Baptized to Death, Baptized to Life

Baptized to Death, Baptized to Life

anybody who is a fan of baseball, or humorous things, or even just of an
average-guy-done-good, you’ve simply gotta love Yogi Berra. No, I’m not speaking
of the cartoon character with the sidekick named Boo-Boo, who tried to abscond
with picnic baskets under the ever-watchful eye of the park ranger.

talking about the New York Yankees’ All-Star catcher in the 1940s and 50s, who
later managed both the Yankees and the Mets, and is now rightfully enshrined in
baseball’s Hall of Fame. Yogi and the proper use of the English language
seemed to have been only the most tenuous of acquaintances. Yogi was known to
utter such oddball phrases that the entire genre of such sayings have become
known as “Yogi-isms”, whether he was their originator or not.

the quirky delights that have supposedly flowed from Yogi’s lips are such
pearls of wisdom as, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Speaking about a busy Manhattan restaurant that he no longer liked to visit,
Yogi said, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” And, for
purposes that I hope will be apparent to you today, he’s also credited with
having once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

see, you just might experience déjà vu a little bit today. The Bible text you
heard read from the gospel of St. Mark a short time ago might have sounded
familiar, and there’s a very good reason for that. Part of this same text was
the Gospel reading in our worship service just a few weeks back, during the
season of Advent, a season of preparation. We read it in Advent because we
were talking about the preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, and
John the Baptist is certainly one who prepared the way for Christ.

fact, you might remember that there were some prophecies in the beginning of that
Advent reading which come from the Old Testament books of Isaiah and Malachi.
They tell just how John would fulfill his role as the forerunner of Christ.

inspired these prophets, hundreds of years earlier, to write about John’s
ministry—and Mark quotes them in his introduction to the Gospel:

will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way—a voice of one
calling, ‘In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for

so John did just that: He preached that the kingdom of God was at hand, and
exhorted the people to repent and to be baptized to receive the forgiveness of
their sins. All through his ministry, though, John made clear that he was just
the messenger, not the message.

was coming soon, John told them, who would be far more important than him. Someone
who was so great that even John—the first important prophet that Israel had had in hundreds of years—wasn’t worthy to perform even the humble, even
humiliating task of untying the other one’s sandals.

was another important difference, too, John said. There was a difference in
their baptisms. John’s baptism was certainly from God, and it was certainly truly
effective for providing forgiveness of sins. But it did not have the same lasting
effects of the baptism yet to come. His was a baptism of water, John said, and
not the baptism with the Holy Spirit which would be provided by the Messiah.

so, Jesus came from His hometown in Nazareth in Galilee, and He was baptized in
the Jordan by John.

you remember the discussion that they had, John and Jesus, about Jesus getting
baptized? It’s not described in our text from St. Mark today, but it’s
recorded in another of the gospels—that of St. Matthew. It was quite a
discussion. John knew who Jesus was—He was the one whose way John was preparing.
Not just a man, and not just a prophet. No, Jesus was much more than that.
John was preparing a way and making straight paths for the Lord!

that name, “the Lord,” could only mean one thing to those people in Judea. The Lord, Yahweh, was the name that Almighty God had given to the people of Israel back in Moses’ day so that they might know Him. It was the name they could use to
call upon Him in all their troubles and needs.

knowing that Jesus was Lord—that Jesus was God Himself, come in the flesh—John strongly
objected to the idea of baptizing Jesus.

should be baptized by you,” John said. He realized that he, like
all of us, was sinful and in need of the Savior. That he, John, in spite of
his own miraculous birth from the aged womb of his mother, Elizabeth, still
needed repentance and forgiveness—as do we all.

Jesus knew that it was right and necessary for Him to be baptized. In being
baptized, Jesus showed His humanity. He connected Himself to our sinful
condition without having sinned Himself.

in the voice and the words of the Father coming down from heaven—tearing
the heavens in the way Yahweh had so often appeared to His people
in Old Testament times—Jesus’ divinity was clearly shown to everyone there that
day. Likewise, in the Holy Spirit visibly descending down onto Him in the form
of a dove, Jesus’ divinity was shown.

event was not the descent of the eternal Son onto or into an
ordinary man, as some early Christian heretics called Adoptionists claimed. Nor
was it simply the power of God being given to an ordinary man to fulfill a
temporary purpose, as many skeptics of Christianity and deniers of the divinity
of Jesus maintain even today. No, we already know that Jesus’ divinity came into
and upon His humanity at the very moment of His conception, when the angel
spoke to Mary about her being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. It was the Word
of God that made the Word become flesh.

happened at Jesus’ baptism was this: The Spirit descended upon Him who was already
prepared to receive Him, already full equipped as both God and man. This one who
was baptized by John was ready to assume the office and the authority of both
Son of God and Son of Man; offices He already fully and rightfully held.

see further that it is not John’s baptism that causes the Spirit to descend,
for not only did no such sign accompany the numerous other baptisms John had
performed, but these momentous signs took place after the baptism
had been completed, when Jesus was leaving the water.

these great signs from the Father and the Holy Spirit are attributable to
Jesus, not to John, and they are linked to the divinity of Christ, the Son of
God. For the Father can call no one the Son unless he is righteous or has been
made righteous, and the Spirit can rest on no one unless he is
holy or has been made holy, and no one is righteous and holy of
his own account but God alone.

new calendar year is underway, and often we like to think of the New Year as a
fresh start, a clean slate, an opportunity to make changes in our behavior, our
relationships, ourselves. But despite our best intentions and even some
genuine efforts, we know that many of our best-laid plans will fail completely
or fall far short of our goals.

those efforts of ours which succeed will only produce superficial results,
perhaps making ourselves look better to those who gaze upon us with human eyes,
but not really fooling God.

He knows
that deep within us, the rotten stench of sinfulness still dwells, looking for
opportunities when we stray from the Spirit and forget the Law. At those
times, He cannot call us righteous; He can not call us holy. And only in
hypocrisy and in even greater sin can we imagine that we are.

are within the church season of Epiphany, in which the divine nature of Christ
and the purpose of His coming are made known to the world. And, short of
performing a miracle Himself, there is no surer sign of Jesus’ divine nature
than that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit made their presence known at
God the Son’s baptism. The other persons of the Holy Trinity put their seal of
approval on who Jesus was, and what he was going to do. For at that very
moment, in the waters of baptism, the sins of the whole world were applied to

has been washed from you and me in our baptisms, was poured in all its ugliness
and filthiness upon the sinless one. From that moment on, Jesus carried those
sins upon Himself, without being stained and poisoned and corrupted by them.
Our stain, our poison, our corruption; that heavy load was carried by the Son
of God.

spite of that burden, though, He resisted all temptations. In spite of that
burden, He lived a perfect life. In spite of that burden, He walked forward,
with both intent and trust, toward the cross. As John himself would say later
about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
The literal translation of that “taking away” is: “the one lifting up
the sin of the world”—that is, the one who is bearing that sin; enduring it;
carrying it for you.

baptism was special, certainly. It provided forgiveness of sins for the
repentant. Applied to Jesus, it showed His human nature, just as the
appearance of the Father and the Holy Spirit showed His divine nature. It
showed Jesus’ willingness to begin his ministry, to assume from John the mantle
of preaching the gospel, and to become the even greater prophet. And it showed
His willingness to take upon Himself the sins of the world, so that He could
carry them forward toward that sin’s destruction and defeat.

John’s baptism didn’t have the powerful and lasting effect of the baptism that
Jesus would institute for all of us later in His own ministry—the baptism into
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

is this later baptism, this one you have received, in which you are linked
forever to Jesus, and to the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life won for
us on the cross. In the later baptism, Jesus clearly told the Church through
His apostles that His baptism was to be into the Holy Trinity: Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit.

If this
baptism is into the Trinity, then it is into God Himself. And if into God,
then most assuredly into Christ. And if into Christ, then also into His death,
the death that makes sin die.

tells us this is so, when he wrote
in wrote in his letter to the Romans: “Don’t you know that all of us who
were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”
Christ took baptism upon Himself so that He might take our sin upon Himself as

our sin and by our sin was death, the death He suffered on our account, though
He had no sin of His own. In our baptism, we die as well. Our Old Adam, the
failed and sinful person, is drowned in the water made sacred by the Word and
presence of God. Sin dies, and we sinful ones die with it, too.

we continue to struggle with our New Year’s resolutions and our other
challenges of life, we struggle against that death, for our faith is not yet
perfect, and the battle rages on. But in the end, we die to sin, for we die
with Christ, and we die in Christ.

Galatians, Paul also wrote, “All of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

is more marvelous, then, than to be linked eternally with Christ Jesus in His
death—the one momentous event in all of history where death itself was defeated?
And what is more beautiful than being clothed with Christ, the Beautiful Savior?

wraps you not in a shroud or funeral pall, but in a garment of righteousness
and salvation and eternal life. Cling to that everlasting garment, then.
Cling to that death. And cling to that baptism, both His and yours. It keeps
you securely connected to Him who has made you justified and holy in the eyes
of God.

you who believe and are baptized into the death and life of Christ, the Spirit
descends to dwell within you, too—strengthening you for your life’s journey,
and for your service in the Lord. God the Father calls down from heaven upon
you, too—saying, “This is my son… this is my daughter, whom I love; with you I
am well pleased.”

the God in whose name you were baptized, the God by whom you are adopted as
precious children—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—keep you strong and
confident in your baptismal covenant, now and always. Amen.