The Baptism of Our Lord: To Fulfill All Righteousness

“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:13–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

The baptism of Jesus. Image by Ananth Subray, published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Church commemorates the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. For some time, John the Baptist had been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). People came and confessed their sins to him (Matthew 3:6). They did not merely admit that they were sinners: “Nobody’s perfect” is not a confession. The confessed specific sins, and John gave explicit instructions about changes they should make (Luke 3:10-14). In many cases, those sins were common activities: Roman soldiers normally used their power to coerce, manipulate, and rob people; tax collectors used their authority to demand more money from people than the government required. We still excuse our sins by saying “Everybody’s doing it,” but that pretense did not satisfy John the Baptist or God.

Amid John’s ministry, Jesus came for baptism. John immediately recognized Him as the Messiah and realized, “I have need to be baptized by You.” John admitted that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ shoe (Matthew 3:11), but Jesus was here asking to be baptized. Why? “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The Contemporary English Version phrases it this way: “we must do all that God wants us to do.”

Why would Jesus need baptism for repentance? He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Perhaps this verse points to an answer:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Jordan River. Photo by Jean Housen, published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many think that Jesus fulfilled His entire ministry of atonement on the cross. However, His entire life was a sacrifice for our sins. As John the Baptist immersed people in the Jordan River, they could imagine their sins being washed, like dirt from their bodies, into the water. Now, here came Jesus: He did not have the dirt of sin on Him. As He went into the water, He began to symbolically take the sins upon Himself. I can imagine Him confessing the sins of all the people present, knowing that He would die for those sins three years later.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:1–7).

He was baptized as one of us. He identified with us, accepted our human nature, and joined us in the waters or repentance in baptism. Now, we join Him in a baptism of repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection. His baptism in the water began a ministry that culminated in His baptism in death upon a cross. When we come to Him in faith, we receive baptism into His death and resurrection. We accept His death upon ourselves, receive His forgiveness and the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit, and live a new life in resurrection power as we continue to walk with Him.

2020 was a challenging year for all of us, and the insanity did not end with the beginning of a new year. We will continue to face challenges and tests. Are we willing to be fully immersed in the life of Christ as we face the uncertain times that lie ahead? While our world remains uncertain, Jesus’ life-giving power remains trustworthy and certain.

How are you experiencing baptism into the life of Christ on a daily basis? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Epiphany: Finding Jesus in Unlikely Places

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
“Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.’ After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1–11; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo from PxHere. Published under a Creative Commons license.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the wise men’s visit with Jesus. The word “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “appearance,” and the feast reminds us how God manifested Jesus to “the nations of the world” for the first time.

The magi’s persistence and faith grab my attention. They followed the star to the most likely place to find a future king of the Jews. If you are looking for a future king, you go to the capital and speak to the current king.

However, this was not the correct place. King Herod probably did not have any young sons. He suspected it could be the Messiah. So, he sent them to the place where the Bible said the Messiah would be born—Bethlehem.

The Magi followed the star to Bethlehem, and it led them to a small home. (Contrary to most depictions of Jesus’ birth, the Magi did not arrive until some time after Christmas; the holy family was living in a house and Jesus was no longer in a manger. He may have already been a toddler.) Upon finding this poor, working-class family with a very little boy, they worshiped Him, confident that they had found the future King whom they sought, giving extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They kneeled in a radical leap of faith. How could they know that this child was the King of the Jews, being raised by a poor young mother whose husband was a mere carpenter? It could only be faith: Logic and reason were eclipsed by the wisdom of certain faith—they just knew in their hearts that they had come to the right place and the correct child, even if they would never be able to explain this to the other magi back home.

When they did not find Jesus in the place of power, Jerusalem, they sought Him in the house of simplicity and necessity: Bethlehem (the city’s name means “house of bread”).

Are we willing to keep seeking God when He does not manifest Himself in the most obvious place or when we do not find Him in the circumstances that are most convenient for us? Do we insist on seeking the Lord’s presence only in the places of glory, drama, excitement—only where it feels good and exciting? Are we willing to keep seeking Him until we find Him in the mundane, simple, ordinary parts of life—miles from places of power, hidden in houses of bread?

Many of our lives changed drastically in 2020. We had to live, travel, socialize, work, and worship differently. We had to pray and fellowship in new ways. Social distancing separated us from expressions of faith that were familiar, comfortable, or exciting. Now, our small-group fellowships meet over Zoom or other virtual-meeting platforms. Many people attend worship services via online live-stream. We must worship God in new ways, and they might not be comfortable or entertaining.

Jesus came into a mundane, ordinary village. He meets us now in the ordinary, even the boring and uncomfortable, places of our lives. True worship is a sacrifice, so it is not always easy or fun. Let us continue to kneel before Him, offering extravagant sacrifices of praise and worship:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

The wise men offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Let us offer Him our bodies, souls, and spirits as living sacrifices, as we make a radical leap of faith toward the One who has manifested Himself to us.

In which unlikely places are you finding Jesus these days? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. V: The Birth and Life of Christ

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called,
‘The LORD our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image from needpix.com, published under a Creative Commons license.

Christmas is a good time to reflect on the justice and righteousness of God. They were key elements of the Jewish people’s Messianic hopes and essential to Jesus’ reasons for coming into the world. (Take some time to read Mary’s song of praise, traditionally known as The Magnificat, in Luke 1:46–55, and you will see her hope of God’s judgment and mercy.)

The Jewish people suffered oppression throughout their history. The nation of Israel had grown as slaves in Egypt before Moses led them forth. By the time Jeremiah prophesied, the northern tribes of Israel had been overthrown by Assyria and taken into exile, and the southern kingdom of Judah was beginning to experience the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians.

Jeremiah proclaimed God’s promise that, someday, the Jews would receive deliverance. They would return to their homeland. Eventually, God would send a great King, a descendant of David that would reign in God’s righteousness. Anticipation of this coming King, the Messiah, comforted and inspired the Jews throughout the centuries that followed.

Even after returning from Babylonian exile, the Jewish people would experience more oppression: the Medo-Persian empire, then the Greeks, and later the Romans. When Jesus was born, Judea was a province of the Roman Empire, ruled by Roman governors or puppet kings.

Jesus’ birth brought the promised “Lord our righteousness” to Earth. The fullness of God dwelled within Him (Colossians 2:9). Jeremiah, recalling Isaiah 11:1, called Jesus “a righteous Branch” of David; the name of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, is derived from the Hebrews word netzer, which means “branch.” The Branch of David, the Messiah, grew up in the town of the branch.

When He came that time, Jesus brought spiritual salvation, not only to the Jewish people, but to all humanity. The Bible repeatedly tells us that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). The fullness of God’s righteousness will appear when Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end,” as the Nicene Creed says.

Christmas reminds us that God sent His Son to be our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). He has brought God’s righteousness to us. We can and should trust in no savior except Jesus Christ, who is The Lord our Righteousness. No religious or political leader can bring God’s righteousness and justice to us. Nobody else is worthy of our praise.

Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, Holidays | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanking God on New Year’s Day

Twelve months ago today, I published an article entitled “2020: A Year of Vision.” Think of all the things we did not expect at that time! Even though there were minor rumblings in the media about a new coronavirus, few people anticipated how it would disrupt our lives and set the tone for the year. I usually quip about New Year’s resolutions (I often resolve to make no New Year’s resolutions, thereby ensuring success and failure at the same time), but this year I feel sorry for those who seriously resolved to work out regularly at the gym.

An Irish shillelagh. Too bad we cannot really use it to teach 2020 a lesson! Photo by Schurdl, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

As a result of the chaos, negativity reigned in popular culture and social media throughout 2020. Many people responded to the world with a new breed of sarcastic humor about current events and daily life. I recently saw a meme on Facebook that read, “On New Year’s Eve, an old Irish tradition is to open the door at midnight and let the Old Year out and the New Year in. I think 2020 deserves to have all the doors, windows, and garage door to be open.” I proposed taking it a wee bit further: I should have bought a shillelagh (an Irish walking stick that can also be used as a club) at a local Irish gift shop so I could mercilessly beat 2020 as it left. Let’s make sure 2021 sees this so that it knows we mean business!

However, on a serious note, the Bible offers a better defense against negativity, hopelessness, depression, and despair.

“{In} everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, New American Standard Bible).

Image from YouVersion Bible app.

We do not give thanks for all things but in all things. 2020 brought sorrow, frustration, and even anguish to many. As of December 31, 2020, over 350,000 Americans have died as a direct result of COVID-19. Many others died of “normal” causes this year; perhaps some of those may have survived if the healthcare system was not strained. (My last two uncles died this year of non-COVID-related medical conditions.) Businesses closed their doors for government-mandated shutdowns, never to reopen, and their employees are unemployed.

It was a difficult year, but if we look for positive things, we can find them. There is a slogan in some 12-Step programs that says, “Look for the good.” If we look for it, we will find it. Here are a few examples from my own life:

  • Readership of Darkened Glass Reflections continued to grow. This blog experienced almost a 65% growth in the number of page views over the previous year, and its five biggest months ever took place during the second half of 2020. The “Year of Vision” revealed that I should take a closer look at my writing ministry and ask God where He would like to lead it.
  • My wife and I fared well financially. Since I work for a publishing company, I was able to work full-time from home and earn my full salary while we had lower expenses. I spent a lot less money on gas, car maintenance, and other expenses that accumulate while driving to and from work every day.
  • We are healthy. My wife and I both had minor cases of COVID-19 early in the pandemic but recovered fully. While we continue to respectfully follow social-distancing guidelines and take other reasonable safety precautions, we do not live in fear.
  • We survived the initial shutdown in March and a two-week self-quarantine period after visiting Missouri in August without killing each other. Apparently, our marriage is strong enough to withstand such challenges and equips us to face crises together.
  • Jesus Christ is still King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Savior of my soul.
  • Finally, we were blessed with grandchild #4. Leo was born in May and continues to bring joy to the family and everybody else who knows him.

I share these testimonies while fully aware that some people were less fortunate. Some friends lost jobs. Others faced other hardships. Most found something positive amid the mayhem. However, most people have something to thank God for in 2020. We can find ourselves focusing so much on the negative things that we forget the good things God has done for and in us.

Photo from PxHere.

Yes, there were hard times in 2020. Problems will not disappear overnight merely because we replaced our wall calendars. The virus is still spreading. America is still deeply divided sociopolitically (probably more so than ever). Questions regarding race and justice that emerged after George Floyd’s death remain unresolved. Perhaps 2021 will bring an end to the pandemic and we can improve in the other areas. However, whatever the year may bring, let us look for the good. Let us thank God for the good things that happen in our lives and the lessons and hidden blessings that come with hardship, and let us share them with those who need a word of hope and encouragement.

Happy New Year! Let’s look forward to good things in 2021.

What can you thank God for as we begin a new year? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas: God’s Light in the Darkness

“The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them” (Isaiah 9:2, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

2020: A year most of us will never forget; a year that will live in infamy. Many of us have encountered death. We have lost loved ones and/or mourned with friends who lost loved ones. We have faced the fear of catching a potentially fatal disease. One year ago, if we washed our hands 20 times per day, it would be considered a sign of a psychological disorder; now, it is an official public health policy. The insanity goes beyond the coronavirus, though: protests against police brutality and racial inequality exploded into violent riots and feeble attempts to create anarchist utopias; the year is ending with a disputed, controversial presidential election; and somehow, we all forgot about the murder hornets. Many of us have prayed that God would intervene (without the hornets).

Image via pixy.org

As we approached the end of the year, it seemed as if God was sending us a sign. During the last week of Advent, Jupiter and Saturn came so near to each other in the night sky that it reminded many people of the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the wise men to find Jesus (Matthew 2:1–12). Since many scholars believe the Star of Bethlehem was actually such an astronomical conjunction, the timing seemed almost prophetic.

When Jesus came into the world, people were looking for hope. Violence, death, and political corruption were rampant. A dictatorial regime ruled the known world and oppressed the Jews. People needed hope.

The names have changed, technology has exploded, but the human condition remains much the same. Perhaps “Star of Bethlehem 2020” was a sign from God. People have been reminded to look to God amid the darkness.

Christmas lights and snow outside my apartment building. Photo copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch.

Even when there are no dramatic astronomical events to grab our attention, God’s light shines. Jesus is the light of the world, and we can look to Him for light, life, healing, redemption, and hope. Christmas reminds us that God became one of us, enduring everyday human hardships, surrounding Himself with suffering, so that He could redeem us and give us eternal life.

“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:9–10).

God has been with us throughout the pandemic and every other crisis of 2020, and He is not leaving us. Let us keep looking to His light to guide us through the darkness.

How have you seen God’s light in 2020? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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