Text: Luke 3:21-22
Date: The Baptism of Our Lord + 1/13/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. And how do we know Jesus is the King? John the Baptist said, “I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:33-34). Though God in all His Persons has always been King of the Universe, the assumed human nature of the Son of God was anointed as King with the waters of the Jordan River, the One who would, one day, be welcomed into the holy city, and welcomed by us in His Holy Sacrament, with the cheer, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Today is all about The Baptism of Our Lord and therefore all about your baptism, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. After the Hymn of the Day we will rehearse the doctrine of this sacrament in the Small Catechism. But right now I would have you pay special attention just to the direction or path of the action. For when Jesus was baptized He was baptized “for you;” not “in your place” but “for your benefit.” And when you were baptized the baptism consisted not in anything you did for God but solely and alone in what God did for you.
You know the difference between the words “sacrifice” and “sacrament.” Sacrifice is from us to God. Sacrament is from God to us. This is the “meaning” behind which way the pastor faces as he officiates at the altar. That is, he faces God for sacrificial acts and faces you for sacramental acts. The sacrificial acts are basically prayer: confession of sins to God, Kyrie and Gloria, Collect of the Day, confession of faith and the prayers. The sacramental acts are the proclaiming of the Word of God to you, and the administration of the sacraments to you: holy absolution of your sins, scripture readings, sermon, the washing of water with the Word, the distribution of the Lord’s Supper and the Benediction. It is important to know in which direction the action is going and when. For when we confuse who’s doing what we stand in the way and miss what God would have us know. And what would God have us know? As He said of Jesus at His baptism, “You are my beloved Son,” so God desires to say to you, “You are my beloved!”
The direction of the action at Jesus’ baptism we could say was just the opposite of the direction of the action at your baptism. For one thing, Jesus was not baptized for the forgiveness of His sins. He had no sin. He was baptized as the first step in the forgiveness of your sins! There in the Jordan He didn’t receive anything but rather took His place right next to us and all humanity, shoulder to shoulder, to bear the burden of the Law for us and to bear the judgment of our sins for us. Secondly, someone has said, when we are baptized we receive the grace of God through the water. When Jesus was baptized He sanctified, set apart or “empowered” (if you will) all water to be the vehicle or means by which He would act in bringing eternal life to all nations. Listen to the first part of what has been called Martin Luther’s “Flood Prayer” in the Rite of Holy Baptism. There we pray:
Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, yet led Your people Israel through the water on dry ground, foreshadowing this washing of Your Holy Baptism. Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin” (LSB 268, emphasis mine).
Holy Baptism is but a visible form of the mighty Word of God. As the Holy Spirit works faith in the heart through the hearing of the Word with the ears, so in the sacraments He works faith in the heart through the hearing of the Word with ears and eyes. That is to say that, while faith is to become personal conviction, it is never the product of our own reason, thinking or decision. Believing this, Holy Church has always baptized people regardless of their age or ability to understand.
My most memorable confirmation and welcome to Holy Communion was of a young “special needs” girl who, physically, was 13 years old, but mentally was only between 3 and 5 years of age. While 13-year-olds are normally taught the catechism and especially Luther’s “Christian Questions with their Answers for those who intend to go to the Sacrament” (LSB 329), this little girl’s total comprehension and understanding of the sacrament was simply that this bread is the body of Christ for you, this cup is the blood of Christ for you…whatever that means! But it means God’s love for you. Through all God’s “means of grace” He means to tell you, “You are my beloved.” This is to say that God’s working and gift of faith is not dependent on a person’s I.Q. or ability to reason or think about it. After all we say that an adult Christian is still a Christian even when they’re asleep or unconscious or at death’s door! So also do the mentally challenged or infants “believe,” that is, are given God’s gift of faith, the same sort of faith with which an infant knows and trusts and clings to its mother.
When Jesus was baptized He was baptized for you. Not, again, “in your place,” but for your benefit. And what was that benefit?
This was the beginning of His active earthly ministry, taking his place under God’s Law as one of us, empowered by the same Holy Spirit that is given to us:
in which Spirit He, first, conquered the temptations of the devil for us;
in which Spirit He lived without sin for us;
in which Spirit He loved us to the extent of taking our sin upon Himself and paying the ultimate price of death, for us.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism which corresponds to this,” says Saint Peter, “now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:18-22).
At the Baptism of Our Lord God said to Him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” At your baptism, and now again today, God says to you, “You…You Are My Beloved.” This is the Word of the Lord.