Epiphany 1 – “Confessing and Confessing” – Matthew 3:5-6, 13-15 – 1/12/14

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“Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to [John] and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

I. “Confessing Their Sins”
A. Confessing the Faith
There are two kinds of confession. One kind of confession is what we call our confession of faith. When we confess our faith, we say what we believe is true about God.

You don’t have to be a Christian to ‘confess’ what you believe is true about God. And confessions of faith aren’t only made in Church either. Confessions of faith are made in lots of different places, and in lots of different ways, in the course of normal conversations, whenever and wherever they may be.

All confessions have this much in common. They all begin with the words, “I believe…” After that, they can get very different.
 “I believe that all gods are basically the same. You should follow which ever god fits you the best.”
 “I believe that God just wants us to be happy and that He accepts however we are.”
 “I believe that God, if there is one, is up there somewhere, wherever that is, and that He has nothing to do with me and what’s going on down here.”
Those are all ‘confessions of faith,’ and we hear them at various times and various places.

In case you hadn’t noticed by now, the ‘confession of faith’ that we speak together here is a good bit different than the examples I’ve just used. The Christian confession of faith is not based on what WE THINK God is like or what WE HOPE that God is like, BUT the Christian confession of faith is based solely on what the Holy Scriptures say that God is like.

We “confess our faith” in carefully chosen words, tested and scrutinized over time. The Apostles, the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds have been hammered out with a great deal of scrutiny, so that we may be confident we are “saying the same thing” as the Scriptures say about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

HERESY is when you say you that the Scriptures say something about God that the Scriptures really DO NOT SAY. Heresy is dangerous and deadly because they may lead people to make a FALSE CONFESSION OF FAITH.

It used to be that HERETICS were burned at the stake. Today, we take such things very lightly. A HERETIC is likely to be honored for being an independent thinker and everyone will buy his book and the HERETIC will become rich.

Those who insist on CONFESSING their faith in ancient, fixed words are considered to be narrow minded, mechanical, and the worst condemnation possible – boring. Maybe so. But at least we can be sure that what we are confessing is TRUE.

Besides, to ‘say the same thing’ about God as people all over the world are saying, and that people for centuries in the past have said, and that people into the future will say, makes us a part of the “One, Holy, Christian and Apostolic Church.” And that’s pretty cool.

B. Confessing their Sins
“Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to [John] and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, CONFESSING THEIR SINS.” “Confessing their faith” was not what those who were going out into the wilderness were doing.

They were not saying what they believed to be true ABOUT GOD. They were saying what they believed to be true ABOUT THEMSELVES.

Their confession was NOT based on what they thought about themselves nor on what others may have thought about them. They were saying what the SCRIPTURES say about them and about everyone, without distinction. Before the one, true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, everyone ‘sins’ because everyone is a ‘sinner.’ “We all fall short” of the person that the one true God has created us to be.

And so they were “confessing their sins.” They were saying, out loud, in the presence of others, but most importantly before the one true God Himself. “I am by nature sinful and unclean. Therefore, we have sinned against God in thought, word and deed”

Sound familiar?

The fact that the baptismal font is where it is in our sanctuary is no coincidence. This morning, we came from similar distances as they did, and we confessed our sins into the waters of baptism along with all those who came from Judea and Jerusalem.

Pardon the analogy here but “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan…” were vomiting their sins into the Jordan River. And we did the same into the baptismal font. The Jordan River and the baptismal font are waters into which we CONFESS our sin, with all of its infectious and deadly diseases.

Not a pretty picture. But something we should all consider, especially as you dip your fingers into the baptismal bowl on the way to the Lord’s Supper.

C. John Preached The Law
The question is, why did they do it? Why did “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan go out to [John] to be baptized by him in the river Jordan, CONFESSING THEIR SINS”?

I’m quite sure that the common perception in their day regarding man before God was about the same as it is in our day. Men and women are basically ‘good’ and as long as we ‘try as hard as we can’ and are ‘sincere,’ that’s all that God really expects from us. There’s certainly nothing in that message to drive someone to the point of utter despair before almighty God so that they give up and thrown themselves upon His mercy.

But the fact that this was exactly what they were doing must mean that John was preached the law of God. The law shows us who we REALLY are before God. The law is TRUE mirror. It shows us what we really look like before God, according to the Scriptures. And the picture is enough to drive you into the wilderness to confess your sins and cast yourself upon the mercy of God.

And this is a good thing.

The famous philosopher, Socrates said, “Know thyself.” “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The question is, how are we to ‘know ourselves?’ By what standards do we examine our life? Do we ‘look inside ourselves?’ Do we examine ourselves in comparison to others?

Or, are we willing to do the DANGEROUS THING and let the Word of God be the standard against which we examine ourselves before God. “You shall be holy as I the Lord, your God, am holy.”

John preached the law and he must have been a heck of a preacher of the law too, because people saw themselves before God’s mirror and it made them so sick that they told the truth about themselves. They CONFESSED THEIR SINS.

II. Jesus Comes To Be Baptized
A. One Man From Galilee
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.”

How strange is this? Everything that the bible has to say about Jesus is that He has no sin because He is NOT A SINNER. This is the One whom we said in our ‘confession of faith’ is “God of God and Light of Light and true God of true God.” “Conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

B. Jesus In The Vomit
How strange is this that He should want to be baptized? He wants to be washed in the same water as all of Israel was confessing their sins into.

John objected, just as we all would have done. We like to keep God on a pedestal, high and exalted, far removed from the disgusting dirt and disease of our daily life.

Or, is it really that we don’t want God to get too close to us let He see us NAKED AND ASHAMED. How awkward. How embarrassing?

But He insisted. “Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

And with that, John baptized Him in the same water that all of Israel had just vomited their sin into. Teeming with all those detestable sins that everyone agrees are terrible… murder, rape, incest, theft. But the Jordan River was also contaminated with those sins that we think are harmless or innocent, like gossip, greed, prejudice, jealousy, lust, and pride.

And the “God of God and Light of Light and true God or true God,” walked right into it. And John washed Him.

C. The Sky Ripped Open
And “IMMEDIATELY, the sky is ripped open. It’s as though the Father and the Spirit were looking though that one-way glass that we can’t see through. The Father was watching His beloved Son every step of the way from Galilee to the Jordan River.

And as He is washed in our sin, THE TIME HAD FULLY COME, for Him to begin the work that the Father sent HIM into the world to do.
 To take the sin of the world upon Himself
 and take the just penalty for our sin against God onto Himself
 and nail atone for it in His own body nailed to the cross
 and all would be forgiven, and forgotten,
 and God would be reconciled to His beloved people,
 and His people would stand before Him without fear,
 at peace,
 with grateful hearts bursting with thanks,
 eager to serve Him in everlasting innocence, righteousness and blessedness.

And in that building crescendo of anticipation that the whole creation had been groaning for as in pangs of childbirth since the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, the curtain is torn in two. And now it is God the Father who CONFESSES what is most true about THIS MAN who has just been baptized, “This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.”

D. Voice From Heaven
The pure, holy and sinless, Son of God went into the Jordan River and came out covered with our sin. He was filthy with our filth. Our sin clung to Him like leeches.

And with this and with Him, THE FATHER IS WELL PLEASED. For “God made Him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21).

E. The Spirit Descends Upon Him.
The Father confirms His divine approval for His Son by sending the Holy Spirit to rest upon Him, just as the prophet Isaiah had foretold, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him…” (Isaiah 42:1).

F. John Preaches Gospel
John PREACHED THE LAW and those who heard his sermons were convicted of their sin. But John also PREACHED THE GOSPEL. He preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

He showed them just how sick they really were and then he gave them the cure. AND THE CURE IS GREATER THAN THE SICKNESS!

On Pentecost Day, Peter gave the crowd a strong dose of the law. “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. And the Law did what the law does to all who will listen. When the people heard this they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?”

And Peter replied with the same wonderful gospel as did John, “Repent every one of you and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:36-37). And 3,000 received the blessed cure.

Baptism is pure gospel – nothing but the good news of what God has done for us. Baptism is not what we MUST DO in order to clean ourselves up enough to be able to stand before God. That turns the gospel into law. Baptism is not our ‘confession of faith’ in God. It is God’s ‘CONFESSION OF LOVE’ for you.

Jesus Christ, THE SINLESS ONE, goes into the water and all of our sin clings to Him. And we, WHO ARE BY NATURE SINFUL AND UNCLEAN emerge from the water as THE HOLY ONES OF GOD, His dearly love children.

Christ’s righteousness is ours just as surely as our sins are His. By His baptism, Jesus has made your baptism the life changing event that NOW DEFINES YOUR LIFE.

In these waters, you died to sin. In these same waters, you were born again, “to walk in newness of life.” Now, and only now, we are qualified and ready to CONFESS THE FAITH.

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