Baptism of our Lord (C)
January 10, 2016
“The Significance of Baptism”
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, which was read a few minutes ago.
One thing that I know I do a lot of in my sermons is talk about the Sacraments, about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I try not to just throw them in when they don’t fit, but for Lutherans they fit in every sermon. Every sermon talks about what Christ has done for us and the only way to get what Jesus gives us is in the Bible and in the Sacraments. The Sacraments are so important to us Lutherans that we should let nothing get in our way as we race to Christ’s Church to receive them. Now Holy Baptism is an event that occurs only once in our lives and yet it is one that impacts our lives every single day. When you realize this, when you grasp the importance of your baptism, you will understand one of the great teachings of the Bible. Today is a great day to talk about baptism because we’re celebrating the Baptism of Jesus, and as we listen to Paul’s words about Baptism we can’t help but realize what it means to be baptized into Christ Jesus.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism has been around since the ascension of Jesus into Heaven when He instructed the disciples to go out into the world teaching and baptizing all people in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So from the very beginning of Christianity, the faithful have baptized children and adults, and it will continue in the Church until the day Jesus returns. Because Baptism is so prevalent in the Church, there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind about this gift from God.
The first thing we have to understand about Baptism is that Baptism is not just something that’s done just because. Church bodies that don’t understand Baptism as taught by the Bible, denominations like the Baptists, the Methodists, and the Presbyterians see Baptism as simply a reminder of what Jesus has done or as a sign that the person has joined a particular congregation. But Baptism is so much more than that, and when someone is baptized into Christ something remarkable and wonderful occurs. Martin Luther in the Small Catechism said of Baptism, “What benefits does Baptism give? Answer: It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promise of God declare.” What Luther writes in the Small Catechism isn’t something he just made up, it comes from the Bible. Paul says in First Corinthians, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Baptism washes away our sins. We’re all born sinful and we have no love in our hearts, so we need Baptism to change us. In Baptism we’re born again, we’re made new people. We’re spiritually changed so our relationship with God isn’t influenced by our Sin, but on His forgiving love toward us. And this great change isn’t just for babies; it’s for all of you, children, teenagers, and adults. That’s why we say we are baptized because Baptism doesn’t just occur once and is then over, its effects extend throughout our lives and into every aspect of them.
The thing about Baptism that’s misleading is that it seems to be nothing more than some water and some Bible verses. There just doesn’t seem to be very much to it. But as we’ve heard several times in the last month or so, there is often more than what meets the eye; the Savior is born in a barn, shepherds are the first ones to see the infant Jesus, eternal life is found in the crucifixion. So also, while it doesn’t seem to be much, Baptism is an act that combines water with the Word of God, so it is more powerful than we tend realize. As Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Three times in our text, Paul stresses the fact that when you’re baptized, you’re baptized into Christ’s death. What this means is that Baptism frees us from our sin by making us part of Christ’s death. Through His death Jesus became our substitute as He stood condemned in our place. We’re born enemies of God, and logically this means that we should die, right? Why would God spare His enemies? And yet, here we are, born as enemies of God, and yet we live.
We live because in baptism, everything Jesus did for us is applied through this simple water and the Word of God. The blessings that Jesus has earned for us on the cross, the forgiveness, the peace, the renewed relationship with God, are given to us when we’re baptized. We’re declared right with God just as Jesus was, and we’re transformed from enemies of God to children of God. As Paul says in Galatians, “You are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” We have put on His forgiveness and God’s love, and faith which trusts the Word of God with the water takes these blessings and makes them our own. And did you hear what Paul says? We “put on Christ”; we are bonded to Him in a way that only occurs through faith and we’re made one with Him in a mysterious way that guarantees your sins are forgiven.
Because we’re forgiven Paul can write, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” Through Baptism we are made one with God, and this mystical union means that our life with Christ is an eternal one. Baptism takes us from the font to the grave as we are made children of God who live with Him every day. Christ’s life becomes our life and this is one of the greatest things that we learn about our relationship with God, as Paul says in I Corinthians, “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him”.
And all of this is ours because Jesus did what was necessary so that we might have life in Him. In our Gospel reading after Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened, the Spirit came down, and the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” He wasn’t just pleased because Jesus was beginning His ministry; He was pleased because Jesus would perfectly fulfill all that He had to do. Saint Luke tells us that the heavens were opened, but he didn’t mean they opened just so the dove could come down. They were opened because the salvation of all people was revealed that day, and when we die, we won’t face the barred doors of heaven, but we’ll see gates that have been opened by Christ’s life and death for us.
Until that day, we’re locked in a battle with Sin and the Devil that will challenge our faith and our salvation. The sign of the cross put on your hearts and minds marked you as a child of God, but it also identifies you as an enemy of Satan. For this reason, when we’re baptized into Christ, we join Him in the fight against sin. This idea that we must fight against sin comes up several times in our text because it’s vitally important that we remember that God’s grace isn’t cheap. It cost Christ His life, and for us to sin like it’s no big deal negates for us everything Jesus has done. How can we live in Sin the same time we’re living in Christ? It can’t be done, so 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.” To walk in a newness of life means that we strive daily to overcome the sin that dwells in our hearts and we battle to keep all our thoughts captive to Christ.
We all know though that this isn’t easy. Paul would repeatedly refer to his sin and his in inability to do what God wants and we can all understand his dilemma. It’s not easy to turn your back on that which is fun but wrong. It’s not easy to say “no” to the things to which we want to say “yes”, and it’s not always easy to do the right thing. But that’s what we’re called to do as the Baptized. We are called to consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”, and through the power of baptism we can count ourselves dead to sin.
What this means is that we live with baptism always on our minds. When we get up in the mornings we can make the sign of the cross to remind us that we are baptized. When we wash our faces we can remember the water combined with God’s Word that was once poured on our head. When we go out into the world we remember that we’re different. We’re baptized, we’re children of God, and we are not slaves to sin. Luther describes baptism this way, “[Baptism] indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Our sins were buried with Christ in the tomb after His crucifixion, so now, we seek to daily overcome and rebury our sins. And we can do this because baptism doesn’t just forgive our sins, it gives us the power to do that which is right, to lead God-pleasing lives, and to walk in the newness of life that He won for us on the cross all those centuries ago.
It’s really amazing if you think about it; everything we need to have an eternal relationship with the Lord is given to us over and over again. That’s why we say we are baptized, because our baptisms never end. However, if we ever forget our baptisms, if we don’t strive to overcome sin, if we don’t die to sin, we can lose it all. Praise God that He has come to us with His grace, and through baptism we have what we need to cling to Him in faith and to walk in a newness of life. This isn’t easy, but it can be done, for baptism is not simple water, it is water combined with God’s Word; the word of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the death of Jesus Christ for you.
Now may the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen