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Dear Friends in Christ,
Many have asked me if they could use me as a job reference. I am happy to do that. Sometimes I get a phone call and a brief interview; sometimes I get a form to fill out with some comments. I don’t just say I recommend someone or say I know that person. I write something complimentary. I feel honored that someone would actually ask me to verify their character. At another church, at another time, I told a woman who asked me to write a recommendation, she better wear a shawl over her head because they are expecting Mother Teresa’s twin sister.
We hear about the vetting process that takes place before someone is offered a job. Background is checked to see if there are things in people’s history that could possibly cause that person to be vulnerable to extortion or give doubts whether that could be trusted. I have to say that vetting is not a fool proof process. I find it incredible that President Clinton has been declared to the 2013 Father of the Year by the National Council on Father’s Day. I am sorry, I know there is forgiveness, but it is a slap in the face for all the hardworking and God-loving men who have always been faithful to their spouses and love their children. What kind of vetting process did they use to gather nominees? Or when the outgoing Treasury Secretary of theUnited Stateswas vetted, they found he owed $130,000 dollars in back taxes. Yet he got the position, but then when he calls on the citizens of theUnited Statesto pay more taxes, in my mind he has no credibility. Maybe we ought to collect from those who owe – like himself with you!
Frankly everyone has skeletons in the closet, except one! That’s why we are here this morning to worship him. That’s why we put our hope in him – our Lord Jesus. From the reading this morning we hear “What the Big Guns Say about Jesus.” 1) What John the Baptist says; 2) What the Father says.
Back when I was in the 5th or 6th grade the Beatles came toAmerica. Anyone who was living then, many of you weren’t, know what a stir that caused in our nation. Crowds surrounded them. Teens fainted at concerts. In fact when they had concerts it was hard to hear the Beatles of the screams of the crowds. Many parents spurned them. My Dad was the antithesis of a Beatle fan. He was old German and preferred The Six Fat Dutchman Polka Band over Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Yet it was interesting that when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show when they made their first American appearance, he watched. He complained all the while about their hair and their dress and their demeanor about their music. But he watched out of curiosity!
John the Baptist caused a national stir in Israeltwo thousand years ago. Do you think that a man of God could do that today? I doubt it, but the holy writer Matthew writes, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”
John was an impressive man. No, his church didn’t have a thousand acre campus with lots of buildings; his ministry was done at and in the Jordan River. He didn’t wear thousand dollar suits; he wore a camel hair coat with a leather belt. His diet was locusts and honey. There were no entourage and body guards. He was a simple man who was so spiritual. His message was simple. “Repent, for the kingdomof Godis here.” No wonder why “the people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.”
People make things so complicated these days. If John lived today people would probably ask “What’s your worldview?” I looked that word up to make it simple for you. “Worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.” I can’t believe someone actually wrote that. John’s world view was that the world is temporary and we need to get to heaven. Repent of your sin and know that Jesus, the one who followed me, will get you there. Trust him!
One thing John made very clear was that he wasn’t the way to heaven. “John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But 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 with fire.”
As impressive and humble and spiritual a man John was; how eloquently and truthfully he spoke about sin and the need to hear the words, “You are forgiven.” He made it very clear that he could truthfully say the words, but the One coming after him would earn it. John made it quite clear that he was a sinner like everyone else. An honest, self-effacing, and introspective look at himself made him come to one conclusion; he didn’t measure up to the Lord in heaven who called him into the ministry. But thank the Lord there is one coming a lot greater than I am – the Lord Himself in bodily form.
Sin is one of those things, like a lot of things, people don’t want to talk about. If someone is very sick and the doctors are worried, the patient often has a difficulty facing it. I don’t want to talk about it. Sort of "out of sight out of mind." We’ve all done it. Our country is a little like that too. We are in a financial mess and people don’t want to deal with the sacrifices that are going to be necessary. So let’s kick the can down the road. Out of sight out of mind!
You can’t kick sin down the road. John said, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Everyone has just a certain amount of time on this earth. The Scripture says that “it is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment.” There is a judgment.
John says that Judgment Day is like a harvest. Most of you were born in the city and probably haven’t experienced what it is like to harvest wheat or oats or some other grain. Jesus makes a comparison. Today we have combines. Prior to that there were threshing machines. Harvest of grain and wheat was done differently in the times of the Bible. Many centuries ago harvesters would flail stocks of grain and then take a winnowing fork and toss the stocks in the air. The wind would blow the chaff away while the grain would fall on the threshing floor where it would be gathered and stored. The grain that was treasured and kept represents those who know Jesus. The chaff that blows away and is destroyed represents those who don’t believe in the One who was following John. He would be not only Savior but also the Judge.
How do we know that? John said that he baptized with water. Don’t get me wrong, that is powerful and consoling. In Baptism forgiveness is conveyed to us; we are connected with Jesus; we are saved. But John says “Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The day of Pentecost was coming. You know the day – whenJerusalem would be stirred up again. Jesus would send God the Holy Spirit to come down on the city for people to see and hear and feel. The point is that if the Spirit does what Jesus says, there is only one conclusion and that is that Jesus must be God. He saves and he will judge.
I have heard people say that sermons need to interesting; they need to be relevant; they need to touch the heart. I have heard people say that they need tell me to do something. That last one kind of bothers me; they need to tell me to do something. What concerns me about that is the de-emphasis of what Jesus did to what I am to do. If all is about us doing something, we are lost. Since Jesus did it all, that’s where the doubts and uncertainties go out the window. If you really insist on the doing then might I saw simply look in the direction of the one that John pointed. If you want something to do then believe in Jesus, embrace Jesus, rely on Jesus, love Jesus, and remain faithful to Jesus. As John says, he is your God and Savior.
And the Heavenly Father says, “Ditto!” “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 came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
There are a multitude of lessons to be learned here from the Baptism of Jesus. After Jesus was baptized, the only God there is identifies himself. He is the Father who spoke from heaven; he is God the Son who is the center of attention; he is God the Holy Spirit who came down in the form of a dove. All those people who came out to be baptized by John saw this. Here is one of those passages that you can turn to so you can show people the God you worship – one God, three persons.
Another lesson is that Jesus is the Messiah. The Old Testament people knew that term. The problem was they didn’t completely understand it. Messiah means “anointed one.” Three kinds of people were anointed among the Old Testament people – their prophets, their priests and their kings. As they began their calling they were anointed with oil poured over their heads. Everyone knew that they were to be known as a prophet, priest or a king.
It seems like the nation o fIsrael thought of the Messiah to be more a king than a Prophet who preaches the word of God and a Priest who interceded for people and sacrificed animals at the temple for the people.
Jesus was anointed at his Baptism. No oil, but something far better, the Holy Spirit! He came as the king, not of just a few hundred square miles of land, but as the king of the Universe. He came as prophet to teach us what he wanted us to know about God – that people don’t have to be afraid of him because he is a God of love. He came as the priest to offer himself as the sacrifice. He was the one and only Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God the Father made it very clear that Jesus the Prophet of prophets, the Priest of priests and the King of Kings. What do you need to do? Believe in Jesus, embrace Jesus, rely on Jesus, love Jesus, and remain faithful to Jesus. That’s what the big guns want us to know about Jesus.