Monday, January 14, 2013

Baptized into Christ

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 3:21-22; Rom. 6
January 13, 2013
The Baptism of Our Lord-C

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

Now when all the people were baptized . . . Jesus also had been baptized
and was praying, [and] the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him
in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Right about this time, every year, we remember and reflect on the fact that Jesus was baptized. In fact, we hear about it so often that it starts to sound somewhat scripted and expected and ordinary. But the Baptism of Our Lord ought to strike you as something incredibly extraordinary. Think about it. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. What reason did the sinless Son of God have to repent? John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins. For what did the sinless Son of God need to be forgiven? Jesus was greater than John. Yet, here in the baptism of our Lord, the greater is baptized by the lesser. In short, the sinless one is treated like a sinner. And when you start to understand it that way, you start to understand the gospel. The sinless one is treated just like a sinner.

The baptism of Jesus should lead us to think about our own baptism. After all, this was no private, quiet, secluded affair. When all three persons of the Holy Trinity are revealed, when the heavens are opened wide, when the Holy Spirit flutters down in the form of a dove, when the very voice of God rings out from heaven—there can be no doubt that we ought to sit up and take notice. In the Large Catechism, Luther writes, “You must honor Baptism and consider it glorious . . . . For God Himself has honored it both by words and deeds. Furthermore, He confirmed it with miracles from heaven. Do you think it was a joke that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty?” (LC 21) In other words, pay attention to this, and learn what it means about your own baptism.

Jesus’ baptism and our baptism is not the same thing. And yet, what happens to Jesus in His baptism also happens to you. The heavens opened when Jesus was baptized; and heaven was opened to you when you were baptized—for then and there, through water and the Word, you were justified in Jesus. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus; and the Spirit descended upon you in your baptism—not visibly as with Jesus, but with power to transform you into a child of God and an heir of salvation. The voice of the Father spoke from heaven when Jesus was baptized; and the Father also speaks to you in your own baptism, declaring you a beloved son or daughter with whom He is well pleased.

The Baptism of Jesus (and your own baptism) is so deep—so profound—so richly theological that it’s easy to forget about what it means here, and now, today—for you. This is why it’s so good to have today’s epistle from Romans 6. In Romans six St. Paul takes baptism and makes it practical. He takes baptism from the lofty theological heights and places it squarely in the arena of our daily lives. And he does it by means of a question.

I read last week that one of every four sentences in the book of Romans is a question. You probably even know a few of these questions without even opening your Bible. Questions like, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Or this one a few verses later, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” These are well-known, inspiring questions. But while the question in today’s reading sounds familiar, it’s not very inspiring. You’ve asked it yourself many, many times (and so have I); but it’s nothing to be proud of: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Shall we? Shall we go on sinning since God promises grace and forgiveness for every sin? This question is one that our sinful nature never gets tired of asking. And it even has a certain cool, reasonable logic behind it. Since God is slow to anger and quick to forgive—and since I’m saved by grace and not by works—why not just go ahead and sin since I know that God will forgive me anyway? Why not go ahead and break a few commandments here and there since God promises to forgive any and all sins? I’ll sin. Then I’ll ask forgiveness. Then God will forgive me and all will be well again. Don’t tell me you’ve never crafted a scheme like that inside your head.

Oh, how we love to use and abuse that cool, clever, satanic logic. It works so well with so many sins: Shall I go on sinning so that I can be forgiven? Shall I cheat on this test? Shall I broadcast that juicy gossip? Shall I view the porn? Shall I have sex with the one I’m not married to? Shall I take the money and run? Such questions run death deep. Such questions invite us to take the precious, priceless, blood-bought grace of Jesus . . . and trash it, flush it, squander it. Such questions imply that our baptism doesn’t matter—that what happened all those years ago was a quaint ceremony with no significance at all.

Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? God Himself supplies that question with the only answer that will suffice for you and me and all the baptized children of God: Are we to continue in sin? BY NO MEANS! Under no circumstances! Wake up and remember who you are (and whose you are)!

Why not? Why can’t we go on abusing and misusing the grace of God? Because we died to sin. You died—died to sin, and therefore you can’t go on living in it any longer. Not that you can stop sinning completely, BUT sin can no longer be the compelling, controlling impulse of your life. Where sin is concerned you are dead—dead and buried—unresponsive and cold as a corpse. Sin is not the boss of you any longer.

But when? When did this death to sin occur? When and how did this radical reordering of your life take place? Don’t you know? “Don’t you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried 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.” Newness of life—a whole new life is what your baptism works in you—a life given and shaped and directed and produced by Jesus.

Your baptism tells the whole story of who you really are. Your identity is not primarily established by your parents, not by your place of residence, not by the football team you cheer for, not by anything that might appear on your transcript or your resume. No, it’s your baptism that defines who you are—child of God, born again by water and the Spirit.

I remember once sitting down with two grieving parents. We had to come up with an obituary for their baby boy. Little Logan had gone down for an afternoon nap, only to awaken in the arms of Jesus. How do you write an obituary for a baby? Once you list the survivors, what more is there to say? Praise God that we could say this: Logan was baptized. Logan was baptized into Christ on October 20th. Those words—that simple sentence—told the whole story about Logan—a story of blessings and forgiveness and salvation. With little Logan God was well pleased! And your own baptism tells the whole story about you. Your baptism put you on the cross with Jesus. Your baptism put you in the tomb with Jesus. Your baptism raises you up to a whole new life—with Jesus. “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Your baptism was the defining moment of your life—and it defines you each day, and empowers you each day. When Satan comes calling with his carefully crafted questions, determined to make you into something you are not, it is the power of your baptism that helps you to drown those sinful desires, so that you can live as the person you are in Christ. You are new. You are holy. You are forgiven through the body and blood of Jesus Christ, crucified on Calvary, given today for sinners to eat and drink. That’s who you are—new and holy in Christ—forgiven, loved, precious, honored, died-for. And with that on your resume, nothing else matters.

For some of us this news sounds too good to be true. We’ve all but forgotten our baptismal identity, and we’ve forged alternate identities—guilty, shame-filled, insecure identities. We’ve fallen prey too many times to the invitation to go on sinning. We’ve bought the lie and we’re living with the results. Well, I have very good news for you. Hear me and hear me well: God doesn’t define you by what you’ve done wrong. God defines you by what Jesus has done right—and that is everything. Jesus’ sinless life, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection—that’s what counts for you! That’s what defines you, because you are baptized! Amen.

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