[Picture: The Baptism of Christ, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, public domain]

Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, 1/12/2020. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Baptism of Our Lord, click here.

Every now and again I am asked about proving the existence of God. Maybe this has happened to you as well.

But even if it hasn’t, it’s easy to understand why this seems like the place to start a discussion. Even the Bible starts, “In the beginning.” Genesis 1:1

But if Christians believe what the Scriptures say as much as we claim, we know that this might not be quite as necessary as is some think. The fact of God’s being, i.e. His existence and power, is already part of human nature.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. Romans 1:19

Folks have labeled that knowledge in all sorts of ways: as “Natural Revelation;” or “Religious inclination;” or crassly, as “The God hole.”

It doesn’t matter so much what you call it – this sense that God is – because by itself, that bare knowledge that all people possess isn’t remarkably helpful. It’s not complete. It’s not fleshed out. It leaves a host of questions; chief of which is “Who is this God?” What is this God like? What is His attitude toward me?

If the invisible nature of God, i.e. His eternal power and deity, is partially revealed in nature in something like the Sun, that fiery star at the center of our solar system, then it is likewise easy to imagine that God, too, remains at least that far away; out of reach and out of touch, in inapproachable and unquenchable Fire.

Of course, that aspect of God is partially revealed just as it is partially true. Nature does get it right in saying God is something like the Sun. You cannot reach out to God on your own; at least, not effectively. Neither can you approach Him as you are. Like the Sun, He’s not even safe to look at directly. Even to Moses, He shows only His back. (Exodus 33:19-23) And so, for all of that, you can’t really know what He’s like.

As for that question of God’s attitude, well… If nature were the only thing that ever told you what God thought of you, it stands to reason that He is opposed to you. Because in this world you will struggle and suffer and die. The created universe will pay no notice whatsoever, and the invisible and unknown God will not appear to bat His invisible eyelash.

But those who perceive God only through nature do not know Him rightly; because those who perceive God only through nature do not know Him completely. Their vision is darkened. Like the foolish Magi from the East, what they need is enlightenment.

Again, on this point, nature gets it partially right. God is at least something like the Sun; for He has given light and by that light revealed what was hidden in darkness.

To Israel He gave a pillar of cloud by day and a fire by night. To the shepherds He sent bright angels singing His glory. To the Magi He gave a star that shined in the midst of darkness. To all of you, to the entire world, He has sent His Christ – His Anointed One.

You always knew that God was not like you, and that is true as far as it goes. But now you can be comforted that God is so very much like you. Now, He is, in fact – or better: in flesh and blood – one of you.

You saw that Light at Christmas, of course. But today that same Light shines even more brightly.

Today you see that God is not only one of you, but that He is with you. Today you know that God is, in fact, on your side. That’s why Jesus is baptized.

The people have been dropping their sins off in the river Jordan; polluting the water, making it filthy and impure. And that’s okay. Not just because God told them to through His prophet, John, but because Jesus isn’t going into the water to get clean.

Jesus enters into the water today to get dirty; He goes to become polluted. He doesn’t get baptized to be saved, but rather to save. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan does not heal Him; it infects Him. He who knew no sin now bathes in sin. It is shameful and disgusting, but Jesus insists:

Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. verse 15

At the Jordan, Jesus is baptized into your death, in the name of father Adam and of mother Eve and of all their fallen children. That is to say, in His baptism, Jesus takes on all you’ve got: your sin, your death, your hell – He absorbs like a sponge, and He takes it all the way to His cross.

That is the Divine work He has come to do. That is the ministry for which Holy Spirit comes down and anoints Him. That is the cause of the Father’s beautiful and unqualified approval:

This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. verse 17

Now you who God truly is. For He has been made Man. Now you see what He is like. For He has made Himself like you. He has met you in the water.

And so, the last question answers itself: what does God think of you? He thinks the world of you.

When Jesus pulled all the sins out of the water, He cleaned it. He hallowed it. When God’s eternal Word entered the Jordan He sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. When the Word met the water of the font in your Baptism, when you were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, when the Holy Spirit descended and the Father spoke, He told you: “You are My beloved son; You are my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased.” Because in Baptism everything that belongs to Jesus belongs to you.

At that moment you saw and knew who God is. I know it seems like a lot to expect of a baby. But a child doesn’t need to understand how light works to see the world it illuminates any more than he needs to understand biology to turn to his mother’s breast in hunger.

Christ is now the Light by which you see. Christ is now the Life by which you live.

We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

That new life you live you live in Jesus. What joy and privilege is yours!

It is so full and brilliant; it can almost only be comprehended by way of comparison. There’s a beautiful moment near the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In it, Aslan (the Christ figure in the story) is arranging the creatures for battle. And out of nowhere he speaks to an ordinary old lion who was next to him, and says, “When the battle begins, we lions will be out in front.”

And this creature is overcome with joy and glee. He runs away and begins whispering to all the other animals, “Did you hear what he said? ‘We lions…WE LIONS!”

Dear Christians, Jesus numbers Himself as one of you. Not only because He once lowered Himself, but because He has raised and elevated our human nature.

Christ is with you. In flesh and bone He has come to fight and bleed and die. And so, your victory is won in Him. He has redeemed your lives and your deaths by joining you in them. God is pleased with you for the sake of Christ, your Champion. And so, you may joyfully and confidently join Him in the fray now.

You are called to be there with Him, out in front. You have no choice, really. He has bound Himself to you. Where He goes, you go.

So when you go out into the world as part of His gloriously redeemed creation, you go shining brightly, in word and deed, lighting up the world and showing them who God is; what He is like; and what He thinks of them; because of what He has done for them.

To Christ be all the glory, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

First Lutheran Church Sermon Archive


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