“Christ the Baptized and Baptizer” (Sermon on Luke 3:15-22, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

“Christ the Baptized and Baptizer” (Luke 3:15-22)

Today in the church year is the Baptism of Our Lord, which we always celebrate on this, the First Sunday after the Epiphany. The Baptism of Our Lord is that auspicious occasion when our Lord Jesus Christ, as he was about to start his public ministry, was baptized by John in the Jordan, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, attesting to Jesus as God’s beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased. And so every year on this day the Holy Gospel is the account of Christ’s baptism, as we have it in either Matthew, Mark, or Luke, depending on the year. This year it’s the account in St. Luke, reading especially these verses. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

But notice that today’s reading is prefaced with some words from John the Baptist about the Christ and what he will do, particularly these words: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

So, taking these two sections together, what we find in our text is that Christ was baptized and that he will do some baptizing of his own–he will baptize us. Thus our theme this morning: “Christ the Baptized and Baptizer.”

We start with Christ himself being baptized. It says that “all the people” were being baptized. That would be all the people who were coming out to John the Baptist in the wilderness, to hear his preaching and to be baptized by him. John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That’s what makes Jesus being baptized seem a little strange. Because Jesus had nothing to repent of. He had no sins that needed to be forgiven. Nevertheless, he too is baptized. What’s going on here?

This is Jesus identifying with us poor sinners. He, the sinless Son of God come in the flesh, comes to bear our sins and suffer the judgment we deserve. And this he will do on the cross. But even here, at his baptism, Jesus begins the journey that will take him to the cross. He is baptized with us.

Then, having been baptized, and while Jesus is praying, three things happen: the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends, and the voice comes from heaven. Each part is significant.

The heavens are opened. This means that here in Christ’s baptism there is going on an intersection between heaven and earth. There is open access. No barrier. God is going to do something now. What will it be?

The heavens are opened, and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus–“in bodily form, like a dove,” it says. Why just this? This remarkable manifestation of the Holy Spirit has a lot to say about who Jesus is and what he came to do. The descent of this dove speaks much about the person and the work of Christ.

Now you might ask: Why does Jesus need the Holy Spirit coming upon him? Is not Jesus the very Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, already in perfect communion with the Holy Spirit from eternity? Oh, yes, he is indeed. But remember this is the Son of God now come in the flesh. Jesus is both true God and true man. And so we can say that, according to his human nature, Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism–which is pretty much what the Apostle Peter says in the Book of Acts: “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.”

In his baptism Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit to empower him for his ministry, for his office as the Christ. In fact, the word “Christ” means “the Anointed One,” the Messiah. The Holy Spirit here is marking out Jesus as the Christ, empowering him for his office, showing that God’s choice, God’s blessing, God’s favor and power are resting upon him, upon this man Jesus. He is taking up his office as the Christ now, as he’s about to begin his public ministry. That’s what the Spirit’s descent at his baptism is doing and saying.

And there’s even more going on here. Think back all the way to the beginning. I mean, the literal beginning, the creation of the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1. There we read that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” So also here at the baptism in the Jordan: The Spirit of God is coming down over the waters. Creation, new creation–yeah, I think that too is the message being sent here. Jesus, the one being baptized, is going to bring in a new creation, restoring all that has been damaged and lost by our fall into sin.

Or think of the significance of the Spirit coming down over the water in the form of a dove. Think of Noah, at the end of the flood, and there’s a dove that comes, letting him know that now there’s brand new start for the earth, after the destruction that sin brought. So again, at Christ’s baptism: dove, Spirit, water–a new creation. Jesus, the Christ, baptized in the water of the Jordan, anointed with the Holy Spirit, the dove descending upon him–this Jesus is here to do the ultimate new-creation job.

The heavens are opened, the Spirit descends, and now, a third thing, a voice comes from heaven, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This of course is the voice of God the Father, attesting to his love for his Son and his choice of his Son to carry out the mission on which he sent him. Again, Christ has always been God’s Son from eternity, but now as he sets out on this journey that will take him to the cross, the Father assures Jesus of his love. God was well pleased to send his Son into the world to take on this mission that will win salvation for the world. Recall, even at Jesus’ birth the angel choir sang of God’s good will, his good pleasure, in sending Christ to bring peace on earth.

“You are my beloved Son,” the Father tells Jesus. How mysterious, how profound, then, when later the Father will forsake his beloved Son as he is hanging on the cross. It is like–but in an infinitely greater way–it is like when God told Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and offer him up as a sacrifice.” And just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his beloved son, the Lord called him back at the last moment and provided a substitute. This was a picture of how God would not spare his own Son, his only Son Jesus, whom he loves. For God so loved the world, loved us, that he gave his one and only Son for us, that we might not perish but instead be saved, through faith in him. Friends, how much God must love us that the one he forsakes on the cross is this same Jesus, to whom he says here at his baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Yes, this is God’s own Son who sets out on this journey now, beginning from his baptism. He is Christ the Baptized. But he is also Christ the Baptizer. Remember what John said: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Christ our Lord baptizes us. What a difference this makes for us!

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Now I think we can understand the Holy Spirit part pretty well, as we will see in a moment. But what about this “and fire”? Well, I think there are two possibilities here, both of which would accord with the teaching of Scripture elsewhere. One is that “and fire” refers to end-time judgment. Remember, John was speaking to the whole crowd that was coming out, which included both the repentant and the hypocrites. And he said the Christ would clear his threshing floor and burn the chaff “with unquenchable fire.” So “fire,” in this context, could refer to the coming judgment.

The other possibility for “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” is that it refers to what Christ will do on the Day of Pentecost, when our ascended Lord pours out the Holy Spirit on his church, and tongues of fire rest on each one, and the Spirit empowers their witness, as they speak of the wonderful works of God. That would fit, too. In either case, it is Christ the Baptizer who baptizes us, and for us who are baptized by Christ and believe in him and receive the Holy Spirit from him, that is a good thing.

Christ the Baptized is also Christ the Baptizer. He baptizes us. In our baptism we are joined to Jesus. All the benefits Christ won for us–by his ministry, by his suffering and dying for us on the cross, by his victorious resurrection–all those wonderful gifts are given to us and applied to us in Holy Baptism. We receive Christ’s righteousness and the forgiveness of sins. We are buried with Christ and raised to newness of life. We are given the Holy Spirit, who creates faith in our hearts and empowers us for a life of Christian service and witness. The heavenly Father’s voice comes from heaven and says to each one of us: “You are my beloved child. Because of my Son Jesus Christ, I am well pleased with you.”

Beloved, in the waters of Holy Baptism, the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends upon you and makes of you a new creation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” You are a new creation, meaning you are a new person in Christ. You walk in newness of life, and this is life everlasting. You are united with Christ in his resurrection. God has claimed your body, as well as your soul, and you will be raised, bodily, to eternal life, when Christ comes again and wonderfully restores all of creation.

Dear friends, the Baptism of Our Lord is one of the most significant events in all of the Bible. It tells us so much about our Savior, Jesus Christ, about his person and his work. It speaks such wonderful things for us, we who are baptized into Christ. For in the Baptism of Our Lord, we see Christ, both the Baptized and the Baptizer.



“Christ the Baptized and Baptizer” (Sermon on Luke 3:15-22, by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 4 Comments

  1. Baptism is a foreign word with no meaning in English. It was and still could be an everyday word among the Greek speakers of the time and now. I don’t know it yet in modern Greek.

    But it strikes me that it must mean something, and I’ve read all the things that it can mean in discorses against the Arminians. But wash and cleanse in English sound feasible. I often say that I don’t like to use foreign words when reading Bible passages because they are like unknown words that one says wheelbarrow everytime one sees it, because we use it untranslated and sometimes very badly transliterated from another alphabet.

    To me, the incident at the Jordan where John the Washer, or John the Cleanser, cleanses the Savior with water. Then we have a great Theophony of the Trinity. We have a great public presentation of God in three persons. Jesus the Savior, and Christ the annointed, but can one annoint without oil? So does it mean that the Savior has the Holy Spirit poured over him like the water, but more like olive oil, it oozes over him, not like water. In English we don’t annoint with water, we annoint with ointments and oils. We cleanse, we wash with water, we dampen, we carry water, we submerge things in water, we could immerse in oil too.

    It’s just that if you were an English professor and I had used a bird who put an oil in chosen. I don’t think I can say this in English. The Holy Spirit Dove neither pours oil nor water on, yet it annoints. I think the professor would ask me to be clearer here. Do you mean the Dove appliess oil or ointment to the Saver. Ah, no. Uh huh. Are you saying that after the Saver comes up from the water, stark naked and given his white robe, he is addressed by his Father in heaven with a great blessing of pleasure (I don’t think I was ever much of a pleasure to my father). Yes, that part is quite clear.

    The Holy Spirit in physical form of a Dove descends onto the Saver’s head and a non-oil, non-ointment, non-water annointing happens. Is it the Spirit itself that is the annointing element? Does the Dove melt over the head of the Saver like an oil would and we say, “it’s an annointment.” From the way you’ve written this I can’t tell. How does the Dove annoint?

    The Saver, the one annointed with the Holy Spirit (but not with any element that annoints), is washed/cleased by his cousin, John (God loves us), in the Jordan river as he came forth from the womb naked to wear the white robe of those who have gone to John to be cleansed (ritually of their sins?) You know, I’ve seen several depictions of what Jewish women go through every month to be ritually cleansed of their uncleaness in a mikvah. How is this different, how is this the same?

    Seems to me that getting washed to cleanse oneself of uncleaness, naked in a closed room where only women are present and it would be a horrible sin for a male to see any of it, these Jewish women who do this every month of their child-bearing years, probably wouldn’t be too impressed with John’s washing/cleansing in the Jordan, especially if they had to be naked in public, that ain’t gonna happen as they say.

    “Well, I’m not at all sure I unerstnad this. Can you rewrite all the above, without using untranslated words. And if you choose a peculiar English word, please tell us why,” said the English professor

  2. @Joanne #1
    Well, left untranslated or not, the word, baptism, is as much a gift as the Sacrament itself is. And, leaving the word in its untranslated way further honors the gift our Savior has given us. It’s not just plain water but water conjoined with the Word of God washing away our sin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:19)

    Jesus showed us this. After humbling Himself to be baptized for us—obeying the Law which we cannot—he was publicly ordained into the mission and ministry. Yes, eternal God the Son heard His Father’s voice as the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove.

    That’s how Jesus chose to show Himself when He was about thirty years old. And, that’s how the Gospel writers tell us about it—as it happened. It’s pure gift. So, the Father’s voice from heaven and the HolySpirit like adove bore witness to God the Son, the Word become flesh for our salvation.

    Yes, cleansed, washed, renewed, regenerated, etc. and etc. refer to Baptism as well. See Titus 3:5, Col. 2:11-15, Matt. 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Rom. 6:4, etc. and etc.

    So, wishing there was a translation of it—well, let’s rejoice in the gift our Savior has given us in Baptism. Therein, He welcomes each of us—applying His cross. He welcomes us into His Church. See also (Small Catechism, explanation of the second article of the Creed.)

  3. The savior has given us (washing/cleansing). The Greek language has given us babtizein. Translate the words.
    Jerome made up the word sacramentum from several Latin possiblities. In this case, if Jerome had simply not translated the word and left the Greek as a loan word from Greek to Latin, today all of us in English would know what Baptism (washing and cleansing) is. It’s a mystery, a word that , although a loan word from Greek, actually means something in English, pretty much the same thing it means in Greek. What luck, oh, that’s right, Jerome made up a word from Latin cognates that means nothing in English. It’s a foreigh word that must have huge amounts of explaination to be understood in English, but we simply don’t want to use the simple word, mystery, that actually existed when the Bible was written and when Jesus, like his unreconstructed Jewish bretheren avoided at the Hellenized Jewish towns on every other hilltop in all of Palestine, Aqaba to Panis. Jesus lived in a Greek language society ruled by Hellenphillic Romans. Antipas grew up and was educated by the Emperors in Rome so his crazy, kill all the babies, and all my sons and wives, father would not be able to kill him. Antipas was known personally by Roman Emperors from both their and his childhood. When movies play Antipas as an eastern, babling potentate in the “send Him to Herod (Antipas)” episoed, they are as far off as they can be about very cosmopolitan, extremely educated, and Jewish only as much as they had to be to keep their thrones governning administrators.
    But, I digress. Let’s look at the Bible as if Latin never existed. There will only be one or two places where that will affect the situation. I’m fine with the Roman Empire, but lets pretend that in the eastern Empire they spoke only Greek. The only time in the bible where Latin may have been spoken is when Mrs. Pilate, warns her husband about her dream, since that was a personal conversation between 2 romans and that they likely didn’t want anyone else to over-hear them, though apparently somebody heard them (her lady’d maid that she had broght from Rome, perhaps).

    We are looking at a Hellinistic situation through a Latin lense. It’s making more problems and solving none.

    I am merely suggesting that we drop the Latin out of the middle, use the Greek words that mean something in English, and translate all the words else into English. With the Holy Spirit at our backs it can’t hurt. Baptism means something in Greek. Tell me what that meaning is in English. Don’t try to teach me Greek just to understand something that could just as well have been said in English, or French, or Swahili. If you mean to tell me that Jesus gave us a mystical washing for regeneration. Tell me that. No Greek required, nor Latin. Now, Pastors and church linguists must know, but it should not show up in a bible translation.

    I believe in the mystery of the washing of the Holy Sprit that takes away all my sin, makes me repent (change my mind), regenerates (opps, that Latin) enlivens me, and make me one with the assembly of God. English has a lot of Latin in it and Greek, but us as little of it as is possible.

    This is just symantics, not doctrine, or is it. Do our doctrins require foreign words that we don’t understand? I didn’t think so, but maybe foreigh, nonmeaning words are necessary to make it sound more mysterious (we really know what that word means in English).

  4. A rose as sweet would smell as sweet by any other name. Is it the same for doctrines?
    A gift as mysterious would be as mysterious in any other language.
    When Jerome made his unfortunate wordism, there was some chance that some Latin speaking people would understand it. I’ll bet for at least till Greek disappeared in the west, the bible reader would say afer sacramentum i.e. mysterion. There are parts of Italy that did not lose the knowledge and constant use of Greek till about 850. That’s a long overlap for the two words. And I’ll bet you never got a greek speaker in the west to use that fake word that Jerome, who only remembered Latin from his youth, he lived most of his life in Palestine. Yes, the Latin bible was written by people who were speaking Greek. In Berytos (Beirout) the Empire retained a major Law School. Lawerys and anyone dealing in legal matters were still required to study Latin. It’s entirely possible that Jerome got help from Berytos. Still, I’ll warrent you that there was much discusson about translating mysterion into sacramentum. But, what did they care, they were not going to use a Latin bible and the west was a long, long, long way away and full of barbarians who can’t read anything. Throw in sacramentum and lets move on.

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