Monday, January 08, 2007
Sermon - The Baptism of Our Lord - Luke 3:15-22
The Baptism of Our Lord
January 7th, 2006
Permit me a brief personal note as I thank all of you who were so generous and expressed warm wishes at the birth of our third daughter just before Christmas. These few weeks have been memorable as we’ve welcomed a new baby, a new year, and today as we begin using a new hymnal. I pray that we will all find the adjustment bearable, and that these new resources will be a blessing to our life together here at Grace.
With all this “newness” in the air, I find it striking that our readings for today point us to the theology of Holy Baptism. Baptism goes well with new-ness. In baptism God does something new, or makes someone new…
Indeed, today we observe the minor festival, “The Baptism of Our Lord”. We mark Jesus’ arrival at the Jordan River, his baptism there by John, the opening of the heavens, the Spirit’s descent and the approving voice of the Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Our Old Testament reading also reminds us of Holy Baptism, as there the Lord speaks through the prophet, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” When else, but in Holy Baptism, does God redeem us so personally – even calling us by name – and making us his own?
And even our Epistle from Romans 6 is a fascinating discourse on Baptism – here seen as participation in Christ’s death and resurrection. We are “dead to sin” and “alive in Christ.”
Yes, there are many ways we could approach and appreciate God’s gift of Holy Baptism. Today, however, a focus on this aspect of the sacrament, “Baptismal Identity”. That is, asking the question, “Who are we? Who am I?” through the lens of this precious gift of God.
Perhaps first it is worth asking who we are apart from God. Who am I, if I stand on my own? Who am I, just me, alone in the universe? I don’t mean the outward characteristics of height, weight and shoe size. I mean who am I by nature? What is my essence?
The world might tell me I am a pretty good guy, essentially. If you caught the Rose Bowl parade, the theme song they ended the parade emphasized, “our good nature”. And many believe just that, that we humans are basically good-natured. That criminals and wrongdoers are anomalies or accidents of society. But if everyone is true to themselves, true to their nature, if everyone just follows their heart – then our world would really be some sort of utopia.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our identity, our nature, is not so good. No matter what we think of ourselves, we know what the truth is because God tells us so in his word. And that truth may hurt. But we confess it nonetheless. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We are born into sin. In sin did my mother conceive me. There is no one that does good, not one. And on and on… Scripture leaves no doubt about who we are – it tells us quite clearly our identity. Whatever our appearance, our family name, our station and lot in life – we share the same identity – sinner. Sons and daughters of Adam – fruit of the poisoned tree.
And this is more than just a mere acknowledgment that, “O well, nobody’s perfect”. Our sinful nature, our evil identity, means that we are enemies of God. We are on the very wrong side. We deserve his wrath and punishment. We deserve to be exiled from paradise, from life itself, and from God for eternity. Not just because of what we do, but because of who we are! It might not seem fair, but God does hold us responsible even for the sinfulness we are born into, as well as those wrong things we actually see ourselves doing. We all fall under the curse of our forefather Adam. We are a part of him and his sin lives within us. And it deserves punishment. That’s just who we are.
Of course, this is all without Christ. Without Jesus, we are the helpless and the hopeless. But in Christ we receive a new identity. And it’s based in his own identity. That identity of his which comes into focus so clearly at his baptism.
Jesus’ baptism is a pivotal event in his work for us. It is the beginning of his public ministry – those 3 years of preaching and healing and miracle-working. But it’s more than that. Here God declares Jesus’ identity – he says who he is, “You are my beloved Son” and describes what that means, “with you I am well pleased”.
Ok, all well and good. But the burning question Christians often ask is this, “If Jesus is sinless, why is he getting baptized? Isn’t baptism supposed to wash away our sins? What does Jesus need THAT for if he’s sinless?”
John the Baptist must have wondered the same when he objected, “you should be baptizing me instead!” But Jesus answered, “let it be so now” (as in, just this once) “in order to fulfill all righteousness”. See, Jesus’ baptism was part of his work as Savior. And by this event, he shows both his own identity as God’s beloved Son, but he also identifies with sinners – in order to save sinners.
Jesus came to be one of us, born as a human. But he also came to be the one who would stand for all of us – who would take all our sins on himself – who would pay our price at the cross – and who still represents us all before God. At his baptism, Jesus publicly takes on that role as the one who stands for all.
It’s how he fulfills all righteousness. First he fulfills the law of God perfectly for us. One of us - but better than us. Then he fulfills the plan of God by becoming the sacrifice for our sin. One of us - for all of us. He’s Son of God and the Savior of the World. It’s his baptismal identity.
His baptismal identity finds ultimate fulfillment at the cross. In Luke 12, Jesus says, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” Here Jesus doesn’t mean his baptism in the Jordan with water, but his baptism on the cross – bathed in the wrath of God.
There God truly does something new. There all other baptismal fonts find their source. There Jesus cleansed the world of sin, washing it all way in his blood. There water came from Christ’s own pierced side – water which points to the water of our baptism – water which brings us under the cross. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan was the first step, in a way, toward his baptism on Calvary – both baptisms not for his sin but for ours.
Finally, in the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, we see indications of our own baptismal identity. For the elements of this account apply to us, in our baptism.
Heaven is opened to us, in our baptism. The Holy Spirit descends on us, in our baptism. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active and present, in our baptism. And in our baptism, God accepts and declares, “you are my son, you are my daughter, with you I am well-pleased”.
Our old sinful identity gives way to our new baptismal identity. We are new creations in Christ. The old has gone, the new has come. No longer dead, but alive. No longer enemies of God, but dear children. No longer hell-bound but heaven-bound. No longer slaves to sin, but set free. Baptism changes everything. Jesus Christ changes everything. He takes who we were and makes us who we are. He who was baptized for us, died and rose for us, and lives and reigns to all eternity for us… Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.