Feeling better now? Today is January 12th. That’s nineteen-days after Christmas. At least nineteen days since last scouring the internet for the perfect gift. At least nineteen days since pacing from store to store for eggnog, ham, cordial cherries, peanuts, meats and cheeses for all those family gatherings. Yes, a few sweet treats might remain, but for the most part, the half-dozen family Christmas parties are over. The Christmas tree is gone. The decorations down, packed, and stored away for another year and with them the stressfully frantic unending to-do list of every. single. responsibility. If you are like me, you find yourself standing in this strange intermission. Two major holidays stand behind us (along with all of the planning and prepping) and the next major holiday lies months ahead (Valentine’s Day? …the Irish Festival?... Easter?). School schedules and snowy weather prevent long road trips; that frees up personal time. No back-to-school sales, no school concerts, no graduation parties, nothing really consumes your attention. For a few weeks we have this rest from pressing deadlines. Rest feels nice, doesn’t it?
This morning a deeper rest, a rest far more soothing than this quiet. God points you to that baby in Bethlehem. He points you to the purpose of his birth. He points you to the peace Jesus brings. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. To make you acceptable before God.
Listen to our reading from Acts, chapter 10:36-38. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
You know those accounts too. You heard the Christmas angels sing Jesus’ birth announcement: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’ (Luke 2:14). You know that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, wise men [Magi] from the east tracked Jesus down. They worshipped him, they presented gold, incense, and (fine-smelling) myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12). You saw Jesus leave Galilee for the Jordan River. He found John the Baptist and was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17). You know these accounts, we read each one over the past few weeks. Yet, these accounts are not mere facts. God includes each account in Scripture for a reason. God uses each account to highlight this truth: Christ Comes on a Mission.
That is clearly seen by the events at the Jordan River. There, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth. To ‘anoint’ means to ‘set someone aside’ for a specific mission (or purpose). You pour oil on their head and that individual felt the oil, the people see the oil. Everyone understands this one single person carries a specific responsibility. In the Old Testament, God could select a man (like Elijah) and anoint him as prophet; Elijah has a specific, God-approved mission as God’s messenger. God selects David and anoints him as king; David is no longer a shepherd, but has the purpose of leading God’s people. You saw that at Jesus’ baptism God anoint[s him] with the Holy Spirit and power[.] God sets Jesus aside for a specific mission.
What is that mission? To do good and heal all who were under the power of the devil[.] That is what Jesus is born to do. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression.
You know that. You Jesus went around healing and teaching. You know wicked men arrested him out of jealousy. You know Jesus is whipped and beaten, slandered and insulted, nailed and crucified. You know he suffers death at the hands of God for your benefit. To heal you from the devil’s oppression.
You also know something else. The devil, although mortally wounded, remains hard at work. He appears in the quiet of the night, when you sit in the La-Z-Boy alone, when you stare at the ceiling in bed, and he whispers: ‘Do you really think God loves someone like you?’ ‘Do you think God forgets your addiction? The hurt, the abuse you inflicted on others?’ ‘Do you think God is pleased with the care you provided for your spouse? Did you try your hardest? Did you give up?’‘What about your divorce? After all, doesn’t God say: “I hate divorce”?[Malachi 2:16] Then, doesn’t God hate you?’ The devil pokes the heart, ‘Do you feel saved?’ ‘Remember your past? How you chose friends over family? How you hoped the darkness could hide your secret? Does God forgive that? ‘Look at who you are! Do you feel ‘good?’Does your heart leap and are you brimming with joy? Do you think you will go to heaven?’
What torment Satan brings! You know Jesus beats him, but still he still afflicts you! Do you know why? That ancient serpent wants to lead you astray (Revelation 12:9). He tries to lead your heart away from Christ. So, he brings up your past. He asks what you will do to fix your crimes. He wants you to rely on you. That way, you think you saved yourself, you are the savior. If you are the savior, then you no longer see the real Savior. Yes, that ancient serpent, mortally wounded, wants to steer your heart away from Christ. Do you know that sly trick?
Christ does— and He Comes on a Mission to heal you from the devil’s oppression. Jesus stands here, in the Jordan River. John pours water over his head. The instant he does the Spirit of the Lord rest[s] on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). God the Father trumpets: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17).
Christ is clearly identified as faultless, blameless. The devil cannot point at past regrets— because Jesus has none! He cannot stir up guilt, he cannot steer Jesus into despair— because he commits no crime! Jesus shoulders God’s Holy Commandments and God says: ‘I am pleased with you! You, my Son, are perfect!’ Which is precisely the purpose for Jesus’ birth.
Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. He marches to the cross and puts down that faultless, blameless life. The Father reaches down from heaven and accepts it. The Father uses that holiness like a key and unlocks us from hell. He holds that holy life and destroys the devil’s every sneaky lie. You (and I) have been set free from the devil’s grip.
This is the reason Christ is born. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression and to make you acceptable before God.
Can you be sure that God accepts you? That God does forgive your addiction, your divorce, your hurt? That you are saved?
God uses the disciple Peter to answer that question: Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Did you hear that? Another Bible verse that makes clear that you did not accept God, God accepted you.) God accepts you. How do you know? Well, what did you hear moments ago? We died to sin… don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:2-3). Baptism has connected you to the results of Jesus’ work. The results? Jesus Christ died to wash away the consequences of sin. Baptism washes away the consequences of your sin. Just as Christ rose from the dead sin-less, you also rise out of the water sin-less. God cannot make it any clearer: Baptism connects you to Christ. Baptism makes you acceptable before God.
Still, the devil tries to lead you astray. He whispers questions about baptism so that your ego puffs up and you rely on ego more than the Bible. I know many opinions exist about baptism— but they remain just that: opinions, a made up thought. Some teach that you do not need to be baptized. Why then does Jesus say, ‘Go and baptize all nations?’ (Matthew 28:19). Others teach that baptism is when you decide to become a Christian. Why then does Scripture always associate forgiveness of sins with baptism? The apostle Paul says: ‘Be baptized and wash your sins away (Acts 22:16). The apostle Peter says: ‘Be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins’ (Acts 2:38). The devil knows that baptism makes you God’s child. So, he tries to get you to place made up opinions over what God clearly says so that you trust yourself. So that you doubt that God saves you.
Friends, God drowns your doubts. This baptismal font stands front and center so that you always remember: God accepts you. You might have been baptized decades ago. Great! Do not pack away its significance with the Christmas decorations. Its impact resounds every single day. When the devil leads you into a guilt trip, point at your baptism. Point at that Bible verse telling what baptism does: [B]aptism now saves you also… [it gives] the pledge of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). Point at the Bible verse testifying that you are God’s child: [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Drown the devil’s lies with God’s truth.
Keep pointing others to the lasting peace God gives in baptism. You cannot bring a little child for baptism, never, ever teach this child about the Savior, and then expect this child in heaven. Baptism is not a ‘good luck’ charm. The faith started must be fed and nurtured because faith can be lost. Keep pointing that little child to Christ. Point to the Christ killed by evil men, but raised by God (Acts 10:39). Point to the forgiveness of sins unleashed that first Easter (Romans 1:4). Point to the paradise God gives to those who believe (Mark 16:16).
Christ Comes on a Mission to make you acceptable before God. And he accomplished that mission. He completed his purpose. He met the goal. You now stand with the results of his victory. Morally pure. Spiritually stain-less. Pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight.
What sweet peace! God points you to that baby in Bethlehem. He points you to the purpose of his birth. He points you to the peace Jesus brings. Christ Comes on a Mission to heal you from the devil’s oppression. The guilt carried, the worry if a loved one is in heaven, the fear that you might not make heaven all melt away because Christ puts his innocence on you. Can you be sure? Christ Comes on a Mission to make you acceptable before God.
You realize that God never asks your thoughts about Jesus’ mission. Instead, God tells you Christ Comes on a Mission so that you can see what he has done for you. Live in peace. Your sins are forgiven. You are at peace with God. Because Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. To make you acceptable before God.