Matthew 3:13-17 – “The Marks of God’s Love”
Pr. Kurt A. Van Fossan – In Nomine Christi Iesu
[Read Matthew 3:13-17 before this sermon. At the time of Jesus’ Baptism, there were at least three miracles mentioned. Which of those miracles most clearly identify Jesus’ divine nature?]
What was the miracle in the Gospel reading which most clearly identifies Jesus as being divine or God? You might say that there were three miracles. First, “the heavens were opened.” Second, “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on [Jesus].” But the third miracle, the “voice from heaven” which said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” this, I would say, is the miracle that most clearly identifies Jesus as true God—of the same divine nature as the Father and the Holy Spirit.
This is the great “aha!” of Epiphany.
Remember I said last week that the word “epiphany” means to make know something, and that during the season of Epiphany, the church focuses on some of the ways it was made known that Jesus is true God, and the promised Saviour of the world. Saying all this is one think, but actually believing it means that it has really sunk in—when you say “aha!” So, instead of calling this the season of Epiphany, you might call this the season of “aha!” (well, maybe not!)
Regardless, this is the season when, hopefully, it really sinks in that Jesus is true God, with all the power of God that comes with His divine nature.
With this “aha!” about Jesus divine nature in mind, it’s not surprising that John the Baptist in our text thought Jesus should be baptising him, not the other way around. After all, John the Baptist preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). All those who came to be baptized by John were sinners in need of repentance. Not so with Jesus.
The Word of God assures us that while Jesus was born of a woman, He was also conceived by the Holy Spirit and was therefore without sin. So why did Jesus need to be baptized by John? When John the Baptist asked the same question, Jesus replied: “to fulfil all righteousness.” Or as St. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Jesus makes us righteous (He washes away our sins) by taking those sins and dealing with them Himself. That’s why Jesus came to be baptized by John. He was showing us that this was His purpose for becoming flesh in the first place, to take on our sins—to be our substitute or scapegoat—to be punished in our place. And remember the “aha.” He’s God, and has the endorsement of the Father and the Holy Spirit, so He can do this.
His baptism, in a sense, is where it all began--where Jesus, who had already humbled Himself by being born of a woman, began His suffering for our sake. Remember, immediately following Jesus’ baptism He “was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).
The fact that God’s Son not only became a man but that He willingly suffered for our sake is a “mark of God’s love” for us.
To help us think about what Jesus has done for us, I would like to share with a story from the days of the crusades. 2 In a church in Cowarne, Herefordshire I’m told that there was a monument to a Knight called Grimbald Pauncefort and his beautiful wife, Eleanor.
The unusual thing about this couple was obvious from the brass depiction of this couple on the floor, over top of their tomb. One of Eleanor’s hands was missing. The story goes that in one of the wars of the Crusades, Grimbald (serving under Richard I), was taken prisoner by Saladin, the Muslim Conqueror. When Grimbald begged Saladin to set him free—to spare his life for the sake of his wife, Eleanor, who dearly loved him, Saladin laughed and said that before long she would forget him. But the Knight assured him that Eleanor would remain devoted to him. Saladin asked for proof of her love and devotion. If Grmbald’s wife would send him one of her hands as evidence of her love for her husband, he would set the knight free. When word of Saladin’s promise reached Eleanor back in England, she promptly had one of her hands removed and sent it in a bag to the Muslim Conqueror. When Saladin saw that hand, he was very impressed and stuck to is promise, freeing the Grimbald so that he could return to his wife.
That amputated hand was proof of the wife’s devotion and love for her husband. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross to set us free from sin, death and the devil, is proof of His devotion and love for us. The nail prints on Jesus hands and feet and the wound in his side are the permanent marks of His love. And God is faithful to His promise that “by His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:4). We are free!—free from the death sentence against us, and assured of eternal life with God. Why do I take so much time pointing out how much Jesus (who, remember, is God) loves us? I can think of no better way to bring you the peace of God.
What great comfort can be found in knowing and believing that Almighty God loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice not just a hand, but His very life in order to save us. “If God [Almighty God] is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
This is certainly something important to meditate on, especially during times when, because of your troubles, you may be doubting in God’s love and power. May the marks of Jesus’ crucifixion wounds (like Eleanor’s missing hand) make an everlasting impression on your heart and mind, bringing you and others eternal comfort and peace.
For Jesus’ name sake.
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