Saturday, February 25, 2012

"When Jesus Came to Jordan"

For your convenience the scripture readings are posted at the end of the message.

Sermon:          “When Jesus Came to Jordan”          Tom Williams
Have you, like me, ever wondered why Jesus, sinless Son of God, would ask to be baptized?  Doesn’t that seem odd to you?  It has always appeared ‘backwards’ to me for Jesus to ask John to baptize him.  Are you listening, Church?
Well, I have a new insight that I’d like to share with you.
Here is the story in synopsis:  John the baptizer was preaching in the regions surrounding the Jordon.  It appears that he was one of those “hellfire and damnation” preachers when in Luke chapter three he says, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance.  Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  No sugar coating from John.  Amen?
John had been preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand.  And he was baptizing people to repentance.  And people were listening!  Sinners (yes, even tax collectors) were repenting of their sins and coming to him to be baptized.  Praise God!  There was revival taking place there along the banks of the Jordon.
Now people were beginning to ask if he, John, was the messiah.  Do you see what was happening here?   This people, the people set aside by God to be a blessing to the world, were a defeated people.  They were defeated in war and ruled by foreign powers AGAIN!  But worse than that, they were defeated in their spirits.  Instead of living in the Joy of the Lord, they were trying and failing to live under the burden of traditions and precepts that had were now enforced as law.  They listen to John and began to hope that the new Kingdom was at hand.  They were beginning to hope again.  They were beginning to look for a messiah and savior to come and free them from this downtrodden life.  I’ve been there!  Have you?
 It was at this time when Jesus came near the Jordan and heard, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”  With these words he pointed toward Jesus. 
Can you imagine the response from those crowded around John?  A lamb?  No! We want … we need … a messiah, not another sacrifice.  We have sacrificed enough!
It was then that Jesus came to John and asked to be baptized.  John, realizing what those around him had failed understand, at first refused saying that Jesus should instead baptize him. The gospel of Matthew records it this way, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordon, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 
I have to say that I would agree with John.  That seems like the proper order to me; for the sinless Son of God to be the baptizer not the baptized.  What do you say, Church?  Does that seem right to you?
But Jesus answered him,Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.   Saying in essence, “This is the right thing to do at this time.”
Okay… why?
John had been baptizing people.  Under stand he wasn’t washing them of the dirt on their bodies.  He wasn’t seeking their physical cleanliness.  He was offering an object lesson, a visual aid that was symbolic of the cleansing of their souls.  As he says, “I baptize you with water for repentance.”
Now listen, Jesus had no need to repentant and no need for his soul to be cleansed.   I’ll say it again, Jesus had no need to repentant and no need for his soul to be cleansed because He was without ‘spot or blemish’. 
Without spot or blemish was the requirement for the sacrificial lamb, the lamb to take away the sins of the people of God.  This was what was required by the Law in Leviticus for the atonement of sin.  It made Jesus the perfect of Lamb of God.
Now, in truth, according to the law, there were two lambs required.  Leviticus 16:7-10 Then he (Aaron) is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.
One lamb was slaughtered and burned as a sacrifice, a symbolic way of presenting it directly to God.  The second lamb had the sins of the people symbolically laid upon it and was then driven into the wilderness.  One lamb was an offering for sin and one for atonement.
This convergence of thinking about the two lambs and the baptism of Jesus gave me a new insight as to why Jesus said that this baptism was the right thing to do.  Jesus was not just the lamb of sacrifice, he was also the lamb of atonement.
It could be that Jesus came to John, not to have his sins washed away, but to have the sins of the world laid upon him in the same way that the sins were laid on the scapegoat.
Before I go any further I want to offer this disclaimer:  I have to warn you here that this is not something that I’ve ever seen anyone else say about this passage of scripture.  And because I don’t want to lead anyone astray, I want you to know that this is MY interpretation and you are certainly free to disagree and offer your own interpretation of these events.  I in fact encourage you to read and study for yourself.
Now, having given this disclaimer, I have to say that when this thought entered my mind, it shook me!  I believe it was a revelation of the Spirit of God because I would never have thought of it myself.
Once the thought had entered my mind that John was in fact fulfilling the Law of Atonement by placing his hands on the head of Jesus at his baptism, several other things fell into place.
·       First, it made more sense that John would call Jesus the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. 
·       Second, the wording of the gospel that says “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” coincides so well with the Old Testament command to send the scapegoat into the wilderness.
You see, it was expected that the scapegoat would be killed by predators in the wilderness.  After all, goats are herd animals and once they are cut off from the protection of the herd, they fall easy prey to the wild beasts.  In a similar way, Jesus was driven into the wilderness and set upon by the Devil seeking to destroy him as soon as he entered the wilderness.  A while back we saw a DVD with pictures of this wilderness.  Not a wilderness of forested hills with streams of water trickling through it.  No! This is a barrenness of sand and wind and sun!  Here there was no place to hide, to rest, to have shelter from the elements or the wild beasts.
Now I have to admit that because the Bible list several specific temptations set before Jesus, I used to think that those were the only times in which Jesus was tempted.  The temptation is presented in the gospels so CIVIL, it is almost a dual of wits among English gentlemen sitting in deeply padded leather chairs, while they sipped tea.
In reality, Jesus endured forty days and nights of constant bombardment by Satan.  Picture in your mind some scene from a movie where some prisoner is being tortured and interrogated.  Now imagine that torture going on without ceasing for forty days and nights!  I believe that this is a more accurate depiction of the temptation of Christ than what I previously imagined.
Mark says, “and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”  Matthew records, “He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished.”  So, Jesus was surrounded by wild beasts and waited on by angels but did not eat.  He was famished and physically weakened by his ordeal of contending with Satan.  When you are in the middle of a battle, you do not stop for a coffee break.  Amen?
What were the angels doing if they weren’t bringing him food?  Were they there to keep the beasts at bay?  I don’t know.  However, it sure paints a different picture than the images that I’ve seen in paintings.  Jesus isn’t sitting peacefully praying while angels see to his comfort.  This is a battle!  And Jesus and the angels are fully engaged in it.  If Satan were to win this battle, then he could stop OUR salvation from ever happening. 
If my interpretation is correct, Jesus is fighting this battle while he is already weighed down with our sins.  WE had handicapped him in this most important fight ever fought!  He was carrying every temptation that has ever tempted anyone … ever. 
How great a love!  Jesus could have traded OUR souls for his own release from the temptations.  That was what Satan wanted here, OUR souls.  And Jesus endured this first great battle in the ongoing war on our behalf, even knowing that the path he had to travel on earth would end in a violent and painful death on the cross.  Again I say, how great a love.
If you, like me, are feeling unworthy of that love, it is alright … we’re right … we are unworthy.  Our salvation is a free gift not a reward earned.  Our only responsibility is to ‘open’ the gift by acknowledging our NEED for the gift and thanking God for it. 
We make proclamation of our acceptance of the gift by following the example of Jesus and being baptized.  As it says in 1 Peter, “And baptism, which this prefigured, (speaking of Noah and the flood) now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”
AFTER accepting the gift, we do have the obligation to live it.  Even there we are empowered by the Spirit of God with the strength to live this new life as a child of God in His kingdom.  We also have an advocate to speak on our behalf during those time in which we fail to live as should.  How great is his love!  Amen.
New Testament:             1 Peter 3:18-22       
18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

*Gospel:                           Mark 1:9-15             
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  11And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." 
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

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