Heaven shining down on the River Jordan
Second in a series of nine
Luke 3:15-22 // Romans 6:1-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our Sermon text for today is Luke 3, beginning with these words, “While the people were all in expectation about John, whether he was the Christ...”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are focusing on the specific locations of our texts in these days, knowing that God most often works in those specific locations through their significant history to bring about particular opportunity.
God does not choose places at random but deliberately. God does not ignore the past of his people but uses every bit, every scrap of everything that they are to demonstrate his salvation.
Today we look at the second sermon in our installment of nine, Heaven shining down on the river Jordan. Look at the map in our bulletin. You see the windy River Jordan coming down on the right-hand side of the page. It extends from the freshwater Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. We think that John preached on the East side of the bank, nearer to Jerusalem, on the edge of what you can’t see on your page – the hundreds of miles of desert and wilderness that now make up modern day Iraq. Now, we don’t know exactly where on the River Jordan John baptized, but we do know that it was an unimpressive windy river, full of shallow rocks and muddy water.
But for generations, for centuries, for over a thousand years, the River Jordan had been a place of significance. Point number 1 is that the River Jordan was and had been for a long time a place of New Beginnings for an (Ancient) People.
It was the final gateway from slavery to freedom. Over the Red Sea, God had claimed Israel as his firstborn son, in the river Jordan, A. Joshua crosses into the (Promised Land). After a generation passed away, after forty years in the desert, after the punishment for their sin was over, here was a new beginning as they started a new nation, as they claimed their freedom. Joshua sets twelve smooth stones on the river to remind his people of their new beginning.
B. Namaan the Syrian crosses into (life). You remember, he was a Syrian commander – an enemy of Israel – and he had leprosy. He came to Elijah – an enemy, asking for mercy and for a cure. Elijah tells him to go on down to this river of new beginnings, the Jordan river. Wash seven times, and he’ll be cured.
And finally, for our purposes, C. Elisha crosses into (ministry). After Elijah was taken up into heaven, Elisha retraces his steps, back from the fiery chariots, back from the wilderness beyond the Jordan, and the first miracle that he does as THE prophet in Israel is to cross the river Jordan on dry ground, marking this new ministry in their midst. He passes from apprentice to master, from follower to prophet, from the end of Elijah’s ministry to the beginning of Elisha’s ministry.
That’s the backdrop of this area. So when John the Baptizer comes on the scene, he preaches in the places where Elijah was taken into heaven, where Elisha started his ministry, where Joshua began to conquer the Promised Land, and where we find the Messiah would begin his ministry.
2. New Beginnings for a new ministry
Point A. John formed their (expectations). John looked like a prophet. He hung out in the wilderness. He delivered scathing and persuasive rebukes. He looked like the culmination of all the Old Testament prophets, because he was. He was the expectations of the people incarnate, the way that they thought the Lord would begin the reign of the Messiah on earth.
Can you imagine the folks that were coming out to see him? On the far side of the Jordan? They come from 20, from 40, from 60 miles away to see John in the wilderness. Israel hadn’t had a prophet in 400 years. It’s like if America didn’t have a general of George Washington’s caliber in 400 years (we’re at 242 now), and then there one comes. They flock to him. They hope in him. They wonder about him.
They were longing for a military leader, for a second Joshua to lead them across the Jordan into the Promised Land. They were looking for a second Elisha to lead them out of their oppression. They were looking for a certain kind of person, and John formed their expectations.
But Point B. is that Jesus filled their (needs). This is fundamental to the Gospel. Jesus does what we need him to do, whether we care that he does it or not. Jesus is who we need him to be, whether we want him to be that or not. Jesus is a second and greater Joshua, and the stream that he crosses is death itself. Jesus is a second and greater Prophet, and the sin he calls out is deeper than we could know without him.
But the realest need that his fills is that he does everything that we are supposed to do. He is the representative man. He is baptized here for our sake. He fulfills all righteousness for our sake. He is the beloved son for us.
And so, for us today, the River Jordan is a place for our 3. New beginnings and second chances.
A. A second chance to (confess) faults. Pastor Griffin told me a story the other day about a voters meeting in Lewiston. They had made some changes in their policies, changes that weren’t appreciated by some. A member, a faithful member, had been angered at something he had done, so angry that he quit bible study, quit coming to church, to the point that his pastor called him. Before he could speak, Pastor launched into an apology, that he hadn’t thought through his words, that he was doing with the law what he should have done with the Gospel, that he was sorry for his fault and wanted to do better.
There was a pause. Then, on the phone, “Pastor Griffin, you’re a hard person to stay mad at.” You see, when he heard who was calling, he was ready to just rip into him. He was ready to give him a piece of his mind. He was ready to give him what he deserved. But confessing your faults, taking the first step forward, laying down the burden of your own pain, gives you the opportunity for a new beginning and a second chance.
B. A new beginning (day by day). Martin Luther writes this when he says, and this is the last question and answer on baptism in the catechism, “The old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever” Daily we drown the Old Adam and daily the new man rises up on the inside. St. Paul says, we have been baptized into his death so that we might rise in his life.
A new beginning each day. A new rising of the New Man on the inside of his people. A second chance in the body of Christ. A chance to be what we already are in eternity.
The good news for those, like Jayme Closs, who have lived a nightmare, the good news is that daily the mercies of God are new, renewed in the morning no matter how dark the night. The good news is, for those who have health concerns, the good news is that although we outwardly waste away, inwardly we are renewed day by day. For those who have messed up again and again, the good news is that daily we remember that Christ has died our death and has raised us to a newness of life. For those who struggle with their thoughts and feelings, with depression and despair, the good news is that God’s first words for us every morning are, “For the sake of my son, you are my beloved child.”
The kingdom of Heaven shines down like a large church in a small town where words of confession and forgiveness are spoken frequently, where hurts are laid down at the foot of the cross, where honesty, even when it hurts, is appreciated, where their stories are chalk-full of second chances and new beginnings.
Amen and Amen.
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