Baptized into Grace (Matt. 3:13-17)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Baptism of Our Lord + January 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

If you follow the news, it can be overwhelming—shootings, bombings, betrayals of trust, and political unrest (just to name a few).  One common theme in all of these is the thirst for justice.  We want to see ISIS destroyed, school shooters disarmed, and drunk drivers driven off the road. When we are attacked, robbed, betrayed—we want blood.  Terrorist attacks, a child is taken advantage of, a spouse is found to be unfaithful—we want vengeance.  It’s even irksome when we hear that the shooter was killed in the act because we want to see them face the penalty their crimes deserve—and slowly.

 

For as deep-felt and powerful as our anger is; God’s is more intense.  God is out for blood too:

 

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:5)

Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. (Ps. 18:8)

The soul who sins shall surely die. (Ezekiel 18:20)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

 

As much as we would like God’s wrath to be directed out on all those people, God shows no favorites.  “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5-6)  Every one of us has aroused the wrath of God, by our actions, our words, and even the thoughts of our heart.

 

In the Passion of Christ, the wrath of God against sin was unleashed.  The sun withheld its light,[1] the heavens which once opened to declare Him the beloved Son of God were closed and silent,[2] and the cup of God’s wrath is drunk down to the dregs.[3]  It is the day the prophets foretold:

 

That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts,

a day of vengeance,

to avenge himself on his foes.

       The sword shall devour and be sated

and drink its fill of their blood.

       For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice.[4]

 

Yes, vengeance!  Yes, blood!  But look at that last half of the verse.  All the righteous wrath of God against ungodliness was borne by Jesus.

 

“Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  When Jesus receives baptism in the Jordan, He takes up all of the unrighteousness of men, so that in exchange the baptized receive all His righteousness.  That means all the wrath against them is removed.  God no longer holds their sins against them because justice has been done—on the cross.

 

After an atrocity is carried out, we often wonder why God allowed it to happen and didn’t destroy the guilty.  Where is the wrath of God against Islamic militants who slay Christians?  Where is the Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone over immorality in our country?  Where was God when that maniac shot up the airport in Ft. Lauderdale?  It’s because of Jesus that God does not immediately destroy the wicked.  Instead, He is longsuffering and preaches to all, wanting them to turn from their wickedness, repent and live.  In the Old Testament lesson, we heard that “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isaiah 42:7), but justice on the earth is the justice of Christ crucified to save the sinners.

 

That says something to us too, as those who are baptized into Christ.  God, the Righteous Judge, has satisfied His vengeance.  Where, then, is there room for our anger and our thirst for blood?  If God is patient toward those who are foolish or those who persist in their evil, how can we go beyond Him?  How can we hold a grudge, when God went to such lengths to forgive even the whole world?

 

In that way, it is fitting for us to fulfill God’s righteousness, by living in His beloved Son.  By acknowledging that God is patient even the most hardened of sinners, we confirm that He has put away our sins.

[1] Isaiah 13:10

[2] Deuteronomy 11:17

[3] Psalm 75:8

[4] Jeremiah 46:10

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