Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord (January 11, 2009)
“Just Add Water” (Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11)

We found a very unique gift to give this past Christmas. It’s a pair of socks that come packaged in a tiny, tight bundle, no bigger than a clenched fist. According to the instructions, all you do is put them in water, and they expand to their normal size.

There are many products that come with the instructions, “Just add water.” Instant soup is just a powdery, inedible mess until you “just add water.” After that, it turns into a tasty treat. Instant coffee straight out of the jar would taste like dirt. “Just add water” and you have a decent cup of java ... not quite Starbuck’s, but good enough in a pinch. Water gives each of these products the shape and form which they were intended to have.

When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized, his ministry was given the shape and form which it was intended to have. John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” But Jesus had no sins of which to repent. Jesus did not need to be forgiven. Why, then, was he baptized? Matthew’s account gives us the answer. Jesus told John that it was necessary for him to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15) It was necessary for Jesus to act as our substitute, to act in our place. So when Jesus was baptized, the sinless Son of God was acting as if he was a sinner. He stepped in line with all of us actual sinners. In fact, Jesus went to the head of the line, so that all who are baptized following him receive what he achieved at the cross ... the forgiveness of sins. And forgiving sin as the Crucified Savior of the world was the shape and form of Jesus’ ministry.

Every year in the church calendar, the Baptism of Jesus falls on the Sunday after the Epiphany of Our Lord, the day on which we commemorate the Wise Men visiting the Christ Child. Epiphany means “manifestation.” All throughout the Epiphany season, we recall how Jesus has been manifested to the world as True God and True Man. When the Wise Men visited the Christ Child, they worshiped him as God and Man. Gold they offered to him as a King, since that precious metal is a gift fit for a king. Incense they offered to him as God, since incense often accompanied prayers directed heavenward. And myrrh they offered to him as a Man, since myrrh was used for burial and embalming … an Epiphany foreshadowing of Good Friday. Through these gifts, whether they knew it or not, the Wise Men paid honor to both the Divine and Human Natures united in Christ.

In his Baptism, also, Jesus is manifested as True God and True Man. This Man standing in the water may have looked like any other human being. But there was so much more going on. He is “mightier” than John the Baptist. John admits that he is not even worthy to stoop down and untie the sandals of this Man. John baptizes with water, but this Man will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This Man steps into the waters of the Jordan. After John baptizes him and he steps out of the water, the heavens open. The Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove. And the Father’s voice declares, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” It becomes manifestly clear that this Man is not just any man. He is the Holy Son of God. He is God in the Flesh.

When you were baptized, there was so much more going on than the eye could see. If you were baptized as an infant, you were held over the font, and water was poured over your head. If you were baptized as an adult, you leaned your head over, and water was applied to your forehead. Some words were spoken. You were wiped dry with a cloth. And you returned to your pew. It looked pretty common and simple. But much more was happening, as Luther preaches in the last stanza of the hymn we sang a few moments ago (LSB 407, st. 7)

All that the mortal eye beholds
Is water as we pour it.
Before the eye of faith unfolds
The pow’r of Jesus’ merit.
For here it sees the crimson flood
To all our ills brings healing;
The wonders of His precious blood
The love of God revealing,
Assuring His own pardon.

Things changed for you that day. Just add water. But not just any water. It’s a water to which God’s Word of promise has been attached to give forgiveness, rescue from the power of the devil, and eternal salvation. Remember Luther’s answer in the Small Catechism to the question: “How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s Word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.” And then, he quotes from Titus 3, where St. Paul writes, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7 NIV) Just add water ... and not just any water. Baptismal water. Water and the Gospel promises of God. Water which Jesus has forever blessed because he entered into the waters of Baptism as our substitute.

I understand that it’s popular for travelers in the Holy Land to get baptized or re-baptized in the Jordan River. Those that do so say it is such a meaningful experience ... to be baptized in the same river where Jesus was baptized. But I have serious reservations about the practice, as if it’s more meaningful than being baptized in a church. I especially take issue with those who choose to be re-baptized in the Jordan. I know some Lutheran folks who have done so. When questioned why they would do such a thing when they have already been baptized, they say that for them it was a way to renew their baptismal vows. Yet what kind of witness are they giving to others who don’t know that’s what they are doing? They might be giving the impression that their baptism at the font was not as meaningful as this experience in the Jordan. Besides, the water molecules that were there when Jesus was baptized have long since traveled downstream into the Dead Sea and evaporated back into the sky. Who knows where those molecules are now? It’s no longer the same river. More importantly, since the Baptism of Jesus, the river Jordan runs through every font in every sanctuary where the Name of the Triune God is confessed and whose Name is spoken over every candidate for Baptism. We don’t need to go chasing halfway across the world to be blessed in such a way. The source of the water is not what’s important. It’s the water combined with God’s Word.

Before this rebirth and renewal that God gives in Baptism, our lives are like the earth was before God gave it shape and form. When God first created the earth, Genesis 1 says that it was “without form and void” – the Hebrew is kind of fun to say: “tohu wabohu” – and darkness was over the face of the deep.” The earth was in chaos and confusion. It was empty and barren. It was engulfed in darkness. But the writer of Genesis goes on to say that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” God’s creative, powerful Word was about ready to be spoken. The Holy Spirit was preparing to breathe upon the earth to give it shape and form and fill it with light and life.

Likewise, before the rebirth and renewal of Baptism, our lives are “tohu wabohu” ... “without form and void.” Someone might say, “What do you mean my life is in chaos and confusion? What do you mean my life is empty and barren? I’m fulfilled and happy. I have a nice home, a great family, a successful career. I have everything I need.” That may all be true. But whether that person realizes it or not, there is still an emptiness inside each of us that can only be filled by God. Apart from the light and life that God gives, we are engulfed in spiritual darkness, under the power of sin and death and the devil.

On the other hand, baptized believers in Christ may sometimes feel like their lives are in chaos and confusion, like their lives are empty and barren. The consequences of living in a fallen world has brought disease and disaster into their lives. The effects of sin, whether it be their own sin or the sin of others, has brought turmoil and tribulation into their lives. If this describes you right now, then take heart. Turn back to the promises God gave you in your Baptism. The Holy Spirit was hovering over the waters at your Baptism. The creative Word of God was spoken, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and the life of God was breathed into you. You were rescued from the darkness and brought into the light of Christ. Your sins were forgiven. You were declared to be a beloved child of God. You were united to Christ’s death and resurrection. Your life was given shape and form ... a baptismal shape, shaped by the cross of Jesus, where he earned all of this for you through the offering of his perfect life and the shedding of his blood. Now, in spite of whatever turmoil or tribulation occurs around us and within us, we can walk ... or maybe I should say “wade” or “swim” ... daily in the waters of our Baptism, confident in God’s loving presence and knowing he will achieve his gracious purposes among us.

Just add water ... and not just any water. Baptismal water. Water and the Gospel promises of God. Water which Jesus has forever blessed because he entered into the waters of Baptism on his way to the cross for you.


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