13. January 2012
Baptism of Christ
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…” Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Water is important. Waters were gathered at creation. The Spirit hovered over the waters. Waters brought forth living creatures. Water also fell from the sky. Those waters rose up and destroyed the earth and all living creatures (apart from those in the ark.) Red Sea waters protected those in Exodus and destroyed Pharoah and his host. Waters came forth from the rock (and the rock was Christ.) Waters are prescribed for purification in the tabernacle. Joshua passes through Jordan’s waters into the promised land.
In the days of John, baptism and repentance go together. He preached repentance and the people received baptism, confessing their sins. His preaching was like the beginning of the service: “let us first consider our unworthiness and confess before God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.” Sin is a serious illness with symptoms in our every action, with all we say, and even in what we think. Repentance confesses this truth. And in John’s day, repentance was shown by baptism.
In our day repentance is shown by speaking. You confess repentance when you say: “Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life.” But wait! There’s more than repentance (have mercy) in those words. You also asked for forgiveness and everlasting life. Your confession is more than the repentance of the multitudes who flocked to John. There is no need for nostalgia for the man in camel hair and locusts stuck in his teeth. The muddy Jordan holds no promise anymore. For you were washed already by Jesus himself and in waters rich in His blood. Thus your confession is not merely for mercy but also to receive the kingdom of God in Jesus.
John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” St. John the Baptizer knew that he prepared the way but he was not the Way. He baptized in repentance but the greater One would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The Jordan River was used now but soon waters even among Gentiles would be used along with God’s Word to bring far greater gifts.
A marvelous event was recorded today for your hearing by St. Matthew. Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. For thirty years Jesus has kept to the background, living the life of any ordinary Jew. Now the Christ takes up the mantle of His office and joins St. John and the ranks of sinners who are repenting and yearning for forgiveness. But surely the Christ, the sinless one, needs no baptism? He has no sins to confess and no absolution to receive. St. John wondered the same thing: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then [John] consented. He consented because he understood. Jesus was saying, “you must now baptize me in order that poor sinners come to righteousness and be saved. For the sake of sinners I now become a sinner, in order that they would become righteousness through me.” God’s only son let himself be baptized—though he was without sin. Thereby He takes on the sin of the baptized while we are absolved of our every sin. Our baptismal waters and His are bound together. Christ’s baptism is bound to Christ’s death and resurrection. Thus our baptism is bound to our death and resurrection.
St. Paul writes in Romans chapters 6: “Do you not know that as many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” So, yes, Christians suffer just as Christ suffered. Christians die just as Christ died. By Holy Baptism we will endure these things with Christ and receive a greater gift. “For we were buried therefore by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
For you, dear Christian, have received something far better than what John gave. For you, Holy Baptism and salvation go together. It should not surprise us that God continues to use water to work in us—and not just plain water but “water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word” (SC IV.1). Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit now “makes disciples of all nations.” God the Father adopts you as His child for the sake of His Son Jesus and gives to you His Holy Spirit to keep you in this faith.
Some people think of Baptism as this once in a lifetime deal. Others think Baptism is unimportant. The general population think Baptism is an empty religious rite—nothing more than a dedication or blessing. Not so for Jesus and not so for you. Baptism is the fulfilling of all righteousness in you. God the Father has added His promise to the waters and thus they have great benefit. Look at Jesus!
When [He] was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heaves were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
There is tremendous grace for you in Holy Baptism. Before Christ’s baptism, the heavens were closed but now they gates stand open and we can see clear through to everlasting life. Once there was a barrier between God and us but now God himself is revealed in those saving waters. No longer do people cower in fear at the voice of God but now the Father’s voice is heard. You are no longer sinner but made holy by the washing of Christ’s own blood. You are no longer orphans but the Holy Spirit descends upon us and dwells with us.
Water is important but the Word of God in and with the water does these great things. And the Word does not stop giving His promises. Thus each day each day we begin in the same name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. God once again drowns in us the same old Adam. Each day he raises us in us the same new Adam given to us Holy Baptism, to serve Him in holiness and fear all the days of our life. Each day we begin with confidence knowing that by water and Word we are God’s children—forgiven, restored, and inheritors of eternal life. Dear Christians, may we learn to say not “I was…” but “I am baptized!”
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church