Text: Luke 3:15-22
Date: Baptism of Our Lord + Epiphany I + 1/10/10
Baptism of Karl Davidson Lunneborg
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
What a wonderful day to gather together in the presence of God according to His Word and Sacraments! What a wonderful way to celebrate this First Sunday after the Epiphany, the Baptism of Our Lord, by celebrating also the Sacrament of Holy Baptism for little Karl Davidson Lunneborg, now child of God, child of David and Kelly. What a grand son! What a grandson! (You may call me “grrrrand-fah-thah”! “Bestefar” in Norwegian.) What glorious promises he has and we have in God’s blessed gift of Holy Baptism! Baptized into the death of Christ we are no longer to fear death! Clothed now with the white robe of the righteousness of Christ we are members of the eternal kingdom of God with the promise of eternal life in Christ our eternal King! By the simple use of this Sacrament we are prepared for glory.
There are three baptisms in our concern today: John the Baptist’s baptism, Jesus’ baptism and Christian baptism. They differ only in their purpose. John’s baptism called forth repentance of sin as preparation for the coming Messiah. Jesus’ baptism was all His work of obedience and suffering the wrath of God in our place. Christian baptism, then, “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation” all for the sake of Christ. This is where our “Calvinist, Arminian” brethren miss the boat, and those who do not know at all what the Bible says about baptism, and think of the sacrament as only “an outward ceremony testifying to an inner faith” rather than what it is, the outward, God-ordained means whereby God Himself acts, creating faith in the heart, adopting a person into His family, declaring a person justified for the sake of Christ crucified.
Our text speaks of the ending of John the Baptist’s ministry. Throughout the Christmas story, the coming and appearance of John and Jesus paralleled each other with John leading the way, coming as the last Old Testament prophet to prepare the way for the Lord. Jesus is the Lord, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, the promised Messiah and Savior. John continued to prepare the way, pointing people to Jesus, calling Him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He said that he, John, must become less and less, and Jesus must become greater. He spoke of his work as merely preparation as when he said, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Now St. Luke speaks briefly of John’s ending, being put in prison by king Herod.
John, as an Old Testament prophet, saw the coming judgment at the hands of the Messiah. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” As with all the prophets, however, John did not see the time of grace, the age of the Church between the Messiah’s first coming and the final day of judgment. Yet his words speak not only of the Spirit and the wrath of God as a threatened judgment for us. They, rather, describe the Messiah’s own ministry.
It is interesting that, whereas Matthew and Mark include describing Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, and John even refers to it in his Gospel, St. Luke doesn’t. He only says, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized….” It then describes the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in bodily form, like a dove, and the voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” So there is the Spirit John spoke of, but where’s the fire? Where’s the wrath, the winnowing fork, the clearing of the threshing floor and the burning of the chaff with unquenchable fire?
Here is the significance of Jesus’ baptism that is different from John’s and from yours. Beginning in the Jordan River, Jesus’ human nature received the Holy Spirit as His power to live perfectly according to God’s Law in our place—the same power, by the way, you and I and all Christians have been given! The “fire” John predicted will be the fire of all of God’s wrath against the sin of the world. It will, at first, only singe Jesus as increased rejection and opposition to His preaching and ministry. But then the full destructive fire of God’s wrath will come down upon Him and consume Him as He suffers and dies on the crucifixion cross in that last, dark and holy week. That holy life and that holy death will completely satisfy the wrath of God against all sin so that the Apostle Paul can write, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Now, because of Jesus’ baptism in the fire of God’s wrath, now the fire John predicted for us is no longer the consuming, destructive fire of God’s wrath, but the purifying fire of the Spirit of God, symbolized as on Pentecost by the “tongues of fire” that appeared over the heads of the disciples. It is the purifying that works through the suffering we still endure in this world. Now, the Christian’s baptism includes John’s repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole life of the Christian is one of continued repentance. That is, not only sorrow or contrition over sin, but also faith in the forgiveness won by Christ. Now Christian baptism is God’s declaration that the sinner has been made righteous by faith in Christ, given the white robe of Christ’s righteousness in which righteousness we are dressed and ready to take our place in the great wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. Baptism declares that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Baptism is God’s own Word and promise, the possession and object of faith.
So you see that baptism is not just plain water. It is not just an outward sign or testimony of something we came up with by our own reason or strength. It is water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word. When the Bible says, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” it reveals that baptism is commanded and powerful, but it is also not magic. That is, one can fall away from baptism by unbelief. Yet, whenever we repent and return to our baptism we don’t “re-baptize” because God’s promise is sure. He doesn’t go back on His promises. Likewise, it is not a magic water that does these things, but the word of God in and with the water and faith that trusts the word of God in the water. Listen to how Martin Luther speaks of the word of God in the water.
“Who, now, would despise the word of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Who would call the baptism of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit powerless water? Do we not see what seasoning God throws into the water? When a person adds sugar to water then it no longer is mere water but a delectable claret, or something like that. Why then would we want to separate the word from the water here and call it poor water, as though God’s Word, yes, God himself were not in and with that water, as at the Jordan where Christ stood in the water and the Holy Spirit hovered overhead, while God the Father preached withal.
“Accordingly, baptism is water that can take away sin, death, and all evil, and help us come to heaven and eternal life. So it has become a priceless sugar water, fragrant nectar, and medicine because God has interposed himself. God is a God of life and can make alive. Because he is in this water, it must be a true aqua vitae, “water of life,” which drives death and hell away, and makes eternally alive.
“We should, therefore, learn to know baptism well and esteem it highly….” [House Postils I:221-222]
John’s baptism prepares the way of the Lord by proclaiming repentance of sin. Jesus’ baptism was all His work of fulfilling God’s Law and taking and enduring God’s wrath against the sin of the whole world in His body on the cross. Christian baptism, then, is the receiving of all the benefits of John’s preaching and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Let us rejoice in God’s great and gracious gift of life.