Sermon based on Mk. 1:4-11 for the Baptism of Our Lord
Dear baptized believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Suppose there were a physician who had so much skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live eternally. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon such a person! Because of the throng of rich people crowding around, no one else would be able to get near. Now, here in baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps people alive.” These words were written by Martin Luther in the Large Catechism to teach concerning the great gift we have in Baptism (IV.43).
These words are important for us to hear because we have a tendency to greatly undervalue our Baptism. When facing disease and death, we are eager to chase after the latest medical breakthroughs to lengthen our life. We will try gadgets and gizmos, medicines and herbal remedies that promise to improve our life. Meanwhile, the treasure and medicine that swallows up death and gives us eternal life is forgotten and disregarded.
We have a tendency to greatly undervalue our Baptism. Although we celebrate the day of our birth into this sinful world, we do not celebrate our rebirth into eternal life. Although we remember our birthday and will be upset if others don’t remember it, we ourselves often don’t even know the date of our own Baptism. Even more importantly, we forget what it means to be baptized. We don’t flee to our Baptism for refuge from guilt, sin, and the devil. We don’t look to our Baptism in the midst of doubt, suffering, and temptation. We forget how great of a gift our Baptism is.
As we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, today is a great day to remember the great gift that Baptism is. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, went into the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But what was Jesus doing, being baptized? John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance. What did Jesus have to repent of? Those who were being baptized were confessing their sins. What sins did Jesus have to confess?
Here you can see that Jesus was not baptized for Himself; Jesus was baptized for you. The sinless Son of God had no sins to repent of or confess. In His Baptism, Jesus repented of your sins. In His Baptism He confessed my sins. What happened to Jesus in His Baptism is the exact opposite of what happened to us in our Baptism. Jesus took our sins on Himself in His Baptism, while our Baptism took our sins away from us. This is what St Paul is writing about in 2 Corinthians 5(:21), “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus takes our sin, and we get His righteousness. Jesus takes our guilt, and we get His forgiveness. In His Baptism, Jesus took your sins on Himself and confessed them as His own. He carried your sins for you all the way to the cross, where He died for them. He confessed your sins of lust, coveting, and selfishness and died for them. He confessed your sins of doubt, anger, and undervaluing your Baptism and died for them. He took your sin in His Baptism, and in Your Baptism gave you His righteousness.
Jesus giving you His righteousness in Baptism means that He declares you forgiven. He declares you to be pleasing to God. He declares you free of all charges. He declares you acquitted. Jesus’ holiness becomes your holiness. In your Baptism, you are washed clean from all sin.
Yes, it is true, sometimes we don’t feel that way. Sometimes we don’t feel forgiven or pleasing to God. We feel our guilt. Our offences against God weight heavy on our consciences. We see the effects of our sin in our lives: broken homes, hostility with family members, aborted babies that never saw the light of day. Because of our sin, we will always have our feelings of guilt and shame before God about what we have done and left undone. That’s why we don’t look inside ourselves for peace or forgiveness or holiness.
This is why you should flee to your Baptism. Your Baptism isn’t a feeling. Your Baptism is a certainty. Your Baptism is your certainty that Jesus gives you His righteousness and declares you forgiven. Your Baptism is your certainty that you have been declared pleasing to God and free of all charges. Your Baptism is your certainty that you are washed clean from all sin. Your Baptism is your certainty that all of your sins were confessed by Jesus in His Baptism.
As we heard in our Epistle lesson, our Baptism into Christ Jesus was a Baptism into His death (Rom. 6:3). In our Baptism we get all the benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross. In our Baptism we died to sin (Rom. 6:2). In our Baptism we already now live a new life (Rom. 6:4). In our Baptism we have the promise that since we have been united with Christ in His death, we will certainly be united with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6:5). See how great a gift our Baptism is!
But there’s still more! Galatians 3 tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ… And if you are Christ’s, then you are… heirs according to promise.” (vv. 27, 29) In Baptism, you were made an heir; you were made a child of God. And if you are an heir, you have the promise of the inheritance of the children of God – eternal life. And in Titus 3 we are told that we receive the Holy Spirit in the washing of regeneration in our Baptism; that the Holy Spirit is poured on us richly through our Baptism into Christ (vv. 5-7). This also John the Baptist preached as he proclaimed that after him comes the Mightier One who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
In these passages we then see how our Baptism, although not the same as that of our Lord, has many similarities with His Baptism. Through Baptism, our sins no longer keep heaven closed to us. Rather, as the heavens opened at Jesus’ Baptism, so the heavens are torn open to us through our Baptism into Christ. As the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at His Baptism, so in our Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on us along with all of His gifts. In our Baptism, because we are made heirs and children of God, God the Father says to us, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” God is pleased with us because Jesus has taken our sin and given us His righteousness in our Baptism.
This is why we should treasure Baptism. When facing disease or death, know that you are baptized into Christ and have been given the medicine of eternal life. In the midst of doubt, suffering, and temptation look to your Baptism. When you are burdened by the horrible guilt of your past sins; when your pet sins have again reared their ugly head; when you see the effects of sin in your life: then look to your Baptism. Your Baptism is the certainty that your sins were put on Jesus and that He carried them to the cross and died for them. Your Baptism is your certainty that Jesus gives you His righteousness and declares you forgiven. Your Baptism is your certainty that you have been declared pleasing to God and free of all charges. Your Baptism is your certainty that you are washed clean from all sin.
This is why we should remember our Baptism. This is why in the Small Catechism Luther directs parents to teach their children to make the sign of the cross on themselves in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. This is why our hymnal indicates that the sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism at the Invocation, remembering that we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. No we don’t have to make the sign of the cross, but we should remember our Baptism. We should treasure the great wonderful gifts given to us in Baptism. Because, “Now, here in Baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps people alive.” Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.