Sermon for The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord - John 1:29-34
Baptism is this weird thing in the church. We often don’t know what to do with it apart from the ritual itself. It’s there. Our churches have the fonts in them, but there is this hovering confusion with it. Seeing it as a pledging to a fraternity. Do the deal and your in. Get the kid wet, things will be good. Then we tend to cast it aside for a while. We let it sit there. We maybe use the phrase “baptized child of God” every now and then. We go and witness to someone else’s baptism, but otherwise it becomes this past thing that it happened, that’s it. We’re good.
However, we then come to this event in the life of Jesus, his baptism, and we have to talk about this whole thing all over again. Because if baptism was something seen as so integral to the new life coming into the world in Jesus, why do we tend to use it for the ritual it is but then never come to it again? Jesus thought it was important. So much so that he went out into the wilderness to John, in order that John might baptize him. Jesus, the sinless Messiah, went to the water. Washed by the water. Our other Gospel texts have Jesus coming to John and John saying, “Dude, I need to be baptized by you. Why are you coming to me?” Yet, Jesus says let’s do this thing. The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 found it necessary. “Here is water, what is preventing me from being baptized?”
I say all that as introduction because we have to look at this manifestation of the Messiah in baptism, and see there why our own baptism, or the baptism we haven’t had yet, is part of our life in Christ. Maybe even vital to our life of redemption and our own sanctification. That there is something of God there.
First off, Baptism involves another person. A preacher. Someone to speak the word and stand in for God doing the work. For Jesus it was John the Baptist. For you, it was probably a pastor or minister. Someone to speak a word over you and to pour the water or dunk you under. In our Lutheran understanding, baptism is not a solitary act. It is not an act you can do alone over the internet. It involves someone speaking a word over you. Taking you in their hands and relying on them not to drop you. Our catechism says that the entire work and validity of baptism involves water, but more importantly this word of promise over you – Mark 16 “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” The water being a physical thing we can touch and see, to speak of that saving promise to us. Never to forget it. To tell you, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” You or your child not being yours anymore.
Secondly, it involves Jesus. The Christ. That “Lamb of God” John talks about. Alluding to the Passover lamb of Exodus 12 which was slaughtered, and the blood was painted over the doorway of the houses of the Israelites in Egypt to save them from the angel of death. In Leviticus, the law speaks of a lamb which would have been brought for a sin sacrifice, and the sinner would place their hands on that lamb to cast their sins upon it to remove them. Here comes THE Lamb. A Lamb belonging to God rather than belonging to you to be sacrificed for you, and this lamb dips himself into the waters of baptism for you. Back to our catechism it tells us that the water means nothing apart from the word. Well, the Gospel of John (where we get our text this morning) is all about the Word of God, Jesus, and here in our reading He abides in, with, and under that water for you. There in baptism, we remember that Christ is in that water for you, fulfilling all righteousness for you because it is in him you look for all good. The good we want in us. The good we want in our children. To realize that it is there, in our baptism, that God now sees Christ stepping into that water, instead of you, the heavens open and the word is proclaimed – This is my beloved child, in whom I am well-pleased.
Next, we have the Holy Spirit. Here in Christ we have the One to come who will baptize in the Holy Spirit. The one spoken of in Isaiah more then once that this Son of God, this King of the Jews, this Lamb, this servant would be covered by the spirit and dispense it to you. Isaiah chapters 11, 42, and 61 if you are playing the game at home, you can look it up. The best, though, is Ezekiel (my favorite prophet). Chapter 36 - For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. Here is the precursor to Jesus’ baptism, as a precursor to ours. The Spirit descending. Washing us clean. Guiding our hearts. Beginning the work of faith in us that we might trust in the God who speaks to us and does this work in Christ, by the Spirit, seen in our baptism. Sealing us by the Holy Spirit and marking us with the cross of Christ forever. God does that. No one else.
Finally, we have you. I have spoken enough to you of what your baptism should mean, but let me just bullet-point some things for you here. In your baptism:
May these words be yours today. May your baptism be the baptism of our Lord as you are buried, killed dead in that water. Murdered by the Word and raised to new life. That no death, no suffering, no sin, or work of the devil might keep you from the gracious and glorious love of God poured out upon sinners, meaning you. Literally, a pouring out of salvation in the waters of your baptism. Thanks be to God. Amen