Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism of our Lord
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29:1-11
Romans 6:1-11
Matthew 3:13-17

But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him.

I’ve missed a few weeks due to a sudden holiday trip, but the Gospel lesson we would have seen last week is the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple. At twelve years old, Jesus understood His relationship to the Father, and He was prepared to learn and grow. We don’t know what happened between the day Jesus’ parents found Him sitting with the scholars of His day and when He was thirty years old. Some stories exist about those eighteen years, travels to the four corners of the earth, where He learned and taught among the scholars of many different cultures. The scriptures do not tell those stories, but we do know from Luke, “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52, ASV)

The church year has so far been filled with the stories of the coming of Jesus. His birth fulfills the promise that we see in the passage from Isaiah. The Old Testament covenants were promises of land, power, and perpetuity, but God also promised salvation and forgiveness. In this lesson, we see that the servant is given as a covenant for the people. Though some understand the servant to be Israel herself, we know that this was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Israel may have been a sign of the covenant, but Jesus is the covenant. The signs are the things He would do: open the eyes of the blind, set the prisoners free. Just as Israel was meant to be a light for the nations, Jesus is a light for the entire world.

We may not know what happened to Jesus in those eighteen years between His visit to the Temple at twelve and His baptism at around thirty, but the stories for the next few months will focus on His ministry. On this day we begin to see Him as He takes upon Himself the work of His Father in this world. We begin at the beginning: His baptism.

At His baptism, Jesus Christ—the Word made flesh—identified completely with you and I, taking upon himself the very nature of man and all that goes with it while still remaining without sin. The purpose of His life was to take on the sin that was brought into the world in the Garden by Adam and Eve and destroy it forever, making it possible for men to once again live in harmony with God and one another. At His baptism, the Spirit of God once again hovered over the formless and empty earth, His voice spoke and there was Light. At that moment, Jesus Christ was anointed with the power to truly change the world, to restore our relationship with our Father.

When Jesus was baptized, the water poured over Him. When He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit poured over Him. From that moment, Jesus started a journey during which the Spirit and the Word flowed to those with whom He came in contact. He poured out God’s grace to the world, as God’s voice continued to speak.

John felt unworthy to do the task to which he had been called. How could he possibly baptize the One whom he knows has no need of baptism? He would have to submit to God’s will and accept that God sometimes calls us to do things we do not want to do and that we do not think we are worthy of doing. It is through weak, broken vessels that God fulfills all righteousness. Jesus asked John to endure what is asked of him because through it God would do a wonderful work.

After Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit came down upon Jesus and the Father spoke, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was claimed and anointed at that moment to be sent into the world to do the work of God. While Jesus had nothing to repent, His baptism was a turning point in His life. From that moment, Jesus was set on the path to the cross, the path that would ultimately fulfill all righteousness.

Jesus is more than just a son; He is the chosen one. Isaiah writes, “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delighteth: I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.” The promised servant is a powerful man, yet the prophet writes of a suffering servant enduring pain and persecution. “He will not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street. A bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench: he will bring forth justice in truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set justice in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law.”

While many descriptions of the Messiah foresee a conquering King, Isaiah shows a man with an even more powerful weapon: love. Jesus presented His message with gentleness to all who would listen. He did not bring further hurt to those who were wounded, but rather healed their bodies and their spirits. He did not snuff out the passion that burned in the people, but fanned it with the truth so that it would burn brightly and rightly. He did not force His message on any; He simply spoke the truth and moved on. He loved even when He was not loved. Too often people are destroyed by our lack of gentleness when sharing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus brought justice with gentleness.

Jesus was claimed, anointed and sent into the world to do God’s work that day at the Jordan. The baptism of John was one of repentance, but Jesus made it something new. Today all those who come to the font of baptism in a Christian church are cleansed and forgiven, but we also experience baptism like Jesus. We are claimed as children of God, anointed with the Holy Spirit and then sent into the world to share the grace of God with those who do not yet know Him.

God can do all these things without baptism. God forgives without water. God claims without witnesses. God anoints in His time and His way. God sends us into the world to do His work; sometimes we do not even realize it.

There is a story about a man who had a gut feeling he should buy a gallon of milk. He didn’t understand why, but he obeyed the voice that was calling to him. He heard the voice again on his drive home; it told him to turn down a street and stop at a house. It told him to deliver the milk to the door. He knocked and was greeted by a desperate person, shocked to see him holding a gallon of milk. “We did not know how we were going to feed our baby tonight, we had no milk. But here you are: a gift from heaven.” Have you ever had something happen and not until after it was over realize that it was an act of God? Not knowing why you make a phone call or turn a corner you find there is someone at the other end who needs God’s grace. You were there because God sent you even though you did not know it at the time.

God can do this without baptism, but God has given us this great and wonderful gift for a reason. We join with Christ in baptism, dying to self and being raised to new life. We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. Paul writes, “For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin.”

As a church we baptize because by it we are joined to one another by this simple act of grace. We are commanded in Matthew 28 to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are baptized because it is a tangible sign and means of God’s grace. God knows that we need tangible things on which to grasp so that we can see and know the intangible. In the Old Testament, God’s promises were accompanied by signs, like rainbows and circumcision. These were signs for the people so that they would remember what God has done and will do for them. So, too, are the gifts of the sacraments. In baptism, we experience and are assured of the promise of God.

At Sunday School this week as we talked about Jesus’ baptism, I asked people to tell their own baptism stories. Of course many of us in our church were baptized at a very early age, so we do not remember our own, although we can remember the stories as they were told to us by our families. I remember my daughter’s baptism very well. It was Christmas Eve and she was just a few weeks old. She screamed the whole time we were hearing the words of the liturgy at the font. I was afraid that she would scream bloody terror at that beautiful moment the water was poured over her, but she quieted immediately. It was like she was comforted by the washing of God’s Holy Spirit over her. The other members of our class shared stories that were different. God comes to us in unique ways, even as we share in a common sacrament. It isn’t what man does at the font that matters, but that God washes, claims, anoints and sends us into His world to continue His work among His people.

On this day we are reminded of our own baptisms. When we came out from the water, the heavens opened up and God spoke our name. He anointed us with the same Spirit that gave Jesus His strength and sense of purpose in this world. We are called as Christians to live in our baptism. That’s how Martin Luther lived. When we are faced by temptation, we usually claim our own strength, “I can avoid this” or “I can make it go away.” Luther knew he had no power over sin by his own will. He answered temptation by saying, “I am baptized.” He knew that it was only by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the mercy of God, that he, and we, could live rightly. The devil has no power over us when we are covered by the grace of God.

Luther lived in his baptism by remembering it daily. In his small catechism, Luther writes that as soon as we get out of bed in the morning we should make the sign of the cross and say, “Under the care of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.” We should do the same in the evening before we go to bed. These acts help us remember that God is with us daily, walking with us, guiding us, and helping us to serve Him in this world. This is the kind of life Jesus lived, the life we see modeled in the scriptures. It began with His baptism and then again with ours. He began something new, made a new covenant with His people. The voice of God calls us to this life and sends us out to be His voice in the world.

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