Mercy always seems like a ridiculous gift. That is, it seems ridiculous to the person who is watching someone else receive it. Unless you’re the one receiving the mercy, it’s a waste, nonsensical, a display of the giver’s ignorance, and any number of other bitter replies. We’re glad to be merciful for a little bit, but it has its limits. This is what lies at the center of the Readings for today, and what characterizes these three weeks preceding Lent. We can never understand the depths of God’s mercy because our eye is evil, that is, sin has clouded our judgment and on this side of eternity we can never fully comprehend our merciful God.
Twice in the Gospels God the Father speaks about Jesus. Both times He says, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Each time He makes this decree, the salvation of mankind is firmly in view. The first is at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan. There Jesus set apart water to be a part of salvation, a lavish washing away of sin, shown as His righteousness flowed into the water and all the world’s sin flowed through that water and onto His innocent shoulders. The second time the Father speaks is at the event we commemorate today, the Transfiguration, as Jesus’ true Nature is revealed and is no longer veiled behind the common frame. There He speaks with Moses and Elijah concerning His impending crucifixion and resurrection. It is then that the Father declares Jesus the one by whom He is well-pleased. God the Father finds all His joy in the person and work of His Son who, out of love for His fallen creation, has taken on flesh and goes uncomplaining forth to His death, bearing the sin of the world, to shed His innocent Blood to pay the price the Law demands for sin.
As Jesus begins His public ministry, He begins it by teaching us to rely on Him for all things, and above all, to remember that the things of this life are secondary to the greatest thing He has come to give, which is our salvation.
A great mystery is declared today, for the Creator of all in the Jordan washes away your wickedness. And by His washing, He takes on the filth of your sin, the filth of the sin of the world. In exchange for your sin, He gives you His righteousness. By water, by that blessed flood and lavish washing away of sin, a great exchange takes place. The Sinless becomes the sinner, and you, the sinner, become the righteous one.
Audio of this sermon can be found here.
Faith motivates men to do strange things which seem contrary to common sense. “Strange” may be a description that some would use for the Feast of the Epiphany, as these wise men from the east leave everything behind and follow a star to see a baby whom men long dead say is the world’s Redeemer. But, “strange” is not something unique to the Epiphany of Our Lord. If you look all the way back to Genesis, this same pattern has been seen many times before.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.