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Heaven Was Opened!

January 13, 2019
By Rev. David French

After the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus’s baptism is the next most important event in His ministry. With a divine epiphany, the Father opens the heavens to proclaim to those who are present at His baptism that Jesus is His beloved Son as they witnessed the Holy Spirit descending in bodily form like a dove to anoint Jesus as the Christ. This, my friends, is a very big deal in the life of Jesus, because it here that He opens the door for human beings to be adopted as God’s children.

Jesus began His ministry in the womb of the Virgin Mary. There, He took on our humanity and, even though He never sinned, He began to experience the pain and the curse of sin at that time. He endured the trauma of childbirth just as we all do. He grew up in a world where life and family and work were just as frustrating as they can be today. Even though He never sinned, Jesus carried the sin of the world for us from the very beginning of His existence as a human being.

Up until His baptism, Jesus basically carried out His ministry in a quiet, private way. A little more than thirty years has gone by since He took up our humanity. And yet, we only know about a few events and people in His life: Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, Anna and Simeon, the magi, and the teachers of the law who were astonished by His learning when He came to the temple at the age of twelve. That’s about all the Bible tells us about the first thirty years of Jesus’s life as a human being.

That all changed after His Baptism. That was the beginning of a public ministry that would bring eternal comfort to some and incredible frustration to others. He brought hope to the hopeless and challenged those who were confident in themselves. Those who loved Him, loved Him more than life itself. Those who rejected Him, hated Him to the point of plotting against His life. Jesus’s public ministry was very divisive. It divided the believers from the unbelievers. It separated the saved from the damned.

The Father’s proclamation at Jesus’s Baptism not only confirmed Jesus’s identity as the Son of God, but it also proclaimed that He is the seed who will crush the serpent’s head. The Father’s proclamation at the Baptism was not only an epiphany of the true nature of Jesus, but it was also a battle cry that this is the Savior of all mankind … the One who will save all mankind from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

The devil, however, has also been challenging these words of the Father by sowing seeds of doubt since then. As we read through the Gospels, we see that the challenges, the temptations that the opposition brought against Jesus, all had a common theme. They all attacked the idea that Jesus really is the only begotten Son of God.

In a few Sundays, when the season of Lent starts, we will read the temptation that the devil brought against Jesus. Two of the temptations begin with the words, “If you are the Son of God ….” The other temptation asks Jesus to worship the devil as God. All three temptations attack the identity of Jesus as God … the identity that the Father proclaimed at Jesus’s baptism.

Then there’s the temptation at the cross. As Jesus hung on the cross, those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Even as Jesus hung on the cross, the passers-by were still challenging the words that the Father proclaimed in this morning’s reading.

Even today, there are people who admire Jesus as a great teacher, a good example to follow … maybe even a miracle worker. Still, they draw the line at the words of the Nicene Creed: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” They simply refuse to believe that Jesus Christ is God, and so, reject the proclamation that God the Father made at the Baptism of Jesus.

But why? Why do people reject this proclamation of God the Father? Well, it seems they reject the Father’s words because believing them would mean that Jesus has authority. If Jesus really is God the Son, then He has authority over all things and all people. It means His words are the word of God, that He is the judge and savior of the world.

As judge, He tells us that our sin is something that happens in our will, not in our behavior. Our very thoughts can be, and often are, sinful. The things that we do that seem good to the world around us can still be sinful if our heart is not in the right place. We often do things not because it’s the right thing to do, but because people will notice our good deeds. The truth is, when Jesus judges us, He shows us that we are a lot more sinful than we think we are.

As judge, Jesus also knows that our sins deserve punishment both here on earth and forever in hell. He knows that we cannot stand before God on the Last Day if we are still in our sins. He knows that we would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. Our sinful will is rightly terrified and most certainly does not like to hear this teaching of Jesus the judge.

As savior, Jesus tells us that He is our only savior, that all other so-called saviors are false. As Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” As rebels, we want choices. We want ways that are more to our way of thinking. We want to be like God, and so, we want to be in charge of our own salvation.

It is the Son of God as our only savior that has the most comfort for us because, not only does Jesus proclaim our guilt and punishment, but then He takes that guilt and punishment onto Himself. Instead of pouring the wrath of God out onto us as we deserve, He takes that wrath of God onto Himself as our substitute. As Paul writes to the Corinthians: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The truth is, it’s through the very act of baptism that Jesus unites us to Himself. As the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write in today’s Epistle, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.”

Clearly the Holy Spirit working through Paul teaches that Holy Baptism delivers to us the blessings of Jesus’s work on the cross, that is, forgiveness of our sins. Paul also teaches that Holy Baptism not only credits Jesus’s life and death to our account, but by grace through faith, His resurrection also belongs to us.

In today’s Gospel we read that heaven was opened at Jesus’s Baptism. In proclaiming Jesus as His Son, God is also proclaiming eternal life through the sacrifice His Son would offer. He was announcing the victory that would keep heaven open for you and for all who bear His name.

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: Luke 3:15-22