Baptism of Our Lord 2019
Isa 42; 1 Cor. 1; Matt. 3
University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, CO
In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Somewhere around 800 B.C., when Joash was king of Israel, the prophet Elisha grew sick and died, and they buried him (2 Kings 13). Now it just so happened that another man died too, but they didn’t have time to dig out a new grave for him because at his funeral they saw a marauding band of Moabites coming. So in their haste to defend themselves they threw the deceased into the grave of Elisha instead of cutting or digging new one. But as soon as the deceased touched the bones of Elisha he came back to life and stood on his feet.
What is the point of that miracle? The point, as always, is Christ. Apart from seeing Christ as the key to Scripture, this miracle and so many like it seem random, as if God randomly decided to raise a few people from the dead in the Old Testament and that’s that. But we know that all Scripture is written for our instruction, and that it all testifies of Christ.
Therefore, a dead man is put into the grave of Elisha the prophet and comes out alive. Likewise, in Holy Baptism you were put into the tomb with Jesus and came out alive. This is the reality of Baptism, so vividly pictured for us at Elisha’s death. As Paul says: “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:3-5).
For this reason, when Jesus came to his baptism at the Jordan River he was marked for death. When Jesus was baptized, he was baptized into your death. He had to be the new and greater Elisha who would get sick and infected from the disease of your sin, die, and be buried in the grave so that you who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) might be thrown into the grave with him and come out alive to stand on your feet before God the Father. Jesus does not go to be baptized for his own sake, but yours. He goes to fulfill all righteousness, yes, to become your righteousness and sanctification. He does not go to Jordan to live, but to die; not to be saved, but to save, and to give his life as a ransom for the many.
This is what baptism does and is still doing in you every day. Baptism works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this. The empiricists who trust only their sin-darkened eyes and reason will never believe this. Baptism becomes for them only what they can see and is at best a symbolic rite. But Jesus did not say to John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to symbolize all righteousness,” but he said “to fulfill all righteousness.” Do not despise the physicality and ordinariness of it. When the water went on Jesus, all righteousness was fulfilled.
Don’t you see? Because baptism puts the believer into the tomb with Jesus, it fulfills the righteous requirement of the Law. In Baptism the sinner dies the death he deserves and at the same time fulfills the Law that Jesus perfectly obeyed for him.
This is the reality of what God says he (not we!) is doing in Baptism. Consider what the Holy Spirit says about Baptism, and note two things: (a) Who is doing the work? (b) What work is being done?
Eph. 5:26: Christ “sanctified and cleansed [the church] with the washing of water by the word.”
Acts 2:38-39: “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Gal. 3:27: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Titus 3:5: “He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism is what saves us now.”
Whenever the Scriptures teach baptism, the Triune God is doing the work, and that work is the work of saving, forgiving sins, putting on Christ, regenerating, and renewing. Apart from the bright light of God’s Word we would never know this. We might even think that baptism was our work. But Jesus turns it all around. He goes into the grave. We follow him into that place of finality but finally come out alive and standing on our feet. Until Jesus got in the water John’s baptism was for repentance. It marked sinners. But now that Jesus is in the water baptism marks saints. Now that’s a miracle!
One more thing: The catechism addresses the question: “How can water do such great things?” This is similar to John’s half question/half objection: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” It is a sort of pious cop-out that stems from the truth that we are unworthy of Christ, but then becomes all warped and self-deprecating in an oddly prideful sort of way.
You see, it doesn’t matter if John is unworthy in himself to baptize Jesus. His call from God to baptize Jesus makes him worthy. The validity and power of the act is not determined by worthiness or sincerity of John but by the call and Word of God to do it. In other words, Jesus called on John to perform the baptism. He said it fulfils righteousness. At this, John rightly silences his self-deprecating pride and consents. He does it because God says so, and it is the Word and call of God that counts, not John’s personal life.
In the same way we can answer the question/objection: “How can water do such great things?” Answer: Because God says so. Lay your self-deprecating pride aside. Do not presume to say to God: “I am too big of a sinner for that. That water stuff might do for the small sinners, but I need something more. I am not worthy.” That is not faith, but pride. The water saves you because God says it does, and it is the Word and call of God that counts, not your personal worth: “Consider you call,” says the apostle, “how not many of you were wise, powerful, or famous.” What does it matter? It doesn’t, because it is the Word and call of God that counts, and God is especially good at calling the foolish, the weak, and the unworthy.
Therefore, follow John and believe the Word. Do not use your unworthiness as way to contradict God. Let Jesus be Jesus. Let him do his works to save you. Let him do his works in you, and also through you and with you. Do not presume to say that since you are unworthy to be a Christian you must not really be one. No, God has called you and baptized you and that’s what counts. Neither think because of your unworthiness that it is in vain that you live on earth as a Christian son, daughter, mother, father, preacher, hearer, worker or student. No, the Lord has called you to these and prepared the works for you to do. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain or even a matter of your personal worthiness. You haven’t blown it or negated his calling. He is at work in you both to will and to do. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ. You have all be thrown into the grave with Christ, touched his flesh, and now stand on your feet alive before God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Come soon, Lord Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.