The Baptism of Our Lord – Series B (January 11, 2015)
“The Dawn of a New Day” (Gen. 1:1-5; Rom. 6:1-11; Mark 1:4-11)
The New Year brings all kinds of expectations. People make all kinds of resolutions. Exercise more. Eat healthier food. Quit smoking. Spend less time on the internet. But after two Sundays into the New Year, some find that they couldn’t even hold out that long. The temptations were too strong.
Well, tomorrow is another day, isn’t it? Whatever you failed to do today, there is always tomorrow. It’s the dawn of a new day. A NEW YOU! But you wake up, and the same OLD YOU stares back at yourself in the mirror. The same old failures. The same old temptations. All the sins that haunt you from the days past.
The Baptism of Jesus was the dawn of a new day for all mankind. But first, let’s go back to the dawn of the first day described for us in the book of Genesis.
Before time began, God created the heavens and the earth. At first, the earth was empty, void, and dark … and God filled it with life and light. The Holy Spirit was present and active, too, hovering over the face of the waters, breathing life into all creation. And the power of the Word of God to create was evident, as well. God spoke … “Let there be light.” And there was. And it was good. Perfect. Just the way he planned it.
God separated the light from the darkness, the day from the night, and there was evening and morning, the first day. How can this be, when there was no sun created yet? We’ll leave this to God to figure out. He is the source of light. In the heavenly Jerusalem described at the end of the book of Revelation, St. John writes, “They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (Rev 22:5). Clearly, it’s not hard for God to make night and day occur even when there is no sun.
At some point after the seventh day, mankind fell into sin. Although the sun continued to rise with each new day, rebellious mankind was plunged into darkness in a fallen world. Death was their destiny … a life of decay and an eternity apart from God. And although God promised to send a Savior, people were content to remain in their sin. John 3:19 says, “the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light.” St. Paul, in Romans 1, says that “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1:28-32).
God had called his people Israel to be a “light to the nations” (Is. 42:6; 49:5-6; 60:3). He also named Israel his “son.” In Exodus 4, the Lord told Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son … Let my son go that he may serve me” (Ex. 422-23). Through the prophet Hosea, the Lord said, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1) … and of course, you know that those words were later applied to Jesus when the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt due to Herod’s murderous intentions.
Israel’s calling was to reveal the One True God and his purposes to the world. But Israel failed to do this. Like Adam and Eve, they rebelled against God’s will for them. They followed after the false gods of the nations around them. And God severely disciplined them, scattering them and sending them off into exile far across the Jordan.
But God did not leave his people helpless or hopeless. He sent his Divine Son into the world to be the faithful Son that Israel was not.
The Baptism of Jesus was the dawn of a new day. It was an Epiphany … a manifestation of the Messiah. It was the beginning of a new creation. Into a world of sinful darkness, into a world void of perfection and holiness, God enters to fill it and give light and life. Jesus came to be the “light of the world” as he declares in John 8:12. Remember also how Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms and declared him to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). What Israel failed to do, Jesus came to do perfectly.
Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan where people were going to confess their sins and prepare for the coming of the Savior. Jesus had no sins to confess, but he came to bear the sins of the world, all the way to the cross. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters of the Jordan, anointing Jesus to fulfill the words of Isaiah 42:1, “I have put my Spirit upon him,” … and Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Is. 61:1). And just as the king of Israel was called God’s son in Psalm 2, “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” so also the eternally begotten Son of God is publicly declared to be God’s Son in the Jordan: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The powerful Word of creation spoken from heaven is now the Word made Flesh, plunged in the baptismal waters to rescue us from the powers of darkness.
A missionary linguist was working in a remote village in Laos. He was trying to find a word to translate Savior. He asked villagers the word they would use to describe the person who saved someone from a tiger's attack, or a child from falling off a cliff.
“Pa,” they said.
A couple of days later, the missionary set out on a raft with two women to cross a river. The water was turbulent, and the raft flipped. The missionary grabbed the two women and swam with them to shore.
The missionary asked them what word they would use to describe saving them from drowning.
“Not pa, but che,” they responded. “Pa is when you reach down to help someone from above and che is when you were in the water yourself.”
That's what Jesus did. He went into the depths of the water [… both literally in the Jordan and effectively through his entire life, death, and resurrection … ] and pulled us out — a real Savior who became like us, lived with us, and gave his life for us. [i]
Do you need to see the dawn of a new day? Does the weight of your failed resolutions, your falling to temptation, and the darkness of days past keep you from looking forward to the rising of the sun in the morning? First of all, look to Jesus who entered the waters for you. Jesus was drowned at the cross, sunk under the weight of your sins, so that you could be set free of your guilt and shame. Jesus took it all for you.
Secondly, look to the day when you entered the waters. Your Baptism was the dawn of a new day for you. It was the first day of a new creation for you. Into a heart of sinful darkness, void of perfection and holiness, empty of belief, God entered to fill you with light and life, to fill you with his Spirit and faith. The Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters of the font and connected you with the one who bore your sins for you at the cross, as St. Paul writes, “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” (Rom 6:4).
And finally, remember that your baptism has meaning for you every day. No matter what you have done, no matter what others say about you, no matter what you think about yourself, God’s Word is sure and certain. And his powerful, creative Word in Holy Baptism has declared YOU to be a beloved son … a beloved daughter. United to Jesus, all that he inherited as the faithful Son is yours. You are loved. You are forgiven. Heaven is opened to you. Each new day, you can walk in newness of life. By grace, every day is a brand new day.