Baptism of Jesus (A)
January 8, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle from Saint Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.
When God created you, He gave you a distinct personality and your own set of likes and dislikes. When God created me, He gave me a healthy respect for nature and the danger it contains, and more specifically than that, the danger that lurks in the oceans and rivers. You’ll never catch me in the ocean or wading in the Amazon River or strolling in the Everglades; between the sharks, the alligators, the crocodiles, and the piranha, I see no reason to get in the water. I might be overreacting because I know the waters are teeming with far more harmless creatures than deadly, but I figure why take the chance. Whether you have anxiety around water or not, you’re probably not overly concerned about the water in the baptismal font. It’s a couple of inches deep in a silver bowl, there’s not much to it. It may look safe, but in the waters of baptism there is also life and death.
The purpose and effectiveness of Holy Baptism is widely debated within Christianity. Some denominations like the Baptists, Amish and Mennonites, and most non-denominational churches, have baptismal beliefs that are contrary to what the Bible teaches. I’m not saying that these groups aren’t saved, rather they’re missing the benefits and comforts of being baptized in the name of the Triune God. The reason that Jesus instructs the Church to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19), is because baptism isn’t symbolic, it actually does something!
The Lutheran doctrine of Baptism comes solely from the pages of Scripture that teach baptism is not something to be dismissed as unimportant, that it’s for all people from the infants to the elderly, that it bestows the Holy Spirit and faith, that it forgives sins, and that it’s an ongoing event in the life of the Christian. Saint Paul writes his co-worker Titus: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He 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” (Titus 3:4-5) When Saint Paul refers to regeneration and renewal, he’s stating the fact that Baptism gives life, and not just any life, life with Christ.
The day you stood by the font and received those gracious waters, the Holy Spirit, who descended upon Jesus at His baptism descended upon you and He stepped in and gave you all the blessings that come from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He took the curse of death and gave you the blessing of life. As we sing in that great hymn See this Wonder in the Making, a child of nature is brought to the font and that newborn creature is born again of word and water. What does it mean to be made a newborn creature? It means new life in Christ, a life that has spiritual and eternal dimensions. It means a child of God who is blessed with the assurance that no matter what life throws at us, guilt, shame, or any other woes, our Lord is with you. A life of peace with God now through the forgiveness of your sins, and an eternity of glory with God.
Crucifixion had been a horrible practice going on long before the Romans appeared on the scene, although it was the Romans who perfected it and used it far too effectively. Crucifixion was a gruesome punishment meant to drag out the suffering of the accused, who were usually the worst of the worst, except for the Christians whom Romans had no problem crucifying. Crucifixion was so awful that Roman citizens couldn’t be legally crucified. Knowing the horribleness of crucifixions gives us a different perspective when we read what Paul wrote to the Romans. He says, “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). When Jesus was crucified, your sins were crucified with Him. Your sinful nature, that sin you’re born with and corrupted by, was also crucified when Jesus was nailed to the bloody cross. It was put to death with all your other sins, your guilt, your shame, your rebellion. You are baptized so you’re no longer enslaved by the devil, you’re not under Sin’s control, you are free in Christ Jesus. Your sinful self has been crucified with Jesus and it’s been rendered powerless, ineffective and useless.
Zombies have long captured the imagination of moviegoers and there was a resurgence of interest with the Walking Dead television series. Your sinful nature is a zombie. It’s crucified, it’s put to death, and yet every day it re-emerges in all its ugliness to take yet another shot at your new life. Every day, that sinful nature, that criminal and rebel in each of us must be put to death again; crucified and given a horrible death. We can’t sugarcoat it, our sinful nature is the heaviest load we must carry and every day we have to kill it, and that’s never easy. But what happens when we don’t kill our sinful nature? It leads us back into slavery to Sin, it makes death once again a terrifying reality. In the Small Catechism Luther instructs us in how to deal with our sinful zombie. He wrote: “What does such baptizing with water signify?” Answer: “It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts. And it also shows that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Not once, every day! As I’ve said before, baptism isn’t a one and done thing, it’s something that’s ongoing in our lives, and it’s in our baptism that we find the help and the forgiveness we need. Someday, we won’t have to worry about our sin and sinful nature, until then we crucify him daily through repentance and the forgiveness of our sins.
In verse 1, Paul writes something that seems strange: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” He’s not pulling something unrelated out the air, rather he’s addressing the common attitude among Christians that since God is loving and forgiving it really doesn’t matter how we live day in and day out. God forgives because that’s His job and as long as I’m not a horrible person, I’m okay. And if I do sin a lot, God will forgive me a lot and that’ll be a good thing. Paul response to that is “By no means!” or maybe in our modern English, “Are you out of your mind?” God is love and God is forgiving, but He hates sin and those who try to exploit His goodness face His righteous anger and condemnation. As Christians who have been forgiven, who have been given new life, things are different! And as we daily crucify our sinful nature in baptism, life then comes from that death.
When the old sinful nature is crucified and buried, a newborn creature emerges. A sinful nature is buried, and just as the risen Lord stepped out of His tomb, our new selves step out into the world. So how can we who died to sin, still live in it? We can’t! 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.” He also says in verse 11: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” To be alive in God is to be surrounded by Christ and to be what God says that we are – alive and not dead. We don’t listen to sin, we don’t encourage it, we don’t make ourselves its slaves once again. If only it were that simple and easy, right? Sin keeps coming back, we don’t always ignore it like we should, and that sinful nature rises again. When this happens go back to your baptism! Hold on to the promised fulfilled by Jesus that your sins are forgiven, your guilt is washed away, and that sin has been once again nailed with Jesus to the cross. We live for Christ because we rose with Him and not only do we live for Him, one day we will rise and live with Him where the old sinful man will never be heard from again because he will have been crucified once and for all.
There should be no argument that baptism is one of the most precious gifts Christ has given to His Church. Those who don’t accept the Biblical teachings on baptism aren’t damned, but they sure are missing out on the confidence in God’s promises that baptism offers. The blest baptismal waters are waters of life and death; death to our sinful nature and life with Christ. Once you were dead, but now you are alive and for that we praise God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, into whose name we are baptized.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen