Epiphany 1 – "Without Form and Void" – Gen.1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11 – 1/7/18


sermon-1-7-18

‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

“Formless and void.” “Tohu wah vohu” in the Hebrew, which sounds like beautiful poetry, but “formless and void” is anything but beautiful. No shape AND no content. It doesn’t get worse than that. Its chaos squared.

Even if you had ‘CONTENT,’ ‘something,’ there’s nothing to contain the ‘something’ so it goes everywhere and there’s nothing you can do with it. And even if you had ‘FORM,’ ‘shape,’ every ‘form’ is ‘empty,’ utterly ‘void.’

It’s like being in a room that is completely dark because there is no such thing as a lightbulb to hold the light and even if there was, there’s no light to put into the bulb. Oh, and there’s no room either and so there’s no way to be ‘in’ the room – or anywhere.

“Formless and void” is ‘disorder’ multiplied by ‘meaningless,’ because how can there be any ‘order’ where there’s no ‘form’? And how can there be ‘meaning’ when everything is ‘empty.’

And for a lot of people, this is beginning to sound like a description of their life – and maybe you’re one of them. “Without form and void.”

So, what do we do when ‘without form and void’ is the assessment of my life? We do what king Solomon did. We create ‘form’ and then fill that ‘form’ with as much content as we can possibly stuff into it, because we do not like to be “without form and void.”

For Solomon, the ‘FORM’ he tried to create was something like, “the perfect life” however you define that. We define the ‘perfect life’ by all those “perfect lives” on your Instagram and Facebook accounts. “They look so happy and their lives seem so perfect. Not like mine that is for sure.”

Then Solomon set out to FILL the FORM with as much “wisdom” and “self-indulgence” and “work” and “wealth” and “wives” as he could cram into the FORM.

But in the end when Solomon examines his life, it was ‘tohu wah vohu.’ “Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’” Which is just another way of saying, “Without form and void.”

It’s the same for us. We set out to create the ‘perfect life’ and fill that ‘form’ with as much career and family and memberships and money and busyness as we can cram into them.

But we still feel ‘empty’ and the ‘chaos’ gets more ‘chaotic.’ And so we create better ‘forms’ and fill them with even more ‘content’ to fill the ‘void.’ Because we believe that if we work hard enough and accumulate enough of whatever we’re trying to fill the ‘void’ with, we’ll finally reach that point when our life becomes “very good.”

Until we realize that we cannot. And that only God can. With the “Holy Spirit hovering over the face of the deep darkness,” God spoke His Word into the chaos, “Let there be light.” And by His Word, ‘light’ took ‘form’ and there ‘was’ light. “And God saw that the light was good.”

And by the same Word – AND NEVER APART FROM IT, God created the stars in the sky and filled these great ‘forms’ with the ‘light’ He created. He created CONTENT which He called, ‘waters’ and ‘dry land’ and put each into its ‘FORM’ which He calls, ‘seas’ and ‘earth.’ And the FORM He calls ‘earth’ He FILLS with ‘plants’ that are FILLED with “seeds” and He fills the FORM of “trees” with “fruit.” And the ‘seas’ He fills with ‘fish’ and the ‘earth’ He fills with ‘animals.’ And eventually, He says, “let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” And to the man and the woman God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and FILL THE EARTH…”

By the Spirit of God who hovers over the deep and through His Word which He speaks into the chaos, God creates the form and the content. And then, seeing all that He has made He says, “behold, it is very good.”

Is it any wonder then that for all of the order we try to bring to our disordered lives – APART FROM GOD – we are always frustrated and never satisfied or content. The will of God is to bring ‘form to the formless’ and ‘fill the void.’ This is our desire and will too, because we have been made in His ‘image and likeness.’

But in our rebellion against our own Creator, we’re always trying to cut Him out of our lives and become the CREATOR of our own ‘form’ and the FILLER of our own ‘emptiness.’ Because in our sin, our will is to “be like God.”

But God’s will is holy and unchangeable – thanks be to God. When He sees the ‘tohu wah vohu’ of His ‘very good’ creation and His precious people “without form and void,” He ordains a “new creation.” And just as He did in the beginning, God the Father speaks His creative Word into the chaos while the Spirit of God hovers over the watery deep.

“In those days,” those days when the world was without THE FORM OF GOD AND VOID OF HIS FULLNESS, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

I want to make three points about the Baptism of Jesus Christ

I. In Solidarity with Israel
First, Mark tells us that “all the country of Judea and Jerusalem were going out to [John the Baptist] and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

John the Baptist was calling all of Israel to examine their lives in light of God’s Word who calls them ‘MY PEOPLE’ and longed for them to call Him, “MY GOD.” ‘Examine your lives and see the false gods whom you are pursuing and worshipping in your search for meaning and purpose and safety and security, and confess your guilt. Go ahead and name those gods out loud before the one, true God that He might set you free from them through this baptism for the forgiveness of your sins.’

And many said, “John, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. And “all the country of Judea and Jerusalem were going out to John.”

And as they do, there is another one who is also going out. But He comes from a different place, an obscure place called “Nazareth” which has a bad reputation, “for can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

But He is ‘good.’ He is ‘very good.’ He comes from even further than Nazareth. He comes from heaven. He is THE WORD, spoken over the watery deep in the beginning and HE IS THE LIGHT that separates the darkness.

He comes to where Israel is and insists that He too must be baptized by John. He is identifying Himself with them. He has no sin to confess. He confesses their sinfulness AND YOURS, and is baptized into their sin AND YOURS, in complete solidarity with them, AND WITH YOU.

He comes to the Jordan to make the ‘JOYOUS EXCHANGE,’ taking our sin upon Himself in this baptism and giving us His righteousness in the same. Or as Paul puts it, “He who knew no sin became sin for us so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

II. The Servant of the Lord
Second, “when He came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

The prophet Isaiah had prophesied long before about “the servant of the Lord,” saying, “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Is. 42:1)

Later, this SERVANT OF THE LORD announces for all to hear, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… AND to the brokenhearted AND the captives AND the prisoners AND all those who mourn. That is, to all those without form and void.

Now, here in the Jordan River, the time of God’s favor has come. “I have put my Spirit upon him…” “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” This SERVANT OF THE LORD will later confirm, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk.4:21)

But here’s the thing that we need to understand and dare not miss. When Isaiah spoke about the ‘servant of the Lord,’ he was always referring to the WHOLE NATION of Israel – the WHOLE PEOPLE of God.

Now here in the Jordan River, as the SPIRIT OF GOD is upon the SERVANT OF THE LORD – Jesus IS THE WHOLE PEOPLE OF GOD. The Holy Spirit is being poured out onto ALL ISRAEL IN THE ONE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST. The prophesy of Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL FLESH” is being fulfilled in the baptism of Jesus. (Joel 2:28)

III. My Son.
Third, with the Servant of the Lord in the water and the Holy Spirit descending on Him, the Holy Trinity is now fully revealed as “a voice came from heaven, declares ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Now we must ‘fast-backwards’ to the book of Exodus, the 4th chapter. (Stay close here. Don’t lose me.) God has sent His servant Moses to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to “let my people go.” God gives Moses the words that Moses is to speak to Pharaoh. “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is MY FIRSTBORN SON, and I say to you, ‘Let MY SON go that he may serve me.’ I you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.” (Ex.4:22-23).

Later the prophet Hosea captures the significance of those words spoken by Moses to Pharaoh. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called MY SON.” (Hos.11:1)

Same as the Servant of the Lord, now we also see that “My Son” includes the whole people of Israel. All along the way, God was speaking about His BELOVED people in the SINGULAR OF “MY SON” who has just been baptized by John in the Jordan. He is truly, the SON OF GOD and in Him, GOD SEES ALL HIS PEOPLE.

As the Father looks down on His beloved Son, seeing all that He will do as the faithful Servant of the Lord, He pronounces His divine blessing upon Him, “with you I am well pleased,” which corresponds perfectly to His “very good” in the beginning.

God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is working His ‘new creation’ right here in the Jordan River through Holy Baptism. He is restoring His order to the chaos that our sinfulness has created. To a world “without form,” He “conforms us to the image of His Son.”

To everyone whose life is so full and yet so void, He fills us with “His fullness – grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink that we may be filled with “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1:23)

By His glorious exchange, the Father’s pleasure with His beloved Son is His pleasure with you – for you are “my beloved son.” “With you I am well pleased.”

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