Sunday, January 13, 2008

Matthew 3:13-17 "Baptized—but into what?"

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Christians, baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Christ:

For thousands of years this Sunday has been celebrated in Christian churches as the Sunday of the Baptism of our Lord.
But for most churches and most Christians today, it's just another Sunday with just another sermon and just another bunch of hymns and prayers.
But, just like many other important things, it's an important day in the church year, whether we recognize it or not. The Baptism of our Lord was a big deal and will remain a big deal for all eternity.
To emphasize the importance of this day we have special music and special hymns and a special children's message and a special sermon and a special time of sharing after each morning service.
Just like the adults gathered around the Passover table, every one of us here should be able to give a good Biblical answer if a child should ask us, "Why is this Sunday different than all the other Sundays of the year?" Our answer should be much better than: "Well, the pastor likes to mix it up a bit from time to time."
It's like I told the Sunday morning adult Bible class last week: any visitor should know very quickly when coming to services that this is a trinitarian congregation. And so it is with Christ's Baptism and our own. People shouldn't be able to leave Redeemer without hearing about the Word of God in, with and under simple water.
Jesus' baptism and your baptism is a regular feature of what we "believe, teach and confess" as a Church, as a congregation, as a church family. It's part and parcel of what we say and hear and sing and do — and remember.
One of the saddest experiences I have as a pastor is visiting someone who has forgotten even their own family name. Sometimes I wonder: "How can they have forgotten their own name?" But this is a reality in the fallen world we live in. And it's the same with our spiritual life as well.
Not a day should go by when we don't remind ourselves of Christ's Baptism and our own. That's one of the assignments in Confirmation class: write three things that you can do to daily remind yourself of your Baptism." That's a good assignment for each of us here today as well.
And so this morning we fight against the threat of spiritual amnesia by first and foremost, focusing our attention on the Baptism of our Lord. The "what" and "so what" of Jesus' wading out into the Jordan to John the Baptist and the once-for-all-time event that followed; the one event that put into motion the mission of the only-begotten Messiah.
Read Matthew 3:13-15
John refused. Jesus called for faith in fulfilling all righteousness, then John consented. Not very different than what Jesus calls each of us to do. "Follow my word," he says. "Even though you don't really get it, put your trust in my direction and my word of assurance. This needs to be done. Say 'Amen' to me and my instructions and my way of ushering in salvation. "Let it now be so." Jesus says. And John consents.
Maybe there's someone here who secretly doesn't believe in Christian Baptism — especially of infant children — or has serious concerns about what Jesus calls us to do and say and believe. Unlike any one else, Jesus' comes with a Word that has the ability to create faith that responds to his direction by saying, "I give my consent, despite my questions and doubts and inability to understand fully. Despite it all, Jesus, I will say 'Amen' to your Word and call."
Now we want to state clearly up-front that Jesus didn't need to come to John to say a word of repentance and have his sins washed away.
Jesus, from his very conception, was the spotless Lamb of God. Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Then, if not for cleansing, then for what purpose was Jesus baptized?
Twenty-four chapters later in the Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew, someone will submit to a washing to publicly announce that he will have no part in the fate of the one put under his protection. In Matthew 27:24, Pilate washes his hands of carrying out justice on behalf of Jesus. "I am innocent of this man's blood." he cried.
This Baptism of our Lord, this particular Sunday in the Church Year, stands as the direct opposite of any washing away of sin or any washing away of personal or judicial responsibility.
Jesus' Baptism is a public proclamation, a public submission, a public consecration into his unique mission of redemption. Here, in the Jordan River, Jesus says "Amen" to the heavenly Father's call to become the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of a weak and helpless world.
For anyone asking, "Who is Jesus?" "What did he come to do?" no one need look any farther than his Baptism. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, but, more importantly, he is baptized into his calling, his mission, his office as Redeemer and Savior and Sacrifice. His atoning work all begins in ernest here.
Read Matthew 3:16-17
Through his Baptism, Jesus does not walk away from protecting and saving those placed under his care. He does not wash his hands of your fate or mine. He is baptized into your place, into your stead, into your condemnation, that he might redeem each of us from it and its deadly consequences. Though equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit according to his divine nature, Jesus, according to his human nature freely submits to the Father's call to go down and rescue you and all people by the giving of his life-blood upon the cross. That's the call and mission and assignment Jesus said "Yes" to at his Baptism. And we, through the four New Testament evangelists are brought to the shore of the Jordan to watch and hear and bow our head and knee at the unbelievable: the holy Son of God taking on our burden as he begins to make good on God's gracious promise to win us back.
Satisfy the wrath of God's holy will against sin. That's an assignment that would have crushed even the best of us. But Jesus, at his Baptism, as water is poured over him, prays, "Yes, Father. I willingly will give my life for these, your wandering and wayward children."
And the Holy Spirit hovers over Jesus as the Father responds: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
This is the Jesus you and I have been baptized into. The "incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and buried" Jesus.
The most shocking thing in preparing for a Baptism here at Redeemer is often telling the excited parents desiring a "Christening" of their pure-as-the-driven-snow baby that Christian Baptism is a Baptism into Christ's death. That will get their attention, as it should get ours this morning. "What were you baptized into?" "The perfect life and sacrificial death of Christ."
That's the only way out of this dead-end life in this dead-end world. Baptized into the life and death of Christ.
That's why it has been a Christian practice for as long as anyone can remember to make the sign of the cross in remembrance of one's baptism. Not some sign of the empty tomb, or some sign of Pentecost, but the sign of the Cross.
And if you're wondering to yourself, isn't that making-the-sign-of-the-cross a Roman Catholic thing that we Lutheran Christians got rid of a long time ago, take a look at Martin Luther's instruction of how to begin each and every day as it's outlined in the Small Catechism.
Why is reminding ourselves of our Baptism and the Cross such a big deal? Because it is only after Jesus fulfilled his redemptive mission upon the cross, and the heavenly Father's seal of approval at his resurrection, that the Crucified One commands his Body, his family, his own, the Church, to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
At your Baptism, you have been born into the family of Christ, his Body, the Church. You have been given the family name for all eternity — whether you remember it or not, the name "Christian."
In the Jordan, God the Father, through John, through the Holy Spirit, anointed his very Son. In the Jordan, Jesus bound himself to your sins, that he might bind you to his righteousness.
Be who you are as a Baptized child of God. Live under your family name. Hold tight to Christ's promises. Bind yourself to him and his sacrificial work on your behalf.
Remember your Baptism. Remember which family you have been born into. Remember who you have been united with: Christ, the Lamb of God, who graciously remembers you, even on those days you forget him and his Cross.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.