Epiphany 1a - The Baptism of our Lord

Preached: January 19, 2014

Jesus of Nazareth Is the One and Only Messiah
Acts 10:34-38

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit focuses our faith on Jesus, our only Savior, is Acts 10.

Then Peter opened his mouth and said, “In truth I understand that God does not show favoritism. But he accepts from every nation whoever fears him and does what is righteous. The message, which he sent to the people of Israel announcing peace through Jesus Christ — this is lord of all. You know what happened throughout all of Judea, beginning in Galilee with the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him. (Acts 10:34-38).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“One size fits all.” You know that label is lying, especially when it comes to clothing. The results can look humorous, unless you're the one trying on the item. And even when there are different sizes, sometimes we still fall in between.

What about Jesus? Is he truly the Savior that fits each and every one of us? Or do some need to hold their breath to try and fit in? And does the way we treat others match the answer we know is correct?

You know and believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the one and only Messiah. He alone was sent by his Father on the mission to save sinners regardless of their ethnicity. He alone has been anointed by the Holy Spirit without measure. But does the way we treat others match that knowledge? That's something that even the Apostle Peter had to learn.

A. The Father's word invites all to Jesus regardless of their ethnicity

Peter firmly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the only Savior. He staked his life on it. Earlier he and John had been arrested for healing a cripple in Jesus' name. Peter boldly tells the Jewish Sanhedrin, “Know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed ... Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10, 12 NIV84). Jesus of Nazareth is the one and only Messiah.

But Peter and the other disciples appeared to think that Jesus fit Jews better than Gentiles. For two thousand years the Lord God had dealt directly with the Jewish people in ways he had not with any other nation, people, language, or group. He made his promises to their patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had rescued them out of Egypt. He had given them his law at Mt. Sinai. He had sent them prophets again and again. The Son of God was born a Jew.

So it's natural for Peter to think that before a Gentile could be fully welcomed into the Christian community, which at this time was made up only of those from Jewish ancestry, he should adopt Jewish practices: circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath rules, the sacrificial system, and the like. Peter well knew that doing those things did not make a person right with God or earn salvation in any measure. Jesus of Nazareth was the one and only Messiah. He alone saved sinners apart from our works. And yet God's people had been doing those things for centuries, why wouldn't new believers be expected to do them as well?

Before we shake our heads too vigorously at Peter, how often do we cling to our ways as if they had God's command? Sometimes the most heated arguments within in a congregation are about things God hasn't commanded or forbidden. That's the way we treat people we grew up with who are like us in so many ways. How difficult would it be for you to welcome someone very different? Their politics, their customs, their way of talking clashes with yours, yet they sincerely trust in Jesus as their one and only Savior. In our minds we know God's gracious acceptance, but to put that into practice when someone's manners rub us the wrong way isn't easy. It's much easier to imagine ourselves doing the right thing than actually doing it.

Deep inside us our inborn sinful nature wants to latch on to something that makes us different, makes us better than them, whoever the “them” might be. “Jesus fits all sizes but he fits me better than you.” That's the sinful nature at work within us. That's why you and I need Jesus.

God opened Peter's eyes to see that the Father's word invite all to Jesus regardless of their ethnicity. He did that through a man named Cornelius. When persecution broke out against the Christians in Jerusalem, Peter moved to Joppa along the Mediterranean coast about thirty mile northwest of Jerusalem. Cornelius was a Roman soldier, a centurion in command of a hundred men or so. He lived in Caesarea thirty miles north of Joppa. He believed in the God of Israel. He believed in the promises of the Messiah. He showed his faith by giving generously to those in need and regularly praying to the Lord. But he had not adopted Jewish practices and had not been circumcised. He was still a Gentile. And he did not know that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah he was waiting for.

A few days before the text Cornelius was praying. He saw an angel who told him to send men to Joppa to bring back Simon Peter. The next day before Cornelius's men arrived, Peter fell into a trance and God showed him a sheet filled with all kinds of animals, both those that Jews could eat, which were called clean animals, and those they couldn't, which were called unclean. He told Peter to kill and eat. Peter at first said no because he hadn't ever eaten anything impure or unclean. Then God said, “Don't call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15 NIV84).

This happened three times and then the men from Cornelius arrived. God told Peter not to hesitate to go with them. Under Jewish custom Peter shouldn't enter the house of a Gentile. But the next day he returns with them to Caesarea and enters the house of Cornelius, the believing Gentile. “Then Peter began to speak, ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all’” (Acts 10:34-36 NIV84).

Yes, Jesus and his word reign over all as Lord. The Father's word invites all to Jesus regardless of ethnicity. What a lesson for us to learn and imitate! Don't let cultural, personal, or ethnic difference get in your way. Jesus of Nazareth is the one and only Messiah for you and for all.

The Spirit's power revealed that. Peter makes that clear as he describes Jesus' earthly ministry, which brings us to part two.

B. The Spirit's power reveals Jesus as the Lord's anointed

Peter continued speaking to Cornelius and his household, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:37, 38 NIV84).

At Jesus' baptism the Holy Spirit revealed that Jesus is the Lord's anointed, the Messiah. In the Old Testament people like kings, priests, and prophets, were at times anointed with oil to show the special work God had for them. At Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit descended in a form of a dove, showing that Jesus was anointed not with mere oil but with the Holy Spirit. He was anointed to do the work only he could do: save sinners.

Contemplate the wonder. As God the Son, Jesus was one with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. As God he has all power and glory. But as man he needed the Holy Spirit working within him. So from the moment of conception onward he was anointed with the Holy Spirit without measure. With the Spirit's power, as well as with his own divine power, he carried out the work no one else could do.

He did what was right and good, and he freed sinners from the devil's power. We use to be under the devil's tyranny, slaving away for him. You and I weren't free, no matter how much humanity promotes the idea of free will. We were slaves to sin and Satan. How did Jesus free you? He gave you a new set of clothes. Rather than the dirty rags that exposed our nakedness before God, he dressed you in the gown of his good works. He clothed you with his righteousness. That's what he did for you at your baptism.

Through faith in Jesus, you continue to stand before God covered with Christ's good works. Don't worry that some of your sins might still be showing. When in comes to Jesus, one size does certainly fit all. Dressed with Jesus you are free from Satan's accusations. You are free from Satan's claim over you.

The Spirit's power is now working in you to do what is right and good. He is working in you to keep on wearing Jesus as you cling to Jesus alone as your one and only Messiah, the Lord's anointed, your Savior. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313