what He did. He was determined to be with us, to be one of us, to stand by our side so that He could make a new beginning for us who were fallen in sin. And it was accepted by God above. In order that we might know that for sure, God opened heaven, sent the Holy Spirit in visible form to fill Jesus with strength for the task, and declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.”
The day that happened was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It was the start of yours and my new life in Him. And now with us attached to Him in a special way through the waters of Holy Baptism, which He sanctified this day in our text for us, we are His, He is ours, and as we remain in that faith, He will be with us forever. God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.