“A Baptism of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sins” (Mark 1:1-8)
Well, here comes John the Baptist again. He always shows up around this time of year. Always with kind of a depressing message: “Repent! Get your life straightened out!” John the Baptist is like the Denny Downer of December. Everybody else is having a good time getting ready for Christmas–going shopping, listening to Christmas music, watching specials on TV, having Christmas parties–and here comes John, telling us to repent. John, is that any way to get ready for Christmas?
I mean, listen to this part of our text today from Mark 1: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
A baptism of repentance. People confessing their sins. Kind of dreary, isn’t it? Not too cheery. But oh, wait! This was John’s baptism, right? Yeah, John’s baptism doesn’t apply to us, does it? So I guess we can go on and skip over this repentance stuff.
Hold on, not so fast. Yeah, John’s baptism was not exactly the same as our baptism. His was preparatory, provisional, for a limited time only. But is it totally irrelevant to us? I mean the repentance stuff. I don’t think so. Let’s find out more now, as we consider “A Baptism of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sins.”
Yes, John’s baptism was transitional and temporary and so forth. He was preparing the way for Jesus, the Messiah, and this baptism of repentance was the way to do it. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” But just because John’s baptism was preparatory and for a limited time only, that does not mean that our baptism does not also call us to repent of our sins. It most certainly does!
John came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But then, so did Jesus, when he came preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Exact same message. You can look it up. And Jesus likewise said, “I have come to call sinners to repentance.” Is that you? Do you qualify?
And when Jesus rose from the dead, he instructed his apostles–and really, all pastors–on what to preach. He said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” And this, around the same time as he tells them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. So yes, we do believe in and preach and practice, and we each have received, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
And that then is what the apostles did. St. Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Likewise, St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, tied Christian baptism to repentance. In Romans 6, Paul writes: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
And it’s on the basis of passages like these that Martin Luther describes the life of a Christian as one of repentance. Remember, just six weeks ago we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Luther posted his 95 Theses. And what was the first of those 95? This: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” You see, Luther recognized that by buying indulgences, people were bypassing true repentance, and that was not good. Christ our Master would have us Christians repent, and not just once, but throughout our lives.
And so that’s how Luther runs the significance of Holy Baptism for our daily lives. If you’ll open your hymnals to page 325, to the part of the catechism, “The Sacrament of Holy Baptism,” look at the fourth section. Let’s read the first question and answer there together:
“What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” And then Luther quotes the Romans 6 passage we read earlier to support this.
Do you see the point? Your baptism puts you into a whole life of repentance, every single day. Every day is a dying and rising with Christ. Every day your old sinful nature, that Old Adam in you, needs to be put back under the water and be drowned and die. Daily contrition, daily repentance. All sins and evil desires are to be sorrowed over and repented of.
What will that look like in your life? What are the sins you need to confess and sorrow over and repent of? Take an inventory by means of the Ten Commandments. In fact, turn the page in your hymnal to page 326, under Confession, the question, “Which are these?” Listen as I read the answer:
“Which are these? Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?” And those are just examples. Examine your life and see where you need to repent.
And so John’s preaching of a baptism of repentance is always in place, whether on the Second Sunday in Advent, or the third of November or the fifth of March or whenever you get up in the morning or go to bed at night. Repentance is simply the rhythm of the baptized life: Dying to sin, dying to self. Living to righteousness, living to God. Getting buried with Jesus, and being raised with him too. You are baptized into a life of repentance and forgiveness.
And so let’s not forget that part of John’s message either: the forgiveness of sins. See, that’s where the repentance is going: straight to Jesus and to his forgiveness. The fact that you have sins to confess and repent of should not be surprising. And just acknowledging that fact does not save you. But Jesus will. He will save you from your sins. That’s why he came. And that’s who John is pointing us to when we confess our sins. To Jesus.
John calls out: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” This is Jesus whom John is pointing us to. Jesus is the one mighty to save. Jesus is the one worthy to receive all honor and glory. Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Your sin and mine. All of them, all our sins. We confess them. Jesus cleanses us from them. By his holy blood, shed on the cross. It’s Jesus you need to take care of your sin problem. No one else can do the job. Nothing else can satisfy or fill that void. You need Jesus. Every day, as long as you have sins to repent of. As long as you need forgiveness for those sins. As long as there is righteousness and life that God wants to give you. Which is, like, every day.
So your baptism, like John’s, is “for the forgiveness of sins.” It takes you there. It takes you to Jesus, the Savior from sin. And Jesus, in turn, is the one who baptizes you with the Holy Spirit. That one mightier than John, John tells us, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And so Jesus does. On the Day of Pentecost, the ascended Lord poured out the Holy Spirit on the church and on all the people being baptized that day. And he hasn’t stopped since.
You were given the gift of the Holy Spirit in your baptism. The Spirit will keep you in the true faith throughout your life. He will keep you close to Jesus. And he will do it through the gospel means that the church uses, the Word and Sacraments. Stay regular in these means of grace, and you will stay close to Jesus. The Holy Spirit will do his job. You can count on it.
So today, once again, John appears on the scene, as predictable as clockwork, doing his annual Advent thing: Proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Is this even relevant for us today? You bet it is! John is preparing the way of the Lord. He’s pointing us to Jesus, the mighty one who forgives our sins and baptizes us with the Holy Spirit.
So, John, is this any way to get ready for Christmas? Yeah, I would say so!