Sermons : 2015 : January 11, God Approaches You Through Baptism - Mark 1:4-11

We want to approach Him on our terms. I’m talking about God. We want to say, this is me, Lord. Accept me, love me, approve of me. We want a God who loves us for who we are believing that we are the way we are because this is how God made us. And so we want to approach Him with the understanding that we are ok just as we are. To be accepted this way is for us the equivalent of love. Love is when God accepts you as you are and encourages you to approach Him as you wish, at least that’s the growing sentiment of many today.

So much of the modern perspective on religion revolves around how we approach God. Our thinking is centered in a desire to have a relationship with Him, which is good. Most Americans still agree that the spiritual aspect of one’s life is important.

But in many ways, I think the way in which people talk about God is in reverse. The ways we conceive of approaching God can greatly be enlightened by first learning how God approaches us. In fact, when we try to do the approaching first, we often times get things turned around.

I’m reminded of that story in Exodus when Moses brings the people out of Egypt and they travel all those days and wind up at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses then goes up the mountain to meet God. And he’s there for so long that the people get restless and their insecurities lead them into hounding Aaron the priest into melting down their gold jewelry and forming it into the image of a new god, a golden calf. This is the danger that flirts with us when we become overconfident in approaching God on our terms. We attempt to remake Him into who or what we think He should be.

Throughout the history of the church, there have been many attempts to make God into a reflection of the people who worship Him. Jesus has been made white; He’s been made black; I’ve seen pictures of Him as Asian; He’s been made hip; He’s been made a hugger, a homeboy, a philosopher; He’s even been feminized. On the front cover of our bulletin today, He’s made into someone who looks like he can benchpress 300 lbs.

It is a human tendency to make God into a God whom we would want to approach as a projection of traits that we either possess or aspire to. Now, we can and should talk about Him being one of us in terms of the incarnation. You know, He takes our flesh upon Himself; He becomes a man; He was once a baby; He wasn’t rich; He worked and suffered. In that sense, He does embrace our humanity. But our projections go beyond that and we turn this Middle Eastern average looking to unattractive man into an action hero or a relevant social category because we’re trying to make Him more approachable.

But see, in the incarnation, there is also a humiliation. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him,” Isaiah 53:2 says. Nobody was drawn to Jesus because of what He looked like or how strong He appeared or some kind of charisma He had. We are not drawn to Him because He appeared to be an idealized version of ourselves. If that were so, he would have already had a following before today, the day in which He is baptized.

Now the scriptures do paint flattering pictures of David and Saul’s appearances, but not Jesus. And that’s the point. The idea is not to customize Him so that we can approach or relate to Him. The idea is that He approaches us and He transforms us and even better, He does both of those things at the same time.

Today in His Baptism, Jesus is publicly identified as God’s Son. Now a couple weeks ago in Bethlehem, the Shepherds knew who He was, Mary and Joseph knew; this past Thursday during Epiphany the Wise Men knew. But the general population of Israel did not know. They did not know that their King had come down from heaven and was born a human being-not yet.

But today, the public ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God begins. He is baptized with a sinner’s baptism; there is a voice of approval from heaven, the Holy Spirit descends on Him as a dove. Soon after this, He will begin calling of the 12 disciples, casting out of demons and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Now, this Baptism that Jesus undergoes today will continue. After He is resurrected, Baptism will remain as a washing of renewal and regeneration. It will be the public sign that you have left your old life behind and are now a Christian. It will be the way in which the Holy Spirit continues to descend upon us and as such, the way in which God approaches us.

It will also be the way in which God transforms us. To be baptized is, as 2 Corinthians says, to become a new creation. When you are brought into a relationship of God, He changes you. He changes you from a child of sin into a child of grace. He puts His Spirit into your heart and gives you a new nature. He brings you a new perspective on life, on sin, on purpose and on Himself. You now reject sin and confess it; you now accept the Word of God; you now walk in His statues; you now crave His body and blood from the altar; you now seek after righteousness and stand for justice, truth and compassion; you now are brought into a relationship with the Son. Baptism changes you. It transforms you. The terms in which you would have sought to approach God before have now faded away as you understand that God has given you gifts and an inheritance that you did not have before.

It is a great comfort to know that God takes the initiative. On our own, we cannot find Him or come to Him although Romans 1 says that His existence is evident from creation. Creation gives us an approximation that there is some kind of God or deity out there. We just don’t have specifics. That’s where Revelation comes in. Jesus appearing in the flesh is God’s revelation of Himself. The Word of God as the Holy Scriptures is God’s revelation of Himself. The sacraments of Communion and Baptism are God’s revelation of Himself.

Apart from revelation, we have the golden calf at the foot of the mountain. We have an understanding of God that we come up with on our own – one that is an animal or a tree or the wind or an idealized human being who is strong or attractive or charismatic. Apart from revelation, this is how our nature conceives of god and we still struggle with that even after baptism. This is why approaching God on our terms gets us into all sorts of trouble—because we remake Him into a more idealized version of ourselves and that’s what we try to approach.

But when God approaches you, He brings you to the true understanding of who you are. He brings you to an understanding of your identity as a sinner in need of grace and love and change. And He supplies the change; He supplies the love; He supplies the grace. He pays for all of this in His blood when He goes to the cross. Death is the penalty for sin the book of Romans says. And in love, Jesus pays your penalty.

But He doesn’t stop there. His work continues among us today in the revelations of Himself in Word and Sacrament. These means give you a true understanding of who He is. And so He approaches you through them. And as a result of this encounter, you are never the same. You no longer live for yourself nor do you see God as an extension of yourself. You see yourself as His child redeemed by His Love. You are sent out into the world to reflect that love in your daily vocation, in service to your neighbor and in faithfulness in coming to His House.

We love because He first loved us, 1 John says. We love because He took the initiative with us to approach us and redeem us – to save us from making golden calves and being lost in the wilderness of life. When you receive God’s love, how can you not be changed? How can you stay as you are insisting on approaching God as you wish? He is perfect and we cannot remake Him any better than who He is and who He has been through the ages. We are the ones who need to be remade and we are when we are washed in the water and His divine Name is spoken over us. Then we are redeemed; then we are transformed. Then we see ourselves for who we are and we see Him for who He is, who He really is, and life is never the same. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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