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Knowing God, KnowingSelf, Knowing Purpose

January 9th 2011 by Joel Schultz

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. He knows who He is and what He has come to do. He identifies with sinners in His baptism so that He might be their Savior. In Baptism, we are given a new identity as God's children. Knowing whose we are is what then identifies our purpose as God's children.

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Epiphany 1A — “Knowing God, Knowing Self, Knowing Purpose” — Matthew 3:13-17 — January 9, 2011

If I asked you to make a list of the greatest problems facing our society today, what would be on your list? Well, I imagine most of us would include well-known dilemmas like increasing violence, poverty, war, the economy, unemployment, and perhaps various diseases. Regardless of what problems you list, I think a case could be made that the underlying problem to all of societies dilemmas is that many people do not know who they are before God.

We have all witnessed real life examples. Like a man who works and claws to get ahead in life, hardly exhibiting a life of godly contentment with what he has been given, only to see someone else get the promotion. He then responds in anger, doing and saying things that hurt and harm others. Or like a girl dying of cancer. She keeps wondering why God would let this happen, concluding that God must hate her and was punishing her for her sins. She falls into deep despair. Or the couple who simply decide they are not in love anymore and divorce with no regard for what God’s Word says about such things.

These and many others are incredibly difficult issues, but knowing we belong to God and knowing His love for us in Christ will help and strengthen us amid the problems and challenges we face. Our Gospel lesson today in a way is about identity – knowing God – knowing we belong to God – knowing our purpose as children of God.

John the Baptizer knew whose he was and his purpose. John was raised in the pious Jewish home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. He knew the Scriptures. Additionally, we are told earlier in Luke 3 (v 2) that the Word of the Lord came to John in the desert. By God’s Word and by Spirit-given faith, John knew Jesus as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). The God of John was a saving God, a gracious God. But He was also a just and holy God.

John knew that he and all people were sinners before God. He realized his place. “Not worthy” was John’s self-assessment as he stood in the presence of God the Son. John did not even consider himself worthy to unstrap the sandals on Jesus’ feet – a menial task that ONLY non-Jewish slaves were required to perform for their masters.

Yet this One had come to save even such as John. John, knew he belonged to God. He carried through with his appointed task: to prepare the way morally and spiritually for the Messiah. Alert to his own sin, he alerted others (Luke 3:17). Comforted by the forgiveness of His God, he would announce that comforting forgiveness to others (v 18). And, he would be the baptizer of the Messiah!

Imagine! The Agent of God’s redemption for all people, standing in the waters of the Jordan, waiting to be baptized by John. Well, it is evident that Jesus also knew who He was and what His purpose on earth was. He had known His Father from eternity. He knew His love, and He heard the Father’s public affirmation of that love as the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended onto Him. Jesus knew that divine love had brought Him to the day of baptism.

A first-century Jewish rabbi saw his son killed by the Romans. He witnessed more atrocities when the Romans crucified some Jewish zealots, among them some of the young men of his own village. He was bitter and complained as he prayed in the synagogue, “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you created our body, but you never had your blood poured out. You have no body to ache and to die. You haven’t experienced human grief. You ask us to love you. How can we love you? How can we believe in your love for us if you do not share our human suffering?”

But you see, that’s the point of Jesus’ baptism. The beloved Son, who was committed to doing the Father’s loving will for all the world, takes the first step in fulfilling His mission of salvation by identifying Himself with sinful mankind through this baptism. Here was the Son of God submitting Himself to an act He didn’t deserve, a baptism of repentance, so that sinners would, on that Friday we call “Good,” get what they don’t deserve: redemption through His sufferings and death on a cross.

Now, because of Christ – who He is and what He came to do – it becomes clear in our Baptisms whose we are and what our purpose as God’s children is. We belong to God. In Baptism, we are given the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection — forgiveness, life, and salvation – and every good gift that flows from them: peace, joy, love, etc. We are given the washing which cleanses us from sin. We, who were formerly the enemies of God and unrighteous, are reconciled to Him and become righteous in His sight. Faith is planted in us. New life is given by the Spirit.

In Baptism God writes His name on us – in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism God claims us His beloved sons and daughters. That is our identity. That is what gives purpose to our lives.

So what is that purpose? As God’s children, we live as disciples – we live a life of discipleship – a life that follows Jesus. As new people, dead to sin, to the Law, and to the world (Rom. 6:4, 7:6, et al), we produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). We seek to live a life that is focused outward rather than inward. Empowered by God’s love first brought to us in Baptism and which keeps coming to us in God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper, we live with a new purpose.

We forgive others, as we have been forgiven. Who are you upset at? Angry with? Who has wronged you? I want you to think about that person and this week I challenge you to reconcile and forgive whatever wrongs or grievances you feel.

We comfort others, as we have been comforted. Who do you know that is hurting right now? Perhaps someone struggling with a relationship – kids, spouse. Perhaps someone hurting because of death or struggling with sickness. Perhaps someone struggling with unemployment. There are a lot of hurting and broken people. Who do you know who needs comfort? This week, I challenge you to send a card of encouragement or call or visit with that person. Comfort them with the rich promises of God’s love ad peace.

We serve others as we have been served. Who do you know that needs your help? This week, I challenge you to seek out a person to serve. It might mean helping a neighbor with a task. It might mean providing a listening ear. It might mean fulfilling the needs of someone in your family or community.

Ultimately, we love as we have been loved. St. John speaks of our purpose as God’s children with simple but profound words in 1 John 4: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1John 4:7-12).

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