January 10, 2021 The Lord’s Baptism ….of you
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
*Have you ever known a person who was baptized more than once? *Why would they do that? Because they’er convinced the first one wasn’t good enough. They think something was wrong with the procedure, or the church, or with themselves. This is evidence that the whole Christian Church is not united in its teaching about Baptism. But God’s Word is united & true. So *what is the right teaching?
Some churches teach that a person must first believe in Jesus, and then be Baptized. They call it a ‘believers baptism’; that’s because they don’t believe that God is at work in Baptism; but rather that Baptism is just a way that we show God (& others) that we believe in Him. Or, in a phrase they use: ‘Baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith.’
+Some come out of one denomination & go into another and feel they need to be re-baptized to show the renewal of their changed faith. But that’s not how the Bible talks about Baptism. +Some feel that not enough water was used the first time; they weren’t dunked, or it was just plan ol’ water & not Jordan River water (or some other kind). But the Bible doesn’t say there is better or worse water to use. +Some don’t like the idea that they were an infant, & didn’t agree to it, & didn’t know what was going on. So they want to be rebaptized as a consenting adult.
That idea reminds us of when Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being ‘born again.’ He thought Jesus meant he had to reenter his mothers womb as an adult & be reborn. Since you did not agree to your 1st (physical) birth, *does that make it less real & valid? The Bible doesn’t disqualify babies from a ‘new-birth-in-Baptism’ just because of their age. But that idea is the biggest difference about Baptism among christians = whether a church practices infant Baptism or not.
As Lutherans, we contend that the Bible teaches that Baptism is for ALL people, including infants. It’s because God is the one acting in & thru Baptism; it’s not improved by our knowledge or will. Only with God’s actions can the promises of Baptism be true; and He says His name & His promises are truly applied with water to a soul of any age. God says that your Baptism is where He gives birth to you as His child.
Another sign that Baptism is not ‘our thing’ is that we don’t do it to ourselves. It’s a procedure God’s Church does to people with His command; so He is the one in action.
Just like: dad & mom carry out the conception & birth of a child, but God alone gives life to a soul. The churchly-action of applying water with God’s name to a person has God’s promise of a new birth for that soul. We call Baptism a means of grace; a means by which God applies His grace of forgiveness of sin & eternal life to a soul. When a person is Baptized, the promise is that the Holy Spirit is given, & faith-in-Christ is given. In the days & months & years to follow, that person can look back at their Baptism with the constant reassurance that God’s action was enough, and that we don’t need to try to redo or improve what God’s already done.
With the Bible, we reject the idea that Baptism is our outward sign of our inward faith; it’s not our action; otherwise we certainly would doubt it was done right, & we would be tempted to do it over & over again to make it feel right in our own minds. If we do what God says the first time, there’s absolutely no reason to repeat it. That’s why we mark that event with a certificate & witnesses. Baptism is God’s working with His promises. So your Baptism is a strong & deep source of your assurance of God’s work to make you His own child; He has cleansed you into His kingdom.
So, now let’s see what else we can learn about Baptism from our gospel reading today. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four, and he says nothing about Christmas. He introduces us to Jesus by showing us God’s action of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy of a messenger & a voice of preparing the way of the Lord.
Vs.4 says, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” So, without warning, John comes on the scene, clothed & preaching like an OT prophet. He’s way-out by the Jordan River; he’s not going door-to-door to sell something. It’s not a place people would normally go to; but The Voice is calling. And the crowds of people keep coming, & John Baptizes one after another. \
What that means is: God is taking action. God is calling, & people are coming to Him; without His Word they wouldn’t come; without His water & promise, they wouldn’t have a Baptism. The people can’t say, ‘I found the Lord; I chose to believe & be baptized into God’s family.’ God was calling, & drawing them; compelling & changing their hearts & minds.
God was at work, because the time had come for God’s promised Messiah to be revealed. John was God’s attention-getter. There were so many people coming out to John, Mark uses the word ‘all’: “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.”
Just as when God put that star in the East to mark the arrival of His Son in Bethlehem, for the whole world to see, so God wanted ALL the country of Judea to know that He was doing a great thing at the River. And God gives John two powerful tools to work with: God’s Word, and Baptism. God still works in His faithful churches with those same two powerful tools. John’s preaching & Baptism reveals that God was at work.
Even John’s Baptism was not considered an ‘outward sign of their own inward faith.’
His Baptism was a real Means of Grace; the physical word & water was spiritually preparing people with faith to meet & be embraced by the Savior & Lord of Life. Even if they never actually -ever- saw Jesus in person, thru John they were receiving God’s gifts of /repentance, /forgiveness, /& the promise of salvation in the One-to-come. And that is just like you & me.
Our Baptism also prepares us to meet our Savior with humility & joy when He arrives again. That’s how God is at work, back then & now, to find & save lost souls. So, vs.4 says, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance
FOR the forgiveness of sins.”
John’s procedure was called ‘a Baptism of repentance.’ Ours has repentance, too.
The Greek word for ‘repentance’ means ‘to change your mind.’ When God points out your sin, He is changing your mind about your sin. Sinners think sin is just ‘normal’ = no big deal;
God knows it’s a big deal. He aims to convince you that your sin will not bring any real satisfaction. With every temptation to sin, there is always the deception that it will bring something good to us, some benefit, some fulfillment. But when we fall into that sin, we find that the opposite is true. We experience /guilt, /emptiness, /shame, /hiding from God,
/& ultimately death.
Sins deceive us. The deception of anger is that it will stop or fix a problem; but it often just causes more anger. The deception of coveting or lust is fulfillment; but it doesn’t last. Pride is a sham; we use it to feel important, but we belittle others, & we look petty.
Selfishness tricks us into thinking we benefit from hoarding stuff; but having things cannot compare to helping & caring for people around us. When God shows us sin, He aims to change our minds about it. Sin is dark, self-centered & selfish; sin hurts & is embarrassing; it CAN’T result in any real good because it doesn’t follow God’s right ways. And once committed, we cannot ‘un-commit’ a sin. Our wrong actions stand against us forever = that’s how long God’s perfect holy memory is. And worst of all, sin & sinners have no place in God’s presence. That’s ultimate-death.
That’s why God Himself came to be our Savior. That way, when He points out our sin
-to change our mind about it- at the same time, He can change our mind about Him. He gives us the good news of His mercy & forgiveness; and He convinces us that His laws are given to show us what is right to do; following His good commands protects us from the bad effects of sin. All this changing begins for us with God’s call & work thru Baptism. Since John’s Baptism was ‘of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’, it was God’s full-Baptism. Just like ours. All those people who went out to John, responding to his preaching, were being Baptized for the forgiveness of sins, they were receiving God’s full grace in the coming Savor.
Then Mark tells us of the one exceptional person who came to John. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Jesus was the only one among all the multitudes of people who came to John for Baptism who didn’t need the gifts of repentance or the forgiveness of sins. So yes, Jesus’ Baptism was for a different reason; it was for our benefit, not His. Jesus was the One who received the descending Spirit and the Voice from heaven to reveal Him as the Son, & Savior of the world. Even Jesus was called to John by God’s Word; and the Voice from heaven confirms His promise: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
So, with the Spirit and the Voice, God comes in the flesh to do His salvation-work for us, for the whole world to see & hear & believe. At His Baptism, Jesus joins us as a human under God’s holy Law. The law is a real burden for us because we keep breaking it; but it’s not a burden for the Holy Son. So, the Sinless One is anointed as the One who would carry the sins of all people. He willingly assumes the role of the OT ‘scape goat’, and the ‘lamb’ of sacrifice; which is our guilt offering.
At His Baptism, the clock begins for Jesus’ appointment at the cross. At the cross,
the Voice of the Father is silent, and His condemnation of our sin is loud & clear.
Then there’s total silence, & a Sabbath’s Rest in the Tomb. When morning dawns on Easter Sunday, our victory is revealed.
As explained thru Paul in Romans 6, God’s work upon us at our Baptism sounds like this: “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.”
When you were Baptized, God was at work to unite you with Christ in His death & resurrection. That means it brings us into & under the Lord’s gracious salvation. Such a powerful thing as Baptism is not left up to us; and it can’t be improved-on by us.
In Titus 3 it is written: “…He saved us, not because of works done by us …but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit …to become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” And as Peter preached in Acts 2, ‘this promise is for you and for your children, and for all…’
Give thanks to the Lord. Your Baptism did not depend on your consent, your knowledge, nor on the amount or the kind of water that was used. It was only dependent on God’s gracious working thru His Son and by His Spirit. You were lost and He has called & found you. You were dead in your sins, and His Word & Water has washed you, birthed you, & raised you to a new life.
*What is Baptism? Baptism is God’s sign that shows us the kind of God His is.
He is at work for us. He makes us His own children, and gives us hope, & a future in Christ.