As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:15-17).
Our text begins with, “the people were in expectation.” Having just travelled over two thousand miles to both sides of the family for Christmas, I have the image of ‘expectation’ clearly in my mind. For there under the tree at both homes was a mound of presents expecting to be unwrapped. My kids and their cousins could hardly stand the wait to see what was inside each one.
Expectation is a word that can also be described as ‘sitting on the edge of one’s seat’ or ‘sitting on pins and needles’. It is safe to say either of those lines about my kids and their cousins when it came to presents.
It is also safe to say that about those who gathered to be baptized by John as well. This text, which we just heard a few weeks ago during Advent, says that the people were in ‘expectation.’ They were eagerly and anxiously waiting. They wanted to know, they were on pins and needles, begging to know, who was the One John was talking about. Was it him, or was it someone else?
John made it clear that it was not him at all they were to be expecting. Though he was there to baptize with water, there was One coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He would clear the threshing floor, and He would burn the chaff.
Yet there in that crowd of people filled with expectation, was one man who was most unexpected. This man who had come to receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins had no sin. He who knew no sin, became sin.
By joining in that crowd with those to be baptized by John, Jesus identified Himself with sinners. Though He was perfect in every sense of the word, He subjected Himself to a baptism of repentance for sinners.
What we see here is that Jesus, the Son of God, ‘stands with us’. He does not remain distant in any way, shape, or form. He is Immanuel. God with us. And when the fullness of time had come, He was born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law. And now He was here on the scene at the River Jordan to do just that.
Jesus stands with us covered in the filth and stench of our sin. And for agreeing to stand with us, He subjects Himself to the same punishment that we are due. Yes, Jesus stands with us under the wrath of God against sin.
God’s wrath is real people. Scripture describes God’s wrath as a storm, a whirling tempest (Jer. 30:23), a fury (Rev. 19:15), and an unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17).
God’s wrath burns the chaff with unquenchable fire. God hates sin. He abhors it. Every disobedient sinful act we commit, He despises. And every sinful thought, word, or deed, even just one, sentences us to the wrath of God. In no way should we make light of it.
Yet, that is what we do. In some strange way we think that when we tell ourselves that our sins are not that big of a deal, that God must conclude the same thing. This is one of the many ways we justify our sinful actions. It was only a couple of white lies. It was just a few minutes of looking at those videos. It was only a couple of questions that I cheated on. It was only a couple of swear words, and not the really bad ones.
What we think is not that big of a deal is a very big deal to God. When we sin, the fire of His wrath is stoked and He burns with anger. He hates to see His prized creation disregard and disobey Him time and again. God’s wrath is real people. And in no way should we take it lightly.
Jesus certainly didn’t take it lightly as He stood there that day by the Jordan. He knew full well what He was getting Himself into to stand with sinners. He knew that to stand there on the bank of the River Jordan meant much more than met the eye.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).
What we see here is that as Jesus was baptized and was praying, He wasn’t just standing ‘with sinners’. Jesus was standing ‘for sinners’. He was standing in their place, on their behalf. And in doing so, He was not only subjecting Himself to the wrath of God, but He was agreeing to be the One to meet it head on ‘for’ us sinners.
This is what the Holy Spirit confirms as He descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. And this is what the Father proclaims as He declares Jesus to be His beloved Son. This One, Jesus, and no other one, would stand up for sinners in order to save them from whirling tempest and fury of God’s wrath.
So, as the water is poured over Jesus’ head in the River Jordan, see here that this is Jesus going into battle for us. He steps to the front of the battle lines where the fighting is the fiercest and presses forward.
It all began right after his baptism with the Spirit casting Him out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Forty days with no food with the great deceiver breathing down His neck. The onslaught continued on all sides for the next three years. From family and friends, to church leaders and government officials. Mockery, ridicule, disdain. The attack was relentless. But none of it compared to what was to come.
The baptism of Jesus foreshadows the day of His bloody baptism. Forced to stand trial for crimes He did not commit. Forced to stand pierced upon a cross that should have never been His. Yet, there Jesus willingly, voluntarily, lovingly, stood for you and for me bearing the sins of the whole world. You sins and mine. And for that, the Father unleashed His whirling tempest filled wrath upon Him.
We can’t begin to imagine what it meant to bear that burden. All of the guilt and the shame of all of humanity’s sin from every generation. The weight of the world pressing down upon Him. We can’t begin to imagine what it was like to suffer that separation. To be utterly forsaken, abandoned in the most awful of circumstances. To cry out to God in heaven and get no reply. We can’t even begin to imagine…
And the reason we can’t begin to imagine it, is because of the One who stands with us and for us. The unquenchable fire of God’s furious wrath was quenched by none other than His very own Son. Jesus stood on that cross and breathed His very last breath to drink every last drop of the cup of God’s wrath for you and for me. What He endured, we never will endure. We need not be afraid.
It is as Isaiah wrote in our Old Testament Reading: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1b-3a).
Fear not! Jesus stands with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Fear not! Jesus stands for you. He has redeemed you. He has bought you back from death into life. He has raised you from your own baptismal waters and He calls you by name. You belong to Him. Now what belongs to Him, belongs to you. His perfect life, His death, His resurrection and ascension. It all belongs to you.
So now whenever you fall into sin, and fear God’s wrath, you have only to cry out to God, and He will gladly forgive you. For when He looks at you, He only sees Jesus. The blood of God’s Son covers you and protects you from the God’s fiery wrath and you shall not be burned and the flame will not consume you. You have an advocate with the Father. His name is Jesus, the righteous one.
Now when the Father looks at you, the heavens are opened. No longer are you cut off and separated in your sin. No longer will you have to face God’s wrath. You are a beloved child of God with whom He is well pleased. You have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, the One who stands both with you and for you. In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.