Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (observed)

Matthew 3:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Isaiah 42:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In many ways, baptism is the most scandalous thing we do as Christians. It simply flies in the face of our vaunted reason and expectations concerning how things work. How can water do such great things? Don’t you have to believe first, and then be baptized? How can an infant believe? Baptism saves? It can’t be that easy, can it? What if a baptized person lives like a heathen? Is he still saved? Such questions beleaguer each of us from time to time. Our answers to such questions divide Christians throughout the world. Our answers to such questions may cause non-believers to mock and ridicule us, or write us off as crazy, out of touch, and irrelevant. To put it bluntly, baptism just doesn’t make much sense to us.
And yet, baptism makes perfect sense when it is understood as a gift of God’s grace. Baptism is 100% God’s work. Baptism is not something that you do, but it is something that God does for you, to you, and in you. Water is poured over your head. Words are spoken over the water, over you, and into you – creative words, performative words, effecting what they proclaim. You are the recipient of God’s gracious activity. He speaks the Words. He performs the baptism. He bestows His Holy Spirit. He forgives your sins.
So monergistic is Holy Baptism that infant baptism should be the standard for all Christians, for the baptism of an infant child is the supreme example displaying just who’s doing the work in the Sacrament – not the parents or the Godparents, not the pastor, not the child, not the congregation, but God alone does the work in Holy Baptism by His Holy Spirit through His spoken Word. That is why Jesus holds up a little child as the chief example of faith that receives the kingdom of heaven, even saying to His adult disciples that, unless they have faith like a little child, they shall not enter it. The infant child cannot choose or decide to be baptized, but she has to be brought to baptism by others. She does not earn, deserve, or merit baptism, but she is baptized nonetheless as the water is poured upon her and the Word is spoken over and into her. But, the infant does not understand anything, does not believe anything, cannot decide or choose anything, you protest? Precisely! That is precisely the point! Baptism is not your work, but God’s work. Baptism is not something that you do, but it is something that is done to you, for you, and in you. Baptism is gift, and it is grace – pure gift, pure grace. Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ!
“I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” That’s what John said when Jesus came to him to be baptized in the Jordan River. He was right, and Jesus didn’t correct him on the matter. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, but John did, because baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, and of the two men standing by the river that day, only one of them was a sinner, and it wasn’t Jesus. In fact, everyone who came to the Jordan to be baptized by John was a sinner, and the one who baptized them was himself a sinner. Therefore, John was right; Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, but John did. Indeed, everyone conceived and born of a human mother and father is conceived and born in sin, as King David confessed in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, for He was sinless, holy, and righteous, but we do, regardless of gender, race, status, or even age.
Nonetheless, Jesus submitted to be baptized. Jesus wanted to be baptized. The multitudes came to the Jordan to be baptized by John. They entered the water as unclean sinners; they emerged from the water as forgiven sinners and saints. Baptism marked a change of life for those people. Baptism was a washing away of their sins. Baptism was the drowning death and burial of their old way of living and the raising up of a new man. Baptism marked a change for Jesus as well. Though He entered the water sinless and holy, He emerged bearing the sins of the world, the sins of those baptized in the Jordan, John’s sins, your sins, and my sins too: He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. For, this is how He would fulfill all righteousness: He would take all humanity’s sin upon Himself, and He would suffer the due penalty for our sin in His flesh upon the cross. Jesus was born to die for you. Jesus was circumcised and named that He might die for you. And, Jesus was baptized that He might die for you.
And, because of this, God the Father was well pleased with His Son. He was already well pleased with His Son, but this is how the LORD reveals His righteousness – in being both just and the justifier of those who will believe and trust in Him. And so, when Jesus came up from the water, heaven was opened to Him as a man, the Holy Spirit descended and remained upon Him, and God the Father spoke from heaven proclaiming Him to be His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. God the Father was always well pleased with His Son, but He is also well pleased with His Son as a human man taking upon Himself all the sins of all humanity. In St. Mark’s Gospel, immediately following His baptism in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit literally threw Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation by the devil. Jesus was baptized for you, for thus was it fitting to fulfill all righteousness.
Jesus is, at once, the Son of God and the Lord’s Servant, and God Himself. Jesus is the selfless and sacrificial love of God incarnate for your life and for the life of the world. Willingly, out of selfless love and obedience for His Father, He set aside His glory and took up the form of a servant, even a man. As a man, He became obedient unto death, even death upon the cross. And, because of this, God the Father has bestowed upon Him the Name that is above all names, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When you were baptized, you were baptized into Jesus; you were baptized into Jesus’ Name. Jesus’ Name now marks you, seals you, names you, and claims you as His own. When God the Father looks at you, He beholds His Son in holiness and righteousness. His promise is upon you and in you: I will never leave you or forsake you, I am with you always, and nothing can separate you from My love in Jesus Christ. You were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Holy Baptism you were clothed with Christ’s righteousness, a pure and holy garment that covers your sin. In baptism you have put on Christ, therefore God the Father can also say of you, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Do you see what amazing promises the Lord has attached to such humble, weak, and foolish means? God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, what is weak to shame the strong, what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. It is no surprise that baptism is scandalous. That is precisely what it is supposed to be! Your Lord would have you see the radical grace of Holy Baptism as His work alone, demanding, requiring absolutely nothing of you whatsoever, not even faith (!), for faith is given and created through Holy Baptism by the Holy Spirit, but that you receive it – and by that I mean simply that you do not reject and refuse it, but trust in it and cling to it for forgiveness, life, and salavtion. Your Lord chooses to baptize you, to forgive you, to give you faith and His kingdom in His Son. It is His choice, His work, and His gift alone. And, because Holy Baptism comes from outside of you, because it is not your work but the Lord’s, because it demands nothing of you and there is nothing you can do to earn, merit, or deserve it, Holy Baptism is the most comforting, encouraging, and refreshing gift you could ever receive! In fact, our Lord has baptized you that you may be confident in your faith and salvation in Jesus Christ and so resist the devil’s temptations and share your Lord’s gracious gifts with others to the glory of His Name. In your baptism, as in Jesus’ baptism, God the Father Speaks, the Holy Spirit is given, and God’s Son is named. All this is the LORD’s work, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
God has chosen humble, weak, and foolish things to shame the proud, the wise, and the strong. And, even now God has chosen foolish, sinful flesh and faltering speech, ordinary water, tasteless bread, and inexpensive wine to which He has attached His Word of Promise, that you may be forgiven anew, strengthened in faith, and equipped for every good work. Remember your baptism. Remember that you are clothed with Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sins. Remember that all this comes to you as a free and perfect gift, from outside of you, bearing not the corruption of your sin. Therefore you can receive it, you can trust it, and you can have peace with God, and you can have peace with man, just as the angels proclaimed at Jesus’ birth.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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