Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
There is no greater story then someone emerging from the humblest of backgrounds that eventually changes the world.
A number of years ago there was a girl born to a teenage mother in small-town Mississippi. This girl’s mother was a housemaid. This girl was so poor growing up that she had to wear Potato sacks for clothing, as all the other children made fun of her. At the age of 9, this girl was sexually abused. At the age of 13, this girl ran away from home. At the age of 14, this girl got pregnant but lost the child shortly after birth. This girl then turns her life around, becomes an Honor Student in both high School and college. Shortly after College, this girl lands her dream job as a TV Anchor in Baltimore, Maryland only to be fired after several months with the station executives declaring that “she was unfit for TV”. This woman though soon found a TV format that better suited her style, which allowed for more ad-lib and free-flow. This woman would eventually become one of the most well-known and richest women on the planet. This woman’s name is Oprah Winfrey.
The US Presidency, in my lifetime, has been occupied by the son of a shoe-salesman and a homemaker from the small village of Tampico, Illinois who is Ronald Reagan. While another President was born three months after his father died in a car-crash, then his mother would remarry a man who was an alcoholic and a spousal abuser. The child from these humble begins was Bill Clinton. These are just three stories of people from unlikely backgrounds changing the world.
These stories are not unlike today’s Gospel reading which deals with people from unexpected backgrounds being called by God to change the world. Today’s Gospel is the calling of the disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Digging into these men’s background we find some interesting things. Jesus encounters these men in the town of a Capernaum a town of a thousand people that very few people had even heard. These men were odd choices as Jesus’ earliest of followers since they were not educated men or religious scholars, in all probability these men couldn’t even read. These men had no influence, or money, there most notable skill was that they were fishermen. Yet this wasn’t even all that unique a skill because the whole economy of the area of Capernaum was centered on fishing. These men were not uniquely good at fishing, as their nets were unable to produce any fish on that day.
Why Jesus would have chosen these men doesn’t make any sense. Peter! Peter lacked courage, when Peter would later be asked if he knew Jesus upon Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied knowing him three times. James! And John! Here Jesus was choosing a couple of hot heads. Later in Jesus’ Ministry, after not be received by a village of Samaritans, James and John got so worked up that they ask that Jesus would consume the city with fire. James and John were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder. Andrew! He made no sense either, when Jesus would give sermons later on his ministry such as on “why bad things happen to people” in John 9, Andrew failed to get the point of his sermon. On the night of his arrest- Andrew was supposed to be on watch for people to come to arrest Jesus, only for Andrew to fall asleep within the first hour. For if one were to just look at the calling of these men in the moment of our Gospel to be Christ’s disciples, this move seems to be the epitome of foolishness. These men probably hadn’t traveled more then a few miles from home in their entire life, yet now they were being asked to change the world. For it might have seemed everything that God would want as a leader in his church, the disciples lacked. Yet, years down the line something funny happened. Immediately after Jesus’ rose from the dead something came over these men, so that where as days prior they were hiding for their life, these men were willing to travel to every corner of the earth under threat of death saying that the one who promised to make them fishers of men, had risen from the dead for their salvation. The disciples after being bumbling, stumbling, and uneducated cowards had become great speakers, who Christ chooses on this day to start his Church.
This idea of God calling the unexpected was not a new one. God had previously called whose personal faults seemed to disqualify them. The scriptures describe Noah as a drunk, yet God used him and his family to save the world from a great flood. Moses murdered an Egyptian, but God used him to deliver and rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians and lead them to the Promised Land. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, but God turned him into Israel’s greatest king. Jonah openly ran from God’s call so fiercely that he ended up in the Belly of a Whale. Then there is Paul. Paul held people’s coats, as they stoned Stephen to death for confessing the Christian Faith. Paul is described as seeing to it that Christians were arrested, and Paul describes himself as persecuting Christians more then anybody else. Yet Paul became the Christian church’s greatest missionary. Paul wrote more books of the Bible then anyone else, thereby shaping Christianity forever. For it was only through the most magnificent of sinners in Paul that people could understand the Christian Gospel.
The idea of God using flawed, ordinary people to do God’s work is one I can attest in my own life. When I was three years old, I had such a bad speech impediment; I had to begin therapy in Pre-School. Making R and L sounds just doesn’t come naturally for me. When I was nine-years old, I was talking to a very kind man, who was my Speech Therapist, named Mr. Kelly. Mr. Kelly asked me “What I wanted to be when I grew up”? I replied that I wanted to be a Sports Broadcaster. Mr. Kelly at that moment proceeded to inform that a job with that type of public speaking wouldn’t be possible with my speech impediment. When I was in Seminary, my advisor Jim Boyce proceeded to inform me that my nerves causing me to stutter would be an almost impossible obstacle to overcome within a Congregation. When I first started preaching, I would have bad stomach aches on Sunday morning before having to face a congregation to hopefully deliver so small bits of wisdom into people’s lives. I can speak first hand to how the tasks placed before so many of us are not going to be easy or even realistic.
I remember when I was in Seminary; Luther Seminary had a mission statement which declared that “God could use someone like you”. This campaign was developed by the Seminary’s marketing people and would always seek to find the most photogenic, attractive people it could to be front and center of this campaign. The only exception to this would be when they would feature people from parts of the world that Lutherans generally knew nothing about it. There was something that I noticed about the people that were front and center of these campaigns. They might have been nice enough, smart-enough, and hard-working enough to be effective Pastors. Yet they often went through life having everything handed to them on a Silver-Platter, receiving every blessing that youth, polish, and attractiveness often brings. Yet when I talked to these people, I noticed a seeming inability to really understand the muck and mud of life, to understand loneliness when you’ve never been lonely, to understand heartbreak with better options seemingly around the next corner, to understand job struggles when people are always going to want to hire you. As I think back to all this perhaps the calling of simple fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John begins to make sense. It’s a story of how the Gospel is best understood the most ordinary of people, who live the most common of lives, who retain the ability to not get a head too high in the clouds, because they would never forget going on home on days without catching any fish.
Why do Peter, Andrew, James, and John decide to leave behind all that they ever know to follow Jesus? We know that Capernaum was the area that Jesus had moved to after his temptation in the Desert at the hands of the Devil. So perhaps there was a relationship established with Peter, Andrew, James, and John that caused them to come to trust Jesus’ words. This wouldn’t be a bad outcome to the story as it encourages us to build relationships as a way to further the Gospel. Yet perhaps something more interesting and even more significant is at work here during this story. Perhaps the reason why Peter, Andrew, James, and John drop everything that they had ever known to follow is because they had been overwhelmed in the moment. Perhaps something came over them in their encounter with Our Lord in this moment so that they didn’t think about acting; they just believed it was what they were being called to do. Jesus didn’t promise the Disciples any great earthly benefit or success if they followed his calling. They were being asked to do the most radical thing imaginable in leaving behind all that they had ever known to face the unknown. Yet that’s the thing about a Calling it doesn’t promise to be easy, it doesn’t promise to bring great earthly success, yet a calling presents itself in an almost unexplainable way that we can make a difference in the world whether we are fishermen, teachers, mechanics, or factory-workers.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John the men that Jesus calls today to be his disciples didn’t come from the most sterling of backgrounds nor did they have standout abilities. They weren’t great religious scholars who immediately grasped the point of every sermon that Jesus ever gave. These men didn’t have the greatest work ethic, or great courage with nerves of steel. Yet God called them to be the people, he used to start the Christian church. For the thing about the Disciples is they were not unlike the flawed, ordinary forgiven sinners that Christ calls to serve him everyday. It is must be true what they say “God can use someone like you”. Amen
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Week, we were having a brief discussion about sermons here at Sychar during the Board of Worship. During this discussion, I made mention that I was going to be preaching on today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 3 on the Baptism of Jesus. A suggestion was made that I spend this Sunday speaking about “What Lutherans believe about Baptism”, due to this woman admitting that most of us didn’t pay really good attention during Confirmation.
Yet as soon as I heard the request to speak about what we believe about Baptism in relation to Jesus’ Baptism. I had to state an important point in that the reason that Jesus got baptized at the age of thirty and the reason we get baptized generally as infants; has no connection. When we try to compare Jesus’ Baptism to our own Baptism, we are comparing Apples to Oranges, or life on Mars to life on Earth.
This leads us to the first question for this morning. “Why did Jesus go to John to get baptized?” Was Baptism present in the Old Testament?
Our lesson begins with the following words:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tries to deter him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”-Matthew 3:13-14
Note in these verses John the Baptist’s initial shock at being asked to complete the task of baptizing the Son of God. John considered himself to be unworthy. John didn’t really see how his Baptism applied to Jesus since it was centered on the idea of washing away one’s sinful state; John recognized right away that Jesus wasn’t a typical applicant for his Baptism.
I think as we seek to understand the meaning of Jesus’ Baptism this morning it is helpful to understand the history behind John’s Baptism explained by the Old Testament which helps us understand how we should contrast it from Christian/Lutheran Baptism explained by the New Testament.
One of the big themes within the Old Testament was a huge distinction within worship between those who were clean and unclean. For example if a man touched bodily discharge or fluid that made it’s way to a bed that man would not have been able to enter a worship space without a ritual washing. This ritual washing would always take place in the form of a bath.
Another type of uncleanliness would be disease. In the Book of 2 Kings comes a story that I will eventually test the Confirmation students on where the Syrian Commander Namaan contracts the skin disease of Leprosy. Leprosy would have also kept a person from being welcomed in God’s house. Yet when Namaan seeks to go find the prophet Elisha, Elisha gave Namaan the command to cure his skin condition by dipping himself several times in the Jordan River. At which point Namaan’s Leprosy would be healed in a type of Baptism.
This brings us to John the Baptist. John’s Baptism was quite a bit different than ritual washing as a means to end uncleanliness. John’s Baptism was focused around repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist spent most of his life living in the wilderness, living apart from the traditional spaces of religious worship. John’s outreach was spent mostly reaching out to the lower classes who were the types of people who were often excluded from God’s House on account of their poverty.
The way that people typically had in generations past received the pronouncement of the forgiveness of their sins was they would buy an animal and bring it to the Temple so that the Priest would perform a ceremonial sacrifice on their behalf. But due to the distinction within the Old Testament about clean and unclean an animal had to be inspected and deemed ritually pure before it would constitute an acceptable Temple sacrifice. So buying clean animals was expensive, even today if someone were to visit a Jewish restaurant that keeps Kosher, the food will be more expensive due to the thorough inspection process an animal must undergo to be determined to be clean. The key point about the origins of John’s Baptism is it provided a sharp contrast against the Rabbis of the day by claiming that there was a way to God outside of the Temple system, and outside of traditional religious means.
So this brings us to the question of utmost importance to our lesson in “why was Jesus baptized?’
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”-Matthew 3:15
So we know the reason that Jesus had to get baptized was “to fulfill all righteousness”. There are a few points that need to be stated here.
1. The first point is in regards to the age of Jesus getting baptized at thirty. Our Baptist friends think this is important. I’ve heard the objection to Infant Baptism on more than one occasion that “remember Jesus was baptized as an adult.” This is true (no doubt). But why be baptized at the age of thirty? It couldn’t have been for insufficient religious knowledge. At the age of twelve, Jesus was able to walk into the Temple and amaze the greatest religious scholars of his day. John couldn’t get the reason for Jesus’ Baptism since he saw no sin in him to indicate he was turning over a new leaf in life. It makes no sense that Jesus got baptized as a means of publically stating his faith in front of an audience, since this seemed to be pretty on display at the Temple at the age of twelve. Something else is at work here, perhaps it is explained by the 4TH chapter of Numbers describes thirty being the traditional age to enter the Priesthood. And a couple of additional things that one had to do to properly enter the Priesthood according to the Old Testament were to be washed with water along with anointed with oil to symbolize the blessing of the Holy Spirit. When one digs deeper into this background information. It begins to make sense why we have little to no details of Jesus’ life from the age of two to the age of thirty. His ministry was only going to begin with a proper initiation into it or “a fulfillment of all righteousness.”
2. Jesus’ existence is radically different from ours in that he needed to fulfill the Law such as a proper initiation into the Priesthood. One of the toughest things for Christians and Non-Christians to do is to get the Old Testament to understand its meaning. The Old Testament has a lot of strange laws in its pages. The people of Israel are told not to eat pork, so Jesus didn’t eat pork. The people of Israel are told not to eat Shellfish, so Jesus didn’t’ eat Shellfish. The people of Israel are told not to mix meat with dairy, so Jesus didn’t mix meat with dairy. The Old Testament is filled with all sorts of seemingly strange laws dealing with touching animals, offering proper incense in worship, even mixing fabrics on one’s clothing. Yet the whole point of the Gospel/the Ten Commandments and any other strange law within the Old Testament’s pages is that Christ would end of the demands of the Law. Christians have been set free through to the cross to take confidence in one’s salvation because it is about what God has done for you, not what you must do for God. While there might be plenty of good reasons not to eat a Cheeseburger or Bacon (I can’t think of any, but this is what I’ve heard) because of death and resurrection these reasons have nothing to do with your salvation. This has been recognized since the earliest days of the Christian church.
This leads to a final question. What is the relationship between John’s Baptism and Christian/Lutheran Baptism?
John the Baptist would baptize people several times; John even had followers who underwent daily Baptism rituals. Christian Baptism was different from John’s Baptism in it’s invocation, Christian Baptism always occur in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The difference between John’s Baptism and Christian Baptism is on display in the 19th chapter of the Book of Acts where the Apostle Paul came across some disciples of John the Baptist who had been baptized by John, but had not yet heard of the Holy Spirit. At this point in time, they are rebaptized by Paul in the name, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained to John’s followers that John’s Baptism was merely pointing the way to one that would come after him in Christ Jesus.
Paul in Romans the 6th chapter states the true nature of Christian Baptism in contrast to John’s Baptism when he says:
“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.”
John the Baptist even drew a distinction between the inadequacy of his baptism and the baptism to come in Christ Jesus when he said:
“That he only baptized with water, but the one to come after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
If one were to seriously study the New Testament they could in no way conclude that Christian/Lutheran Baptism and John’s Baptism served the same purpose or possessed the same meaning. Since Christian Baptism was only given it’s origins through the death and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The key point to understand the comparison between Jesus’ Baptism and our Baptism is our Baptism has nothing to do with following Christ’s example. Our Baptism is rather centered on the unique promises given by God within Baptism. The declaration given by God is really no different then the declaration which ends our lesson for today.
“This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”-Matthew 3:17.
Christian Baptism is ultimately about the promises of God’s Word. God came down to wash away our sin. Jesus’ Baptism is not our Baptism. Today is the “First Day on the Job” that our Lord undertook to be our savior. The beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus’ Baptism took place to lead to the day when he took our sin unto himself. Christ took on our sin so we may be washed clean in the Baptism into his death that was to come. Amen
 Leviticus 15
 2 Kings 5:1-14
 Numbers 4:3
 Leviticus 8:6, Exodus 29:4- taken from Slick, Matt. “Why Was Jesus baptized?”. CARM. 10.Dec.2008. Web. Jan.8.2014
 Acts 19:1-7
 Romans 6:3-5
 Mark 1:8/Matthew 3:11