Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (C)

January 9, 2022

Text: Luke 3:15-22

            John’s Baptism is not quite the same thing as Christian Baptism.  It is, rather, a prefiguring of Christian Baptism, a preparatory rite, a foreshadowing.  John was once again preparing the way.  And you might say John’s Baptism had within it the embryonic form of Christian Baptism.  It was, after all, a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and it certainly delivered the goods.  But it was not a Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  One Name, three Persons, the mystery of the Trinity packed into the water.  And those are the words… and that is the Name… our Lord has given us to use in Holy Baptism (Matt. 28:19). 

            We are not to baptize in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, as some do, who are concerned that our language be gender neutral.  Though it is true that the Father is neither a man or a woman, He reveals Himself in masculine terms in the Scriptures, as does the Son, who actually is a man in the flesh born of the Virgin Mary, and as does the Holy Spirit.  We are to speak of God as He speaks of Himself in His Word.  And we are certainly not to baptize in the name of the Parent, the Child, and the Love that flows between them, which is actually a Trinitarian heresy.  Nor are we to baptize with any other words, or in any other Name, that that which we’ve been given. 

            We should know also that Baptism “in the Name of Jesus,” as is recorded in Acts, does not mean anything other than Baptism as Jesus has given it to His Church.  How could it?  It does not mean saying, “In the Name of Jesus,” and giving the person a dunk.  That is not what Jesus said to do.  It means Baptism into the Name Jesus has revealed to us, God’s Name in all its fulness, and that is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Any other Baptism is not Christian Baptism.

            So when Paul came across some disciples in Ephesus who did not even know there is a Holy Spirit, having been baptized with John’s Baptism, Paul baptizes them “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5; ESV), which is to say, in the Name Jesus bears and has given us for Baptism, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  At which point, those who were so baptized received the Holy Spirit.  Because they received the fulness of Christian Baptism.

            In our Holy Gospel this morning, John and his Baptism are passing away.  John is decreasing, that Jesus may increase.  In fact, John says as much.  I baptize you with water” (Luke 3:16), that is, “I baptize you in the manner of all Jewish baptisms, with ceremonial water, to cleanse you from uncleanness.  Here you step into the water, confessing your sins, and I forgive you as I pour the water out upon you.  But the One who is coming will baptize you with something more.  This is not to say He won’t use water.  The very definition of Baptism is, after all, a washing with water.  But His Baptism will be filled… with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.  The Spirit to take possession of you and teach you all things.  Fire for a real cleansing, the true purgation.  So it is that all who receive the Baptism of this One who is coming, believing what He here gives, will be gathered as wheat into the Lord’s Barn, the Kingdom, the Church, Heaven, New Creation, Resurrection,” or as Jesus Himself puts it, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).  But whoever will not receive it because they do not believe it, like the Pharisees and lawyers who rejected God’s purpose for themselves and would not be baptized by John (Luke 7:30), be warned… The Lord will clear His threshing floor, separating the wheat from the chaff.  And the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17), eternal death, hell… or again, as Jesus puts it, “whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

            Now, the text almost sweeps John away at this point, though we know he is the one who baptizes Jesus.  Luke tells us John kept preaching, and Herod didn’t like it, especially when John preached traditional marriage and holy sexuality, so he locked up John in prison, and we all know how that ended.  But now the focus is entirely on Jesus.  As it should be.  And when Jesus steps into the water to be baptized, He fills Baptism with the fulness of our Triune God and His salvation for us.  Stepping into the Jordan, our Lord sanctifies and institutes all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin (Luther’s Flood Prayer).  Jesus transforms John’s prophetic Baptism into the Christian Baptism God now gives us.

            There is the flesh-and-blood Son of God in the water.  Heaven is open to Him.  There is the Holy Spirit, descending upon Him in bodily form as a dove.  There is the Father’s majestic voice from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).  Now as we are baptized “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” so it is with us. 

            There is Jesus, the flesh-and-blood Son of God, in the water for us, to take our sins away and give us His righteousness in exchange, to give us His saving death on the cross and resurrection life.  Heaven is now open to us. 

            There is the Spirit.  We do not see Him in bodily form as a dove.  But He comes visibly that way at Jesus’ Baptism, that we may know that, as we are created anew in our Baptism into Christ, there is the Spirit hovering over the waters, just as He was at the Beginning.  And as the dove returned to Noah in the ark with a freshly plucked olive leaf, proclaiming the Good News of the end of God’s wrath and divine peace between God and man, so the Spirit descends and remains on us with His peace, to give us faith in the blessed Gospel of sins forgiven in Jesus Christ. 

            And there is the Father.  We do not see Him, but we do hear His voice.  In the Scriptures.  In the preaching.  In the Holy Absolution (which is always a return to Baptism).  And what does He say to us?  You are my beloved Son.”  Baptized into Christ and covered with Him as with a garment, God loves you, and adopts you as His own… “God’s own child I gladly say it!”  And there is something else: “with you,” with you, my dear baptized child, “I am well pleased.”  And that is justification language.  He is well pleased with you, because your sins are forgiven, washed away in the baptismal flood.  And you are righteous with the very righteousness of Christ Himself, given to you as a gift in the baptismal waters.

            See, Baptism is where what Luther called the “Great Exchange” takes place.  Jesus is baptized, not for His own repentance and forgiveness… He doesn’t need that.  He is sinless.  But He is baptized into you, to bear your sin, your guilt, your shame, your death and condemnation, all the way to the cross.  And you are baptized, not to take on the sin and guilt and punishment of others… but to take on Jesus.  To be wrapped up in Jesus.  To receive His death as your own… That’s right, you no longer have to fear death.  You already died.  You got your death over with at the font…  And to receive His resurrection.  That’s right, you have already been raised with Christ.  To new life now, a life that is hidden, but nonetheless yours, right now, by faith…  And the Promise of bodily resurrection on the Last Day, when He who is risen from the dead, raises your body from the grave…  And to receive His righteousness.  All Christ’s righteousness God credits to your account.  All Christ’s perfect fulfillment of God’s Law, God now counts as though you had perfectly fulfilled His Law.  Oh, it is a Great Exchange that takes place there in the water.  For Jesus has filled the water with Himself.

            But there is something else that happens at Jesus’ Baptism that we should not fail to notice, for it has great significance for our life in Christ.  When Jesus also had been baptized, Luke tells us, He was praying (v. 21).  Baptism gives us the gift of prayer.  We can call upon God at all times, and expect Him to hear and answer.  And not only may we call upon Him as “Almighty God,” or “Holy Lord,” but baptized into Christ His Son, we may call upon Him as “Our Father who art in heaven.”  The Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of the Baptized.  And as any father does when his children call out to him in need or distress… in fact, better than any earthly father would… our Father in heaven hears our petitions, and He acts for our good.  He rescues.  He provides.  He comes to our aid.  He does not fail us.

            Jesus fills Baptism with all of this when He steps into the water.  Baptism is not our work of obedience to God.  It is God’s gracious work for us, in which He pours upon us all the saving gifts of Jesus.  That is why Peter declares, “Baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  That is why Paul says that God “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 richly 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).  That is why our Lord Jesus Himself teaches us, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).  Beloved, you are baptized into Christ.  And you should never forget it.  You have been born anew of water and the Spirit.  You have entered the Kingdom of God.  The Spirit has been poured out on you.  You are God’s own Child and heir.  You are baptized, which is to say, you are saved.  By grace alone.  By His work for you.  That is what Baptism is.  For Baptism is filled with Jesus who stepped into the water for you.  And so, as those baptized into Christ, we end this meditation with Jesus in the water, tracing the sign of the holy cross upon our bodies, as we say again the Name written upon us, the Name we’ve been given there at the water… In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                


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