Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - Your Faith Rests on God's Power
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 9, 2020
Hymns 76, 387, 93 & 94, 491
First Lesson Joshua 24:14-24
Psalm 111 (page 106)
Second Lesson 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Gospel Lesson Matthew 5:13-20
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Your Faith Rests on God’s Power
I. God’s power presented with human trembling
II. God’s power proclaimed in divine suffering
In the name of Jesus, fellow sinners snatched from hell and made heirs of heaven by His work,
Winter weather permitting, a pilot takes off from north of Bay City in his small private plane to check ice conditions on Saginaw Bay. He posts his observations on his Facebook page regularly. The pilot is an avid ice fisherman who has seen too many people venture out on the ice when it’s too thin to be safe. He wants folks to be confident the ice will hold them up. If it looks like it isn’t, he warns them to stay off the bay.
The believers in Corinth were told, “You can’t be confident about what that foreigner Paul taught when he was here. His ideas lacked deep knowledge. His speaking had no power. His faith rested on a crucifixion victim!” Had the people of Corinth been deceived by Paul? Had they been given some spiritually powerless placebo? Not at all! And neither have we!
As it was for the Corinthians, so it is for you. Your faith in the Savior doesn’t rest on the thin, shifting ice of “human wisdom”, but on the rock solid foundation of “God’s power” (v. 5). That’s true even as God’s power is presented with human trembling and proclaimed in divine suffering.
I: God's Power Presented With Human Trembling
Who has the power? In our world, it’s usually not the minority race, usually not the minority party. Paul had been God’s missionary with the minority message in the metropolis of Corinth. He was very much aware of that human disadvantage when he entered the city. “When I came to you, I did not come with superior speech or wisdom…I came to you in weakness, in fear, and with much trembling” (vv. 1a,3).
Weakness? Yes! Paul couldn’t diagram step-by-step or prove with logic or show physical evidence of “God’s power” about sin and salvation. Fear? Sure! Would they assault Paul physically for saying, “You and I are sinners who will one day stand before the righteous God, your Greeks gods (Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Hera, and the rest) are just imaginary deities, the one true God is three persons in one God!”? Trembling? Of course! We know the feeling. But this isn’t the nerves of a shy guy asking
a popular girl for a date or of an athlete playing in a huge game. This was the trembling of a man who knew some of the Corinthians would mock what he said and how he looked, would mock his failure to be a clever speaker and captivating teacher.
What kind of God entrusts His power to the lips and lives of weak, nervous, trembling, sinful people? The only true God! He uses His power presented with human trembling to deliver and to deepen true faith in Him and in His work to rescue us.
Paul apparently was a short man; that’s what the name Paul means literally. Paul admittedly had a physical disability, “a thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul was clearly a less than eloquent speaker. “My message and my preaching were not marked by persuasive words of human wisdom” (v. 4). No wonder he trembled in the presence of impressive Greeks! But Paul was blessedly equipped by God with the truth of God for the deliverance of sinners. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
We are obviously not influential people in the eyes of the world; if we were, news crews would cover every service conducted here. We are admittedly condemned before God, as we confessed to begin this service. We fall damningly short of God’s demands that we be perfect in all our thinking, all our speaking, all our doings in life. We are woefully lacking in the understanding of all the truths God has given in His truth. But we are graciously given by God His power in His gospel. God’s power is about Jesus. God’s power is our salvation. God’s power on which our faith rests is solid. It’s solid not because of our believing, but because of the power of the One in whom we trust. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through the word of Christ” (Romans 1:17).
Is your faith resting on thin, shifting ice? Not in the least! It’s true that the humans from whom we’ve heard the Word of Christ are weak, fearful, trembling sinners. And it’s true that the way we feel about the Word of Christ is sometimes fervent, sometimes lukewarm, sometimes cold. But it’s not the hearer or the messenger on whom our faith rests. It’s the center of the message, Jesus and His redemption, God’s power even in our human trembling! Our faith rests “on God’s power”.
II: God's Power Proclaimed in Divine Suffering
The first few times you hear it, you think you’re going down unless you get to shore quickly. The deep, booming, echoing sound of a lake making ice as the thickening ice shifts a bit down below seems horrible. But it’s really quite a comforting sound when you know what is happening and what it means.
In a far more wonderful way, that’s the truth of this lesson. Really, that’s the main truth of all God’s Word. The world wonders incredulously, “Really? Your faith rests on a crucifixion victim? Your hope for heaven was nailed to a tree? Your so-called certainty for life with God died with criminals?” It sounds so ominous, so horrible, so hopeless. But our faith does rest on the crucifixion victim. Our faith does rest on the One nailed to a tree. Our faith does rest on Him who was executed with criminals. When we know why that happened and what that means and the light it provides, we see that our faith rests on God’s power even as it is proclaimed in divine suffering.
After spending one and one-half years as their pastor in Corinth, Paul traveled east to do mission work in Ephesus. While there, Paul heard of crippling trouble in the Corinthian congregation. Some of it was self-inflicted. Members of the congregation infected themselves with sexual relations outside of husband-and-wife marriage, with divisive attitudes and arguing, with sinful boasting, and with more that put their ideas ahead of God-pleasing unity and God-given doctrine. Paul addressed those in this letter’s
later chapters. Here Paul wrote about ridicule from outsiders who said, “Your faith rests on a loser!”
Despite what athletes and politicians say, Jesus is the biggest winner ever! That’s why Paul had entered Corinth with “no intention of knowing anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (v. 2). The One on whom our faith rests is “Jesus”, whose name proclaims what He does: the LORD saves. The One on whom our faith rests is “Christ”, which means the Anointed One. He is anointed by His Father and the Spirit for His mission for salvation. He is anointed as our Prophet to preach His rescue for sinners, as our King who rules in sinners’ hearts with the “power” (v. 5) of His Word, as our Priest who offered the sacrifice for the whole world.
What sacrifice for the whole world? Himself! “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The Priest who made the sacrifice was Himself the sacrifice. The altar was the cross where He was “crucified” for those who sin against Him.
Your faith rests on God’s power proclaimed in divine suffering. To the world that seems as weak as a quarter inch of ice, or as frightening as booming, thickening ice. But when God’s Word describes God’s power in His suffering, in “Jesus Christ…crucified”, God’s power shows us what really happened, what it really means, what blessings it eternally gives.
The culture in which the Greeks lived is just like the culture in which we live. It’s the culture that’s polluted the world ever since the devil’s lie at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sin isn’t so bad. You need to find out for yourself what works for you, what feels good for you. Try it and see if it’s a decent fit. You can save yourself. That is rebellion against the God who made the world and who rules the world.
That culture and rebellion combine to separate sinners from the holy God. Sinners can’t undo that separation. So Jesus took on our sins at the cross and made the full payment for them. The Corinthians were being told they should be ashamed of the One who hung on a cross. God used Paul to show them, and to show us, that what we should be ashamed of is our rebellion against Him, and that what need to trust is His redemption for us.
Christ was crucified not as a helpless criminal, but as the mighty God, suffering in our place the punishment worse than physical crucifixion – the horror of hell for every trespass. Christ sacrificed Himself as true man, the Substitute for sinners, and as true God, the divine “power” to remove all guilt.
Our faith rests on all of that – God’s power even as it centers on divine suffering. His Church’s work is, like Paul’s resolve, to center on preaching and teaching and promoting and supporting no message and no mission other than “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Our faith rests “on God’s power” so it’s absolutely certain, the spiritual equivalent of walking on three feet of clear ice. The Church isn’t built by shaming people into joining, luring people with silly contests or bogus predictions, forcing people with threats. God changes the hearts of sinners with His message about “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (v. 3). That power – used even by trembling, sinful humans – works in the infant, in the mentally challenged, in the ungodly, in all.
Is it the pastor? Or the Lord? Is it a cleverly crafted sermon? Or the purely presented Gospel? I hope you never think, “The pastor held my interest today!” May we always confess, “God’s message today helps my walk of faith!” Our faith rests on “God’s power” (v. 5)! And what is God’s power? The message from, and about, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Amen. Pastor David A. Voss
First Sunday after the Epiphany – the Baptism of Our Lord
First Sunday after the Epiphany – the Baptism of Our Lord
January 12, 2020
Hymns: 46, 89, 38, 68
First Lesson: Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 45, (page 83)
Second Lesson: Acts 10:34-38
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 3:13-17
Understand the Baptism of Our Lord
I. It announces Him as our Substitute
II. It anoints Him as the Lord’s choice
In the name of Christ, the world’s only Savior and thus the Light to lighten us Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel, fellow sinners redeemed by who Jesus is and what Jesus does,
How are we Lutheran Christians supposed to explain this lesson? Others have questions about the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Why do you Lutherans baptize infants? What good does water from an ordinary faucet do? Why don’t you baptize by immersion the way Jesus was baptized? This lesson seems to show that we should not baptize infants, but wait until people become adults, like Jesus waited; that we shouldn’t use ordinary water, but use some special water from the Holy Land, like John used; that we should dunk the baptized person completely under water, like Jesus was. Or was He? Stay tuned.
We confess that in Holy Baptism the powerful Word of God works with plain water to change eternally even infants. Others object, But infants can’t do anything to change their lives! We respond, Exactly! In Holy Baptism God does all the work to change sinners! But then how do we explain the baptism of our Lord? He didn’t need any changing! He didn’t have any sins to be washed away! So why was He baptized?
The Lord doesn’t confuse us here. The Holy Spirit blesses us by having us stop at the Jordan River today. The Holy Spirit strengthens us for daily life by showing us today Jesus being baptized. The Holy Spirit fills us today with His instruction, not our ideas, about the baptism of our Lord. It announces Him as our Substitute, and it anoints Him as the Lord’s choice.
I It announces Him as our Substitute
We can understand why John the Baptist objected to Jesus’ request that John baptize Him. John had recently refused to baptize Pharisees and Sadducees who had made the trip to the rugged region of the Jordan to hear John and be baptized by John. “You refuse to repent of your sins! You offspring of vipers (Matthew 3:7)! You won’t even admit that you anger God!”
Then John declared Jesus to be the promised Messiah, confessing, “I am not worthy to carry His
sandals” (Matthew 3:11). After that, Jesus came “to be baptized by John” (v. 13), who said, “How can I baptize You? Everyone I’ve baptized has repented of sins. You have no sins. You have no need to be baptized!” No wonder “John tried to stop Jesus, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?” (v. 14).
The Savior ended the discussion with one sentence. “Let it be so now, because it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). Jesus coming to John to be baptized was all about sin; but not Jesus’. It was about the world’s sins – John’s, mine, yours. Ever since Adam and Eve, sinners have supposed that “righteousness” before God is theirs to earn. But sinners can never do enough, can never do anything!, to get right with God.
When the Holy Spirit gives us insight into His word “righteousness”, He gives us the key to much of His truth! God’s “righteousness” condemns sin and demands punishment for those who disobey Him. God is right when He does that. But God’s “righteousness” also delivers sinners and saves them by His work for sinners. Jesus is our “righteousness”.
For the thirty years before His baptism, the Son of God – the son of Mary, too – had been working for our “righteousness”. He had been obeying His own law with His ordinary, but holy, life. At His baptism, Jesus began the public phase of His work, and showed He was heading to His suffering and death.
Those aspects of Christ’s redeeming work were done for us and in our place. From infancy, He kept His own laws perfectly every day, every hour, every minute, every second with everything He did, said, and thought. He wants sinners to claim His righteous living as their own. At His baptism, Christ showed Himself to the world as the One of whom we sing today, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He agreed to take on the weight of our sins by His suffering as our Substitute. All that “fulfilled our righteousness”.
We understand the baptism of our Lord correctly when we see Him presenting Himself for baptism to announce Himself as our Substitute. He had no sins to forgive, but He was baptized to show His willingness to be our Substitute. Jesus stands next to us sinners in Baptism where we receive personally the forgiveness He won for the world! His baptism is powerful proof that our baptism connects us to Him! Our baptism wasn’t some cute ceremony when we were babies. It was the power of God by which He established His kingdom in our hearts for an eternal relationship with us! “God made Him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ’s Baptism announced that He is our Substitute to do just that!
II It anoints HIm as the Lord's choice
All the Bible gives us about the life of Jesus from three years old to thirty is His appearance at the temple when He was twelve. But Jesus wasn’t twiddling His thumbs during those years, waiting for the salvation action to start; He was living in perfect holiness for us. At thirty He began publicly to preach and teach, help and heal, perform miracles and endure our hell. Who said He should do that, that He could do that? Understand the baptism of our Lord! It anoints Him as the Lord’s choice to do all that.
Was Jesus immersed at His Baptism? Many insist immersion is the only baptism that has any power, and point to Christ’s baptism as proof. What God says here is simply, “He…went up out of the water” (v. 16). That could mean Jesus raised His body up after being completely under water. It could mean Jesus walked up the riverbank after wading in where John had put water on His head. The word for
“baptized” (v. 13) means to apply water, without specifying how water is applied.
The important point from the baptism of our Lord isn’t how the water was applied, but that He was anointed. It wasn’t with oil, used for centuries to anoint Israel’s priests and kings. It was with water, muddy water, from the Jordan River. More important, Jesus was anointed also with the Holy Spirit. “Suddenly, the heavens were opened for Him! He saw the Spirit of God, descending like a dove and landing on Him” (v. 16), which is why we use a dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. This let Jesus know He had special power for His saving work.
Did Jesus really need anointing by the Holy Spirit? Hadn’t He had the Spirit ever since the Spirit miraculously conceived Jesus in Mary’s still-virgin womb? Yes! But here Jesus was assured He had the very special gifts He needed for His mission as He publicly stepped forward to complete His mission!
This was a public way for the Spirit to say to the Son what we heard earlier, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on You: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2). And later in Isaiah, “the Spirit of the LORD God is upon You, because the LORD has anointed You to preach good news to the afflicted” (Isaiah 61:1).
Understand also that the baptism of our Lord showed Jesus was approved by the Father in heaven. This was the first time the Father said, “This is My Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with Him” (Matthew 3:17). The second time was at Christ’s transfiguration. See the significance? Here at the beginning of Christ’s public work, then near the end of His redemption mission, His Father told the world, “He is My Chosen One!”
Security guards allow only authorized people to enter secure areas; you need credentials issued by authorities to prove that you are who you say you are and that you should be going where you are going. The baptism of our Lord is one of Christ’s many credentials, showing Him as the authorized choice of the Father, and as the One equipped by the Spirit, to go to the cross to deliver the world from sin, Satan, and hell.
What needed approval for Christ’s human nature! Imagine His enemy in hell whispering to Him for thirty years, “You’re the world’s Redeemer?!? Look at You here in Podunk Nazareth. You are a good boy. An obedient teen. A faithful son. A nice man. But You are not the world’s Savior! See Your lowly life? Your Father in heaven has forgotten all about You! Give up!” Now hear His Father in heaven shout from heaven, “This is My Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with Him.”
How powerful for Him who heard that that day, and for us who hear that this day! When Satan and unbelievers tell us there is another savior so we can let go of Jesus, shut him up and respond to them with this heavenly approval by the Father!
Understand the baptism of our Lord as the important event to anoint Jesus publicly as the Lord’s choice to rescue sinners. God never says about sinners, “With you I am well pleased!” God says just the opposite about us, “You have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But in His Son Jesus He sees us as forgiven, righteous, redeemed. Through faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit, we know all of that is most certainly true for us, and has been given to us sinners. Jesus wasn’t left alone – and neither are we! He is the Lord’s choice to win our adoption as God’s children now and forever!
There are still details about the baptism of our Lord that baffle us. But what we need to know is most
certainly clear here. The baptism of our Lord announces Him as our Substitute. His anointing with the Spirit and His approval by the Father show Christ to be God’s choice to save us. Thanks to God, all our sins lie on Him, and none remain on us! In that repentant, rejoicing spirit, communicants, come to receive further assurance of that in that sacrament. In that triumphant, rejoicing spirit, Christians, go forth to live in peace with God and to share Christ with others. Amen. Pastor David A. Voss