The Baptism Of Our Lord “Jesus is our Watermark”
January 8, 2023 Matthew 3:13-17
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
In the early 1800s, wood pulp began to be used to make paper. In that wet process,
it was discovered that the mesh drying trays, or rollers, would leave marks on the paper = if those trays or rollers had imperfections. Those marks were often barely visible when the paper was dry; but they could be seen when held up to the light. It didn’t take long before paper manufacturers intentionally put their own design on those trays or rollers so that their paper would bear their company logo or initials. This was called a ‘watermark’.
And then kings & gov’ts began to use watermarks to identify their official documents. Today, all of our paper money -larger than a 1 or 2 dollar bill- carries a watermark, which is to discourage counterfeiting. So, on 20 dollar bill, when you hold it up to the light, you’ll see a smaller faint image of president Jackson, whose face is printed on that bill. A watermark identifies the authenticity of the money. Banks will use watermarks on contracts to identify itself as the official maker of the agreement with customers. Watermarks establish validity and identity; they’re used to prevent fraud.
YOU have a ‘watermark’; it is Baptism. You are an authentic reborn child of God; you have received His regeneration & renewal of His HSp; your baptized soul is alive to God by His promise in Christ Jesus. Our physical beginning is marked by God’s creative work; unique DNA, male or female. All human life is a gift of God’s general grace. Our spiritual beginning in faith is marked by God’s re-creative work by the gospel promise, worked by water & the word. Baptism is a gospel-promise-event that gives you new life.
And only by Jesus, who is The Light of the world, are you seen as the child of God you are. By the special grace of God, thru faith in Christ Jesus, when God looks at you, He sees the image of His Son. And because of the death of Jesus on the cross for you, you are covered by Him, and God is well-pleased with you. This means that the life & work of Jesus is not just a remarkable story for Him in history, but He has involved you. In this new year of 2023, there will be good times, but there will also be hard times; times of great satisfaction and great disappointment.
It is our connection to Jesus, the Savior, that will give us a steady, sturdy courage, with hope & peace in the year ahead. That’s why, at the beginning of each new week, we’re going to be in His church so that His good story will be seen in our lives.
Today we hear of a man named John, who is preaching near the Jordan River. People flocked to hear him. Like when people swarm from every direction into a stadium for a special event. Why do these people come to hear this guy dressed in camel’s hair? Jesus said they came because they perceived John to be a prophet of God. Actually, John was marked by the Holy Spirit who used John’s preaching to draw people to receive God’s gift of grace: God’s watermark. John is called ‘the Baptist’ because he baptized them with a spiritual gift.
Before John, there already was a Jewish rite of ‘baptizing’ or washing; but you did it yourself. It was the ceremonial cleansing of hands, feet, or head with water; it also included washing the tables & dishes used in worship. But now a new time had come; a time of fulfillment. God told John to bring a new washing; it was the washing of people in repentance.
It was a unique & temporary washing of preparation for the unique & temporary time of finally welcoming the long-awaited Messiah. The proper way to welcome the Savior from sin is to admit your sinful uncleanness, to turn away from it – back to God. That was the message of God thru the prophet Ezekiel too, who said: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why would you die, O house of Israel?”
Altho John himself was temporary, God’s call to repent continues for each person now.
Our God & Savior calls us out from our homes, to swarm together to listen to Him; & we begin with repentance. We have been spiritually unclean; we have ignored God, not listened to Him, not always obeyed His teaching & holy ways. We should be afraid to come; but God draws us because He has identified Jesus & His cross as the place to receive His mercy. That’s the gospel. God gathers us together to be reminded that, by His grace, our watermark is still with us; He baptized us to mark us as those ‘redeemed’ by Christ-the-crucified.
Even the Son of God answered the Father’s call to come to John. John already knew who to expect; he kept his eyes peeled for Jesus = the miracle-child of his mother’s cousin, Mary. You & I should expect Jesus to come to us, too; because that is still His mission: to seek & ..> ..> to save sinners. The promise in these NT days is that the Christ of God comes to us thru His Word & Sacraments: the Word is the Bible, and the Sacraments are Baptism & the Lord’s Supper. The promise of God is to be with His people, within His faithful congregations, speaking thru the pastor, gathered around His Written Word of Life.
When we come here, it’s like the people coming to John at the Jordan. It isn’t chiefly a social gathering = no matter how good the coffee & the egg-bake & the conversation is; those things can’t save. They went to the Jordan to hear the Word of Life thru the prophet. When we come here, we come to be in God’s presence with repentance, and to listen to, learn & obey His Word of life. And the fact that we expect God to be here is a sign of both God’s grace and our faith.
Even tho Jesus was his relative, John was humbled when Jesus arrived. John said,
“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knew he was not worthy to even untie the sandals of the One who is the Lamb of God. But Jesus is gracious: he says, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was saying that they both had their work to do in the kingdom as children of the Heavenly Father serving His kingdom. Even tho Jesus is the main Vine, John, (& you & me), are to be the fruitful branches.
What fruit? John’s whole life bore the watermark of the Promised Savior. People even came to John and asked: ‘are you the Christ = you sure sound like Him, and you act like Him!’ John wasn’t the Savior; neither are we; but he prepared people to see the Savior by reflecting the Savior. That’s what John’s life was about. And then John’s time was done; and he died with hope & at peace with the Savior’s promise of heaven.
John had a very particular job, but our lives are like his in this same faith. In Romans 12 we’re told that our spiritual act of worship is to offer our daily lives as living sacrifices to God. We are born of water & Word; we are watermarked; we are cross-marked, Christ-marked, and Spirit-marked. We are called in for God’s gifts, & then we are sent out to serve. Our Lord says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
He says, “Come and follow me.’ And then He says, “Now go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” That’s what we do as members of His Church, His kingdom = with the same faith as John.
So, what did Jesus’ baptism mean for Him? It was not enough for Jesus to come to us to hang around us for a while. Sometimes we hear of rich & famous people spending a night out on the street with the homeless, or helping for few hours in a soup kitchen. Jesus didn’t come to just feel what it was like to be lowly like us; the Son of God came to be one of us.
In His baptism, Jesus identifies with all mankind. That meant that He came to be under the heavy shadow of God’s wrath over sin, just as we are.
This was necessary so that God’s righteous anger & judgment against our sin could fully be addressed; that’s how He would fulfill all righteousness. And so, as one of us, Jesus comes to the water of Holy Baptism doing nothing; He is passive. Jesus does not baptized himself; just like we don’t. Thru John’s hands, by the ‘mark of the water’, The Son of God came to receive the Father’s grace and the gift of the Spirit = just like we do.
Later on, still fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus will also passively receive the ‘mark of blood’ & condemnation. His cross & death was undeserved, since He had done no sin. The penalty He suffered was our penalty. Just as He received a baptism He did not need = He did it for us. So He received a death He did not earn = He did it for us. And now, as He calls us & our children into holy baptism, we are joining Him in receiving God’s grace, & into a new life of serving His kingdom. We are marked with the water & bear His image.
In Romans 6 & Col. 2 we’re taught that in God’s Baptism we are joined with Christ, we are clothed with Christ, we are reborn in Christ, we have died to sin with Christ, and we are resurrected to a new life in Christ. And just as we did nothing to make ourselves be born with physical life, so we are passive to receive our spiritual life & salvation. It is God’s work by water & the word. In grace, God marks us as His own; and changes us. God is the Father of His children, and He gives us birth. The old mark of sin’s stain is washed away, and we are watermarked as those belonging to the Almighty. It is the work of God.
This makes your Baptism a real event; giving you real, spiritual benefits, just as it was for Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God rested on Him, and the voice declared: ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Thru baptism, you have also received the Spirit of God, and have been adopted as a child of the Father.
Jesus’ baptism meant one other thing. As Jesus came to John, and received the Spirit and the Voice from heaven, that was the sign for John that He truly was the Messiah. This meant that John could now dismiss his own followers, and send them to go & follow Jesus. John was accomplishing a baptism of repentance in preparation to meet the Promised Christ who had now arrived. Jesus had now received the watermark of heaven’s authority to make His way to the cross, to accomplish all righteousness for a cursed creation.
Jesus’ life was then marked by His obedience to the Father, by the service of His ministry, by the good fruit of the Holy Spirit, & by being the Light for all the nations.
Jesus was marked by the miracles He did, as signs of God’s own power to save; marked by the whip & thorns & nails; and marked by the glory of His empty tomb.
By the same Holy Baptism and Holy Spirit, God has called us to be His watermarked people; the image of Jesus will be seen in our lives. We reflect His light to a dark world; our life is marked by this Christian faith in our words & behaviors. In our daily life, others can see that we believe the Father’s Word, and we obey our Father’s will & way of life.
The sign of the HSp on us shows = as we forgive others as we have been forgiven;
it shows = as we are gracious & kind & moral; = as we handle our suffering with hope;
= as we show a patient trust in God’s will for our lives; = as the promise of resurrection helps us face our own death with courage. In these ways, we bear the image of our Savior Jesus, which He has given to us by water. When we are held up to God’s light of the gospel, the mark of Christ Jesus will be seen in our lives this new year. Jesus is our watermark.