A great mystery is declared today, for the Creator of all in the Jordan washes away your wickedness. And by His washing, He takes on the filth of your sin, the filth of the sin of the world. In exchange for your sin, He gives you His righteousness. By water, by that blessed flood and lavish washing away of sin, a great exchange takes place. The Sinless becomes the sinner, and you, the sinner, become the righteous one.
But before water was used in God’s plan of salvation, it was first used in Divine justice for the chastisement of a sinful world. According to His strict judgment God condemned the unbelieving world through the Flood. But even in His righteous anger, God showed that faith saves, as believing Noah and his family were preserved in the ark. As they waited for the waters to subside, the dove brought back an olive branch, the symbol that peace was given to the earth by its having been buried in water.
Once again God showed the saving power of water as Israel crossed the Red Sea. Though they were freed from Egypt’s bonds, their masters followed swiftly, seeking to enslave them again. Without water and the power of God, Israel would have been returned to Egyptian slavery. But God allowed them to cross through the water on dry ground and then witness their masters be put to death in the same water once separated. Here God showed that water puts to death that which would enslave, bringing His people to the safety of the Promised Land.
Though through these events God foreshadowed the washing of Holy Baptism, the water still needed to be set apart, to be sanctified, as that means which God uses to deliver His forgiveness. So as John the Baptizer places his trembling hand upon the sacred head of the Redeemer and bends it beneath the water, Our Lord sets apart the water as saving, as the humble means to which He adds His strong Word for the rebirth of man. Now from this saving flood arise heavenly children, conceived in holiness, and reborn as new creatures.
But as important as the water is, it is not the central thing, lest we worship the created, rather than the Creator. What is central to Baptism, to your very life is the intervening grace of God that rescues you from death. At your Baptism bound to yourself was not just Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River, but His cross of death for your salvation, His bursting from the spiced tomb. You are forever bound to Christ’s death and resurrection. Because His Name was placed on you, because you are clothed with Christ, eternal life is yours.
But Baptism is not just the stuff of eternal life, it is the stuff of daily life! For, as we confess, Baptism works—today and every day—forgiveness of sins and rescues from death and the devil. So no matter how long ago the blest Baptismal waters washed over you, they are still washing over you this day, this minute, preserving you and forgiving you. Every gift that was made yours that day—the open heaven, the heavenly Father’s joy and delight in you as His beloved child, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—is yours this day and every day. By your Baptism, Christ is bound to you and you to Him, and He keeps you through every moment of your life, right up to and even through death itself, His peace guiding your dying day. Christ’s gifts which flow from the Font are with you until your soul is safe with Him, awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Until that day, He keeps you safe and secure in the Ark of the holy Christian Church, where His gifts flow freely through His Word, through Holy Absolution, through the Feast of His Body and His Blood. The Holy Spirit which descended upon Christ at His Baptism and filled you at yours draws you to this place, to receive these life giving and sustaining gifts.
But what if you’re a prodigal son or daughter? What if you’ve wandered far from the home that Baptism gives, from this holy Ark where you are kept safe, and moved into the filthy places of the world? What if you’ve rejected the gift of the heavenly Father’s love and chosen friendship with this dying world? What if, by unrepentant sin you’ve driven out the Holy Spirit and aren’t even sure if you believe anymore?
If you are faithless, God remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. The promise God made to you at Baptism stands as long as His day of grace stands. As often as you return to the Lord your God in repentance, you will find the same God who, with outstretched arms, died for all your sin. Your Baptism into Christ assures His pardon today and always. How great is His grace and mercy toward you, delivered in that crimson flood of His own Blood!
As you celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord and reflect on your Baptism into Him, a great mystery is declared today, for the Creator of all, by His Blood, washes away all your wickedness, all your sin, washing it off you and onto Himself. By your Baptism the Triune God has made His dwelling among you, to comfort and sustain you, until the day you inherit the heavenly bliss He has prepared for you. Let that day come today, tomorrow, in Christ you perish not. The peace of your Baptism into Christ bless you this day and every day to life everlasting.
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.