Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (C)
January 10, 2009
Text: Luke 3:15-22

Beloved in the Lord, we have two Baptisms to consider this morning: Our Lord Christ’s Baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and our own Baptism. The two go hand in hand, for our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized into us, that we might be baptized into Him. He was baptized into our sin, that we might be baptized into His righteousness. He was baptized into our death, that we might be baptized into His death. And we are baptized into His resurrection, that we may live a new life now, and so also that our bodies may be sealed for our own bodily resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. We are baptized into the beloved Son of God, that we might be beloved children of the heavenly Father, “God’s own child, I gladly say it!” We are baptized into the One anointed with the Holy Spirit, that we might receive that same Spirit through water and the Word.

Why is Jesus baptized in the first place? John is baptizing for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has no sin of which to be repentant and forgiven. He is the perfect Son of God made flesh as the Son of Mary. In Matthew’s account of this Baptism, John even says as much, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:14; ESV). Jesus answers, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). Jesus is not baptized for His own sin. He has none. He is baptized to soak up the sins of the world into Himself so that He can be our substitute and pay for our sin. Here He stands, the all-righteous Son of God, in the filthy waters of the Jordan River, the river in which countless sinners had just been baptized by John, and He soaks it all up. He is not baptized for Himself. He is Baptized for us, and for our salvation. Jesus is baptized, and notice what happens according to our text: Heaven is opened (Luke 3:21). What has been closed to sinners, closed to the fallen world is now open wide, because Jesus is baptized. And it is a Trinitarian act. God the Son stands in the dirty river, baptized into our sin and death to save us from sin and death. The heavens are opened and the Spirit descends as a dove, anointing Jesus for His saving mission and strengthening Him for the same. And the voice of the Father declares the divinity of the Son, and His love and pleasure in His Son and His work: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (v. 22). Heaven is open. We have access to God through Christ. God has come in the flesh to us poor sinners to save us and give heaven as our inheritance.

And this is why our own Baptism into Christ is so precious. Jesus is baptized into us, that we might be baptized into Him. When our Lord Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan, He “sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin” (Luther’s flood prayer, LSB p. 269). And so each one of us enters and is united to the Body of Christ, the holy Church, through the water in the font. It is not just ordinary water, but the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word, His Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). And so it becomes a cleansing flood by which all sin is washed away, faith is created, newness of life is granted, the Holy Spirit is bestowed, and the seal of God’s Name is placed upon the Baptized. United to Jesus Christ, put to death with Christ, drowned in the water, the Baptized also rises with Christ to righteousness before God and newness of life now, and the promise of physical resurrection to come. Here the Baptized takes up the cross and follows Jesus. Here the Baptized enters upon a life of daily death and resurrection, the crucifixion of the old sinful flesh, the daily drowning and death of the Old Adam that the new man may daily emerge and arise to live before God, and the daily battle with sin, against temptation, against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

In some ways Baptism makes life in this fallen world even more difficult, because in marking one as redeemed by Christ, the Crucified, we also mark that one for the devil’s attacks. And yet, Baptism is commanded by our Lord, with His certain promise of salvation. “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” (Luther’s Small Catechism).[1] “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). “Baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). “(H)e saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). Baptism is a great exchange. Jesus gets all our sin and death and we get all His righteousness and life. Thus we have salvation and eternal life. It is a blessed exchange for us. Now when God looks at us, He sees only the righteousness and perfection of His Son.

This does not by any means give us an excuse to sin, however. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). Don’t you know you are dead to sin? Don’t you know you have been freed by death from slavery to your old taskmaster, to the sin that once held you in bondage? You have been raised to new life to serve a new Master, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s what your Baptism means. “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… So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 3-4, 11). We so easily fall into the trap of thinking that since God forgives us and loves us and we are His own in Baptism (which is most certainly true!), we might as well sin as much as we want. We’re covered. But that is not how Christians ought to live. That is not the baptismal life. And we have manifold warnings from John in our text about a Baptism with fire and the winnowing fork of the Lord: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17). Unrepentant sinners are the chaff that will be burned. The Lord’s “wrath is quickly kindled,” as we sang in the Introit (Ps. 2:12). That wrath is an all-consuming fire. But in our Baptism, we “take refuge in him,” even Jesus Christ our Lord. For in Him, all our sins are already punished. God does not excuse sin. He does not wink at sin. He does not sweep sin under the rug. In no sense is it “okay” to sin because God will forgive you. God punishes every one of your sins. But He punishes them in the flesh of Jesus Christ on the cross. And Baptized into Him, His suffering is your suffering, His death is your death, and you take refuge in His wounds. Therefore He says to you: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine… when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Is. 43:1, 2). Because Jesus walks through the fire for you! He undergoes the Baptism of fire in your place! He takes the full force of the wrath of God so that every one of your sins is dealt with by our righteous and holy God in Him! When He cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), He does so in your place, suffers hell for your sake, is forsaken of the Father so that you don’t have to be. God’s beloved Son is forsaken of God on the cross, so that you can be His dearly loved child.

And so also Christ is risen. God has accepted His sacrifice for us. God is well-pleased with His beloved Son. And so just as His death is our death by virtue of our Baptism into Him, so also His resurrection is our own resurrection, a spiritual resurrection now, and a physical resurrection on the Last Day. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5). Beloved in the Lord, this morning we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan, God in the flesh, and so also we celebrate our Baptism into Christ. What a great comfort in the midst of temptation and trial, sin and death, and every distress, that we can say to ourselves, “I am baptized into Christ!” That bold assertion drives the devil far from us and soothes our harrowed souls. Baptism is not just something that happened to you one day in the past, but your continual reality in Christ. So you can live each day in this reality. You do not need to fear. He has redeemed you. He has called you by name, His Name, in Holy Baptism. You are His, His own dear child. You are engraved on the palm of His crucified hand. Therefore Beloved, rejoice. Come as the Body of Christ, the holy Church, Baptized into Christ, to the Supper of His body and blood. You can only enter through the font. And trace once again upon yourself His sign, that with which you were marked as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified, as you speak His Name given you in Baptism, the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] St. Louis: Concordia, 1986.

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