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Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Chosen Substitute” based on Mark 1:4-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, January 7, 2017
If you were to sit in on a class over at Peace Lutheran School, you could probably learn a lot of information. You could study the history of the United States or take a closer look at her presidents. You could relearn the basics of algebra or, if you are like me, maybe it would be better to take another glance at simple arithmetic. Perhaps sitting in on an art class or a lesson in music theory would be enlightening for you.
However, if you could only afford the time to participate in one class, the young people who would probably share with you the fact with the most significance are the preschoolers. If you were to ask them what Jesus did for them, they would likely give you one of two answers. They would tell you that Jesus either took away or washed away their sins.
That is most certainly the most important truth that anyone could ever learn in any classroom. While it would certainly be difficult to live your life without knowing how to read or to add two numbers together, if you did not know what Jesus has done for you, you would not live forever in heaven.
That truth is something that your pastors hope to teach or reteach you every weekend here in worship. Whether you are hearing it for the first time or for the four thousandth time, the hope is that you would walk away from this place knowing that Jesus took away or washed away your sins.
Forgiveness is an idea that is conveyed to Christians with many different metaphors. Forgiveness could be taught to be a cleansing. It could be explained as a courtroom acquittal. It could be seen as the result of a ransom payment or an undeserved reconciliation with someone you have offended.
Today’s Gospel reading from Mark, though, is literally a textbook example of how Jesus took away or washed away your sins. Even though you don’t see it at first glance, those phrases and descriptions of what Jesus did for you are right there in black and white. It just so happens that, in your bulletin, they are a little bit hidden. Listen again:
John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…at that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
There it is. God has declared that your sins are washed away because Jesus took them away. That’s what the preschoolers know after hearing these words. That’s because, even know they may not be aware of it, they know the nuances of the Greek language, from which this English translation was originally written.
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were coming out to John in the desert for a reason.
Make no mistake, John was a preacher inspired by the Holy Spirit. That was enough to make people flock from all over to hear him. His camel hair clothing did make him a sight you had to see to believe, but not just because he had a different sense of style. He chose those clothes because that is what prophets before him, like Elijah, also wore. He was simply identifying his occupation.
People went out to see him because he was a prophet of God who was preaching the very Word of God and, on top of that, the Word that he preached was not only what the people needed to hear, but was what they were craving to hear.
Those people of God, like their forefathers before them, had been enslaved by an evil overlord who forced them to work against their wishes and think, say, and do what they did not want to do. But it was not Pharaoh from Egypt who was in control over them. It was the Devil, himself.
Each and every day they were crippled with their guilt and were taunted by Satan’s reminders that, because of their sin, they were not worthy to be God’s children, let alone to live with him forever.
They had something they needed to get rid of and so John came, offering to them a way for that guilt to be washed and taken away. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
That word that is translated as baptized is used over and again in the New Testament and, every single time that it is used, it means washed with water. Whether it was pots and kettles, a ceremonial rinse of their hands, or a cleaning of a couch, the Israelites always used water to wash away whatever had been soiled.
So, when John offered to them that, through this baptism, they themselves could be baptized; that their sins could be washed away, it is no surprise that they flooded that desert region.
When they went into that water, that guilt that plagued them day and night was removed from them. It was taken away from them and they came up out of the water fresh and clean.
And, friends, that is why it is so important for you today to hear and to know that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, too.
As you well know, Jesus did not need to be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins. He, up unto that point and afterward, lived a perfect life, free from even a single sinful thought, word, or action. No he was not baptized so that his sins could be taken away, but, rather, so that he could take away your sins.
The sin and guilt of the Israelites did not remain in the water of the River Jordan like the dirt and grime of a third grader stays in the bathtub. When Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the Father’s voice thundered approval from above because he did there what he was chosen to do. He took on himself the guilt that was taken away from the Israelites and all of the sins that were washed away from you in your Baptism.
And, after he got up out of that water, with your guilt and the sins of all people of all time covering him, he started his walk to Calvary’s cross. There, he not only took your sins away from you, but shed his own precious blood to pay the debt that sin had incurred.
In this great exchange that takes place through Jesus’ baptism and yours, God gave to Jesus the punishment that you deserved for your sins and gives to you the salvation that Jesus earned with his perfection.
Because of baptism, Jesus’ and yours, you are declared to be children of God, who he loves and, with Jesus’ righteousness substituted for yours, with you God is well pleased.
There are plenty of great things that have happened or that will happen in church today. It would be great if you leave here humming the tunes of the hymns that we sing or remember those we pray for in just a little bit in your own prayers at home. But if there is one thing that is most important for you to learn or to relearn today, it is what Jesus has done for you. He took away your sins by washing them away from you. You were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Amen.