Mission Minded: Know your identity (Jan 10, 2021)
Mission Minded: Know your identity
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There’s something that’s a little embarrassing for me to admit. But here it goes. When I was young… and by “young” I mean like high school / college age… I used to think that you needed your wedding invitation to get into a wedding. Like there was some “bouncer” at the door who would check your invitation to see if you really belong. If you did not have your invitation or it was forged – I know, right, like there’s some wedding crashing underground movement – if your invitation was deemed unacceptable, then you would be denied entry. I eventually learned. I realized that the bride and groom know me personally, so I didn’t need to prove my invitation.
But then, sometimes, there’s a party you attend that you just don’t quite feel like you belong. For example, there was a “Mad Men” themed night at the Milwaukee Art Museum I attended once, but the details got lost in translation from the friend who invited me. “Mad Men” is a TV show set in the 1960s. I’ve never seen it, so when I asked my friend simply told me to dress up like the 60s. Well, my mind went to the movie Grease, which is a very different social class from the 60s. So, when I showed up wearing a white T-shirt and a leather jacket while everyone else was wearing suits and ties, I did not feel like I belonged. I felt like everyone was judging me just by looking at me. I was trying to be accepted by this group
In John’s day, the vast majority of people were striving to be acceptable to a certain group of people: the Pharisees and Sadducees – the religious leaders of the day. And, why shouldn’t they? These religious leaders were supposed to be showing the people the way to God. To do this, there were strict rules to follow, a strict way of life to pattern yourself after, countless festivals and ceremonies to follow to the “T”. I think most people realized that it took a special class of people to follow that way of life perfectly in every way. But I think that most still strived after that life, perhaps thinking that if I can be at least this good, then I will be acceptable.
But, deep down – though it may have been suppressed – there was still evil and darkness clinging to every one of them. Why else would there have to be sacrifices for sin and offerings for guilt each and every day. And as people battled every day with this need to be acceptable, all while knowing they aren’t – as evidenced by their need to sacrifice – they became run down, perhaps even to the point of despair. But then, another kind of message hit the scene. A message that sounded eerily familiar – like a well known voice from the past. John’s message was not, “Do this, and you will be accepted.” But rather, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2). It sounded a lot like the message of the prophets from of old. A message of repentance, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4). It was a welcomed and refreshing change! Guilt wearied people came out in droves to hear this messenger – to listen to this message from God that echoed the voice of the prophets from long ago! And, when some came out to where John was baptizing who had a different idea of acceptance, John called them out on it. He called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers!” “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Mt 3:7). Because, according to their own theology, they were already acceptable by their own works – by the things they had done.
Clearly there’s a difference. You can’t earn your salvation through your works and also rely on the Messiah for salvation. You can’t hope I’m good enough, and also place your hope in the One who has done all things well. You can’t deny the condemning effect of sin and the separation from God it brings while also claiming true faith in your Savior. He either is your one and only hope of salvation, or you’ve blinded yourself into believing that you are alright on your own.
So, which is it? Do you need the Savior that God reveals in Scripture to make you acceptable? Or are you content to downplay your sinfulness and see where that gets you? Do you confess that sin, your own and that of the whole human race is the reason for all that is wrong with the world and the eventual result of death… Do you confess that death is what your own sin deserves – not just physical death in the grave, but also spiritual death in hell? Do you understand and acknowledge that your sins make you unacceptable to God who is holy and just?
If so, then how do we dare even enter his presence here? That’s what we are here to do, right? To join together and stand in God’s presence? To worship and praise him? Yet we just acknowledged that we are sinners who cannot stand in his presence… so how did we get in here?
Not by our own merit, I’ll tell you that. But by Jesus’ merit. Jesus, who was not only born in the flesh for you, but now also baptized for you is your key to being accepted by God and getting into a place like this and a place much better than this. John didn’t see the need for Jesus to be baptized. And, in a way, he was right. Jesus certainly didn’t have any sin to wash away – any need for repentance. But he did come for a need. Jesus said, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). Then, something spectacular happened. “He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mk 1:10-11).
Jesus baptism was not only for himself, but also for us. His baptism is not merely a symbol of the blessing in our baptism, but he is also the source of blessing it contains. Because Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, you and I are washed clean and made righteous through baptism. So just as Jesus received the Spirit in baptism, we also receive the Spirit through ours. And as the Father says of Jesus, so he says of you at your baptism. “You are my son, You are my daughter, whom I love; and because of Jesus, with you I am well pleased.” The apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the Romans: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rm 6:3-4).
That’s why we begin and end every worship service with the sign of the cross – to remind you of your baptism. That’s why I make the sign of the cross when announcing the forgiveness of sins, because you live a new life through baptism. That’s why I’ve been dying to move this baptismal font for quite some time now, and finally figured out a good spot for it. Because I want everyone in this place to know – myself included – the only way we stand acceptable before a righteous God is by the righteousness he gives us through his Means of Grace – Baptism, and the proclamation of the Word. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid. You are welcome here in your Father’s house!
I also want you to know that because you are baptized and forgiven children of God, you are also welcome into a much more holy place as well – your Father’s house in heaven! And understand that heaven is not a place where you float around on clouds as a spiritual being strumming on harps and singing all day. That probably seems all too distant and intangible. Heaven is real. And you will be really there, in the flesh! Yes, just as Jesus rose with flesh and bones that he showed his disciples, you too will rise with your very own body! Your eyes, your ears, nose and mouth. Your hands, and your abilities… probably even more abilities! The Bible says, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? … If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rm 6:3,5). Even though you will still die physically, you will never die spiritually. And even though you die physically, you will be physically raised to life when Jesus comes again and creates a new heaven and a new earth!
So I hope you see today that you have a very real Jesus who gives very real gifts! He gives these real, tangible gifts because we are a real, tangible Church. He connects his gift of salvation with something you can see and touch as the cool water trickles down your head. He brings about the gift of salvation by restoring not just your spirit, but also your body – when you will be raised with him on the last day! He makes you acceptable in every way – body and spirit – so that you can stand confidently before God here in this place and one day in heaven.
But let’s not wait to use these gifts. Let’s live even now, every day in the newness of life he’s given us! After heeding the call to repentance and receiving God’s gift of salvation through Baptism, the people asked John, “What should we do then?” (Lk 3:10). And John answered them. To the crowd he said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Lk 3:11). To the tax collectors, John said, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to” (Lk 3:13). To the soldiers, he said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay” (Lk 3:14).
Faith that knows it’s salvation through Christ is not content to just rest on that. It tirelessly lives that salvation even now! Strives to show others the acceptance which Christ won. We see that with the Jailor who had a close encounter with death, and perhaps felt its severity. Who knew his unworthiness. Who then collapsed at the feet of Paul and Silas, trembling to ask, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Do? Nothing. The replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household” (Acts 16:31). And by that salvation through faith, a change was made. The Jailor was a new man! “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household” (Ac 16:33-34).
God has accepted you through Christ. You are a citizen of heaven. How will you share that joy, even now? What wounds can you wash? What needs can you feed? What joy can you share? God has welcomed you into his house and shared his very real gifts with you. Go be his Church and share them with the world.