John had been crystal clear. Many people came to see him. Crowds confessed and were baptized. But he wasn’t the “big show.” “After me will come one more powerful than I…” John had said. How many times? Every time. For how long? Who knows…but, one day it happened. He arrived. And after a bit of negotiation about what was good and right to do, they did so: John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. And it was extraordinary – in John’s sight and hearing, God’s Holy Spirit came down and the Father said to Jesus, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased.” As John the Baptist would later say, this was a significant moment. It said that this Jesus, was God’s chosen one, the Christ. And, in him God delights…
In the season of Epiphany, we will walk with this one – the light of the world, the Christ. We will be mesmerized by his work, his compassion, his perfection. This is the beginning of all that – his baptism – and we’ll begin our walk with this confidence – that, when the Lord delights in Jesus, his Son, the Lord delights in you too.
So that you may be confident in him
This is important to know because life is full of all kinds of circumstances – both good and bad – circumstances that bolster your confidence and others that knock it down. This is part of the analysis of Acts 16 this morning – two circumstantial examples. First is Paul and Silas, who are in prison. Paul had driven out a demon from a young girl – enslaved by others to “tell the future” for money – her masters had been angry and had incited a riot and Paul and Silas had ended up in jail. It’s a local prison, but this isn’t like our police station cell – it’s a hole, dark, probably no windows, and they’re in the stocks – chained to the walls, legs locked in blocks of wood, knees probably stiff after being straight for so long, wrists bloody or bruised from hanging in metal cuffs. It’s calamity by any count, and yet… “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…” Literally, Paul and Silas praying were singing hymns or, their hymns were prayers to God in song. They were holding an all-nighter prayer vigil in prison. Confidence…
There’s also this other person in the picture: the jailer. He’s asleep. And, when the prison breaks in the rolling earthquake and he wakes to the sight of open prison doors and assumes his charges have fled, what does he do? He despairs…of life itself. The punishment from his Roman masters for losing his prisoners would have been terrible, painful, torture. And so he drew his sword to end his life. This too is calamity based on assumptions… No possibility that this could work out, no thought that there’s some higher plan, no song of praise or prayer for salvation… It’s just despair looking for death .
Now, it’s on the outer end of reasonable, the jailer’s reaction – to end his life. But you might consider Paul and Silas’ was too – hymn-singing in the slammer? And that is the question, isn’t it? What do I do when there’s no cause for confidence… What do I do when I receive my cancer diagnosis and the time is short? What do I do when my faith is weak because my sins weigh me down every day? What do I do in trial and adversity of all kinds that will come to you and me in this sinful world? You might do or are tempted to despair, doubt of God’s care, or sinful acts of self-preservation, to put your trust in princes or things hoping for a change of situation, bartering for confidence. But, as with the jailer, these all end in death. Perhaps the question isn’t really what to do but rather what you know.
Consider Paul and Silas. It’s like they knew something else was going on, operated as though something else was true… In the midst of no confidence and great calamity, they prayed and sang. Not because they were delusional. But because they knew their real circumstance: they were baptized children of God. Paul later would say, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) Or, to phrase it differently, it didn’t matter if they were in a prison or a palace, chained or free…
It doesn’t matter what situation you find yourself in, what status you have, in baptism you are wrapped up in Jesus Christ – the Son of God, the one at whose baptism God said he delights in him. You know that the Lord delights in you his baptized children. And that truth allows you to be confident in him… even when there is no earthly reason for confidence at all. God’s love in Jesus Christ forgives your sins and calls you holy and not guilty and puts his own name on you and brings great blessing…to eternal life.
That allows you to do almost anything like, in adversity and blessing, to “[s]peak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19) You, who are covered over with Christ, in the midst of crisis you “[l]et the word of Christ -[the message of God’s love for you in him]- dwell in you richly -[not just a little but a lot, like the roaring price of Bitcoin, the value of Christ goes up and up and up]- …as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) In any and every situation, we just do what James said, “Is anyone of you in trouble? He should pray… Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” (5:13). Because your confidence is not in yourselves or in this, it is in God who has named you his own – as he says it at his Son’s baptism, really, he says it to you… The Lord delights in you.
So that you might share your confidence with others
To what end though? Paul and Silas were singing/praying. Perhaps for deliverance – a hoped/prayed for end. Perhaps for strength. You, when you’re facing death or confused about where to turn, might pray for these too – and God grants them — strength to trust in him, fervent faith that knows his Word, deliverance from whatever the trial. But, the Lord delights in you also so that you might share your confidence with others.
In fact, that’s inescapable, reading this text. Look at how naturally that happened for Paul and Silas. They sang prayer-hymns and other prisoners heard, listened. Now those ones aren’t mentioned again in this account, but the jailer is highlighted. Perhaps he’d heard some of the singing and it made him consider. Maybe he fell asleep and missed it all. But when he hit rock bottom, believing that his whole construct of life had broken apart, the hymn-singing, not-fleeing, still-present prisoners said something to his fearful heart. And he asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
We have moments like these, when our friend or family member or neighbor turns in disgust with life or despair over circumstances and asks; or when people are listening as we with faith speak hopefully about life even in trouble… We have moments where, like Paul and Silas, we are placed to share our confidence, our faith. And we’re tempted to think that’s going to be difficult. Most often it’s just speaking to people in great need… And, in one sense, how simple it is! Faith is not “faith in faith” or some sharing of how hard you’ve trusted or how well it’s gone for you and that things will go well for them, or even how well you can reason it out for someone. Faith is trust in something – someone. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Paul said. Trust in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ who worked salvation and rescue from the calamity of sin by paying for your sins fully with his life. Believe in Jesus who gives that forgiveness to you at your rock-bottomest and for free and who promises by his resurrection to life that, even if death, destruction, and dismay come to your door, you will live with him in a home forever – where God’s delight in you will be your daily joy.
In the minutes and hours after,Paul and Silas told the jailer all he needed to know about Jesus Christ, Savior of the world. Indeed, he and his whole household were washed clean of sins in baptism and called into God’s family and to new confidence. God prepares you for this too. For all the adversity and trials that will come – for all the things that have happened in the last year and will in this one. When he washed you in baptism and marked you as his own, he sealed you with the love he has for his ownSon. So that you, in any situation, you can be confident in him. And, like the apostles, he puts you out into that sin-stricken world so that you might share your confidence with others too.
At his baptism, our Lord Jesus was affirmed as Savior of the world and perfect for the work when God showed his great delight. As you witness that baptism this morning, remember your own, and how it connects you to this Jesus, in whom the Lord delights in you.