The Baptism of Our Lord 2019
Baptism is a good thing. Paul Gerhardt, a 17th century Lutheran Pastor wrote a Baptismal hymn, “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized.” In its fifth stanza he writes: “O Christian, firmly hold this gift and give God thanks forever! It gives the power to uplift in all that you endeavor. When nothing else revives your soul, your Baptism stands and makes you whole and then in death completes you.” When life is miserable, we as Christians get to say what we’ll sing during the Distribution: “I am Baptized into Christ!” Sin, disturb my soul no longer! Satan, hear this proclamation! Death, you cannot end my gladness! I am Baptized into Christ. As we look at the Baptism of Our Lord, we understand a little more why Baptism is so central to our faith and our Christian life.
For us, Baptism is a good thing. For Jesus, Baptism works the exact opposite. Where our Baptism takes away sin and death, it gives those things to Jesus. His Baptism in the Jordan isn’t necessary in the way ours is. Yes, in St. Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells John the Baptist that it is necessary for them to do this to fulfill all righteousness. But that’s not because Jesus needs righteousness. He is righteousness incarnate! He has no sin of His own that needs absolving. Rather, He must submit to this action so that it can be a part of how His righteousness comes to us. You’ve heard Luther’s beautiful “Flood Prayer” that’s a part of our Baptismal liturgy. In it, he teaches us: “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.” When plain water is combined with God’s Word, all of Jesus’ righteousness flows into and onto that person being Baptized. And it’s not just a “washing away of sin,” but a lavish washing away of sin. It does more than just wash away current sin. It washes away original sin, actual sin, and any sins that will be committed. Jesus doesn’t do anything half way. If he’s giving His righteousness, He’s giving it completely, for all time, lavishly, in ways that could never make sense to you and me.
And He does that because Jesus’ baptism is the exact opposite of yours. At your Baptism, sin was taken away from you and death was made your entrance into eternal life. At Jesus’ baptism, all sin was placed on His shoulders. Death was made His lot. Hell was made the reality which He would suffer. When you were Baptized, all your sin flowed through that water, through time, and back to the dirty waters of the Jordan and onto the sinless Son of God. Jesus wasn’t baptized in clean water, but in your filthy bathwater! That water, though it may not have appeared that way, was black with sin and death. It stunk with the pollution that Satan ushered in with his temptation of Adam and Eve. But Jesus willingly allowed Himself to be submerged in it. As John’s trembling hand pushed the sinless head of the Lamb under the water, he got to take part in the great exchange. He witnessed as Jesus was made the guiltiest sinner ever to live. John watched as Jesus took on his sin, your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world. Jesus’ baptism wasn’t a happy occasion with cake and posing for pictures and relatives flying in from out of town. It was a solemn occasion, one marked with seriousness and consequence. It’s the visible start of His public ministry. From this point on, Jesus has one goal: the cross. And for the next three years He journeys towards it, carrying your sin on His shoulders. And He doesn’t begrudge it. He doesn’t do it with hesitation. He does it with determination, with love for you and all humanity.
At His Baptism God the Father spoke from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Why was the Father pleased with His Son? Because He was anointed in the Jordan for the purpose of redeeming the world. He was started on His path to the cross. The Father is well pleased with Jesus because He is obedient and willing. He restores the broken relationship between God and man. The Son obeys the Father’s will. He wears your sin and shame and drowns it in His own Blood. He brings healing to all of your ills. He pardons your sin. Death is no longer your lot.
Because of Jesus, Baptism is a good thing. It’s not an act of your obedience, something you do to please God, but rather your reception of the Son’s obedience. Whether it was more years ago than you can remember or just a few months ago, when you were brought to the Font, you were brought to eternal life. You have been given a comfort second to none. There you were Baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. But Baptism is not a past tense thing. Yes, the action happened in the past, but it’s your present reality. You weren’t Baptized, you are Baptized into Christ. You are a sinless child of God. You are an heir of salvation. Jesus is your Substitute. He takes away sin and death from you forever. He gives you the Father’s love. He gives you comfort in your weakness and joy in your sadness.
Daily life in this world will kick you when you’re down. Because of sin—yours and others’—you will suffer. The Lord allows these things to come to help strengthen your faith. You may feel like you can’t lift another ounce. You may feel like you’re not cut out for one more test, one more trial, one more kick in the shins. But it’s going to come. It’s in those times that it’s easiest to give into despair, to get angry, to wonder why, how much longer. Jesus knows. He knows how much it hurts, how much it makes you question. He endured it, too. But the Lord strips you of every earthly support to get you to realize that your support is not of this world. Your support comes by way of the Holy Spirit doing His work of pointing you to Jesus. He acts like a spotlight that points your eyes to the font, to the Water, and your ears to the Word. When life is awful, and you can’t go on, listen for those words you probably don’t remember hearing, but were spoken over you: “I Baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Even if you have to say it through tears and sighs, say it boldly: “I am Baptized into Christ.” This is temporary. Sin, Satan, do what you will. You cannot rob me of this joy, this pleasure, this reality. I am God’s child. He loves me. He holds onto me. He will not let me go. He will not hand me over to you and to misery forever. I am Baptized into Christ. Heaven is mine. You are temporary. My joy is forever in Christ. I’m a child of paradise.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.