Home > Advent, Baptism, Sermons > The Far Side of the Jordan. Advent 4, 2012

The Far Side of the Jordan. Advent 4, 2012

John_The_BaptistFourth Sunday of Advent (Rorate Coeli)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:19-28

December 23, 2012


Jesu Juva


John the Baptist was baptizing on the far side of the Jordan river.  Years and years before the whole nation of Israel had stood on the far side of the Jordan river, on the east of it.  It had taken over forty years for them to arrive there after the Lord had miraculously brought them out of Egypt.  It shouldn’t have taken so long.  But the people did not believe that God could or would enable them to defeat the people in the land.  So God let the people have their way; they wandered in the desert until they died (along with Moses), and their children came to the banks of the Jordan.  Then Joshua led them into the land.  And the first thing Joshua did was split the Jordan river so that the people of Israel could pass through, just as God had done with the Red Sea through Moses.


Now John’s baptism was on the other side of the Jordan, as though he were saying, “You have not yet really entered the promised land.”  He was baptizing people in the Jordan and proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Another Joshua was coming, not to bring them into an earthly inheritance, but into God’s Kingdom.


But baptism was not part of the religion of the Jews.  God had not commanded it in the law given to Moses.  The priests were commanded to cleanse themselves before they served in the temple.  The Pharisees extended this washing of the priests and taught that everyone should do it frequently, as though they were priests who were going to go into the presence of God.  And Jews at this time baptized converts to Judaism—the history seems to indicate this—as a symbol that converts had been unclean through association with idols, but now they were becoming clean by entering into the nation of Israel, which belonged to the one true God, the Lord.


But to command that the whole nation do this, as John was doing, was unheard of.  So the Jews sent out priests and levites to ask John who he was claiming to be, where he got the authority to institute this new rite and proclaim this message.


The Levites were one of the tribes of Israel.  God had designated them as the tribe that would serve in the temple, in His presence.  The Levites did the holy work of cleaning the temple, keeping it up, guarding the doors, singing in the choir.  One of the clans of the tribe of Levi, the cohenim, were set apart to be priests, and to offer the sacrifices and the incense at the temple in the daily divine service. 


Priests and Levites had standing in Israel.  In a sense, John was threatening their standing.  His baptism was saying that all that the Jews had been doing up until this point in their history was not the kingdom of God.  It didn’t even make them ready for the kingdom of God.   Even though God had commanded it—the temple worship, the sacrifices—they still had to go out beyond the Jordan, as if they had never come into the promised land.  They had to be baptized as if they were unclean gentiles who did not know God.


So the priests and levites come and ask John, “Who are you?”

What’s your authority to preach repentance and baptize and dismiss all that we’ve tried to do in obedience to God?


Are you Messiah? 


Are you Elijah, who the prophets said would come before the day of the Lord’s coming?


Are you the prophet—the one Moses spoke about, to whom he commanded us to listen?


John’s answer to all these questions: no, no, no.


I am no one.  I’m the voice Isaiah prophesied about, calling out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”


I have a powerful message.  I baptize you with water, calling everyone to repent—whether they’ve been good Jews or poor ones.  I’m saying that all are sinners and none of you are ready for the coming of the Lord, that even though you’ve had God’s law and some of you have tried strenuously to obey it, none of that advances you an inch into God’s kingdom. 


I baptize you with water for repentance.  But there is one among you that you do not know, and he is greater than me—so great that I am not worthy to untie his sandals.  He is the one you should be paying attention to—not to my authority, or your authority—not to who men claim to be.


We are here today the Sunday before Christmas Eve.  Many people will skip church this morning figuring that they will be here tomorrow anyway. 


How easy it is for those who have been diligent about religious duties to think that we have earned something and now we are somebody!


But even John wasn’t somebody.  He was just a voice.  The One he was preparing the way for was so great that John trembled before him—was afraid even to untie his shoes. 


That great one, as you know, is Jesus.  In Hebrew his name is Joshua.  He is the one who brings us into the kingdom of God. 


For us to go there we must first be nothing.  That was John’s preaching.   That was also John’s baptism.  It was water, symbolizing the flood.


The flood destroyed the earth, but then it began again.


The  kingdom of God—there will be no more beginning again, because it will be complete


“No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit.”


Jesus gives the holy Spirit.  But he first tears down our old life in Adam and all our righteousness.


This Sunday—rend the heavens Sunday (rorate coeli)


The heavens were torn open at Jesus’ baptism


The curtain and the temple itself and the graves torn open at Jesus’ death.


Baptism is a continuous starting over—going out to the edge of the Jordan, flood, etc.


But the mighty one whom our pride keeps us from knowing raises us up in Him.


Our faithfulness in church is to be commended.  But we still only know this mighty one when we come confessing our sins, recognizing the voice of God that calls us to repentance.


The mighty one comes to us humble in the baby at Bethlehem.  He takes our human flesh.  He recreates us. 



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  1. December 24, 2012 at 4:44 am
  2. January 9, 2013 at 2:56 am

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