Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord based on Luke 3:15-22
Dear baptized believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
At the Baptism of our Lord, God the Father announced to the world that Jesus is His Son. This announcement was not just to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the fields. This announcement was not just to Simeon and Anna or to wise men out east. This announcement was a public declaration to all the crowds gathered to hear John and to be baptized by him. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
In the Jordan River stood the one man in whom God the Father is pleased. Jesus is the one man who never sinned, thus He is pleasing to the Father. He is the only man who does the will of the Father, thus He is pleasing to the Father.
The crowds that came to be baptized by John came to the baptism of repentance. They had sinned. They came, turning away from their sins and desiring to receive forgiveness. They came with their baggage of greed and jealousy. They came with their sins of anger and slander. They came with their iniquities of adultery and theft. God the Father could not be pleased with them based on what they had done. There was nothing pleasing in any of them.
On the one hand, God the Father is pleased in Jesus, and on the other hand, God the Father is not pleased in the sinful crowds; He is not pleased in sinful mankind. See, we must group ourselves in there with the sinful crowds. Either we group ourselves with the sinful crowds who are repentant and desiring forgiveness, or we are with the sinful crowds who are not repentant and thus will not receive forgiveness. You cannot receive forgiveness for sin to which you cling and which you do not want to give up. You cannot receive forgiveness for sin from which you refuse to turn away.
But turning away from sin isn’t enough. A desire to do better isn’t enough. We cannot undo our sins. We cannot avoid falling into sin again even if we turn away from it. We cannot make ourselves pleasing to God the Father.
This is where Jesus comes in. This is where the only man who is pleasing to the Father comes to the rescue. This is the very reason He was baptized by John in the Jordan River.
Jesus had no sins of which He needed to repent, yet He stood with the crowds of sinners to receive the baptism of repentance. Jesus came to take our sins on Himself. That’s why John points to Him at His baptism and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Jn. 1:29) Jesus took all the sins of the whole world onto Himself and God the Father announced publically that He is pleased. The Father is pleased that Jesus is taking away the sins of the whole world. The Father is pleased that Jesus is taking responsibility for every sin ever committed. The Father is pleased that Jesus is baptized for us, to make Baptism a life-giving water for us, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-8; SC IV.3).
Through Baptism, your sins no longer keep heaven closed to you. Rather, as the heavens opened at Jesus’ Baptism, so the heavens are torn open to you through your Baptism into Christ. As the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at His Baptism, so in your Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on you along with all of His gifts. In your Baptism, because you were made heirs and children of God, God the Father says to you, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” God is pleased with you because Jesus has taken your sin and covered you with His righteousness in your Baptism.
Your Baptism was a public announcement to everyone that you are claimed by God. It was a public announcement by God that you are His and that He is well pleased in you. Not because of anything you have done, but because you are baptized into Christ.
This may raise some questions. If Baptism is such a wonderful gift and all of this truly happens in Baptism, how can it be that so many people who were baptized have fallen away from the faith? If these people were claimed by God through Baptism and publically announced to be pleasing to Him how can it be that they are no longer pleasing to God? Does God change His mind? Does God forget His beloved sons with whom He is well pleased?
This is where we can go to the Small Catechism for the answer. The Small Catechism is a great treasure for the Church. It is a summary of what the Bible teaches concerning the most important matters of faith. It is simple and condensed so that it is easy to memorize. It is easy for the father of the household to go through the Small Catechism daily with his family to teach them the most important things for them to know from Scripture.
For the answer to our questions we can go to the Fourth Chief Part of the Small Catechism, which is on Baptism. “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” (2) Also, “How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these great things, along with the faith which trusts the Word of God in the water.” (3)
See, there we have our answer. God does not forget. God’s promises aren’t voided or taken back. Baptism makes you a beloved son of God and makes you well pleasing to Him. But these benefits are received through faith; they are received through believing that these promises of God are true.
That’s why we take Baptism seriously. That’s why we exact promises not just from parents when they bring their children to be baptized, but also from the sponsors. They promise that they will teach their child the faith, that they will bring them up in the instruction of the Christian faith, and encourage them to receive the Lord’s Supper. Without this, the baptized child is in great danger. It’s like having a new born baby and feeding him when he is first born, but then starving him of nutrition thereafter. Such a child will physically starve to death, just as a child starved of the spiritual nutrition of God’s Word will starve a spiritual death. Faith will die if it is not nourished.
See, it’s not God forgetting His promises, it is the masses of people forgetting God’s promises and walking away from them. It’s not God rejecting His sons with whom He is well pleased, it is His sons rejecting Him as their Father. The promises of God remain in Baptism even for such people, but they do not get the benefits of those promises because they reject them and do not believe them.
So if you are a parent, stop spiritually starving your children. Teach them the faith at home. Use the Small Catechism to easily teach them what they need to know. Teach them what their Baptism is so that they don’t wander away from it as they get older. Bring them to God’s house to learn and encourage them towards the faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper.
If you are a sponsor, a godparent to a child, fulfil the promises you made at the Baptism of your godchildren. Pray for them. Support them in their ongoing instruction and nurture in the Christian faith. Pick them up and bring them to church if their parents fail to do so.
If you are a grandparent or a great grandparent remind your children of the promises that they made before God and the congregation to raise your grandchildren and great grandchildren in the faith. Call on the sponsors of your grandchildren and great grandchildren and tell them to do what they promised God they would do.
Don’t be shy in talking about these matters. The great gift of Baptism should not be lost to our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, or godchildren because we are too shy to speak up for them. Don’t be afraid to extoll the great gifts that Baptism gives.
And always remember that the great gifts of Baptism are for you, too. Whatever failures you have in your past to teach the faith; whatever failures you have had in your past as a parent, grandparent, great grandparent or sponsor to do what you promised you would do – all these failures are covered by the waters of Holy Baptism. That’s how great the gift of Baptism is!
Because Jesus was baptized for you and has carried all your sins to the cross and died for them, and because you were baptized into Jesus, you have been publically declared God’s son and pleasing to Him. And lest you spiritually starve, Jesus has instituted a meal to spiritually nourish you to everlasting life by giving you His own body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all your sins. In the Lord’s Supper, God the Father will once again affirm to you, that you are His beloved son in whom he is well pleased and heaven is open to you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.