Surprising fulfillment has been much on my mind this week. I should say that surprising fulfillment has been much on my mind this season. I suppose it is only natural given that our Gospel readings have shifted to Matthew. As we have discussed a bit here in church and way more extensively in our Thursday evening Bible Study, Matthew is very much concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s covenant and plan of salvation history. True, the fulfillment is not what the people of Israel were expecting, but, as Matthew and the other Gospel writers will note, God’s plan is even better than what Israel expects. What do I mean by that?
Consider one image of the messiah: the conquering hero. Some thought the messiah would ride into town in front of an army and cast off whoever happened to be ruling at the time. At this time in history it is the Romans, but at other times the villains would be the Assyrians, the Babylonians, or the Egyptians. It certainly makes sense. The messiah would be David’s greater son. And if David has slain his ten thousands, it stands to reason that his great son would be an even better general. And yet Matthew tells us that Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized at the Jordan. There is no army; there are no trumpets; there is no fanfare. Jesus is a nondescript man from a backward part of a backward province, at least by standards of His day. And yet consider what God will work through this seemingly simple man, the one whom we read God will call “His Beloved.”
Consider as well another image of the messiah: the prophet. Some expected the messiah to come like a prophet of old. He might be Elijah returned. He might be like Moses, only greater. He would accomplish great things in the name of God because God’s Spirit would rest upon him as it did upon the prophets of old. Yet, think of the image. Though Jesus had every right to turn to both John and the crowd and call them to repentance, He enters the water in great humility as one of them. John recognizes Jesus for who He is as evidenced by his question of Jesus. Jesus knows who He is as evidenced by His acknowledgement of the truth of John’s statement and His answer. “Let it be so for now.” The One who had every right to stand in judgment of us and to condemn us chose, rather, to align Himself with us totally and completely. He does not stand apart; He does not stand on the bank pointing fingers; He stands in the midst of the very ones who need Him. He is not a god in the out there, but rather the God who is with us, the God who dwells among us. And all of this is done that we might be adopted into His family and given great power by the Holy Spirit to accomplish amazing things in His name and to His glory.
In recognition of both this adoption and receipt of power, we gather to day for another fulfillment. In many ways, it might be a surprising fulfillment. Three or four thousand years ago, the Lord God made a promise to Abraham and Sarah. Many centuries ago, Joseph, God promised Abraham and Sarah that through them and their offspring, salvation would come to the whole world. About two thousand years ago, as we celebrated this past Thursday, Jesus was manifested to the Gentiles as the fulfillment of that promise. This day we gather as a community of faith to see that promise fulfilled in your life, Joseph. That you come today to the waters of baptism is a fulfillment of that promise made to Abraham and Sarah. This day, in seeking the sacrament of baptism, you not only die to self but enter the waters knowing that God will raise you to new life in His Son and empower you for ministry in His Name through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This day, we celebrate an amazing fulfillment in the life of one who lives among us. And just as Abraham and Sarah celebrate with us that, once again, God's promise has been fulfilled in your action and profession this day, you are to remember that this day had its roots in the lives of and promise made to them. It is a covenant which stretches beyond time and borders.
Now, I know it is important to you to have a sign. As many of you gathered do not know, Tanya will often come to me trying to get Joe in trouble or teased, and Joe gives as well as he gets. But Tanya, his beloved bride, told me that he Joe would need a sign to believe that God really showed up today, that His promises were true, that the Holy Spirit really validated his adoption. You see, I had reminded Joe that His problems would not go away with his adoption into God’s family (in fact, I told him they might increase because God works through suffering to reach people). Tanya was worried that some dark day in the future, He might forget God’s promises this day. He might forget that this day marks the beginning of His walk with God as one with him rather than an enemy. And so, out of love and out of knowing her husband, she told me I had to pray for a visible sign.
Truth be told, Joe, I prayed and prayed for a sign. I can appreciate the need for a sign. Sometimes I tell God that He will need to part the waters or burn another bush for me to believe and to accept that some things are His will. But Joe, I am so thrilled that He answered your need in so obvious a manner. You see, I prayed and prayed for that sign, and you got it! How else can you explain how the Seahags beat the defending Super Bowl champions yesterday in the NFL playoffs? See? In the days, weeks, months and years to come, when you wonder whether the adoption took, you can look back on yesterday and say to yourself “If He can accomplish that, He can accomplish anything in my life?” Everybody here is now laughing at your sign, but just remember what you thought about their place in the playoffs. Not only did they not belong, but they never should have hosted a game. And now they have won and dethroned the champions. That’s how He works in our lives, too, though. He takes the impossible and makes it possible. He takes the improbable and makes it likely. He takes the sinner and makes him His own. He takes the powerless, and gifts them with amazing gifts that His kingdom might grow. He takes losers, and He makes them into winners, winners who set out to share His victory over death and sin with the world!
Brothers and sisters, this day we all gather around the fount. Each of us will be asked to reaffirm our vows. And each one of us here present will remind ourselves that we, too, are loved by Him, that we are sealed by Him, and that we are marked as His own for ever. As surprising as it may sound in our ears, our acceptance of His love and sacrifice on the cross fulfills the promises that He made to our forebears. And all heaven and the church on earth laughs and rejoices with us. Thanks be to God for surprises and that He fulfills things as He wills and not as we expect nor deserve!