Sunday, January 28, 2018


Matthew 20:1-16; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You have justly deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment. That’s what you, yourself, confessed just a few minutes ago. And, you’re right. You’re absolutely dead right! What you have earned, what you have merited, what you have deserved for your sins and iniquities is punishment now, and punishment in hell forever thereafter. So, let me ask you, do you want what you deserve? No, I imagine that you do not want what you deserve. You do not want temporal and eternal punishment. Rather, what you really want is that which you don’t deserve. You want God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And, so I say to you, be careful what you ask for!
We have always been a people who believe that we deserve something. Indeed, the entire economic and social structure of our nation is founded upon a fair wage for honest labor, an equal chance for all to get ahead and to be successful by hard work and perseverance. Those are the kinds of values and attitudes that built our great cities, the interstates and highways that cross our nation, the great middle class whose greatest desire is to own their own home, a car, and 1.5 children. That’s what most of us think we deserve. However, there has been a significant cultural change since at least the 1960’s in what people think they deserve. Today, what people deserve has much less to do with what they have earned or merited than it has to do with what they believe they are entitled to out of some newly contrived sense of social justice and human rights. Today, people are not as concerned about what they deserve for their labor, as they are what they believe society owes them because of their gender, their race, class, or some other social metric. Today it is commonly believed that women deserve to earn the same as men, not because of equal skills, abilities, and labor, but simply because they are women, and it is denied that there is any significant difference between women and men. Similarly, it is commonly believed today that racial and ethnic minorities deserve special treatment, privileges, and entitlements, not because of their skills, abilities, and labor, but simply because they are minorities, and it is believed that the majority have been the beneficiaries of unjust privilege. All of this is simply to state the obvious: Today, people believe that they deserve good things, not because of their skills, abilities, and labor, but because of social justice, which values equality and fairness above reality and truth, which probably don’t exist anyway.
However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Because of this, Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard is every bit as timely and provocative today as it surely was in the first century. Jesus taught this parable in response to His disciples’ dismay at His words concerning a rich young man, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then, Peter voiced the dismay of all saying, “Who then can be saved?” The rich young man had kept the LORD’s commandments, and yet his love for his riches prohibited him from following Jesus. In contrast, the disciples had left their careers, their homes, and their families to follow Jesus. The disciples believed that the rich young man deserved the kingdom because of his obedience, and that they deserved the kingdom because of their sacrifice. In response to their dismay, Jesus taught them in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard that the kingdom of heaven is not deserved, earned, or merited, but is given as a gift by the grace of God alone.
“The kingdom of heaven,” Jesus taught, “is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Only with those hired first was a wage determined, a denarius, a fair and typical wage for a day’s labor. This agreement was accepted without complaint. With each of the laborers hired later in the day, however, all that was promised was “whatever is right.” Again, this was accepted by all without complaint. Indeed, all was well until the end of the workday when the owner of the vineyard sent his foreman to pay the laborers their wages. The foreman was instructed to pay those hired last first. They each received a denarius, the same wage promised the laborers hired first in the day. No doubt, those hired last were delighted with their pay. They never could have hoped to earn a full day’s wage for an hour’s work! Those hired first, however, were not so enthused. They thought they would receive even more than the wage they agreed to. That fact alone is indicative that some new metric is at play. Why should they think they would receive more? They had agreed upon the fixed wage of a denarius for a day’s work, and they were satisfied with that. What had changed? Why should they expect the rules to suddenly be changed? No longer were they interested in truth or rightness, but they wanted to what was fair, what was equitable. You have to admit, we tend to be sympathetic with them, don’t we? Indeed, they’re complaint resonates with us: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” “It’s not fair!” we protest with them. But, they received precisely what was promised them, what they had happily agreed upon. Where was the ground for their complaint? There was none. Truly, those hired late in the day got a good deal. We might even call it grace. And, something about this arrangement, Jesus teaches, is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
If we understand the New Testament epistles to be commentary upon the Gospels, then surely St. Paul explains Jesus’ parable in a simple statement in his Epistle to the Galatians: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” The promise of the Gospel was first made to God’s chosen people, to Abraham and his descendants, the Jews. Truly, the Jews are akin to those hired early in the day in Jesus’ parable. However, it was God’s good and gracious will to extend the Gospel to the Gentiles as well. The Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day balked at the fact that Jesus accepted and ate and drank with Gentiles, with sinners, and the unclean. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the infant Church was divided over the acceptance of the Gentiles and whether or not they must be circumcised and observe the dietary laws of the Jews. Likewise, on the Day of Pentecost, the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled saying that God’s Spirit would be poured out on all people alike, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old. Indeed, God so loved the world – the whole world, and everyone in it without exception – that He gave His only Son. God did not give us what we deserved for our sin and guilt – temporal and eternal punishment – but He gave us what we did not deserve – forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life in Jesus.
The only proper response to such grace is to say “Thank you” and to glorify God by telling others the Good News that they have been justified and forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ. To insist that God is unfair is to begrudge His generosity, or, as the Greek reads literally, for your “eye to become evil” because of our LORD’s goodness. Our LORD does not wish to deal with us on the basis of what we deserve, but on the basis of His abounding grace in Christ. The first – those who rely on their own merits – will be last, and the last – those who rely on Christ – will be first. Indeed, Christ, the true Rock, was struck for us all, without exception, and from His riven side upon the cross flowed the water of Holy Baptism, and His Blood of the Holy Eucharist. All of the children of Israel were baptized into the cloud and the sea, and they all drank from the same spiritual Rock. The Cloud, the Sea, and the Rock were Jesus, the same Jesus into whom you were baptized and from whom you now drink and live. No, He does not give us what we deserve. Thanks be to God that He graciously gives us what we do not deserve! Go and share and tell this Good News to all without exception to the glory of His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It came upon us so suddenly, almost like a thief in the night: Epiphany, and now the Feast of the Transfiguration. Wasn’t it just Christmas, and now we’re already preparing for Lent? Yeah, the Church Year is sometimes like that. The deep penitential season of Lent comes upon us while we aren’t expecting it, while we are still basking in Christmas joy, much the way death sometimes comes upon us suddenly and unexpectedly, sometimes even in the days of our youth. However, this is nothing new for God’s people. Indeed, Saints Peter, James, and John had a similar experience on the holy mountain. No doubt they were elated at having been hand selected by Jesus for this personal audience with their Rabbi, Master, and Lord. And, when Jesus’ face and clothing shone forth with primordial Light, and when Moses and Elijah appeared along with Him, they were overcome with elation and joy such that zealous Peter desired to preserve it by building tabernacles and shrines to preserve the glory and the joy and keep them alive forever.
Perhaps this is why we call such moments of elation and joy and holiness “mountaintop experiences,” and, like Peter and the Apostles, we too desire to preserve them and keep them alive forever. Like that moment Christmas Eve while we sang together Silent Night in the candlelit darkness. What a feeling of peace and joy, love and unity! No, we don’t want Christmas to end. But, we must not forget that the infant Jesus was born to die for us and for the world. That is the reason He was given. He came to us that He might fulfill God’s holy Law for us, and suffer and die on the cross in our stead and in our place for our failure to keep it. And He came that He might take up His life again out of death, and our lives with His, that we might live with Him in His Father’s kingdom forever. No, it cannot always be Christmas, for then there would be no Holy Thursday betrayal, no Good Friday death, no Easter Sunday resurrection, and we would still be in our sins. We cannot live on the mountaintop of glory at this time – the air is too thin and we cannot breathe! – but we must pass through the Valley of the Shadow of death, following Jesus in the way of the cross before we enter into His glory, glory that Jesus’ Transfiguration was but a glimpse and foretaste of, glory that exists now with God in heaven, that has always existed, glory that we forsook when our First Parents rebelled and chose a Theology of Glory over a Theology of the Cross.
When Peter, James, and John were granted a peak at Jesus’ unveiled glory, it must have felt like Christmas and Epiphany. But, when God the Father spoke once again, as at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him,” the Apostles did what every man and woman must do in the presence of the glory of God: They fell down on their faces as though dead. Indeed, no man may see God’s glory and live, as the LORD said to Moses in last Sunday’s Old Testament reading. For that reason, the LORD in His mercy and grace granted Moses to see His backside, which is to say His veiled glory, even as He first placed Moses into the cleft of the Rock, which, St. Paul explains in His Epistle to the Corinthians was the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The point is this: Because no man can see God’s glory and live, our gracious and merciful LORD works through means, veiling His glory, that we may approach Him and live. And, that veil is always Jesus. Indeed, Jesus was the burning bush through which the LORD first spoke to Moses. And, Jesus was the Angel of the LORD who visited and spoke with Abraham and Hagar and with several others. We could say the same concerning the pillars of fire and cloud that went with the children of Israel in the Exodus and throughout their pilgrimage to the Promised Land of Canaan. It was God in His veiled glory. It was the Son of God, Jesus, the express image of the invisible God and His glory veiled in human flesh.
Perhaps most interesting to me is the connection between the temple veil and Jesus on the cross. When Jesus died and gave up His Spirit, the temple veil separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place where God’s glory dwelt amongst His people, was torn in two from top to bottom. Then the chief priests tore their robes and lamented because they saw with their own eyes that God was no longer with them in the temple. Indeed, God’s glory had not been behind that temple veil for thirty-three yeas, for, when Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God proclaimed by the Archangel Gabriel, the glory of God took up residence in the flesh and blood veil of Jesus in Mary’s womb and remained with Him so that Jesus could say of the temple, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” St. John tells us that Jesus was talking about His body. Indeed, upon the cross, the veil of Jesus’ flesh was pierced with nails, and His side was torn open by a Roman spear. That wound issued forth water and blood, the Bride of Christ taken from the Second Adam’s side, the Church.
All who gazed upon Jesus’ crucified and dead body upon the cross were horrified. Those who loved Him and believed in Him despaired. Those who hated Him and cursed Him were alarmed at the earthquake, the darkened heavens, and the torn veil, wondering, perhaps having second thoughts, if He really was the Christ. Our Lord Jesus was much too easy to look upon on the mountaintop in non-threatening glory. It is only natural for sinful, fallen man to value the wrong things. We desire an emotional rapture, but we need God’s unchanging Word. We desire numbers in worship and overflowing offering plates, but we need to be faithful to God’s Word and commands even when it’s unpopular, even when it doesn’t seem to be working. We desire to be accepted and to be praised by the world and culture, but we are called to be separate, distinct, and holy, in the world, but not of the world. We desire an empty cross, which we rationalize to represent the empty tomb, but we are sent to preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified. We need to come down from the mountaintop of glory and live in the valley of the cross. What Peter, James, and John were granted to see was but a glimpse, a foretaste of glory yet to be fully realized. It was granted them that they might persevere and endure what Jesus and they were about to face in the valley below and in Jerusalem in the week to come. Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trials, scourging, crucifixion, and death would, otherwise scandalize, shake, and destroy their faith. Therefore, the LORD granted them a glimpse of His glory that they might be strengthened to persevere. That glory was not their life now, but yet to come. And yet, as that glory was always in Jesus, though veiled in His flesh and blood humanity, so was that glory with them and in them now, but not yet to be revealed fully. They were to be encouraged and strengthened, knowing that whatever happened, the victory was already theirs in Christ. And, this is true for you and for me and for all believers as well.
Indeed, our LORD continues to bless us with a glimpse and foretaste of His glory that we might be strengthened and persevere as we make our pilgrimage through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, following our Lord Jesus in the way of the cross. It is right here, on this holy mountain where God Himself is present, though veiled, under water and Word, and bread and wine which are the real and true body and blood of Jesus given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, the equipping and sending of us for service, and for His divine protection along the way. If we do not receive His gifts on the mountain, we will surely be overcome and destroyed in the valley. For, fierce are our foes, those whose desire is to mock and ridicule, to marginalize, and to destroy us for the light of hope, grace, and forgiveness we proclaim in Jesus Christ through our words, lives, and deeds.
My dear children in faith, what we receive and do here in this holy sanctuary truly is our life, and yet it is only a foretaste, a brief glimpse, if you will, of what the saints in glory already know and live, in which you and I will join with them in on the day of Jesus’ glorious return and the resurrection of our bodies. For now, our lives are lived out there, in the valley and under the cross. And, while times have always been dark, difficult, and dangerous for God’s children, they are surely very dark, difficult, and dangerous for us today. And, on this Life Sunday, we are reminded that over 60 million children have been destroyed by abortion since 1973. That’s over 1 million abortions per year, approximately 3,657 abortions each and every day. And, that’s not to mention other life issues including euthanasia and assisted suicide. Truly, when human life is valued so little, and it’s destruction is touted as a personal right and choice, surely we live in very, very dark, difficult, and dangerous days. It is natural for us to be afraid.
Jesus’ disciples were afraid too. When God the Father spoke from the heavens concerning Jesus, they were afraid for their lives, for they knew that they must be destroyed because of their sin and guilt, and because they had beheld the glory of the Living God. But, Jesus raised them up. He said to them, “Rise, and have no fear.” Jesus’ words were an absolution, a proclamation of their forgiveness and that they need not fear, for God had favor upon them through Jesus Christ. However, they were also afraid as they followed Jesus down the mountain into the valley where, immediately, they were met by the diseased and the demon-oppressed, for they were those whom Jesus had come to save and to whom the Apostles and all believers were to minister and witness to in His Name. Yes, you are sent into this dark, difficult, and dangerous world bearing the Light of Christ. You are to be His hands and His feet, His heart and His voice to those dwelling in the darkness of the shadow of death. And, though it be dark, difficult, and dangerous, you need not be afraid, for the Lord is with you, and through His Word and Sacraments He is in you and works through you. Indeed, through Him you can do anything, for He will do everything through you. However, you can only give to others what you first have yourself. Therefore, Jesus invites you, once again, to ascend the Holy Mountain that you may receive His glory and life, His flesh and blood veiled in bread and wine, that you may be forgiven anew, strengthened in faith, equipped and sent with His blessing and protection in the assurance and promise that He is with you always, even to the end of the age. No, we cannot live in His glory fully yet, but His glory goes with us, is in us, and works through us now, to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Second Sunday after Epiphany (Epiphany 2)

John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Back in New York, whenever I would speak of God’s institution of Marriage, I had this one parishioner who would say, “Pastor, God may have created the institution of marriage, but who wants to live in an institution?” Now, that man was kidding, sort of. Nevertheless, it is a sad reality today that Holy Matrimony, God’s institution of marriage, is too often spoken of in contempt and with derision, has been redefined into utter meaninglessness, and has become the butt of too many a sarcastic joke. God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden, before man’s fall into sin, when He made a woman to join the man by his side, from which she was taken, and joined them in a one-flesh union. God blessed them that they should be fruitful and multiply and fill, subdue, and rule over the earth. That is God’s institution of marriage, which God Himself proclaimed to be, not just good, but very good.
Martin Luther considered marriage to be one of Three Estates or Hierarchies: The home (marriage and family), the Church, and the state (civil government). All three consist of rulers and the ruled – parents and children in the home, pastors and parishioners in the Church, magistrates and citizens in the civil government – each an intrinsic part of a divine order through which God provides and cares for His people, and God’s people provide for and care for each other and glorify Him. Closely related to the doctrine of the Three Estates is the Two Kingdoms Doctrine through which God rules, protects, and cares for His people through the Kingdom of Grace (or the Kingdom of the Right), the Church, and the Kingdom of Power (or the Kingdom of the Left), the civil government. The point being this, the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman, blessed with fruitfulness in the bearing, raising, and training of children, is the foundation of societal structure and order and civil government, and marriage is itself a reflection of the divine structure and order of the Holy Trinity so that, through marriage, we are blessed with a glimpse, albeit a glimpse darkened by our sin and idolatry, of God Himself and what it means to truly love selflessly and sacrificially.
Marriage is created and instituted by God that we might know Him and learn to love and serve like Him. Through marriage, we are blessed to participate in God’s ongoing creative activity by bringing forth new life, conceived and born out of love for God, for each other, and for the new life brought forth as good fruit from the vine. Such love is truly and only love when each spouse humbles themselves and selflessly and sacrificially gives of themselves for the sake of the other to the glory of God. Such love St. Paul says is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Such love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Such love never fails. Only with such love can two individuals, so different, so distinct and unique, possibly become one flesh. There is no equation in which one plus one equals one except in Holy Marriage as it was instituted by God in creation. Such unity is the fruit of love, selfless and sacrificial love, the love of God for His Son, for humanity, and for you. Truly, there is no other.
And thus, Jesus’ first recorded miracle occurred within the context of a marriage. Even as God created and instituted marriage in the beginning, so He Himself is present with and abides within the one-flesh unions of those He joins together in Holy Marriage. There are few things more common and ordinary than a wedding. Indeed, Jesus Himself described the ordinary, common, day to day life of those people who were destroyed in the flood saying, “people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark.” Marriage and weddings are common, normal, and routine. Nevertheless, our Lord Jesus attended and participated in a wedding, and likely several others, because He is fully human, and because He is Emmanuel, God with us, as one of us, in all the things it means to be human. Furthermore, God Himself created and instituted marriage, and He blesses it with His presence and with fruitfulness. There is nothing shameful or undesirable about marriage – that is a modern idea – but marriage is sacred and holy in God’s sight, for it is of Him and from Him and has His blessing.
The first chapter of John’s Gospel abounds with creation themes: The Word of God, light and darkness, water, the descent of the Holy Spirit, etc. Some exegetes believe that John’s Gospel is a sort of catechism and that he begins by recounting the six days of creation. In that respect, “on the third day” in chapter two, verse one, would correspond to the sixth day of creation, the day in which God created Adam and Eve and joined them in the one-flesh union of holy marriage, blessing them that they should be fruitful and multiply. That Jesus’ first miracle occurs at a wedding points to the reason He has come: To restore fallen humanity to a right relationship with God by fulfilling God’s Law and suffering the death His creatures rightly merited by their disobedience and rebellion, death on the cross.
Now, a first century Jewish wedding feast would have lasted seven days. The families of the bride and groom were expected to provide food and drink, and possibly lodging, for all of their guests throughout the seven days. The fact that they had run out of wine early in the feast would have been a horrifying embarrassment for the families, and for the bride and groom as their new life together was just beginning. Mary, Jesus’ mother, told Him of their dilemma. Jesus answered her saying, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Now, the English translation makes this sound almost rude, but it truly was not, but only the common manner of speaking at the time. The important thing was not how Jesus addressed His mother, but the fact that His hour had not yet come. Jesus’ hour was the hour of His Passion, His suffering and death. It was but the beginning of His ministry, and He had many things to do and teach before His passion. Still, He did help, and He did it in such a way as to not attract the attention of most to Himself, but only His disciples and a few servants.
Jesus commanded the servants to fill six stone water jars to the brim with fresh water. The stone jars were there for the Jewish purification rights. They stood as a rock-solid, immovable, symbol of the Law of God. For, because of their sin, all the people were unclean and were thus unable to participate in the wedding or the feast until they had ceremonially washed themselves according to the Law. They could not enter into the holy presence of God without first being cleansed. That Jesus had the jars filled to the brim points to the fulfilling of the Law of God that Jesus would accomplish by His obedience unto death. Then Jesus commanded a servant to draw some of the water and bring it to the master of the feast. The servant did as Jesus directed, and, unbeknownst to all, as he did, the water was made to be wine. When the master tasted it He praised the bridegroom saying, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” The wedding couple and their families, who were at dire risk of being humiliated, embarrassed, and disgraced, were instead praised by all. Jesus has turned their sorrow and despair into wonderful joy, laughter, and celebration. And, the only people who knew that He had done anything at all were Mary, His mother, His disciples, and a few servants. Everyone else praised and glorified the wedding family for their gracious hospitality. “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”
God instituted marriage that we might know and love Him and bear forth His fruits of love by knowing and loving another man or woman, by selflessly and sacrificially giving ourselves to each other, and by selflessly and sacrificially bearing the good fruit of new life to the glory of God. We do not know how long the first marriage of our First Parents in the Garden of Eden lasted before they succumbed to the serpent’s temptations and sinned, but it probably wasn’t long. Their sin truly consisted of selfishness and self-centeredness, the very opposite of love. Their desire was to have wisdom for themselves, to know good and evil by their own judgment (as opposed to God’s), and to be like god’s unto themselves. Not only was their love for God corrupted, but their love for each other was corrupted. Thus, when God questioned each of them, they each in turn blamed the other, and they even blamed God for their fall. By their own will and decision they fell from grace and became slaves of sin under the curse of the Law. Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana pointed towards who He was and what He would do to undo the curse and to restore God’s people to a right relationship with Him and with each other once again. He would fulfill the Law’s demands, hence the water jars for purification were filled to the brim. And, in exchange for the curse of the Law, which He would take upon Himself and die upon the cross, He would give the blessing of His Sonship with the Father, His innocence, righteousness, and life that cannot die.
God instituted marriage to show the kind of relationship He desires to have with you: A selfless and sacrificial relationship in which each spouse lays down his or her own life for the sake of the other and bears the fruit of love and life, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness. God doesn’t want to rule you, but He wants you to rule with Him. God wants to marry you. Jesus is your true Bridegroom, and you, His Church, are His Bride. And the Bridegroom invites you this day and every Lord’s Day to eat and drink in communion fellowship this foretaste of the great wedding feast yet to come in heaven that you may be filled to overflowing with His love. Love to fulfill all your needs to the very brim, and more to overflow in sheer abundance through your words and deeds of love to others to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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.