Scandal At The Jordan River

Text:  Mark 1:4-11

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Out in the wilderness by the Jordan River we find John the Baptist eating grasshoppers and wild honey, while blasting away at sinners: 

“…the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”[1]

Out in the wilderness by the Jordan River we hear the noises of remorse, shame, guilt, and regret as confessions of sin burst forth:

“I, a poor miserable sinner have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone!”

Out in the wilderness in the Jordan River we see dirty water, water that had washed over some 500,000 sinners in a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.[2]

Yes, this is the atmosphere out by the Jordan River: John the Baptist blasting away at sinners; confessions of sin, acknowledgements of failure, and concessions of corruption abounding; water dripping from the heads of adulterers, thieves, liars, prostitutes,  swindlers, blasphemers, murderers, legalists, rebels, and ragamuffins—people just like you and me—who were just baptized into a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Things out by the Jordan River were surely no sanitized walk in the park; it was messy.  

If this context and setting do not sound uncomfortable and inhospitable enough to you and me, things become a bit more uneasy.  Yes, this environment turns rather scandalous; there is a mighty disruption when Jesus comes along and acts as if He were a sinner, just like the rest of us.  Otherwise stated, the message that John the Baptist was lambasting, the declaration of guilt among the crowds, and the waters polluted by the body oils, dirt, and sins of the people, certainly did not seem like something that Jesus would fit into, let alone be subjected to.  That is to say, is Jesus not different from the people at the Jordan; is He not different from you and me?  I mean, it is not like Jesus needed to hear the message of repentance from John, for He had nothing to repent of.  Furthermore, Jesus did not need to confess sins, for He was not only sinless in His deed, but sinless in His thoughts, words, and nature. No sin, no need to confess.  Finally, Jesus did not need to be washed, for He had no filth that needed to be cleansed.  Thus, it does not make sense for Jesus to show up at the Jordan and then act like He is like everyone else!  He does not need to be there.  In fact, Jesus should not have even been permitted to enter into this setting, but rather John and everyone else should have come to Jesus instead. That is to say, it should not have been acceptable for Jesus to come close to or even associate with the message, people, and water of John the Baptist, for He is not a sinner.  He is not like them.  Yet, contrary to what makes sense and what seems wise and sensible, Jesus just goes off to the Jordan and become one of us.  That’s right, Jesus takes on all that has gone wrong with us—all of our sins.[3]  Jesus just walks right into the midst of the people; He goes right into the water of the Jordan River and is baptized by John the Baptist in a sinner’s baptism.  John the Baptist tried to prevent Him, but Christ would not listen.  It seemed as if He had another agenda on His mind.  

This is the way that it is with the Son of God; He descended into the sin filled world by His birth in a manger.  He plunged further still by going to the Jordan River and by being baptized by John the Baptist in a sinner’s baptism.  Yes, a sinner’s baptism was indeed Christ’s agenda!  In fact, “Martin Luther believed that it was there at the Jordan that Jesus actually took upon himself the sin of mankind and carried it from that day forward to the garden of Gethsemane and to the cross, where the depth of his descent horrifies us.”[4]  That’s right, Christ did not wait until His crucifixion to take sin upon Himself, but rather the sewer of our sins were cast into the waters of Jesus’ baptism, where they were soaked up by Him.[5] 

To put it another way, the message that was being blasted by John, the confession of sins that filled the air, and the dirty water, were all that Christ walked into, embraced, and owned as if it were His own.  This is the way that it had to be.  When Jesus was baptized in the midst of sinners and in the water of dirty sinners, it was to show that He was the one who would bear the sins of the world! 

Pause for a moment. 

Dear friends, do you hear what happened?  Listen again!  Jesus went to the Jordan River to where sinners were.  He went to the place where people were talking about, confessing, and acknowledging their sin, failures, troubles, guilt, and shame.  He went to the place where unrighteousness was at. 

Indeed, righteousness and sin met.  Righteousness stepped into and under sin.  Sin touched righteousness. 

Truly, Jesus went to the Jordan River to begin His triumphant, powerful, salvific ministry, for He came not for the so-called righteous, but He came for sinners.  Jesus, the friend of sinners, clothed Himself in sin—yours and mine too.

It is most certainly true that where sin was, is where Jesus was.  But why did He draw near to sin?  He came to join us in our sin so that He could bear it, and fulfill all righteousness.  He came and comes to sin and sinners so that He could and can make righteousness ours.  “In exchange for our sewer of sin, He gives us the fountain of life.”[6]  This means that, “where His righteousness is, is where we are.  His righteousness is as surely ours as our sins are surely His. . . . We are righteous with His righteousness, and in that God has His delight.”[7] 

As it was in the Jordan River, it is no different for us today.  The Lord Jesus Christ comes in the twenty-first-century to where sinners gather.  He comes to where sins, failures, troubles, guilt, and shame are confessed.  He comes to churches like ours—hospitals for sinners—in the Word and Sacraments in order that we might believe, know, and understand that there is no distance or separation between us and Him.  He comes to the place of sinners, because the Gospel is for sinners only. 

What does this mean?  It means that “the delight and pleasure of God are in His beloved Son, and that is where we are too.  What is ours is His; what is His is ours.  So God delights in us too.  If our hearts would take this in, Martin Luther said, ‘they would burst for joy into a hundred thousand pieces.’  In a world that is given over to sin, death, and the devil, there is one point where the delight of God dwells.  ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.’  That is where we are in [cohesion] with Jesus.  With Jesus there is God’s delight.  God, Christ, you—all together like one thing.”[8]

Baptized Saints, think about this for a moment, “Do you live where Christ is, where God has His delight? Yes, [you do] for God has put His words on you too.  With the water His name was put on you at your Baptism.  You are not just a doubtful, ambiguous, meaningless, hopeless bunch of atoms bouncing around.  You have the word of God put on you.  At your Baptism, surely, and at Jesus’ baptism too.  For there Jesus is in [unity] with us and we with Him.  Because he is the beloved Son, we with Him are beloved sons and daughters, delighted in and beloved of God.  So you can’t just drag along dreary, fearful, guilt-ridden, nobody-loves-me, me-against-the-rest [of the world], me-against-the-system, me-separate, all alone.”[9]  No, none of this is possible for you are connected and joined to Son of God in your baptisms.     

Indeed, through the Baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus sanctified (that is made holy) and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood, a lavish washing away of sin.  Yes, in your baptism you have been made a member of the Son, and an heir to all of the treasurers of heaven.[10]

Thus, today we confess boldly to sin, death, and the devil that we are baptized into Christ.  Sin, you cannot disturb our soul any longer, for we are baptized into Christ!  Death you cannot end our gladness, for we are baptized into Christ! Satan, your might has come unraveled, for we are baptized into Christ! 

You are God’s own child, Blessed Saints, for you are baptized into Christ.  Nothing can change that reality and nothing can separate you from your Lord that unites with you.[11]

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Matthew 3:10.

[2] It has been estimated that some 200,000 to 500,000 people were baptized by John the Baptist, for Jewish Historian Josephus mentions that the Baptist caused a great sensation.

[3] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 43.

[4] Patrick Thurmer, “The Greatest Sinner Who Ever Lived” (9 January 2015).

[5] Growing In Christ: Junior High Teacher Guide (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, Winter 2014-2015), 43.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel, 43.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 268-271.

[11]Paraphrases of the Hymn, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It.” in page 594 of the Lutheran Service Book.'

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