“To Fulfill All Righteousness”

Last Sunday’s Gospel text was about Jesus escaping Herod’s murderous
wrath by fleeing to Egypt. This, as the text said, was to fulfill the words of the
prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1) We saw how
Matthew pointed out the many prophecies of the Old Testament about the
Messiah are fulfilled in Jesus’ life, giving the hearers and readers reassurance
that Jesus is the Son of God, and that just as the promises of the Old Testament
were fulfilled, the promises of the New Testament will be fulfilled as well. This is
a tremendous comfort to people who are looking for something solid to build
their lives and hopes on.
Today’s reading also talks about fulfilling, not prophecy, but all
righteousness. Jesus has come to the Jordan to be baptized by John, who was
preparing the way for the Messiah by preaching a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins. When Jesus comes to John asking to be baptized, John
understandably is confused. He recognizes Jesus as one needing no repentance or
forgiveness of sins. John did not want to allow Jesus to be baptized by him, a
sinner. But Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all
righteousness.” For us, Jesus says. Not just for Jesus. So this baptism is not to be
simply Jesus fulfilling the law, for to begin with, there was no law in the Old
Testament to be baptized with John’s baptism, that is, a baptism for repentance
for forgiveness of sins. So what does this baptism mean? This is what we will look
at this morning.
There is a movie called Resurrection from 1980 that tells the fictitious
story of a woman named Edan, who is injured in a car crash. She has what we
would call a near death experience, and survives to find that she is now able to
heal people with her touch. There is a scene in the movie where she heals a
woman with severe paralysis and contortion of her limbs. Edna begins
by touching the woman’s head and arms, but then she lifts the paralyzed woman’s
torso up from the bed and sits behind her, supporting her. As she holds the
woman the paralysis and contortion start to leave her, but we see that Edna is
becoming stiff and and contorted and in pain. She was taking on the pain of the
woman she was healing. Edna’s healing power came at a great price for her. She
collapsed on the floor, twisted in agony, while the woman on the bed cried for joy
at the miracle. Edna’s limbs then slowly straighten out.
I often remember that scene when I read about the healings of Jesus.
When he started to heal people, beginning with the man with the unclean spirit in
the synagogue, (Mark 1:23) people started to flock to Him. He could never travel
without a crowd. Sometimes there was so much teaching and healing that He and
the disciples had no time to eat. So Jesus would take time out by Himself in
prayer to connect with the Father who sent Him and restored His body and spirit.
How much did these healings take out of Him? We know it took something from
Him, as the story of the woman with the flow of blood in Mark says, (expand)
When she touched Jesus and was healed He said He felt power go out of Him.
Isaiah said that the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, “has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53). He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted
with grief.” (Isa 53) He was acquainted with grief, not merely by observation, but
by taking our grief, our sorrows, and our sins upon Himself throughout His
ministry. He had compassion on those he encountered. He suffered with them.
This was how He fulfilled all righteousness.
When Jesus had been baptized by John, he went up out of the waters of
the Jordan to the riverbank. Then the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit
descended upon Him in the form of dove. This was not the first gift of the Holy
Spirit to Jesus, for Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus had the
Spirit from His conception. This was an anointing of the Spirit by the Father, a
sign that this was the Messiah, the Anointed, the Christ. And to confirm this, a
voice from heaven, the voice of the Father, said, “This is my beloved Son, with
whom I am well pleased.” As with the quote from Hosea last week, God’s Son also
refers to Israel, which God called His Son, which He brought out of slavery in
Egypt to the promised land, but who broke the covenant and worshipped other
gods. Jesus is here proclaimed to take the place of that sinful Israel, to take its
sins upon Himself, ultimately at the cross, but beginning here in His baptism.
And through Jesus, Israel reduced to one, all nations will be blessed, for He will
take on not only the sins of His brother and sister Israelites, but all humanity.
He has taken on your infirmity and mine, your sickness and mine. He
knows your sorrows, your worries, your fears, your grief. He prays with you and
for you to the Father for healing and strength to bear your crosses, for He has felt
the weight of the cross, Himself. And for all of you who care for others, for you
doctors and dentists, nurses, and counselors, for caregiver husbands and wives,
children and friends, he knows the burden of love you carry, because He carried
that burden too. He prays with you to His Father and ours, for strength,
endurance, and faith in His promise that He works all things for good for those
who love Him.
In the movie Resurrection the trials and pain of faith healing are brought
out. Eventually Edna runs away from that life to seek anonymity running a gas
station and souvenir store called Last Chance in the desert Southwest. She is
burnt out from caregiving and wants to live a normal life in her last years. But
then a family comes into the station to fill up their camper. The father and
mother are taking their sick son, Bobby, on a trip through the Southwest to see
sights and to visit relatives. When Bobby gets out and goes off to play with Edna’s
puppy, the parents tell Edna that Bobby has liver cancer and they are taking him
for a last trip to see relatives and beautiful sights. Edna gets the parents to take a
look at her desert plants in the back of the store for a while while she spends
some time with Bobby. Bobby and Edna talk. When he winces in pain, she asks
him if he is sick. He nods yes and says, “I guess I’m dying.” He’s overheard his
parents talking when they didn’t know it. He just wishes it didn’t make them so
sad. All the time he’s holding the little puppy and petting it. Edna offers the
puppy to Bobby, but he doesn’t want to take it because he wouldn’t be around to
take care of it. But she insists. The parents come back and she tells them that she
would like Bobby to have the puppy. But she wants a hug as payment. As she
hugs the boy we see that healing is taking place. We know Bobby will get better. It
is a joyful ending to the movie. Despite all the pain that Edna has experienced in
her life of sharing others’ pain, this joy made it all worthwhile. This is the joy that
caretakers experience, when they can bring comfort, and a degree of healing to
those in their care, even if only temporarily, for all healing is temporary in this
life.
Jesus felt this joy, too. He was not just a man acquainted with sorrow, but
also with joy, the joy of love for His brothers and sisters, the joy of knowing that
He would be able to give them the gift of forgiveness of sins, and healing of the
broken relationship between them and the Father. Jesus bore our iniquities and
our illnesses, but He shared our appreciation of God’s good creation. He gave
thanks to His Father for all that He received from Him. He was content with the
peace that surpasses our understanding. He knew the joy that comes from
serving others.
Jesus has given us in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Communion,
besides forgiveness of sins and strengthening of our faith, bookends, as it were, of
His earthly ministry. As He shared our lives during His ministry as the True
Israel, the True Son of God, now we share in His life as His true brothers and
sisters. As He was anointed by the Holy Spirit to serve others, taking on their sins
and illnesses, so we who have been baptized serve those in need around us by the
power of the Holy Spirit, caring for the sick, supporting the work of the church,
forgiving the sins of those who sin against us. As He died to our sin and was
resurrected as confirmation of our justification, so we die daily in remembrance
of our baptisms and are raised to new, eternal life as children of God.
Jesus knew the journey to fulfill all righteousness that began at His
Baptism would lead three years later to the cross. But He undertook the journey
with joy. Jesus knew that the journey led to the cross, but also through the cross,
to resurrection and eternal life for Him and all who believed in Him. This joy of
Jesus’ taking our sin and pain on Himself is the joy that we only get a taste of
when we take care of others. This is the joy of the Holy Spirit working in us, and
the joy of the true children of God, in whom God is well pleased through faith in
His Son. This is the joy of all the saints who have shown Christ’s love in service to
others in sharing their gifts of time, talent, and treasure. This is the joy of the true
martyrs, the true witnesses, of Christ’s love, who do not kill for their faith, but live
and die for it.
Jesus had three short years of ministry to accomplish what He came to do.
It was in many respects a race. And our time on earth compared with eternity is a
also a race, whether a quick sprint, or a long marathon. Along the way we will be
cheered on by the prayers and support of our brothers and sisters in the faith,
refreshed by the body and blood of our Lord at regular intervals, and kept on the
right path by teachers and shepherds pointing us to the Word of God. And we
know the finish line is heaven, where we will be greeted by Jesus, who ran it for
us first, and by all those brothers and sisters who ran it before us. To stay in
shape for this race, which began at Baptism, the best advice is always found in
Scripture, as in the book of Hebrews, Chapter 12.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us
also lay aside every weight,and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with
endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and
perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2)
He who fulfilled all righteousness by sharing our weakness, will fulfill all
our hopes with the power and joy of His divine healing and forgiveness. He has
promised it. And God never breaks a promise. Amen.
Preached at Calvary Lutheran Church Sunday January 11th

Posted in Sermons