Focus: God reconciles us through Christ.
Function: That the hearer live in the hope of reconciliation by reconciling with others.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today we remember the Baptism of Jesus and the start of the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is a season of light and of awakening. It means revealing, and in the next five weeks, we look at how Jesus reveals all kinds of hope in all sorts of ways with all kinds of different people.
So, then, what is hope? That’s our first question. One theologian put it like this: “Simply defined, hope is an expectation of the future…” It’s looking ahead into the unknown with expectations for how it will be. And he goes on: “Hope involves a larger story, as the past, the present, and the future are woven together in a delicate, life-changing balance.” And if that’s too opaque for you, he gets specific: “hope occurs when a past experience generates trust in a certain future that changes one’s … present.” End quote. When the past helps you see a future, and that future makes you change what you do in the present.
Hope happens every time a dying man remembers God’s faithfulness in his baptism, knows it extends past his death and faces that death with strength. Hope happens every time a mom and dad remember past mistakes, look for their children’s future and keep working in the present for that purpose. Hope happens every time a struggling couple remembers their wedding vows, looks to the future of how Christ will come back for his bride the church, and starts acting like Christ for their spouse, starts finding ways to lay down life for his spouse.
So, what kind of hope do we find in our text?
Well, first we should remember what the people gathered around John remembered for themselves. When they saw John, they thought about how Elijah was supposed to come back from the dead. They thought about how the Messiah was supposed to rule like a king and subdue all the nations that had done them wrong. They thought about the promises that God gave to Adam, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Judah, to David, to Isaiah. They saw with their own eyes a man who looked a lot like a Messiah, a man named John the Baptizer, and started to believe in their own hearts that he would lead Israel as an agent of God’s anger toward the nations.
That’s the hope they had, a hope in God’s righteous wrath, God’s punishing wrath, coming for the people who hate. But a hope in the anger of God to punish the nations, it’s a dangerous kind of a hope. It’s dangerous because it expects God to come in the clouds with a scale to weigh others in the balance, to weigh their good and their bad and find them lacking. It expects God to come to smite Israel’s enemies. It expects God to come to exercise his perfect judgment among us, because we know our enemies are lacking.
And, that’s all in the psalms, and that’s all true. If you look at John the Baptizer’s teaching, you see him pile on more of the same when he says, “Whoever has two tunics, you should share. Whoever has food should have meals with others. Whoever deals with money should not extort.” And guess what? That’s not even the end – Jesus revisits this in his sermon on the plain. He says, “You’ve got to do all that, but it’s not only for your friends but most especially for those whom you dislike, not only for people of goodwill but moreover for persons of ill repute, not only when you’re having a good and generous day but especially when you’re having a really, really bad day.” And when you think of it like that, if that’s that standard of perfection, it becomes harder and harder to see ourselves as the righteous few and easier and easier to see ourselves as the guilty many.
But that’s not the only picture we see from the Old Testament. Isaiah pictures the Messiah as a conquering king, yes, but also as a humble servant, one who will turn the tables on justice, one who instead of being glorified, he will be humiliated, a shepherd who will take the stripes that his sheep deserve.
And not just for the lost sheep of Israel. When our God considers to save Israel only, he says, “No, that’s too light a thing.” No, he came so that Israel would be a light for the nations, drawing all peoples to himself. The future is a vision that God didn’t just come as a conquering king. No, he came as a king who is a servant.
Did you notice that little piece in the text? John says, “I’m not worthy to untie his sandals.” As you might know, it was customary when a guest came into your home, if you were a Jew you’d have servants untie sandals and wash feet. And again, by custom, if you had a Jewish servant, this task was too lowly a thing for the Jew to do, so they would have a Gentile servant do it. So when John says, “I am not worthy to do even this,” he means, “I’m not even worthy to do the lowest work of the lowest servant for this man.”
Now, fast-forward to John 13 and take this in: Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. Jesus does what was too lowly a thing for a Jewish servant to do. It was too great a thing for John the Baptizer to do for Jesus, and here we have the king of all the universe wrapping his outer garment around his waist and washing the feet of those who would disown him, deny him, and betray him. That’s the picture of life everlasting with Jesus. He’s a king who is a servant, who serves us even to our salvation, even when we are still sinners.
So, if the past tells us of the God who is king coming among us and he will judge us for our deeds, if the future reality is that this king is also a servant and he will get on his hands and knees to serve us his salvation, then what should it make you do?
In this present I would ask you to take hold of the picture of God we find in Jesus rising from the waters. Do you see the way the Trinity comes together for this brief and fleeting moment? Look at the Father, who is cracks open the heaven like a door, who declares Jesus beloved, who greatly favors Jesus to live the life that will make all dead men rise. See the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove, sent by the Father to the Son, to be sent by that same Son into our hearts by the very same baptism that all believers share in Christ. See Christ pray to his Father in perfect submission, knowing for himself the path he would have to walk. Look and revel, just soak in this picture of the perfect harmony of sacrifice, submission, salvation, perfection, of the three in one and one in three.
The title of this sermon is Hope Reconciling, and I was listening to a preacher the other day that made the distinction between forgiving and reconciling. He said, Forgiveness only takes one, but reconciling takes two. Forgiveness is burying the past. Reconciliation is looking toward the future. Forgiveness is breaking down barriers. Reconciling is building up trust. Who do you need to build trust with?
And so we see the hope of reconciliation in our text. First in our text we see the way that the Father, Spirit, and Son, are absolutely of one will, they’re perfectly harmonious, without needing reconciliation because they have what reconciliation brings: trust, harmony and an unbroken relationship.
And then Paul in Romans goes there for us: He says, not only does God have what reconciliation brings, but when you’re brought into the body of Christ, you die with Christ and live again in him. In 2 Corinthians, he says it like this: you are a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come. When you become a new creation – when the barriers of sin are broken down by the relentless forgiveness of God – then God begins the work of restoring the kind of relationship that has perfect trust and harmony. And then he says, you’re now an ambassador of that reconciliation. It’s your job to go around reconciling, building trust and harmony, not with the kind of people that believe the same kinds of things that we do, but moreover with all kinds of people that don’t want our kind of trust and harmony.
And John adds this to the end: He says, At this time, we experience brokenness at the same time that we experience harmony. There will be a day when the king who is a servant comes back and fixes all that is broken, heals all that is hurt, reconciles all that is irreconcilable in these days. Have you ever had a bridge you thought was too badly burned for you to cross again?
It’s called the kingdom of Heaven, and our God has brought you in on the ground floor. He’s called you to be part of how the Kingdom of Heaven breaks into this world and associates with the kinds of people that the world says we shouldn’t associate with, and shares food with all kinds of people, for the express reason that we’re all human and we get hungry, and confesses sins alongside the kinds of people that the world doesn’t think are worth forgiving.
In conclusion, when I think of reconciliation in our text, I think about the heavenly banquet table, the one that Pastor Griffin says has only sausage and cheese on it, but I imagine it with all kinds of good things, and I look to my right and to my left, and I see among the saints and the kindly old ladies, I see the people that disturb and annoy me the most, sitting next to me for eternity, and in the here and now, I ask the question, am I glad? Am I glad to be surrounded by murderers, racists, the unkind, the cruel, the angry, the deceitful, the self-righteous? Am I glad to be surrounded by the great cloud of those whose sin makes us like scarlet, so that his blood can wash us white as snow? If, in that day, full reconciliation is joy to the fullest, then it is also the start of joy in this life. Amen and Amen.