+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 3:21
Theme: Why Was Jesus Baptized?
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Christianity can never be a vague spiritual tonic. It cannot be one ingredient in a divine elixir amalgamated from various ideologies and philosophies about God. We do not learn what we know about Christ from general knowledge of God. We learn what we know about God from specific knowledge of Christ. This distinction distinguishes Christianity- founded on the gospel, from human religion- founded on the law. Again, it’s not that after finding God we become aware of the similar qualities Jesus’ possessed; rather, in seeing Christ we have the very image of God. The direction is not reversible.
Who is God? Clear expressions of the Trinity are perceptible at Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit is visible in the form of a dove. He descends- and Luke tells us- lights upon Jesus bodily. At the creation the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters and during the flood Noah sent out a dove to mark the beginning of new life. The voice of the Father is audible at Jesus’ baptism. It was reminiscent of many manifestations in the Old Testament. Yet these distinctions of persons are not to be overshadowed by unity of purpose. Here we see Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in the plan of redemption to be completed by the Son in the flesh. This is the key to true and meaningful knowledge about God. The revelation of the Trinity is tied directly with the revelation of the Son. We know the attitude of the triune God towards us because we know God’s salvation as it is revealed through Jesus.
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of His public ministry. The arduous journey to the cross had begun. Three years- planned in eternity. Jesus went public for sinners. He did it for you and for me. The absolute necessity of His atonement is still questioned today. It is a lie the devil plants in our hearts. Can sin really be so bad? Does it warrant such radical measures? Sin is finally lawlessness, idolatry, and narcissism. Unchecked it causes us to loose complete perspective on our limitations and obligations. Unaddressed we lose balance, orientation, and purpose.
In 1953 Time Magazine printed an article about a murder case in Washington, D.C. The accused gunman, John Kendrick testified that he was offered $2500 to murder a man named Michael Lee, but declined the job because “when I got done paying taxes out of that, what would I have left?” Now is that lateral thinking or a seared conscience? Apparently the act of murder was not unreasonable to him but the tax threshold was just too high. It must have been comforting for the public to know there were some ‘honest’ assassins around. It’s an extreme illustration of the loss of perspective. Yet it condemns each of us when we sit in judgment over which sins we think are most intolerable.
Dear friends, the truth that you are forgiven does not preclude the fact that you still need to be forgiven. This reality reflects the tension that exists for sinners who are justified by God’s grace- but still sinning. We still live in a fallen world. But we have Him who has overcome the world. In the act of His baptism, Jesus unites in solidarity with sinful humanity.
John announces the approach of Jesus to the banks of the Jordan with the words which found their way into the church’s worship in song, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”1 He submits Himself to this sacrament of repentance and forgiveness for which He has no need. He is not a sinner. He has committed no transgression. He was born with no original guilt. Precisely for this reason He humbles Himself as He does.
The entire earthly life of Jesus Christ was a substitutionary endeavor. He took our place under the Law. He bore the punishment of the Father’s wrath. He endured the torment of judgment. He did this on our behalf. He was our scapegoat. He was our sacrificial Lamb. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”2 Christ lived, died, rose and ascended so that we might live in holiness with the triune God.
Luther summarizes well, “[Christ] accepted it from John for the reason that He was entering into our stead, our person, that is, becoming a sinner for us, taking upon Himself the sins which He had not committed, and wiping them out and drowning them in His holy baptism.”3 The Bible says, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of God the Father, we too may live a new life.”4 This is the mystical but organic connection with have with Christ through faith. The death of Christ was the death our sins; the resurrection of Christ is source of our hope. Baptism is the means. Like an infinitely deep well, every time we confess our sins and receive absolution, our sins are drown as in the baptismal font- as if we were in the Jordan- and from it the water of life keeps springing up ever new.
When doubts arise in your heart about the presence of God, when questions arise in your mind about the authenticity of His love, when you are nagged with temptations regarding His truth, return to the promise of your baptism. There He first distributed to you the forgiveness Christ earned on the cross. Then you were grafted into His family. There a promise was made to you that will never be revoked. Each time the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is invoked you are identified again as His child. Receive His body and blood as a seal and guarantee of your sacred inheritance. Doubts will come and go, as will worldly hopes and dreams- but the Word of God stands forever.
The prophet Isaiah says this of the One who was anointed at the river Jordan, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”5What does this mean? Jesus Christ holds all power, might and authority, but He wields it with gentleness, meekness and humility. This is rare in human experience. How common it is that the power of some crushes the gentleness of others! How often the mighty run roughshod over the meek. How seldom authority is exercised in humility!
You may be like a bruised reed, unable to sway in the winds of life lest you break off. You may have wounds that are deep and in need of healing, unable to bear up under the weight of any more struggles. Or perhaps like a smoldering wick you feel your life is close to burning out. If these realities apply to you, take heart, Christ deals gently with you. He carries you in His arms drawing you close to His heart. His words to you do not consist of ambiguous possibilities for spiritual self-help. He does not draw from the resources of others. He rules satanic powers and governs all earthly domains. He promises to be the caretaker of your soul and perfecter of your mortal frame. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
The Baptism Of Our Lord
13 January 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 1:29
2 2 Corinthians 5:21
3 AE 51:315
4 Romans 6:3-4
5 Isaiah 42:3