Sermon for The Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon for The Baptism of Our Lord

(Transcribed by machine 04/08/2024)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, this morning we hear this account from St. Mark of the baptism of Jesus, and maybe it’s just me,
maybe I’m the only one that does this, but I think sometimes we might be tempted,
often tempted to overlook the importance of it.
I mean, we came out of Advent and Christmas, and now we’re maybe even, like I said,
me looking forward to Lent and Easter, and we’re just kind of skipping over some things.
but maybe we downplay the significance of it because maybe we don’t even really
understand it. And we do find an account of Jesus’ baptism in the three
synoptic Gospels, and Mark actually begins his with the baptism. We have this
depiction in the left-hand panel of Christ’s humiliation. We have that
depiction in the middle of his baptism. So it’s obviously an important event, but
although we confess in the Creed about our own baptism that it is for the
remission of our sins, we don’t really confess anything about the baptism of
Jesus, not quite like we do the other acts and deeds that he does in the Creed
that are the basis of our Christian faith. So what’s this baptism all about?
Why is it an act of humiliation? As Lutheran Christians, because of what we
do confess about baptism, we might simply look at it and ask why. Why did Jesus
have to be baptized. His baptism clearly wasn’t for the remission of sins, not his
own sins, because he was, of course, sinless. And so I think that we will see
in understanding Jesus’ baptism, we see that while his baptism is indeed
different than ours, what we believe, teach, and confess about our own baptism
is because of his. So maybe first we set this up by saying what baptism, what his
baptism is not. Some would say that for Jesus this was simply an act of obedience.
This was an example for us to follow, that being this obedience to the calling
of the Father, and I do say, and we should say, that is true to some extent.
There was this notion of him being baptized at the will of the Father. We
just heard in the hymn that he did the Father’s pleasure, but I think that to
distill the meaning of his baptism down to simply a submission or an act of
obedience. Well, it really denies what Scripture tells us about baptism, and it
also either denies or at least diminishes the work of the Holy Spirit,
and more about the work of the Holy Spirit in a few minutes. But for right
now, let’s say that in making Jesus’ baptism merely this example to be
followed, I think that we really have two things that happen in relation to that.
It makes us think about what we believe about our own baptism. First, the door is
may be unnecessarily opened to the insistence on what the mode of baptism
should be, and that in turn creates maybe doctrinal and denominational
differences and disagreements that unfortunately place the focus on the how
and not the why. Some will insist that our baptism has to look like Jesus’
baptism, at least what they think it looked like. I don’t know. We weren’t
there. There’s no YouTube videos for us to look at, but our text does tell us that
John the Baptist was baptized in the River Jordan, that the people were
repenting and coming to him, and that Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized.
So the assumption, the inference is that people were going out into the river
and that they were being immersed, as we say in Texas, dumped. And this is, of
course, entirely possible. Maybe, maybe that’s even the way it happened. We don’t
know. But I think we also have plenty of historical writing. We have a knowledge
of kind of the customs and the social factors of the time that we could make a
pretty compelling argument against it. The point is facts don’t matter when
feelings are involved. So I have to tell a quick personal story about something.
So my wife and Carrie and I were years and years ago going through adult
instruction together, and at some point I knew that I had to go see my
grandmother, my very Southern Baptist grandmother, and I had to tell her that
we were taking this class and that it was really our intention that we were going
to be confirmed in the Lutheran Church. And I say, I don’t think up to this point
in my life I had dreaded anything more than going and seeing her. And so I did
go to her. I went to her house one night and I confessed. At first she was kind of
quiet. She said, well I figured that’s what was going on. And then she said a
couple of things that have always kind of stuck with me. The first was, she said,
well I was there when you went down to the front. I was there when you were saved.
And I think I was about six, you know, when I answered the altar call. And then
she said, and I’m trying to remember, I don’t remember, I know she didn’t look at
me, maybe she looked down, she looked at the wall and she said, all I know is the
Bible says Jesus came up out of the water. And she was clearly stating her
belief and her conviction that Jesus was immersed and that this is the only
correct baptism because that’s what baptism is, and that was Jesus’ baptism.
And I knew better than to argue, but I asked, is that all you got? And I can kind
of, we can kind of laugh about that today, but it’s also sad because I think that’s
attitude that many Christians have about baptism, that it has to look right to be
right. And second, in making Jesus’ baptism about being only an example to follow, we
tend to place the emphasis on ourselves, on what we’re doing, the work we’re doing,
and not what God is accomplishing in baptism. Some may say, well, baptism is
this outward sign of an inward change, of some kind of transformation. Maybe it’s
a symbol of that, but it’s really me making this public profession. It’s me
telling the world what I’m doing. I want to show the world who I am, what I’ve
done, what I’m now accomplishing. It’s a symbol of this faith. We have to ask
ourselves if that’s the way we feel, what do we think when we, to use more Texas
terms, backslide, when we become overwhelmed with sin, when we don’t have
that kind of Holy Ghost feeling anymore. Well, I’m afraid that this modern, I seem
to think it’s modern, this phenomenon of rebaptizing, which has somehow
crept into favor now, and tells us that once we rededicate our lives to Christ,
then we ought to be baptized again so we can make yet another public profession
because that first baptism, it must have just not stuck. And so while we don’t
review this, or we don’t view this as outright heresy, these views are not
desirable, and sometimes they can be dangerous, because at some point it seems
that baptism can become optional, and it’s certainly not a means of grace. So
we’ve talked about that. So what is Jesus’ baptism? What’s it about? Why did he need
to be baptized? Again, we know John was there baptizing those who were repenting
for the remission of their sins, and here comes Jesus down from Nazareth. He
actually searches out John, and he comes to be baptized. Jesus, the one without sin,
comes to be baptized. Why? Well, first, actually, it was for the remission of
sins, not his, for the remission of sins of the world. We know, we confess, that
Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, but it is here at the Jordan
River where Christ first takes on the sin of the world and carries it to
Calvary with him. It is here where Jesus is revealed to the world as the Messiah,
the Anointed One, and begins his earthly ministry. As Luther writes, this is where
Christ began to be Christ. This was his ordination, maybe we call it his
commissioning, his inauguration, whatever word you want to use, this was where he
was publicly being put into the office and the being of the Messiah, of the
Christ. And also we want to see where that Jesus’ baptism shows us this
explicit picture of the Holy Trinity as revealed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now we had a little bit of a glimpse of the Trinity in this reading from
Genesis this morning about the creation of the world when God the Father created
all things by the Spirit and the Word. The earth was formed out of the water and
through water by the Word. All things were created through Jesus, for He is
that Word, and He is the light, the light of the world. And so the created world is
brought into being by the uncreated Word. And in many ways, here at the Jordan, the
world is being recreated in Jesus’ baptism, where the Father speaks to His
only Son and sends the Holy Spirit to Him to be upon Him in this clear picture
of the Trinity. And just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the
earth, the creation of the world, so the Holy Spirit is there at Jesus’ baptism
over the waters of the Jordan. We see that water has always been, to God, a
means of taking life and giving life, just as he did in the flood, but yet he
preserved Noah and his family. At the Red Sea, when he delivered the Israelites
from the hands of the Egyptians, so water for God remains a way to preserve and to
protect life, and it is with the Holy Spirit that he makes this water holy.
Maybe you recall in our baptismal rite, we pray, through the baptism in the
Jordan of your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, you sanctified and
instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.
So Jesus’ baptism makes our baptism holy. And this promise is now for all of us,
for all nations. Saint Mark tells us that the heavens were opened, some say, some
texts say, torn open when the Spirit descended. And in this, the kingdom of
heaven was open to all believers. Jesus was there at his epiphany. So salvation
is no longer for those, only those faithful ones among the Israelites,
because in doing such, Christ’s baptism became a baptism for the nations, for all
nations, for the church. And so Jesus steps out of the Jordan to be revealed as the
prophet, priest, and king that he was. And he was revealed to all, even to John the
Baptist, this forerunner of Christ who really knew him not, and he didn’t know
him till his appearing at the Jordan until the father made public this
pronouncement of his son and gave the assurance that all would be accomplished
through him and the father is pleased he is pleased that he has chosen his son
for this that he would be the one to redeem the world and the father accepts
him for this most holy work and so the spirit remained with Jesus because
although he was true God also being true man the spirit was given to him so that
might be strengthened, so that he might be made ready to accomplish what he was
about to set out to do. I mean, I don’t think we can imagine this burden of sin
placed upon him on his shoulders, the sin of the world taken upon himself, and yet
here he accepts all this willingly, and as he proclaims in the temple of
Nazareth, he says, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to
proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, to recover sight to the
blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the
Lord’s favor. So, dear Christians, you have been given all that in your baptism, the
gift of good news, liberty, of sight, and of proclamation to you of the Lord’s
favor. So to relegate baptism to only an example or a symbol is to strip the means
of grace from it. Or like some who make it an ordinance, a law, a law to be
followed, we remove all traces of the gospel. And so why would we want to
reject this most precious gift? Why would we want to do and deny what is clearly
given to us in Holy Scripture? In John’s gospel, our Lord tells Nicodemus,
truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot
enter the kingdom of God.” At Pentecost, St. Peter exhorts those who have heard the
gospel, repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for
the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In St. Peter, in his first epistle, baptism now saves you. In St. Paul,
writing to Thomas, God our Savior saved us by the washing and renewal of the
Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
So in our baptism we are united with Christ so that we may receive the
benefits of his sacrifice on the cross. We are inextricably tied to Jesus
baptism because he placed himself among us poor sinners and in his humiliation
took on our very sin. St. Paul, in this epistle lesson today, he tells us that in
our baptism we are baptized with Christ because we were baptized into his death,
and in doing so we are now dead to sin. Sin and its power to convict us is
killed. In Luther’s words, baptism is death unto sin, death to death, and this
is what we confess about baptism. And so, in our baptism, God tells us he is well
pleased. Not in us, not in some work that we have done, not even in the fact that
we are coming to be baptized, but well pleased in us for the sake of Christ. In
our baptism, we are no longer looked upon by God as sinners, but by ones
redeemed by Christ the Crucified. It is where we too, like Jesus, we receive the
Spirit who strengthens us for this Christian life, for service to God and
service to one another. He strengthens us for the fight against Satan, against the
devil, and all his attempts to bring our sins to bear against us, to oppress us
with our conscience and tell us, there is no way you can be saved. But it is then
when we find comfort in saying, again in the words of Luther, turns out Luther
really, really likes baptism. And that’s because God himself loves baptism, and we
ought to love our baptism. Luther says, and we should say, nevertheless I am
baptized. I have been made holy and saved. I have been given victory over death and
the devil. I am a child of God. So brothers and sisters in Christ, remember
your baptism because you are a new creation. You’ve been given a new life of
faith, and so whether you were baptized as an infant or well into adulthood,
whether you were baptized at this font or another font, or in a baptistry, or
under somebody’s garden hose. We should remember not how, but why. And so go now
with joy and peace, trusting that in his incarnation, in his suffering,
crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and yes, in his baptism, Christ has
accomplished all. You’re baptized, you’re saved. Amen. Now may the Almighty God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of
the Spirit and has forgiven all your sins, strengthen you with his grace to
life everlasting. Amen.