“The Heavens Were Opened”

The Baptism of Our Lord (Series C)
“The Heavens Were Opened”
January 13, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 3:15-22

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The holy evangelist, St. Luke, certainly provides an interesting account of the baptism of our Lord. Before getting into this most holy and blessed event, he talks about the work of John the Baptist who made it clear to all that he was not the Christ… that he was not the anointed One… not the Messiah.

He was, instead the forerunner of Christ… the one who prepared the way of the Lord… the voice crying out in the wilderness.

In fact, Luke tells us that as John continued to baptize those who came out to him in the wilderness, there by the river Jordan, that he also made it very clear that the One who would come after him… the One of whom John was not even worthy to do the simplest and most menial of tasks, namely  untying the straps of His sandals… that this One… the true and only Christ… would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” as He separated the faithful from the unfaithful, the believer from the unbeliever, the repentant from the unrepentant… just as good and wholesome wheat is separated from useless chaff that is destined to be burned in the fire.

These are strong words… a strong message to the people then and now… a strong and oh-so important message to all of us gathered here this morning.

No. John did not mince words. There was too much at stake, namely a person’s eternal life and John faithfully spoke the truth even though it cost him his temporal life. Strong words that John delivered to Herod who had taken his brother’s wife for himself. It landed John in prison and soon before an executioner.

Well, this is certainly depressing and if the account before us ended here, we really wouldn’t have much to cheer about… much to be happy about. But thankfully there is more… and for us… for all… every reason to be overjoyed.

It is at this point in the narrative… after noting John’s imprisonment… that St. Luke states, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Dearly beloved of the Lord, it is important that we see in these events a wonderful emergence and change taking place. And it is all for our good… all for our salvation and freedom.

The situation on earth… in this world in which we live… is not a good one. Sin is all around… and it abounds. In our Gospel text, this sin is highlighted and personified in Herod. What waits for Herod and all who go the way of sin is the same fate as that which will happen with chaff. They face the unquenchable fires of hell.

And even those who are among the faithful, as highlighted and personified by John the Baptist, there is here on earth a cross to bear. But then here on earth… with us… one of us comes this Jesus who Luke tells us is baptized with all of the rest. Just matter of factly… one of the great and oh-so critical matters of fact. Jesus joins His brethren… all who are flesh of His flesh… all who are born of a woman… yes, and that includes Herod, John and all of us.

It is no small thing for us to be able to say that Jesus joined us in our humanity… that He is truly one of us… connected to us and we, to Him.

And it is no small thing, my friends, when God’s Word tells us, that “when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.”

The “heavens were opened.” Have you ever seen the sky filled with ominously dark clouds… thick black clouds that fill the sky and cover the land like a giant shroud overhead? It is eerie and disconcerting.

But then… then there is this single, solitary opening that appears and a bright shaft of light comes beaming down to earth. Quite amazing. Quite welcoming and comforting.

The fact that at Christ’s baptism the heavens opened is truly wonderful in light of the fact that since the fall into sin, heaven was closed. It was locked to sinful man, just as our first parents were banned from paradise and barred from entering it again… so were we.

Now in our text, the heavens open and you have God the Holy Spirit descending from above in the form of a dove. And what is more, you have the Word of the Father, God our Father, descending as well… declaring to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Father was indeed speaking to the Son, but also to us… to all mankind. For in these words God the Father shows us how much He loves us… so much that He is willing to send His Son, offer His Son as the one perfect sacrifice for our sins.

God the Father had every reason to be well pleased. Because it will be His beloved Son, His only Begotten, who will open wide the gates of heaven… that all mankind may have access … free and unfettered to their heavenly Father and their eternal home… all through what this Jesus will do after coming out of the river Jordan following His baptism.

Our Lord is “wilderness bound.” Our Lord is “Calvary bound” … “cross bound” … there to give Himself as a ransom for our very souls… there to pay the astronomical price for our sins… our iniquities…

… there to die a terrible death feeling the full fury of God’s wrath upon Himself that we may never have to… that our children may never have to… or our children’s children.

Remember, dear friends, what will happen immediately after our Lord’s death… how the temple curtain was torn in two… from top to bottom… and how this signifies that we are no longer separated from the “holy of holies”… from heaven… from our God.

Christ has broken that barrier down and that is why we, with the Father, are also well pleased. In what Jesus, our brother, has done for us.  In how the heavens have been opened and we no longer are imprisoned by sin, death and the devil.

Rejoice, dearly beloved of the Lord. You are free in Christ Jesus. In Jesus you have free access to the Father… you have free access t`o heaven… free access to life eternal and joy which never ends. Amen.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

“The Heavens Were Opened”  1/13 /19  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, L