Sunday 7 January 2024 Baptism of Christ
Epiphanies – then and now
Context: a mainly elderly but active evangelical Baptist congregation in an urban area of South Wales (predominately English speaking)
Aim: to show the necessity of the Trinity for our salvation
Epiphany! That’s a great word isn’t? Not one we use very often. When was the last time you said ‘Oh, I’ve just had an epiphany!’? Yet that is the word we use to describe this season in the church calendar, and it’s an important one. It means a revealing, a discovering, a revelation, and always with the sense that it is something that God has revealed. In particular here we use it to mean an unveiling of the true identity and glory of Christ. So, as we look at this passage why not pray silently that God would grant you an epiphany this morning, that He would reveal to you something new about the glories of Jesus Christ?
THE END IS BEGINNING
The first thing we see here is that the end is beginning. Everything about this passage is designed to convey the sense that the final act of God’s dealing with His people, that He promised long ago, is being fulfilled. The description of John is designed to make us think of Elijah, and so the promised Second Elijah who would come ahead of Messiah. Then the message about one who will baptise in the Holy Spirit recalls the prophecy of Joel that in the Last Days God would pour out His Spirit on all people. Here is our first epiphany, the end is beginning.
THE SAVIOUR IS HERE
Then we see that the Saviour is here. Why did Jesus need to be baptised? This is our second epiphany. His baptism was a prophetic symbol of His life’s mission. He was the one who was to die and be buried and then rise again; to take the sins of the people to the Cross and the grave and then to offer them his own resurrection life. Indeed, Jesus was not only making a statement, but he was also accepting his mission and identity as the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah. Perhaps that is why the Father said, ‘with him I am well-pleased,’ because the Son had publicly accepted the redeeming mission given him by his Father? Of course, the Father’s words ‘This is my Son, the beloved...’ further reveal his identity. Even the gift of the Spirit as a dove speaks to this. Why a dove? In part because it was one of the five sacrificial animals of the Old Testament, probably even the offering that Mary and Joseph made at the Temple after his birth. So as Jesus saw the Spirit’s descent, it was an all-too-obvious symbol that he was being anointed not only for ministry but also for sacrificial death on our behalf.
GOD IS RECREATING
This leads us to our next epiphany, that God is recreating. In Genesis 1 God, the Word, and the Spirit, were all present. And now, here, once again God is speaking, once again the Spirit is hovering over the waters. Indeed, another reason that the Spirit descended as a dove is that it was a dove that Noah sent out three times from the ark after the flood. And so now comes a greater judgment than Noah’s, the judgment of the sins of the world upon Jesus, symbolised by his own baptism. And once more the Spirit prepares to fly out over a new and cleansed creation, this time to live in the hearts of all believers.
OUR GOD IS THREE IN ONE
And so lastly, we behold our final epiphany: that our God is Three in One. Here is the great mystery of the Trinity. That God is One, but that he exists in a super-personality of persons. Here we have the Father speaking; the Spirit descending; and Jesus, the Son, receiving the Father’s love and the Spirit’s enabling. Here is a greater wonder still: we only know that God is Triune because of his decision to save us. Have you ever thought about that? It is only because the Father has sent the Son in the power of the Spirit to be our Saviour, that the mystery of God’s Trinitarian nature is revealed to us. Indeed, it is only because God is Triune that He is able to save us. What a wonder!
So, what has been your epiphany today? Do you know the Saviour is here... for you? Have you accepted the work of new creation in your heart that He alone makes possible? And have you rejoiced in the wonder of the Trinity, knowing that is only because our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit that he is able to save you?
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