Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “More Than Meets the Eye” based on Matthew 3:13-17 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, January 12, 2020

More than meets the eye – that’s an idiomatic expression.  It means there’s something bigger or more complex happening…a deeper meaning…and you can’t always pick that up with just a first glance or quick overview.  There’s more than meets the eye.

When I was a kid I think I read just about every Sherlock Holmes novel or short story Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote.  Sherlock was a master at noticing the things other people often missed – the faint scent of perfume, the mud spatter on the shoes or the overcoat, the ink stains on the fingertips – those small details meant something.

Today’s gospel is seven sentences long, but there are some details we won’t want to miss.  Some are small and some are stand-out obvious…but they all have meaning.

What’s the first little detail?  Well, the first little word:  “Then.”  In Matthew’s Gospel, the last you heard of Jesus was the trip to Egypt and then back to Galilee when he was a baby.  Some time has elapsed…about 30 years.  John the Baptist is introduced.  He’s the voice calling in the wilderness…the voice urging people to repent…the voice preparing the way.  Preparing the way for who?  For Jesus.

THEN Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan.  Some important things in the Bible have happened at the Jordan River.  Can you think of any?

  • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness. And when it was time for them to enter the promised land, Joshua replaced Moses and led the people across the Jordan River.
  • Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan River and a few moments later, Elijah was carried up to heaven in a whirlwind accompanied by a chariot of fire.
  • John the Baptist preached and baptized at the Jordan River.
  • Now, at this time, the real Joshua appears (note: Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua…they both mean “one who saves”).
  • Now the real prophet, to whom Elijah and Elisha and John the Baptist pointed, has arrived.

And why has Jesus arrived at the Jordan?  To be baptized.  That seems peculiar at first.  We know why we are baptized.  We know why we bring our children to be baptized.  It’s because…

  • we have sins that need forgiving
  • we have stains that need cleansing
  • we have a sinful nature that needs drowning
  • we are natural spiritual orphans who need a family.

We know why we are baptized…but why did Jesus say, “I need to be baptized by you, John.”  John wondered that too.  You might recall that John had previously referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God and as one greater and more powerful, whose sandals John wasn’t even worthy to untie or carry.  So John initially tried to deter Jesus.  “Let it be so”…Jesus says… “to fulfill all righteousness.”

So Jesus goes to the Jordan…goes to John…goes to the waters of baptism…not for the forgiveness of sins but to fulfill all righteousness…to show he was the promised Messiah…to publicly begin his ministry and his slow walk to the cross.  Jesus had been fulfilling righteousness as a child, as a teenager, as a young man.  Now was the time for him to be acknowledged not just as the carpenter’s son from Nazareth but the Messiah, the Son of God.

John consented.  Jesus was baptized.  And then the details that are stand-out obvious.

  • Heaven was opened.
  • The Holy Spirit descended.
  • The Father spoke: This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

That’s very nice pastor.  Thank you for the overview.  Much appreciated.  But tell me how this event 2000 years ago at the Jordan River impacts my life today.  Well, remember, Jesus’ baptism showed who he really was.  It showed that he was the beloved Son of God now starting his public ministry as teacher and healer and Savior and soon-to-be atoning sacrifice on Calvary’s cross.

Your baptism shows you who you really are.  And we need that regular reminder of who we really are because sometimes…

  • I’m that selfish spouse…and the hot-headed parent…or the disrespectful child.
  • I’m that weak, unreliable disciple who had good intentions but the world enticed me and I gave in, I stumbled, I failed…again.
  • I’m that sad-hearted soul…I feel alone…I feel defeated…I feel insignificant…and those feelings can be powerfully dark and empty.
  • I’m that follower of Jesus but I have doubts and questions and more doubts and I feel like a fraud.

Oh, I just wish the heavenly Father could look upon me as he did Jesus in the Jordan.  I wish the heavenly Father could claim me as his child, as he claimed Jesus.  I wish the heavenly Father could say, “I am well pleased with you” as he said about Jesus.  And I wish the Holy Spirit would descend upon me.  But I know where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

When I look in the mirror, I see what you see.  A sinner…incapable of saving self…sin-stains I cannot clean…inept when it comes to faithfulness…adept when it comes to failure.  Ah, but there is more than meets the eye.  Your baptism shows you who you really are.

At your baptism the casual observer sees water and hears a few words…but at that moment

  • The heavens opened to receive you
  • The Father adopted you
  • The Spirit descended upon you and made his home in your heart
  • The years of Jesus’ obedience and righteousness were given to you, wrapped around you
  • The suffering he endured and the bloodshed that paid for sin was poured over you.

When I look in the mirror, I see what you see.  A sinner, who has been cleansed…a sometimes tired, sometimes weak disciple, who has been given the strength to be as kind and as forgiving and as courteous as Jesus has been to me.  And if I look real closely, as any Sherlock Holmes fan would do, I see the sign of the cross both on the head and on the heart that marks me as a child of God.  Children of God – never alone; always loved – that is what we are.  Amen.