Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord based on Matthew 3:13-17
Dear baptized believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
If Baptism is our work, then we must question its validity and its effectiveness. If Baptism is our work, we must each ask ourselves: was I sincere enough when I was baptized? Did I understand Baptism completely and correctly? Did I know everything I needed to know in order for the Baptism to be of any use to me? If Baptism is our work, we must ask these questions and many more. If Baptism is something we do, we must continually question whether or not we did it correctly; if we did it well enough; if we did it earnestly, genuinely, and wholeheartedly.
That is why churches who believe that Baptism is our work, don’t baptize babies. If Baptism is just our confession of faith, you have to wait until you are able to confess the faith to be baptized. If Baptism is our work, you have to be able to do the work in order to be baptized, and you will never have certainty about your Baptism.
Thank God Baptism is not our work, but His work. This removes all questions and all doubt about its validity and its effectiveness; its genuineness and its sincerity. Why? Because it’s then not a question of our sincerity and genuineness, but God’s.
Do you think God is sincere or lying when He says, “Baptism now saves you”? (I Pt. 3:21) Do you think God is being genuine or joking when He tells us to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins? (Acts 2:38) Do you think God is being insincere when He tells you that your Baptism is into Christ’s death and resurrection and that in Baptism you put on Christ? (Rom. 6:3,5; Gal. 3:27) When it is a question of our sincerity and genuineness, we can never be certain. Because Baptism is a question of God’s sincerity and genuineness, we can be completely certain.
In Christ’s institution of Baptism, we also see the revelation of the Trinity very clearly. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) Baptism identifies God, and it identifies you as belonging to Him.
We see the three persons of God also in the Baptism of our Lord. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and God the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
No less happened to you in your Baptism. Saint Paul writes that Baptism is a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Thus you know the Holy Spirit descended also on you in your Baptism. Saint Paul follows this up with saying that through Baptism we become heirs with the hope of eternal life, (3:7) indicating our adoption as God’s beloved sons, with whom He is well pleased.
Baptism is God’s work. Baptism is God’s gift. You receive this gift of God through faith, while also obligating yourself to live a certain kind of life as a child of God. That is why, in the same passage from Romans chapter six that talks about our Baptism being into Christ’s death and resurrection, we hear, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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.” We are not to continue in sin. We are not to walk in the ways of the Old Man, but in newness of life; in the way of the New Man created in us by Baptism.
This is why the Christian life is a continual return to our Baptism. When we fall into temptation and we sin, we repent and turn away from the sin. We return to God’s promises to us in Baptism.
That’s the fourth part of Baptism in the Small Catechism: What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die along with all sins and evil desires, and that a New Man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
When you fail to walk as a child of God, do not harden your heart and remain in your sin. Do not make excuses for your sin. Do not deny your Baptism by refusing to repent and refusing to live like a child of God.
Until we die, we will have our old sinful nature. We will be tempted to sin. When we fall into temptation, our Baptism calls us to repentance. It is not a one time repentance, but a continual, daily repentance. Baptism defines our relationship with God. It strengthens us to flee temptation, and when we fall into temptation, it provides us with forgiveness and the strength to avoid it in the future.
Flee to your Baptism for refuge from guilt, sin, and the devil. Flee to your Baptism in the midst of doubt, suffering, and temptation. Do not forget how great of a gift your Baptism is.
Treasure your Baptism. When facing disease or death, know that you are baptized into Christ and have been given the medicine of eternal life. 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 has covered you with His righteousness and declares you forgiven. Your Baptism is your certainty that you have been declared God’s beloved son and pleasing to Him.
Baptism is God’s work. Therefore it is valid and effective. Even for those who have denied their Baptism by refusing to live like God’s children, their Baptism remains valid and effective, continually calling them to repentance, calling them back to God.
Daily contrition and repentance is the Christian life. Baptism is God’s free gift to you that keeps you in the Christian life and will bring you to eternal life. This is God’s genuine, sincere promise to you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.