In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“Let it be so for now for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all justification.” Our translation said righteousness, but justification is what it’s talking about.
Justification is a fancy word related to “justice”. It is a legal word. It describes what a judge does when he declares a defendant not guilty, innocent, just. He. Justifies. You. We are a people on trial, accused by our own consciences. Your conscience was given you by God. It was programmed with His righteous standards. But because of the sin-nature in you it does not judge things accurately. It is influenced by your experience, your culture, your choices, by your repeated, habitual sins. So it has been changed, its original settings altered. It is inconstant and changes from day to day, influenced by the society you live in, the peer groups you hang out with, and especially those you love and value, your family, your church, your close friends. And don’t underestimate how desperately your sinful nature wants to rewrite your conscience and make it sensitive to all the wrong things, rather than the right things!
In a society which says nothing is true no one is ever wrong. And if you should be so “arrogant” as to judge someone or something as wrong there is no end to the energy, words, and emotion which will be used against you to justify whomever or whatever you judged. You and I do it too. For we have fallen prey to the collective conscience of our age. And so whether in your own head, in a letter, an email, a blog, or out loud to anyone who will listen you try to justify yourself. You waste untold energy laying out arguments for why are not wrong.
Speaking of which, have you noticed how society’s conscience changes like the wind? Something no one is thinking about one day is enemy number one the next? The big evils of society don’t just change from generation to generation but sometimes from month to month. Just consider the flip-flop our society’s conscience has had on issues such as racism, sexism, homosexuality in just the last couple decades. Or more recently, how quickly has bullying become the thing everyone is talking about? There are often important issues of love, compassion, and justice at the root of some of these changes, but given how quickly the collective conscience changes don’t use society as your benchmark for what is right or wrong.
Who is this Judge? God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, has put His Son on the Judge’s seat. That is good news for you. For if God is for you, who can be against you? (Romans 8:31-34)
God who has sent His Son to take your guilt lets His Son judge your case. There are no legal manoeuvres that will get you off the hook when you come before Him. He knows exactly what you are guilty of. He suffered for it. But keep this in mind: heaven’s law courts have Jesus Christ as the Judge. But who is your defence attorney? Jesus Christ. The scales of justice are tilted in your favour. The fix is in!
And who is your prosecution? Satan? NO! For there is no accusation that can stand against those who have been redeemed by Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, 33-34). Satan was cast down out of heaven when Jesus completed the suffering for all sin (Revelation 12:10-11; John 19:30). Satan has no more access to the heavenly council chambers. Those law courts have no prosecutor in them! Just a public defender advocating for you, who happens to have the Judge in His pocket, for the public defender IS the Judge. God’s Son is the Judge. He has the authority to judge what is and what is not, who is guilty and who is not.
The reality is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All are guilty before God. But that does not matter in this law court because the public defender knows those who are His. He vouches for them to the Judge. The Judge justifies them.
John was right. John was a sinner. He needed to be baptized and cleansed by Jesus. But Jesus said, “Let this happen this way just this one time. Let me be baptized by you. Why? So that I can complete the work of justifying all mankind. So that I can take this weird little water ritual where some water is poured over someone like they are gonna be washed and by attaching my name to it they will be declared totally innocent. Their consciences are washed clean. They are renewed. They are scrubbed clean of all the stuff that causes your conscience to torture and accuse you.
This is the glory of His baptism: that by it your baptism means something. It was not something that just happened to you once. It is now your reality. Your calling. Who you are. You are baptized. You are justified. It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember it. That’s why the Church has eyewitnesses and certificates that you hang on the wall, so that you remember what God did on that day and still is doing to this day for you.
You are just. For He completed your justification. By Baptism you are in Him, His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. In Holy Baptism you are His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. Remember that. Claim that. Live that.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON