Summary: Faith in Jesus is being a part of something bigger than yourself.
On the random stack of things that magically appear outside my office door from time to time, this week I discovered a scrapbook that caught my attention. It was a scrapbook of the first years of Shepherd of the Hills. I was curious to look at the old pictures, letters, bulletins, and other keepsakes from the beginning of the church’s history in 1969. That was 40 years ago. I recognized a couple of names, but most of the faces have changed since then. One thing that was particularly interesting to me: There was a contest to name the church. Before a name was chosen, the church was referred to as “Northwest Lutheran Mission.” People were given a ballot with suggested names and asked to chose one. Among the choices were: Holy Oaks Lutheran Church (“holy oaks, Batman!”), Mount Sinai Lutheran Church, Paradise Lutheran Church, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, The Cornerstone Lutheran Church, and St. Nikolai Lutheran Church.
Why was this history so interesting to me? I wasn’t around when the church began. It’s not like I’m looking at the scrapbook and saying, “I remember that. Look how funny my hair looked back then!” This scrapbook wasn’t my history; I wasn’t even alive in 1969. Yet it was my history because I’m a part of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church. What happened in 1969 at Northwest Lutheran Mission isn’t my history in one sense, but in another sense it is my history because I’m a part of this church.
When we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves, the story of that larger thing becomes our story. Your family history is your history. What happened to your parents and grandparents matters to you. You’re an American. The story of American history is your story. You weren’t there when the Declaration of Independence was signed. You weren’t there during the Civil War. But those stories are your story because you’re an American, a citizen of this country.
Another story you’re a part of is the story of humanity. It’s a story that began well as God created humans in His own image. But it’s a story that quickly included sin as Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. You weren’t there when Adam and Eve sinned, but their story is your story. You and I have inherited a condition called sin. It’s a condition that has caused all kind of bad things to happen throughout history – violence, oppression, hatred, injustice. And I’m not talking only about history. I’m talking about our lives as well. Even this morning, each of us has probably already done or thought something that we shouldn’t have. We most likely have already sinned today. The story of humanity, a story filled with sin, is also our story.
When Jesus came into the world as a human, He took on the story of humanity. Though He never committed a sin of any kind, Jesus shared in our story by becoming human. By being one of us, He experienced everything we experience, except for the guilt that comes from sin. He experienced unkind people, stress, sadness, bad weather – all the things that are part of living in a sin-filled world. Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Jesus willingly experienced everything we experience. He did not make Himself immune to feeling pain. He might have had allergies or gotten a cold like many of us have suffered lately. He went through everything willingly. The story of humanity became Jesus’ story in every way.
Today, as we celebrate the occasion of Jesus’ Baptism, I’d like to address a question that has been asked many times: Why was Jesus baptized? We believe that in Baptism, God’s creates faith and grants the forgiveness of sins. Jesus had no sins to be forgiven. Why did He insist that John the Baptist baptize Him? Here’s why: Jesus was baptized so that He would identify with us in every way. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Baptism, John tries to deter Jesus from being baptized by saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” It was Jesus’ idea to be baptized. To fulfill all righteousness, He had to identify with us in every way. Our story – the story of fallen humanity – had to become Jesus’ story completely.
After His Baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil. He resisted that temptation, as He resisted every attempt by the devil to sway Jesus from His mission, to die as the sacrifice for the whole world on the cross. The story of Jesus’ earthly life is roughly 33 years of a perfect life filled with miracles and wonders, followed by His death, His descent into hell to proclaim victory, His rest in the grave, His Resurrection from the dead, His post-Resurrection appearances, and His ascension back into heaven. It’s an intriguing, amazing story. And it’s story that can be boiled down to two events: His death and Resurrection, the sacrifice and the victory.