Text: Propers for the Day Series B
Date: The Baptism of Our Lord + January 7, 2018
I have two questions for you today. First, have you been baptized? Of course, I could look at the church records and find the baptismal date of all of our members. Do you remember the date of your baptism? The second question may sound a little strange at first, and that is this, are you baptized? To ask these questions in these two ways helps us discover why we celebrate The Baptism of Our Lord today. For the first question asks only for an historical reference of a past act, that is, the date on which the Sacrament of Holy Baptism was administered to you. We only baptize once because it is God’s own permanent work. He doesn’t go back on His word. The second question, however, asks if your baptism (so long ago) still makes any difference in your life today, now! Yes, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. His baptism has a number of important meanings for Him. And we will briefly review those. But it is of greater meaning and importance if today we emphasize the fact that Jesus was baptized for you. “For you” meaning not instead of you or in your place, but for your benefit. That is, we are saying that when you were baptized into Christ you were changed, born anew from above, a new you, for you have been and are Baptized in His Name.
St. Mark highlights the important detail of Jesus’ baptism in telling us about the Holy Spirit and the Voice from heaven. This is important, first of all because this was the sign God told John to look for. As 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” (Jn 1:33-34).
Secondly, of course Jesus did not need to be baptized as we, as He did not need to repent, being sinless. But He was baptized for you. That is because, as the Bible says elsewhere, in taking his place shoulder to shoulder with us in the water He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient” (Phil 2:7-8). Preparing first to be tempted and put the Tempter in his place, He did so not by any of His miraculous powers but as a man empowered solely by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Here was the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And, indeed, He triumphed over the devil’s temptation by means of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God alone, that is, quite literally, the holy scripture. By the way, He did so by means of the same resources you have been given! You do not have to give in to temptation.
But now to our second and deeper question, are you baptized?
We have said that your baptism has changed you. If you thought it was a little odd that we should hear the first words of the account of the Creation today, we note “the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters.” Though the earth was without form and void, it consisted of land and sea. Then we hear the mighty voice of God creating everything out of nothing by His Word, “Let there be,” “and there was.” This was the first creation.
When you were born, sin had already blinded you to see God and spiritual things. That was the old and original you. But now St. Paul says in Second Corinthians, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), and in Galatians, the only thing that counts is “a new creation” (Gal 6:15).
So how did your baptism change you to be a new creation? St. Paul’s famous words of Romans 6 explains it, saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Your baptism was a sort of funeral for your old, original, sinful nature! But it wasn’t your death, it was his vicarious death that counts. That death on the cross is what counts for it was the one and only and final payment or reparation for the sin of the world, all sin, every sin, your sin, past, present and future. Baptism means that “the Old Adam in us…be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires” (SC).
But that’s not all. “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…. For one who has died has been set free from sin…. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:1-11). We could say that in Christ God wanted you not “dead or alive” but dead AND alive! You are a new creation. That newness is kept alive and ever new by daily repentance and faith, by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
Do you, can you think of yourself in this way? Dead to sin. Alive to God. Living for God. Living from God. Holy living, meaning not sinless (not yet), but living as if you have been made a child of God, part of God’s family, reunited and communicating with God as your Father, Christ as your brother/savior, the Holy Spirit as your guide and sanctifier. Your interactions with others at God’s direction to love and serve one another.
In this way and for this purpose Jesus Christ was baptized for you, that you may share in His forgiveness and life. Yes, you have been baptized, and, yes, you are baptized. At the end of the service today we will sing about that in a hymn from the early 1700s by Erdmann Neumeister, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It,” LSB 594. There we celebrate our redemption, our freedom from the tyranny of sin, our victory over the devil and death, saying, “I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!”