Monday, January 12, 2015

Sermon - Baptism of Our Lord - Matthew 3:13-17

Lamb of God Lutheran Church
Pleasant Prarie, WI
January 11th, 2014
The Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 3:13-17

I really have two topics for you today, first on the occasion of my visit, this missionary has some words of report and encouragement. And then as we observe today the Baptism of Our Lord, a proper message of law and gospel, and Christ crucified, but first baptized, for sinners.

You know, St. Paul, the greatest missionary (apart from Jesus himself), would often write to the churches he had visited or even founded, the churches that supported him and the work of God's kingdom. And he would commend them and even sometimes correct them, report to them and encourage them. Sometimes he even wrote personal messages like, “don't forget to send Timothy with my chasuble”.

I feel a bit like that today with you, Lamb of God. As I started out with my work as missionary to Singapore, you were the first congregation to welcome me into your pulpit to share about this work, and you have been a faithful supporter all along. As a former mission congregation yourselves, you seemed to know the importance of this kind of work, and even though you've had your own struggles along the way, you've continued to stay the course. So I thank and commend you, glory be to God for it all.

And I also want to offer you a word of encouragement as a congregation that has faced some difficult times of late, and as you find yourself with an uncertain future. Pastor Smallwood has been keeping me abreast of the events here, the sale of the building, this temporary arrangement at Good Shepherd, the options for moving forward. I certainly don't have easy answers for you.

But I would encourage you to remain faithful. Our Lord doesn't give a promise regarding the fate of any particular congregation, but he does promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. Lamb of God may disband, or Lamb of God may thrive. Lamb of God may continue on in some other form or manner, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always the same. We are still sinners, saved by Christ, fed by Christ, washed in the baptismal water of His grace.

As for me, I've also dealt with the uncertainties of life, and I can't say without sin. But hindsight is far clearer in which to see God's merciful hand at work. No, we didn't get a visa to move to Singapore. But yes, God remained faithful. A new congregation was established, and meets even this very Sunday (although, 12 hours ahead of us they are already on to Sunday night). And they are served now by a faithful pastor who is based in Indonesia, who can be there more frequently and consistently than I. They still face many challenges, but they are the church – gathered around God's word and sacraments, hearing the gospel preached faithfully. To God be the glory.

I'll tell you more about my new work as a domestic missionary after church, but needless to say, even more challenges lay ahead. But God is faithful in all things, and so we trust in him.

Today, we observe and commemorate the Baptism of our Lord. It falls at the beginning of the Epiphany season, appropriately, as it is Jesus' public inauguration as our Savior. The beginning of his public ministry for us, his ordination if you will.

Isaiah saw it coming,
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him”

And so Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit, set apart and proclaimed as the Son of the Father, with whom God is well pleased. But it also marks him as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. John had already said so. Now it's even more official. Jesus who has no sin, enters those waters for us, not to be washed of his own sin, but to take on our sins.

Some have suggested it's as if all the sins of the people that were washing off into the Jordan with John's baptism, Jesus waded in and took upon himself, like a giant holy sponge, taking even more – the sins of the world on his shoulders, or into his own body. And with his eye on the cross, where he would take all those sins to die.

You and I are baptized into Christ, who was baptized for us, to fulfill all righteousness. The whole Trinity was in action in his Baptism, the Father's voice, the Spirit's descent as a dove. And so in yours – the whole Triune God places his name on you by those waters. The Father's words of Jesus are spoken as much to you – you are now his beloved child. With you he is well pleased. The same Spirit has sanctified you, and continues to make you holy, continues to point you to Christ, continues the good work begun in you, bringing it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ.

Who can say enough about the gift of Christian baptism? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. It creates faith, drowns the Old Adam and raises the New Man in Christ. It is a daily renewal. It is a lifelong blessing. It is the seal of God's approval and the sign that you too will be part of the final resurrection. It's not just a symbol, though, it actually does what God promises. It is the means of God's grace in Christ for the making of disciples of all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike.

But when we speak of Jesus' Baptism, we can't only mention the one in the Jordan by John. There's another baptism. Hear his words to his disciples from Luke 12: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” and Mark 10 to James and John, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

You see for Jesus, his real baptism, the one that mattered even more, was the cross. For Jesus the baptism in the Jordan was part and parcel of, and led directly to the baptism of Golgotha. There the sins of the world were washed away, not in ritual water, but in the real sweat and blood of his death. There at the cross was the baptism of all baptisms, the baptism into which all who are baptized are baptized... into his death, and into life eternal.

So rejoice this day in the baptism of our Lord, at the Jordan, and at the cross. Rejoice this day that at your baptism, you receive the benefits of his baptism. Rejoice this day that each and every day “baptism has the power divine to make life immortal mine”.

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