O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Baptized Sinner Saint
Baptized Sinner Saint
Based on Luke 3: 15-22
Preached on January 10, 2016
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Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. If that doesn't strike you as strange, then you need to think a bit more about what John's baptism meant. John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. Tell me, of what did the sinless Son of God need to repent? John's baptism was for the forgiveness of sins. Of what did the sinless Son of God need to be forgiven? John was the lesser; Jesus the greater. John's baptism was with water; Jesus' baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Yet here, in the baptism of our Lord, the greater is baptized by the lesser, the sinless One is treated as a sinner. And when you comprehend this, you have comprehended the Gospel of your salvation.
The emphasis is on the Jesus not the John. People were impressed by John. He cut an impressive prophetic figure - a wilderness man resembling Elijah, calling people to repentance, baptizing, challenging the religious leaders. Some people thought that John was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God whom they had been waiting for, longing for, hoping for. But John is not the emphasis.
John's work was to preach, to baptize, to prepare and point. Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. What! Baptized? This was a new thing. In the OT, you sacrificed an animal for forgiveness. It's blood was shed in exchange for your life - that was your forgiveness. John was preaching something new and different. Not blood but water. Not a sacrificial death but a bath. Not something done at the temple, but done in the water of the Jordan. It was a bridge. A bridge between the old and the new. A bridge connecting blood and water and forgiveness. This baptism of John called the people of Israel back into the wilderness, back to that physical place where they entered the Promised Land - and offered them a fresh start. It's time to re-enter the Promised Land with the Messiah, and we're going to do it in the water.
Sinners of all sorts - from every walk of life came to John to be baptized, to get ready to meet the Christ. And John pointed them to Jesus. John was simply a voice and a finger, pointing to Another, a greater One with a greater Baptism. But then came that fateful day - when Jesus Himself stood before John in the water of the Jordan. What are you doing here Jesus? Luke doesn't record it, but Matthew tells us that John initially objected, saying that he should be baptized by Jesus. That is the way you and I picture it, isn't it? The greater should baptize the lesser; the Sinless One should baptize the sinner. And that's the way it would be one day, but not now. Not here at the Jordan. Over and against all John's objections, Jesus replied, "This is how it goes now John, for this is how I will fulfill all righteousness."
Why would the sinless One do this? To fulfill all righteousness. Jesus didn't come to stay clean. He didn't come with bib and smock. He came down into our humanity, even into our sin, that He might become one with us sinners. He came to join us in the filth of our rebellion. To take a bath in our bathwater. The One who knew no sin, became Sin for us. We need to say this more often. He didn't simply bear our sins, and carry them to the cross. He became our Sin.
This appears to be at odds with what John had preached. John's version of Jesus has Him with a winnowing fork in His hand, ready to thresh and separate the wheat from the chaff, ready to burn the chaff in unquenchable fire. You can imagine John's surprise, his shock, when Jesus submits to being baptized. Hardly the fork-wielding, hell, fire and brimstone judge John had proclaimed. Was he wrong? No, not at all. It's just that this had to be taken through the cross. Before Jesus could judge the living and the dead, He had to be judged. Before the wheat could be gathered into the barn and the chaff burned, Jesus Himself had to take on the fire of the Law's condemnation. Before all of this, Jesus had to be both burned and admitted into heaven for us.
Jesus' baptism and His cross are one thing. He even refers to His death as a "baptism" that He must undergo. His work begins in the water; it ends on the cross. His work begins with the Spirit descending, the voice of the Father testifying; it ends with the Spirit departing, the voice of the Father silent. His work begins where He stands in solidarity with sinners, elbow to elbow in the same bath water as prostitutes, tax collectors, and all manner of religious rejects; His work ends on the cross where He hangs in solidarity with thieves, promising the faithful one Paradise. His work begins with water; His work ends with water and blood flowing from His side. At His baptism, the heavens are opened to Him; at His cross the heavens are opened to sinners.
Though Jesus' baptism by John is not the same as our Baptism, it sets the stage and lays the foundation for it. Think of the things that happened at Jesus' baptism - for what happened to Jesus in His Baptism also happened to you in yours. The heavens were opened to Jesus when He was baptized; heaven was opened to you in your Baptism - for that is where God declared you to be justified for Jesus' sake - that your sins are washed away by His blood - that your identity as a child of Adam is now one as a child of God.
The Spirit descended upon Jesus in the visible form of a dove, as when He hovered over the creative waters in the beginning - or as the dove was used by Noah to identify the new creation after the waters of the Flood. This same creating Spirit descended upon you in your Baptism, not visibly as with Jesus, but revealed by the Word and the Name of God, marking you as a child of God, sealing you with the mark of inheritance and ownership that you trace on yourself when you make the sign of the cross.
The voice of the Father spoke from the opened heavens, revealing Jesus to the world and addressing Him as Father to Son: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." In the same way, the Father testifies to you in your Baptism, declaring you to be His beloved child, declaring His pleasure over you for His Son's sake.
In the baptism of our Lord, He is joined in solidarity with us - in our sin and our death. In our Baptism, we are joined in solidarity with our dear Lord - in His perfect life, His death, and His resurrection. This is what Paul was on about in our epistle this morning. It is one of the clearest passages in the Bible on the working of Baptism. The apostle Paul has just finished the main point of Romans, that a sinner stands justified before God by faith in the promise of forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ apart from any works he might do. God declares it to be so through His Word; we don't make it so by our believing or our works. It is an objective fact. Completed in Christ - outside of you - over there - where God can declare it true for you - for free. And that brings us to chapter six and today's reading.
Paul begins with a question he's undoubtedly heard many times, and you still hear whenever the good news of free forgiveness is preached. "Are we to continue in sin then that grace may abound?" If God is gracious and forgives the sinner for Jesus' sake, why not just keep on sinning? It's logical and even expected, but Paul says "Impossible!"
Why? Because you, being baptized, are now dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ. Once you were dead to God and alive to Sin, but no more. "Or don't you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" Baptism buries us in the death of Jesus. The baptismal font is the tomb in which we are buried with Christ. It's the only thing you can do with the dead, really. Give them a decent burial. So that's what God does. He buries the sinner with His Son - in the waters of Holy Baptism. In His Baptism, Jesus joined Himself to us in our death; in our Baptism we are joined to Jesus in His death.
But this is no ordinary grave. This is the grave of the One who died and rose. This is the grave of the Living One and the firstborn from the dead. This is God's grave. And so Baptism is not simply a death and burial, but a resurrection too - now by faith, and in the end by sight. We are united with Christ in His death and His life. We are crucified with Christ - His body is our body. And that, my friends, means freedom. The dead in Christ have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We know the outcome. Christ is risen from the dead. And that is the promise for us as well.
So, what do we do now? Paul is clear. See your life this way: That it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. The only life in you is Christ. This is how God sees you in your baptism, and this is how He urges you to see yourself. Dead to Sin, and alive to God in Christ. A New Creation. Out with the old and in with the new. In with Christ.
Israel was revealed to be God's nation in the baptism of the Red Sea. It was born as a nation through the parted waters. Dead to Egypt; alive to God. Jesus was revealed the Son of God and Savior with the Spirit in Baptism. Let no one say this water has no power! You are made a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's treasured possession in Baptism. And there in those waters, sanctified by the blood of Jesus, God forever says to you, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr