Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22
First Sunday after the Epiphany - 13 January 2019
Rev. John Derme
One day, a person you know has a question for you. This person knows that you are a Christian. He is skeptical about what the Bible says. He thinks it contains a bunch of fairy tales. He puts his faith in what the science books say. He thinks he can stump you. He says, "You talk about God, but I sure can't see him. Where in the world is God?"
Some days, though, you are the person with the question. You want to be a good Christian. But even you are not always so sure about what the Bible says. You know it contains a bunch of promises. But those promises don't always match up with what we see in the world around us. You feel like you've been stumped. You say, "I want to believe in God, but I sure can't see him. Where in the world is God?"
You and I shouldn't be afraid to ask this question. And we shouldn't be afraid of other people asking this question of us, either. This question has a real answer. Today and over the next six Sundays we'll see the answer to that question in the person of Jesus Christ. God gives us the answer to this question, because he wants us to trust him and tell this answer to other people.
Where in the world is God? We need to know the answer to this question, because if God is not in the world, or if we can't find him, then what are we doing here in church? Without an answer to this question, there would be no reason to be a Christian! Fortunately for us, God hasn't hidden himself so that we cannot find him. He has revealed himself to us and to the world.
People were looking for God in the world before Jesus began his public ministry. They came to the prophet, John the Baptist, and they asked him whether he was the Christ. That seemed like a pretty good guess, because John was preaching and baptizing. He was calling them to repent of their sins, and those people needed a Savior. John the Baptist told them that he wasn't the Savior; he wasn't even close. He said that he wasn't even worthy to tie the Savior's shoes. But he also said that the Christ would be coming soon. He was coming to judge and save his people.
It wasn't long afterward that the Savior appeared publicly. When John was baptizing the crowds of people, Jesus came to be baptized, too. After Jesus was baptized, heaven was opened above him. The Holy Spirit came down on him in the form of the dove. And God the Father spoke from heaven, saying, "You are my beloved Son. I am well pleased with you."
God was making it obvious. He broadcast the message for many people to hear. The Holy Spirit directed the people exactly where he wanted them to look. He couldn't have made it any more obvious with a flashing neon sign above Jesus' head. God came into the world and showed himself to its people!
Of course, that was a long time ago. We have the account of what happened there, but none of us were there to see or hear it. That is one reason why we still need baptism. Baptism was God's way of identifying Jesus to the world as the holy Son of God. But God also wants you and me to be baptized, because he doesn't just want us to know that Jesus came to show himself to people a long time ago. He wants us to know that Jesus is our Savior.
God tells us that we need a Savior. But even if he hadn't told us, we would know it. We and all people know that we need a Savior, because we keep sinning. Every single day we do at least something that hurts other people, several things that we know are wrong. We try to stop, but we keep giving in to that sinful nature within us. John the Baptist tells us how serious these sins are. That's what he was talking about when he said that the Christ would burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Chaff is the useless part of the wheat plant that farmers would separate from the grain and burn, because they didn't have anything else to do with it. John warned that God will separate Christians from unbelievers and throw sinners into the fire of hell!
But not everyone will burn in hell. John also said that he will gather the grain into his storehouse. He was talking about taking people to heaven. That is what God wants for you. He wants you to be saved from hell. And so God has baptized you so that you can go to heaven.
Because Jesus was baptized, your baptism connects you to him. Since he died for your sins, it is your baptism that washes your sins away. Since he was holy, it is your baptism that brings his holiness to you. Through baptism, God the Father speaks to you as he once spoke to Jesus. He declares that you are his beloved child and that he is pleased with you. Through baptism, God is at work in you to give you the power to follow his will in your life. You don't ever have to wonder whether Jesus has taken your sins away, whether you are holy in God's sight. Baptism is God's work in you and for you, so that you can know Jesus as the Son of God and your Savior.
People in the world today are looking for God. You and I are blessed that God has revealed himself to us in baptism, so that we don't have to look for him. We know him. And we have good reason to trust in him, because he is our God and Savior. And that is why baptism is so important to us, because God will keep using baptism to reveal himself to this world. Where in the world is God? He's right here, baptizing you!