Listen to it:
“The Baptism of Sinners”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We should be astonished at the sight: the perfect and holy Son of God, in the flesh He received in the Virgin’s womb, goes down into water meant for sinners. “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5, ESV). What sins does God have? What need of repentance? No, Jesus does not come to John with sins to confess. But He also does not stand apart from sinners, instructing them to straighten out their lives before He will come to them. He does not require perfection before He will enter our world and come into the water we have muddied with our lazy flesh, our lies, our lusts. See all of your sin, those eddies of evil, swirling around Him as He descends into the river. There is your gossiping tongue, your adulterous glance, your angry fist, your judging heart, your covetous mind. It is all there, in the water of His Baptism, which is yours because He was baptized in the blood of the cross for your sin. He submitted to all the weakness of our flesh, even to the baptism of John, the baptism of sinners; He was born of Mary so that He could be numbered among us: “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sins of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12, ESV). Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River is the beginning of His ministry to and for sinners. It is the first time as an adult that He, the Son of Man, is revealed as the Son of God. Here we see the entire Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, at work for us. Here the Father speaks to all who have ears to hear: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11, ESV). Here the Spirit marks Jesus as the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, so that the one who baptized Him could say: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34, ESV). “See the hosts of heaven hushed and still, as the all-holy Bridegroom goes down into the Jordan. No sooner is he baptized than he comes up from the waters, his splendor shining forth over the earth. The gates of heaven are opened, and the Father’s voice is heard: ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ All who are present stand in awe as they watch the Spirit descend to bear witness to him” (Ephrem the Syrian, Mark, The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 15).
And so it is that heaven and earth are visibly rejoined as the Son ascends from the water and the Spirit descends from heaven. In this Man your flesh is cleansed of its sin, and a new heart is created in you. Like the dove that Noah sent out, announcing with an olive branch that the earth was reborn after the flood, so the Spirit as a dove descends from heaven, announcing that the whole creation is reborn in Jesus by the flood of baptism. And that includes you. As the “Flood Prayer” for Holy Baptism says, “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a washing away of sin” (LSB Altar Book, 375). The water in which you were baptized[, the water in which Allize was baptized,] is water blessed and instituted for this very purpose: that Jesus might join you to Himself[, just as He did for Allize this morning]. And if you are joined to Jesus, what happened to Jesus will happen to you. Baptism is not only a joyous event; it is a dangerous one. As Luther put it: “Therefore, you have to realize that it is no joke at all to take action against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child but also to hang around the child’s neck such a mighty, lifelong enemy. Thus it is extremely necessary to stand by the poor child with all your heart and with a strong faith and to plead with great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might resist [the devil] valiantly in life and in death. I fear,” says Luther, “that people turn out so badly after baptism because we have dealt with them in such a cold and casual way and have prayed for them at their baptism without any zeal at all” (Luther’s Baptismal Booklet, Kolb/Wengert, 372:3-4). It is no coincidence that Luther connects baptism with making war against the devil. Immediately after Jesus was baptized, He was put out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit for forty days and nights; there He was tempted by the devil and overcame those temptations. That [is what will happen with Allize, and it] is what happens to each one of us. So it is absolutely necessary that all the baptized be present where Christ is so that He can strengthen them with His Word and, when they have been instructed, with His Supper. We should be saddened, but not surprised, that many fall away after baptism; the devil’s chief goal is to drive the baptized away from Christ. Jesus is the only one who has ever been tempted by Satan and stood firm. You know yourself and I know myself. How often have we, who are baptized, fallen into the snares of the devil, and given ourselves, even willingly, into sin? If we wish to stand against Satan-if we do not, we are not Christians-we must stand with Christ as He comes to us week by week to feed us and to fit us for the Resurrection, where there will be no more devil, no more temptation, no more sin. As baptized sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, we daily make the sign of Christ’s cross and pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.”
And still, we should be astonished at the sight: sinners go down into the water in which the sinless Son of God was once baptized. Going down with Jesus into the water of His death, the Father raises us with Him, sinless; and the Holy Spirit descends upon us, marking us as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified. St. Paul promises, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his 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” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV). You have died to sin and can no longer live in it. “[I]n Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27, ESV). Because of that, we know that the Father of Jesus is also our Father. You can be sure that since you are in Christ through faith in the promises of baptism, your Father sees the holiness of Christ rather than your unholiness. We see in the baptism of Jesus what happens to each one of us at our baptism: the Spirit descends and the Father speaks to you what He said to His unique and eternal Son, Jesus: “You are My beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.” [That is what He said to Allize when He put His holy Name on her. And] The Name of the Triune God is [also] on you. As often as you have denied your baptism by your thoughts, and words, and actions, your God has never denied you because He cannot deny His own Name. As often as you sin, God has made a way back through baptism: repentance as you hear God’s commandment and His Law’s accusation of you as a sinner; and His absolving Word through me, your pastor. He receives you back again and again through baptism, without limit and without condition. Where this repentance and forgiveness happen, God continues daily the work He began in your baptism. If you do not repent and do not hear the absolution of Jesus, so that your sinful nature has free rein, you resist your baptism. “Therefore, let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all the time…As we have once obtained forgiveness of sins in baptism, so forgiveness remains day by day as long as we live” (Luther, LC, Kolb/Wengert 466-467). “O gracious Lord with love draw near/To these your children gathered here;/The Spirit’s gift in them renew:/The gift of faith that clings to you” (LSB 599, st. 1).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/06/09