Pastor’s Post: The Baptism of our Lord – Sunday, January 15, 2017

baptising-the-lordDear friends in Christ:

This Sunday at Shepherd of the Valley we are celebrating the Baptism of our Lord. Many Christian congregations observed the Baptism of our Lord on January 8, so we are a week behind those that strictly follow the lectionary series, but we will catch up next Sunday.

The truth is that the Baptism of our Lord is too important a celebration in the life of the church to be ignored or forgotten, so in a way I am glad we had to cancel church last Sunday, January 8, and can celebrate Jesus’ baptism this Sunday, January 15.

Why is this so important? Celebrating the Baptism of our Lord gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own baptism. Sadly baptism is one of the great divides in the Christian family. Lutherans have taken a sacramental view of baptism. We teach that Holy Baptism is God’s work in our hands. In Holy Baptism God rescues us from sin, death, and the power of the devil, and makes us part of His church. We do not rescue ourselves nor do we make ourselves part of God’s church. We baptize because it is our Lord’s command.

The Lutheran church teaches this precisely because we take sin and our separation from God so seriously. Apart from the Holy Spirit’s action calling us to faith in water the Word, we would have nothing to do with baptism, the Word of God, the Lord’s Supper, or any of God’s good and gracious gifts. This is fundamentally because we are “born in sin.” As sinners we are in a state of rebellion against God. Our desire is to be gods to ourselves. The First Commandment addresses this in our Small Catechism: “You shall have no other gods before me,” God says. But we do. The fact is that we have many other gods, especially the god of self. It’s only natural, so to speak, given our sinful condition.

That Baptism is a sacramental act (God’s work in our hands) is an essential distinction because only God can do what needs to be done in the face of our sinful nature. Only God can come into our hearts and minds, and there in the waters of baptism, begin the destruction of the old sinful self, and the resurrection of the new being that we are called to be in Christ. St. Paul writes in Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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.”

Just so baptism marks the beginning of the eternal life we are called to live. If someone were to ask you, “When were you saved?” A proper response would be, “On the day I was baptized!”
The problem with the notion that we are baptized because we say we believe, the other view that many Christians hold, sometimes called “believers’ baptism,” is that it is fundamentally uncertain. If the response to the question, “When were you saved?” is “When I came to believe in Jesus as my Savior,” then the good news of salvation rests on what you have done. You have decided you believe. But how do you really know this to be true? How many times haven’t we changed our minds about things? What if sometime later you begin to question whether you really believe? Such faith that rests on what we say or do can be a terrible thing. Much better to rely on the Word God spoke to you: “You are my son/daughter, today I have begotten you in the waters of Holy Baptism.” The baptized believe they are saved because they have God’s Word on it! Our own is insufficient. Faith is relying on the Word God has already spoken to us! “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.”

But what about the baptism of Jesus by John? What kind of baptism did Jesus insist upon for Himself? Interestingly even the most liberal scholars, who doubt almost every word of the Gospels, rarely dispute the historicity of two things: Jesus’ baptism by John and his death on the cross. Here’s is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, our Gospel for this Sunday:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

The question of why Jesus insists on being baptized when He is the sinless Son of God can be troublesome. After all, John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance. Did Jesus need to repent of some sin?

One good answer is yes. That’s because Jesus was in fact burdened with all our sins, but not His own. He was burdened with the sins of the whole world. John proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” As Jesus went into the river to be baptized by John he was already bearing the sins of the world, for that is what He came to do. Jesus didn’t need to be there in the river with John because of His own sin burden, rather, He chose to be there in the river because of the burden He is carrying which is properly yours and mine – the aggregate sins of the whole world.

There are a few other reasons why Jesus came to John for baptism. It was a confirmation of the ministry of John – that Jesus came to him means that John wasn’t just some crazy prophetic figure out in the wilderness. He was fulfilling God’s purpose for him. This is made clear by the witness of the Holy Trinity at Jesus’ baptism: the Son is baptism, the Spirit is poured out upon Him and the Father claims Him: This is my beloved Son. Second Jesus’ baptism makes baptism part of the life in the church. Not only do we baptize because Christ commands it in Matthew 28: God therefore and make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but also because Christ Himself was baptized and Christians are called to be “imitators of Christ.” And third Jesus is baptized as an example of love and humility for us. The Lord was without sin and yet He submitted to the baptism of John. If Christ who is sinless receives baptism in humility, how much more ought we, who are sinners, understand our daily need for God’s baptismal grace and mercy.

We need to be at the font, washed in the water and the Word, and led by the Holy Spirit to live a life of faithfulness, walking every day in the newness of life that God alone can give. This Sunday let us rejoice in the baptism whereby we are God’s family.

In Christ,
Pastor Joe Hughes
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