Epiphany 1b: The Baptism of our Lord

Preached: January 11, 2015

The Best Substitute Ever
Mark 1:4-11

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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 draws us to Jesus is Mark 1.

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:4-11 NIV11)

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

Cardale Jones started the year as a third string quarterback. But after the two ahead of him were injured, he made his first college start in the Big Ten Championship game. Many did not give his team much of chance. How good could a third string quarterback be? But he led his team to a 59-0 victory over Wisconsin and was named the MVP of the game. That wasn't the end of the story. In his second college start, his team defeated #1 ranked Alabama, and tomorrow Ohio State led by Cardale Jones, that former third string quarterback, plays for the national championship.

In our sporting world substitutes are rarely as good as the starters. That's why they're subs. That's why Cardale Jones sounds like a Cinderella story. But as happens so often, the Bible takes an idea we know, like substitution, and brings home to us a much deeper truth. Jesus is our Substitute.

Now it wasn't that we were doing our best but got injured, so he had to step in. And it wasn't that we were having a bad streak and needed a break. No, we were total and utter failures, continually and always. He came to take our place, completely. He is your Substitute. His Baptism shows that. And unlike sport substitutes, Jesus is the greatest there ever was or will be. He is the best Substitute ever. For you see, he came in for all sinners, even the worst. And he makes us winners against the Adversary.

A. He came in for all sinners, even the worst

The text begins, “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 NIV11). See how clearly the goal or purpose of baptism is laid out. It's “for the forgiveness of sins.” Baptism brings forgiveness. Therefore, Jesus was baptized because he needed forgiveness. I didn't misspeak there. You heard it correctly. Jesus was baptized because he needed forgiveness.

“But Pastor,” you could object, “Jesus had no sin. He was holy and sinless. At Christmas we talked about the holy Child of Bethlehem. Not even his enemies could prove him guilty. The Bible is very clear that he never sinned.” And you are right. Jesus is the sinless Son of God. He never sinned, not even once.

Yet he, nevertheless, needed forgiveness--not for his own sins since he had none, but for all the sins that had been counted against him. For you see, he substituted himself for sinners. He came in for all sinners, even the worst. So all the sins of the world were laid on him, counted against him, marked on his record. That's how thoroughly he took our place. He so identified with us that he submitted to baptism to wash away our sins as if he himself had committed them and needed forgiveness. That's how fully, how thoroughly, he became our Substitute.

Now we so easily pass by that word “Substitute” and fail to value the depth of Jesus' love conveyed in that one word. And what a sin that negligence is! Our sin isn't just the big, bad stuff that makes the news. We sin when we fail to fully and continually treasure all that our God has done for us both physically and spiritually. If that failure doesn't seem so bad, realize that you're not merely hurting a human being, but snubbing the almighty God himself. How great our sin! It's not an injury, but a fatal wound, an incurable disease, a death sentence.

But Jesus is your Substitute. He is the best Substitute ever. He has come in for you, dear sinner, for even your worst sins. He was baptized because he needed forgiveness, forgiveness for your sins and mine--oh, how he identified with us!--forgiveness for all the sins of world, for they were all laid on him the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.

How could baptizing with water bring such great forgiveness? Yes, Mark 1:4 promises that it's a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But what gives it that power to forgive? Even as his baptism marks the start of Jesus' public ministry, the answer to that question takes us to the end of his ministry: Why does baptism forgive? Because of the blood of Christ poured out on the cross for you. That's the power. His baptism shows him substituting himself for us, having our sins counted against him so thoroughly that he needed forgiveness because of our sins. The cross shows the result. Because he substituted himself for us, he died. He died as the punishment we had justly earned. He died in our place, so that his holy, precious, sinless blood truly pays for your sins and mine. It truly pays for all the sins of the world. For he came in for all sinners, even the worst. He is the best Substitute ever.

And all this came to you, dear Christian, at your baptism. You were baptized into Christ. You became his, and he became yours. He is your Substitute Your sins became his, and his forgiveness became yours. He is your Substitute. Your failures became his, and his victory became yours. How much for us to ponder and give thanks for as we see Jesus baptized like us, for he is our Substitute.

How great our Substitute! He gives us his victory, which makes us winners. That brings us to the second part today.

B. He makes us winners against the Adversary

Do you remember what Jesus did after he was baptized? Mark tells us in the verses after the text: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12, 13 NIV84). The name “Satan” means “adversary.” And he is our adversary as well.

You know the outcome. Jesus defeated every temptation. He did not sin, not even once. As true God he had power over Satan. But remember that during his earthly ministry, Jesus did not make full use of his divine power. He faced temptation as true man, tempted in every way as we are yet without sin. And what happened at his baptism greatly strengthened his human nature during this confrontation in the wilderness. When Satan began his temptations with the phrase “If you are the Son of God ...” insinuating there was some doubt about it, Jesus could think back to his Baptism. With all sureness and certainty he could say, “Yes, I am the Son of God. For the Father himself declared, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11 NIV11).” He could remember the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and know with all sureness and certainty that the Spirit was at work strengthening his human nature to fully and completely resist Satan. And Jesus won.

In baptism, he makes us winners against this Adversary. Remember your baptism when Satan tempts you in the wilderness of this life. Remember you were baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That's why we don't hid the font in a corner. It's out here in front to help each of us remember our baptism.

When Satan tempts you to doubt God's love, when your sins seem to big to be forgiven, when you feel so isolated and alone, even abandoned by those closest, remember your baptism. You were baptized into Christ. Say: “I am God's own child. He washed away even my greatest sins and adopted me into his family. In baptism the Father himself said, ‘You are my dear child, reborn into my family. How dearly I love you! I will take care of you, for you are my son and my daughter through faith in Jesus. You are not alone. You are family.’”

When Satan tempts you to give in to sin, when you feel too weak to resist the bad, or when the good things God has prepared for you to do seem too difficult, remember your baptism. You were baptized into Christ. Yes, like John the Baptist, the pastor only had the power in himself to pour water. But even as the pastor poured the water on your head and spoke the words, Jesus himself poured out the Holy Spirit on you. That's what John said, “I baptize you with water, but he (referring to Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8 NIV11). Even as the Holy Spirit descended at Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit filled you at your baptism. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Why pollute it with sin? He is powerfully at work in you to resist the bad. He is powerfully at work in you to will and to act according to God's good purpose. Don't resist the Spirit or frustrate his effort. But fan the flame with God's word and sacraments.

When Satan tempts you to neglect the words of your Savior, to wander from him, to take his work for you for granted, remember your baptism. You were baptized into Christ. He came as your Substitute, and what a substitute he is! Not even John was worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals. But our great God and Savior, the eternal Son of the Father, stooped down to be your Substitute, dear friend. Believe and do not doubt. Sinner though you are, he came as your Substitute. For he came in for all sinners, even the worst. And he makes you a winner against the Adversary. Keep on believing, so that you do not now lose what your Substitute has won for you. Believe that he is the best Substitute ever. Amen.

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

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

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

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