Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (B)

January 8, 2012
Text: Mark 1:4-11

Beloved in the Lord, Christian Baptism is a declaration of war against the devil and his minions. Christian Baptism enlists the baptized in spiritual warfare, the raging battle against the old sinful flesh, against the temptations and allurements of the unbelieving world, and against the old wily serpent, the devil, and his demons. And it’s dangerous, because it makes the baptized child of God a target of the evil one. Martin Luther wrote in his Baptismal Booklet: “Therefore, you have to realize that it is no joke at all to take action against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child but also to hang around the child’s neck such a mighty, lifelong enemy. Thus it is extremely necessary to stand by the poor child with all your heart and with a strong faith and to plead with great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might resist him valiantly in life and in death. I fear that people turn out so badly after baptism because we have dealt with them in such a cold and casual way and have prayed for them at their baptism without any zeal at all.”[1] Serious business, Baptism. No joke, no trifling tradition. War is what it is. But necessary. A matter of life and death, in fact… eternal life and death. Because in Baptism you become God’s own child. You are snatched from the yawning jaws of death and the tenacious claws of the devil. You are given the Holy Spirit, and all your sins are washed away as you are covered by the blood of Christ. You are Baptized, as we heard in the Epistle (Romans 6:1-11), into the death and resurrection of Christ, so that they become your own. Everything that Christ has done He has done for you. He became a man for you. He was obedient to His parents and grew in wisdom and favor with God and men for you. He learned the Scriptures for you. He fulfilled God’s whole Law for you. He suffered for you. He died for you. He is risen from the dead for you. He ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand for you. And He comes to you in His blessed Word and Sacraments, for you, to forgive your sins and to give you eternal life. He has done and does all of this for you and for your salvation. He does it in your place. You are baptized into Him. And this is so powerful, to deliver all these great gifts, because He is first baptized into you, into your sin, into your death, by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River, where He is anointed by the Holy Spirit to undertake His divine mission (warfare!), where the Father says to Him, and to us who are baptized into Him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; ESV).

The Good News for us who have been enlisted in the battle by virtue of our Baptism is that the LORD goes before us, the LORD fights for us, Jesus, God in the flesh. And though the battle rages, the victory has been won. It was won on the cross and in the empty tomb. The devil is defeated. So we know the outcome. Our Lord steps into the waters of the Jordan, and as John baptizes Him with a baptism He does not need, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, like a sponge He soaks up all the sins of the whole world. Your sin, all of it, the sinless Son of God took upon Himself, so that He could give you His righteousness in exchange. “For our sake” God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). It is a great exchange. Jesus gets our sin, we get His righteousness. He dies, we live. He takes hell, and heaven itself has been rent open for us. He is baptized into us, that we might be baptized into Him. In the Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, He “sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”[2] A great gift, Baptism is. It is not our action. It is God’s action for us and upon us. It is the source of all our confidence and all our joy. But it does mean war. No doubt about it. Baptism makes you a marked man, a marked woman.

How can it be that the battle still rages if the victory has already been won by our Lord Jesus? We encounter here the distinction between the objective justification of all people by our Lord’s sin-atoning work on the one hand, and how that objective justification is applied to each one of us subjectively on the other. The word “justification” means “righteousness,” which is precisely what unrighteous sinners do not have and desperately need. Jesus wins the objective justification of the whole world, of all people, in His life, death, and resurrection. The war is won. The devil is defeated. The sins of all people have been paid in full by the suffering and death of Jesus, and God has declared that payment sufficient by raising Jesus from the dead. But the battle still rages for each one of us in the subjective application of this victory, how this victory is made our own and how we are kept in our Lord’s victory. You see, the victory of our Savior is received by faith. And faith is itself a gift of God. Yet faith can be prevented and faith can be lost, which is the aim of our enemy, the devil. He seeks to rob us of faith in Jesus Christ at every turn. He seeks to kill our faith so that he can claim us once again for his own. In Baptism, God grants faith in Jesus Christ His Son by imparting the Holy Spirit. But the devil never tires in seeking to rob us of that gift. And we are weak. We still have the old sinful flesh hanging around our necks. We easily fall prey to Satan’s lies. Like our first parents in the garden. We listen to the serpent. We see that what he offers is pleasing to the eye, and we think it will be satisfying to our lustful appetites. We’re dead meat on our own. If Adam and Eve, who were created without sin, could fall prey to the devil, we, their sinful progeny, don’t stand a chance. If we are to be kept in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, kept in our Baptism, kept for eternal life, God must do it. God must do it, and God alone. If we are to persevere in the faith, if we are to survive this war, it must be by grace, it must be His work. And it is. We are faithless, but He is faithful. He does it. He brings it to completion.

That is why He’s given us the means of grace: His holy Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood, the Lord’s Supper. Many of these are mentioned right here in our text. John appears baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the people respond to John’s preaching by confessing their sins, being baptized, and absolved. Well, those are the same means of grace we have here in the New Testament Church. His baptism is the forerunner of our Christian Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. His baptism leads directly to our Baptism, for Jesus receives John’s baptism, in order that we may be baptized into Christ. And our Baptism into Christ, too, is a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We live daily in our Baptism, which means to repent daily and daily receive and rejoice in the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus.

What makes these gifts so powerful – words, water, bread and wine – is not that they are anything spectacular in and of themselves. But it’s this: Jesus comes in these means. He comes to you. He comes for you. He comes to make you one with Him, and so to make you God’s own child. “In those days,” namely, the days when John was baptizing and preaching in wilderness, “Jesus came,” says our text (Mark 1:9). And in Jesus’ coming, John’s baptism receives all its power. For Jesus comes to use John and his baptism and his preaching as His means of saving humanity. So also our Baptism, preaching, Scripture reading, Absolution, Communion… What makes these gifts so powerful is that Jesus comes and uses them as His means to save us, to make what is objectively true for all people on account of Jesus’ saving work, subjectively true for you, for me, for each one of us individually.

And that is what happens when you are baptized into Christ. All that Jesus is and does is made yours. Heaven is torn open for you. The Spirit descends upon you. And the very voice of the Father speaks in the Word that has been joined to the water: “You… You… You… are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Because of Christ, who has won the war, and who will bring you through the battle to the Day of Resurrection. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] SC: Baptismal Booklet, Kolb/Wengert, p. 372.
[2] Luther’s “Flood Prayer,” LSB p. 269.


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