A myHT Fortress

Monday, January 25, 2010

But Jesus!: A Homily on the Baptism of Our Lord

Preached at St. John's Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL, on the Sunday after Epiphany, 10 January 2010.

Luke 3:15-22

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is Baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God's command and combined with God's word. But sometimes people do think it is plain water. Many who profess to be Christians will belittle this miracle, calling it “water baptism,” and then talk about a better or higher “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” as if it is something different.

Do you believe in God’s work during Baptism? Do you trust His saving action in that miraculous washing? Or are you falling prey to those who say it is merely an action to commemorate what God has done, to signify His forgiveness and celebrate that you chose Jesus as your Savior.

Dear friends in Christ, do not join those who deny the work of God! Mark and beware of those who engage in the sin of denying Baptism! Repent of the times when you belittle the Gifts given in these Sacred waters.

Jesus is baptized, and the heavens are opened. Saint John the Baptizer points to Christ and declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus has come to be baptized, and John protests. It’s like he has read the catechism. What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

“But Jesus,” John thinks, “You don’t have any sins to forgive! You are forgiveness enfleshed. But Jesus, You don’t need to be rescued from death and the devil! You are the One who does the rescuing. But Jesus, You don’t need eternal salvation! You are salvation – it is even Your Name: Jesus – ‘the Lord saves.’”

John knows that he is not worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals, but when our Lord says the word, John baptizes Him. And here Jesus comes, wading into the Jordan River, with water up to His knees. He pours water over Jesus, speaking God’s Word of forgiveness and life.

Still, John must have been perplexed as he gave Jesus this washing of rebirth and renewal. He did not need it. So why did Jesus undergo this baptism? To be an example? Many will say that, but it comes up short. Because His human flesh needed it? No, Jesus human nature was holy and pure, just like His divine nature. So what is going on?

Blessed Martin Luther calls it the “Blessed Exchange.” Our dear Lord receives from us all of our flaws, our imperfections, our wickedness, our sickness and death. In exchange, He gives us His perfection, His holiness, His strength and life. While this is an aspect of Christ’s entire earthly life and ministry, it is especially in the forefront at His Baptism.

As Jesus receives Baptism, He dives into a sort of solidarity with us. He is like a sponge that enters horribly muddy and disgustingly filthy water. He then soaks up all the filth in Himself, leaving pure, clean water. This baptismal water then is what washes us clean and removes all filth and wretchedness from us when we are baptized.

“We’re going to die!” was the likely thought running through many heads on US Airways flight 1549 last year, as the jet dove toward the Hudson River. By the grace of God, every passenger and crew member survived and was rescued. They got a second chance at life on earth.

You are baptized, and the heavens are opened. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him 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” (Romans 6:3-4.)

In all likelihood, you were too young to have the thought: “We’re going to die!” as you were plunged into the waters of the Font. But you and I have died through Baptism, and through that miracle, have been rescued. Death is the just punishment for our sin, yet Jesus Christ has suffered that death, and in Baptism, you and I were united to that death. Since you only die once, we need not fear our last moments on this earth. We have already died. No dreadful judgment to fear. Christ endured that judgment. Now we have been raised with Christ, up out of the saving waters of Holy Baptism, and walk in newness of life.

Of course, there are those who feel that once they are baptized, they have it made, and they are guaranteed eternal life. They think they can do whatever they want and God will forgive them. They rely on a mistaken Protestant teaching that some call: “Once saved; always saved.”

Baptism does give the guarantee of eternal life, and no one can snatch that away from you. However, you yourself can end up rejecting it. You can turn your back on the gift, and starve your faith to death, losing faith and giving up salvation. The devil cannot steal it from you. Your neighbor cannot pry it away from you. But you can reject it yourself, rejecting God.

Dr. Harold Senkbeil wrote a book a number of years ago entitled: Dying to Live. He stressed this very point, that God has crucified your Old Adam with Christ, and raised you to new life. Now, as His new creature, we live in His Word, and flowing out of our Baptism. We daily die to our old selves, and live in Christ. And we are bound to His Resurrection through our Baptism, so we have the promise of a bodily, eternal life with Him!

This will be evidenced in our lives by our words and works. The baptized

Christian strives to lead a godly life. He fails all the time, but rejoicing in the lord’s forgiveness, he attempts to live the new life God has given, rejoicing in our Risen Christ, who is our light and life.

This ties into the whole point of the Paschal Candle, as well. Lit throughout the Easter season, it represents our Risen Lord. It is also lit for every Baptism, calling to mind that through this sacred washing, God physically binds us to Christ’s own Baptism and Resurrection. We light it again at the funerals of departed Christians, reminding us that through the Baptism, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have died and been buried with Him already, and are already raised. Now, at the Christian’s funeral, we celebrate that we await their bodily resurrection to enjoy eternity with our Lord.

Remember your Baptism! Together with Luther we see the importance of this phrase. We also know that it is an important thought and joy to remember Christ’s Baptism! For in His Baptism, our sins are soaked up by Jesus, and He cleanses us with fresh, holy, and cleansing water! Jesus is Baptized for you, that you may live your new life in Him. Amen!

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