The Baptism of Our Lord
What does baptism look like? Just a simple ceremony, often it’s held in a church and a pastor pours water over the head of a child or an adult a few times and says a few words, right? Or perhaps it takes place in a hospital room after a child’s birth and a mother or father scared for the life of their child pours water over the head of their new-born. And perhaps the doctors stand back for a second while the parents do that, but then they rush in to do the “real” saving work, right? Such a seemingly mundane or arbitrary ritual am I right? But don’t be fooled by the what seems to our eyes to be powerless, or mundane, or ordinary. Baptism has power! Because of Jesus and so Baptism has power for you.
What did the scene of Jesus’ baptism look like? Well, perhaps a little different that what you and I are used to. There was John, preaching down on the banks of the Jordan river. He’s dressed in his camel hair outfit and this strange charismatic figure is calling out to the masses of people, “REPENT! Turn away from your sins your sins and turn back to the Lord!”
PT 1. BECAUSE OF JESUS
These people were coming down to him in droves. Dozens if not hundreds of people coming to him day by day as John preached and baptized. And each and every one of them was a sinner. The Gospels tell us there were the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the power-hungry, the greedy – you name it – they were all going out to John. All were sinners. Except one.
One who John said, he wasn’t even worthy to stoop down and untie his sandal. And it’s this one sinless one – he comes down to John to be baptized! The other Gospel accounts tell us John was surprised that Jesus came down! And no doubt! Why should Jesus need to be baptized!?
This is why – Jesus didn’t shy away from these droves of sinners coming down to John. He didn’t hold himself above them, thinking himself better than them. No, these were the people that he came to save. As Luke records, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.”
And then as he kneels to pray – heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
For many of us, that statement, You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased, just brings us back to that initial question that even John the Baptist had, “Why should Jesus be baptized?” It’s important that we see what’s going on here.
Jesus is identifying with all the sinners who came to John. Let’s not pass over that too quickly! Jesus identifies with the sexual immorality and the lust of the prostitutes, the greed of the tax collectors and the self-centeredness of the pharisees. Jesus identifies with us! We, who because of our own lusting, greediness, and self-centeredness rightly deserve to be swept off of God’s threshing floor and burned up. Jesus identifies with those who deserve hell. Truly, as St. Paul reminds us, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us!
This is what Jesus came to this earth to do. This baptism was Jesus anointing, the very meaning of the word “Christ” is anointed one. This was him looking out at the crowds of sinners and saying, “I’ll take the same baptism as the tax-collector, and the prostitute, and the pharisee, and the depressed person, and the greedy business man, and the harsh father or angry mother.”
Then, talk about a display of power, the heavens are torn open. Heaven, that was once closed to sinners, is opened now again over this man Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one. Jesus baptism was a mighty display of power.
PT 2: For you
The Father spoke, the Son – in the flesh – stood in the water and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove.
Heaven that was once closed to sinners is now opened wide above this Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit flies out of it as a dove. A Dove. After the flood, the dove was the one that returned with the olive branch, proclaiming peace to Noah’s family. They had passed through the water and were saved. In the context of Jesus baptism this makes perfect sense. That the Son of God passed through the water, in place of the sinner. Now the baptized child of God needn’t fear the almighty God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It didn’t matter if you were the person in front of Jesus in line, or the person right after him, or you were baptized 2000 years later. You are connected to him by your baptism.
And so when we hear the those Word’s spoken over Jesus, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased!” Guess who else that applies to?
See, make no mistake about it, in baptism God makes a promise to you. Baptism isn’t something that believers do as a rite of passage, it doesn’t mark membership in a church, baptism is not a promise that we make to God. Because of Jesus, baptism is a powerful promise that God makes to us.
We see this in a similarity between Jesus baptism and our baptism – that it is a powerful act of God and God alone! In his baptism Jesus takes on this role of messiah because we can’t do anything on our own to merit heaven, we can’t on our own call ourselves “children of God,” rather if left to our own devices we end up in hell. We can’t look up to God and demand that he love us for anything we’ve done, or said, or thought.
In this the infant child or adult are alike! Neither is able to save themselves by nature. This is why we are baptized into Christ. Because he did it for us. That when the Father looks down from heaven and sees you – in light of his son – he says you are my child whom I love and with you I am well pleased. This is his declaration, not ours! And because of that powerful declaration, in baptism the Holy Spirit grants us a powerful peace and comfort.
And what a comfort for us! When we look back at a life of sin. When we wonder if we might be really forgiven for the sins of our youth, or the sins of yesterday or this morning. Remember the Power of your baptism. God declared you his own child. If you ever doubt your forgiveness, let that be your prayer “Lord help me remember my baptism, when you promised to save me too!”
What a comfort for parents! Maybe you worry in prayer incessantly for a teen or young adult that they would remain in the Faith. Or perhaps your kids are still young and you worry about the world they are growing up in, the temptations they will no doubt face, the trials they will go through or what Satan will throw at them. Pray boldly as you hold them in your arms or in your heart! “Lord you promised! May they remember their baptism and save this one too!”
So, yea, when we see a baptism, it might appear to be something mundane. The heavens are not ripped open and fireworks don’t start going off. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things to shame the strong. Don’t be deceived by appearances – your baptism has power! God the Father has opened heaven to you, because Christ Jesus took our place, and as we remember that – the Holy Spirit grants peace and comfort to the sinner. God the Father, the Son + and the Holy Spirit keep us and hold us in the powerful promise of our baptism. Amen.