This sermon for the First Sunday after Epiphany, The Baptism of Our Lord, is from Rev. James Krikava, the Regional Director of the Eurasia Region, who is currently also pastoring the English speaking congregation of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Prague.
Sermon on the Baptism of Our Lord, 2016
Red=Scripture, Green=Lutheran Confessions
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Word of God which will form the basis for our meditation on this festival of the Baptism of our Lord, is the holy Gospel appointed for the feast, in which we first hear the voice of God proclaim to His incarnate Son from heaven: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In the name of the Word made flesh, whose glory we behold, dear fellow redeemed:
John was sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus. Since Jesus came into our world to save us from our sin it’s not surprising that John came preaching “a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” So people came to John, many people came, confessing their sins and being baptized in the Jordan. Among all of these people was Jesus. The Savior of the world was coming to John to be baptized.
As wondrous as this is, we also cannot hear this text without thinking about our own Baptism and what it means to us. Upon reflection, it is interesting to note that the ministry of Jesus begins and ends with Baptism. Jesus began his public ministry with his own Baptism, and the last thing Jesus commanded before ascending into heaven was to “baptize all nations.” This morning, then, let us consider
What Jesus’ Baptism Teaches Us About Our Own
Picture in your mind all those people from the Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem coming to be baptized by John. Now focus in on one person: Jesus, with everyone else, coming to be baptized. What’s wrong with this picture? Remember, John’s Baptism was for the forgiveness of sins—And yet we know that Jesus didn’t have any sin. He didn’t need to be forgiven; as the epistle to the Hebrews says: “He was tempted in every way just as we are—yet, was without sin” (Hb 4:15). Before Pontius Pilate even Jesus’ enemies couldn’t find any real evidence against him. When Judas returned the 30 pieces of silver he told the Jewish leaders that he had betrayed the “innocent blood.” Pilate himself confessed before the angry mob, 3 times no less, “I find no fault in Him” (Jn 18:38, 19:4, 6).
And prior to our text, John the Baptizer admitted that Jesus needed no forgiveness: “John preached, saying, ‘There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose’” (Mk 1:7). But the greatest testimony to the sinlessness of Jesus is God the Father Himself. When Jesus was baptized, the voice of his Father called from the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Ever since the fall of Adam into sin, God has not been pleased with any of human kind. For we are all fallen. But God the Father was pleased with Jesus, for he had no sin. And if he had no sin our Lord Jesus did not need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sin.
So why did he come to John? Matthew’s Gospel even says: “John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’” (Mt 3:14-15). Like all human beings, Jesus, born of Mary, was expected by God to live a sinless, holy, and blameless life as a man. Jesus came into this world to do everything that was expected of his Heavenly Father. John has the implicit command of God to baptize. And so Jesus came “to fulfill all righteousness,” including the command to be baptized.
We see the sinless Jesus walking in a crowd of sinful people, joining with them to be baptized. For it was in his baptism that Jesus identified himself with sinners, even though He wasn’t one. Jesus once said that he came into this world “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32). He came into this world as our substitute before God. Try as we may, we cannot do what God expects us to do, namely, to live the perfect life of love. And our failure leads only to frustration and despair. So Jesus has come to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In his Baptism our Lord Jesus accepted his heavenly Father’s mission to save us. By himself he would take on the burden of our sin. But unlike us, he would not fail. He would not fall. He would do all things well. And he already knew that what began in his baptism would eventually end at the cross. For just as he was willing to be baptized for sins he had never committed, so likewise he was willing to die on the cross to pay the penalty for those same sins. It was all for us, just as we heard at Christmas: A Savior has been born for you. “You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sin” (Mt 1:21). And as Isaiah says in our Lesson: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him … I, the LORD, have called You in righteous-ness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You … as a light to the Gentiles.”
In your Baptism Jesus gives you what he came to win for you: the forgiveness of sins. This is the great blessing of Baptism. Forgiveness gives all the other blessings God has to give: His peace and his Holy Spirit. John’s Baptism gave the forgiveness of sins and so does ours today; for both flow from Jesus. On the cross Jesus canceled our debt to God and won the forgiveness of our sins. But the cross does not dispense this forgiveness. Baptism gives and dispenses to us the forgiveness that He won for us on the cross.
For example, if someone deposited a million dollars in your bank account, that would really be good news. But there would be one critical question you would want to know: “Which bank is the money deposited in so that I can start writing checks?” That’s a pretty important question. Without knowing the answer to that question the deposited money wouldn’t do you any good. And that’s the way it is with God’s forgiveness. It is a glorious thing to know that forgiveness of sins has been purchased and won by Christ on the cross. But where can we get this forgiveness? We have to know where it is so we can get it. It is to be found in the Word of the Gospel and the Sacraments.
This morning our subject is Baptism; the first of God’s precious sacraments. You find God’s forgiveness deposited in your Baptism, as St. Paul says, “Christ … loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27).
But your Baptism doesn’t do you any good either if you neglect it or don’t draw upon it. If someone deposited that million in your bank account it wouldn’t help you unless you used it. Even so with Baptism. What good is the forgive-ness of Baptism unless you make withdrawal from it?
And how do we do that? Remember what was said
of John. He “came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mk 1:4). We use our Baptism properly by repentance. Repentance is nothing else than having sorrow over sin and wanting, yes, needing God’s forgiveness. Perhaps you have regrets over something you said or did; or maybe you feel guilt for not doing something you should have done. And the words of the apostle John come crashing down on us: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 Jn 4:20). And suddenly, you see yourself as you really are. This is repentance. And repentance is expressed with the mouth by confession. We do that at the beginning of our Sunday services. You do this every day when you pray in the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses.” There you confess your sins and yearn for the grace of being delivered from the punishment we deserve.
But today it seems that more often than not people have no regrets or remorse; no guilt, no shame. Instead they feel justified in doing wrong, proud of it even. Instead of guilt we hear excuses. Instead of shame, haughtiness. The world around us has put an end to sin. It says, “There is no right or wrong. Everything is relative. Morality is what I say it is, not what some tablets of stone tell me. I will do as I please.” And the world within each of us, namely, our own fallen nature, dearly loves to hear this and so wants it to be true. It’s not that we, like the animals, have no awareness of morality or conscience. It’s just that the awareness we have is not sufficient for us to do what we know to be right. We want to say, “Murder is bad unless, of course, I need to dispose of an unwanted pregnancy. Adultery is bad, unless, of course, I love the person I’m living with outside of God’s institution of marriage. Stealing is bad, unless, of course, I really need it. Bearing false witness is bad, unless, of course, I need to cover something up.” And on & on.
And then come the excuses: “I have rights. The Supreme Court says so. I am genetically different and can’t help myself. I have the kleptomania gene or the gift of gossip.”
But all of these excuses are really just admissions of a bound will. So much for the free will so many claim to have. But you can’t have it both ways. Either you have a free will and can live according to God’s will, or you have no free will and are bound in sin.
So listen to the thunder of the law, like it or not. Let it crush all excuses, expose all abhorrent behavior, and shame every glib attempt to self-justify. And then repent. Admit it. My will is not free. It is bound, bound to sin and not to God. Confess it! This is repentance.
Do you want to be free? In our Gospel, what was the answer for those who repented and confessed their sins? Baptism. When sin troubles you, remember your Baptism and make a withdrawal from your “Baptismal account.” This is why Jesus has given us Baptism. In your Baptism you will find the forgiveness of your sins. And here’s the even greater news. There is more forgiveness deposited in your Baptism than you have sins. Yes, you might go to the bank someday and find your account empty. But your Baptism never runs out. You will never be turned away empty-handed. Again, the prophet Isaiah is speaking about Jesus when he says: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” In your Baptism Jesus is always saying: “Come to Me, all you who labor and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
While Baptism gives us the most important gift of God, the forgiveness of our sins, we also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. John could not give the Holy Spirit, but Jesus does. John himself said, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” This means that John was the instrument of baptism, but Jesus is the real baptizer. The hand of Jesus pours on the water, in, with, and under the hand of John or any other Baptizer, called and ordained to do this. The voice of Jesus speaks the words, “I baptize you into the Triune God” in, with, and under the voice of John or his successors.
Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit in the water of Baptism just as the Holy Spirit descended on him at his Baptism. Notice the connection between John’s pouring on the water and the coming of the Holy Spirit in our Gospel: “And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’” The one true living God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has become your God. Now the Father of Jesus Christ is also your Father, too. Out of the waters of your Baptism the Holy Spirit has descended upon you and your heavenly Father says to you: “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” The heavenly Father can say this to you because in the water of our Baptism your sin is washed away and forgiven. With a Baptism sanctified by Jesus, you are counted by God Himself as being as righteous and pure and holy as Jesus, His Son.
Therefore, make frequent withdrawals from your Baptismal account. Indeed, daily withdrawals are a must. As Luther’s Catechism says, we use our Baptism this way, “that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts; and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” And the Scriptures confirm it: “We are buried with Christ by baptism into death, that just as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rm 6:4). This is your confidence in life and in death. You can say, “I am baptized! From this water combined with the Word the Holy Spirit has descended on me! Therefore I am God’s beloved child, in whom He is well pleased, through Jesus Christ, baptized into death and raised to the glory of God the Father.” Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.