Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one
Christmas has just passed and many of us were blessed to have had more lasting memories of quality family time added to the list of what make’s Christmas time great. It’s natural to look back to Christmases past and share stories that stand out in each celebration. One of our favorite stories has to do with our daughter Emily when she was just old enough to start understanding the do’s and don’ts of Christmas.
It was no secret that her big brother Alex wanted a certain Ninja Turtle toy. He would ask for it over and over making sure we wouldn’t forget when shopping day arrived. Well, the day did arrive and we were grateful to find just what he wanted. As Emily was very young, we had to remind her that it was important that she keep the secret of what we got him so he could be surprised on Christmas Eve when we opened our gifts. She said she would and was even a little excited to know something her big brother didn’t.
We got home and the boys were acting all casual hoping not to get caught straining their eyes at the bags in the hopes of catching a peak. Alex was especially curious. We looked at Emily, hoping she would keep the secret and at first it seemed like she would. Then suddenly she blurts out, “Alex, we didn’t get you your Ninja Toy,” which of course meant, “Alex, we got your ninja toy.” Alex knew it right away and the secret was out.
Secrets can be very hard to keep, especially for certain little girls. In a way, we’re not molded by the world to keep them. Keeping a secret from someone is difficult sometimes because we have this extra knowledge that someone else doesn’t have and we want to prove it. Too often, the secret gets out, no matter how hard we try to keep it.
Jesus was aware of this, and He often asked those around Him who had just witnessed one of His miracles to keep it quiet. His time had not yet arrived and He had too much to do in the interim to get the Pharisees and Sadducees riled up just yet. He knew how and when His day was to come, so He depended on others to keep His miracles a secret until that day had arrived.
But some secrets are simply too hard to keep and, in our Gospel lesson, we see that the coming Messiah was making Himself known. His ministry had begun, those who would walk at His side and learn were being chosen. The cat was out of the bag. The secret of who the Messiah was, was a secret no more.
The preparation that Christ has gone through to get to this day had been completed, the Baptism which would mark the beginning of His ministry had been accomplished, His time of temptation had come and gone, and it was time to prepare for the coming of the Christ.
Our Gospel lesson takes place after His Baptism and Jesus is walking towards John. John can’t help himself but to draw attention to this and give up the secret, and from His reaction we learn some things. First John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Our first lesson? Look to the Lamb.
John the Baptist was the first to call Jesus the “Lamb of God.” He used it as a title of importance and privilege. Now, most people don’t associate lambs with something mighty like God but here it’s entirely appropriate. God had given the lamb a special place in the eyes of the Israelites. For Jews, the Lamb had significant religious connotations. John certainly wasn’t saying, “Here comes Jesus, the weakling sent to save us from our sins.” No, he was bringing attention to the mighty one who would bring forgiveness through His sacrifice. Lambs symbolized forgiveness to the Israelites. The Messiah’s coming was a sign of God’s atonement with all people, the reconciliation of His people.
Lambs were also symbols of innocence which would come to have a profound impact when the innocent one was sent to die for the guilty. In a world where no one could be found pure and sinless, the only one who could rightfully make the claim would come to take our sins away.
The innocent one would become the lamb of sacrifice for all of us, who can only see guilt in our past, as a sign of His love and a want for relationship with us. John is doing much more than bringing attention to someone he revers, he is making a statement of extreme importance on who to look to for salvation.
Next, John speaks to the supremacy of Christ. John says, “This is He of whom I said, ‘after me comes a man who ranks before me, because He was before me.’ I myself did not know Him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed to Israel.”
John had been waiting for this day for a very long time. He knew that He had the great honor of ushering in the coming Messiah, and He knew what this Messiah would mean to all people. He knew that this man was eternal from before there was time to everlasting and he knew that no man would ever be able to walk in His shoes. This man was coming to save all people, a man but not just a man. He was the Christ, the very Son of God.
John’s calling was to prepare all people for the coming of the promised Messiah and He did it through the Baptism of Repentance. John was asking all people to prepare their hearts because the time which had been prophesied was here. He wanted them to be prepared for what God was about to do for them. In a way, he is also preparing us.
John gives us a testimony saying, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
What is John saying here? He is testifying to the fact that the promised Messiah had come. He saw the Spirit come down and stay on Him. This is the one he was waiting for and he testifies to it by saying that Jesus was “He on whom the Spirit rested.” It was still with Him and would always be with Him, it was permanent.
Jesus had come to do a baptism that was much more radical than that of John. Whereas John baptized with water, Jesus had come to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Whereas John would have a baptism to prepare for the coming Christ, Jesus Christ would have a baptism that would prepare His people for everlasting life. Whereas John would do a baptism of repentance, Jesus would bring a baptism of forgiveness and redemption. Jesus had come to make all things new and John was declaring it.
But John didn’t stop there. In verse 34 he tells to all those who can hear him, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” Well, I guess there is no hiding now. John has made it very clear who Jesus is. This verse is appropriately the climax to John’s proclamation.
Jesus is the Christ and God has made His promise of a coming Savior a reality. John is telling us to look to Jesus because in Him exists the fullness of God. He had the closest personal relationship possible. John calls Him the Son of God so that all will unmistakably understand that Jesus Christ is God and He possesses the deity of the Messiah.
This is, of course, what greatly aroused the Jewish leaders. They certainly didn’t miss the claim of John, and as Jesus’ ministry would begin, so would the work of His detractors.
But this is not the focus now. Now it is time to tell everyone the Good News. The secret of Jesus’ identity would be a secret no longer, He is no less than the chosen one, the one with no beginning and no end, the Son of God in human form.
John made that proclamation then and He is giving all of us that same testimony. John told all to behold the coming Savior of all mankind and he commands this of us as well.
Will you look to Jesus as you have been directed to or will you keep putting it off until a more opportune time? The poet Shel Silverstein wrote a poem I would like to read to you this morning. It’s entitled “Falling Up, HELP!…
I walked through the wildwood, and what did I see
But a unicorn with his horn stuck in a tree,
Cryin’, “Someone please help me before it’s too late.”
I hollered, “I’ll free you.” He hollered back, “Wait—
How much will it hurt? How long will it take?
How hard will you pull? How much must I pay?
Must you do it right now or is Wednesday okay?
Have you done this before? Do you have the right tools?
Have you graduated from horn-savin’ school?
Will I owe you a favor? And what will it be?
Do you promise you will not damage the tree?
Should I close my eyes? Should I sit down or stand?
Do you have insurance? Have you washed your hands?
And after you free me—tell me what then?
Can you guarantee I won’t get stuck again?
Tell me when. Tell me how.
Tell me why. Tell me where….”
I guess that he’s still sittin’ there.
Today is the day to hear John and rejoice in what he has to tell us. Today is the day that you make the decision to acknowledge Jesus Christ for who He really is.
Today is the day that you look to Jesus to save you rather than depending on the things of the world. Today is the day to let the secret out that Jesus is the way to salvation and Him alone.
1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
The secret is out, Jesus has come to save the body. He has come to make us new creatures with hope. He has come to change lives and to help us leave our lives of sin. He has come so that we might enjoy life and not be ruled by it. And He has given us the one Holy Spirit so that we might not have to take the journey alone.
The secret is out and His story begs to be told to all who will hear. Amen.