The Baptism of Our Lord

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“The Son Comes Down”

Luke 3:15-22

 In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

            The eternal Son of God comes down into His creation, down into flesh, down into a Virgin’s womb, down into the tiny space of an infant who cannot speak or walk or feed Himself.  He comes down among sinners, who struggle with disease, and loneliness, and depression; sinners who struggle with burdens that are far too big for their small shoulders; sinners who have gone down so far into this world and into themselves that they can’t find their way out again; sinners who confess and cry out for an end to their sin and the sin of others against them.  Into the middle of that He comes down, down into the water in which sinners are baptized, water black with death.  Who would have thought that He was any different from any of the other hundreds being baptized in the Jordan?  But as He is standing in the water praying, He is set apart, identified as the One who needs no repentance.  He, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, is Himself anointed with the Spirit.  And the Father speaks: “You are My Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).  Out of all these people, including John, He alone is the Beloved Son of the Father, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ.  And this is the beginning of His public appearing, His epiphany, to the world.  He is identified there in the Jordan by the Father and the Holy Spirit as the eternal Son, and He begins right there His work as the Messiah for whom all creation had waited. 

Then Jesus comes up from the water and it is the beginning of the end for death.  It is the beginning of the end for your death, because you are there in that water: Jesus was baptized when “all the people were baptized” (Luke 3:21).  Jesus stood not only among the sinners of His time; He stands among all sinners of all times.  Jesus comes up from the water bearing the weight of the whole world, carrying sinners on His shoulders, and He begins there to do what He always does: intercede with the Father for us.  The Father immediately opens heaven to show that He always hears the Son and that they, with the Holy Spirit, have one will for the salvation of all.  Adam, by his sin, had “shut [heaven] against himself and his” descendents, just as the gates of Paradise were closed off by the angel with the flaming sword (see Gregory of Nazianzus, Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1093 [Writing for January 6]).  But Jesus, by His righteousness, opened heaven once again, opened a new Paradise for the children of Adam.  Jesus reunites in Himself heaven and earth, God and Man. 

But His baptism in the Jordan by John was not the end, as we have said, but only the beginning.  It was the beginning of the way that would lead to another baptism, of which Jesus speaks in Luke 12: “I have a baptism to be baptized [with], and how greatly I am distressed until it should be completed!” (12:50)  He did not need either the baptism of repentance in the Jordan or the baptism of blood on the cross, but He took both of them as His own.  He took your sin and mine, for which we need to repent and for which we deserve condemnation; He took our flesh, tainted and diseased; He took our death, and He was willingly baptized with all of it.  Jesus came down into the world and He took everything that has gone wrong in this creation and He is making it right in Himself.  This is perhaps the hardest thing to believe, because we see none of it.  We do not yet see death reverse its course.  We do not yet see the end of sin in this world.  We do not yet see that new creation which Jesus proclaims by His very presence in this creation.  We go on struggling under a sky that looks as if it had never opened.  We do not audibly hear the Father’s voice or see the Spirit in bodily form.  Look around, look within, and all you can see is the black water of sins that you thought were dead and gone; sins you long to repent and see them flow downstream.  Paul says that in our baptism, our old self was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).  And that is true; we are slaves not to sin, but to Christ.  And yet, that old self, that body of sin—it clings and claws, scrapes and scratches, bites and bellows to avoid being pulled under in the mighty flood of baptism.  The only thing to do is to bring it all again to Jesus, who stands here in the water with you.  Confess that you would often rather revel in that body of sin, than kill it off completely.  Confess that you have let it live and breathe in you, as if your baptism was a one-and-done event, as if you didn’t need Jesus to continue to deliver His new life to you.  Your baptism is not done; it is not ended or completed.  It remains as a refuge for you as long as you remain in this life.  God does not have anything more to give you than what He gives you in your baptism, because in your baptism you were baptized into Christ, very literally.  Everything that is Christ’s is now yours.  His life, including His baptism, is yours; His death, the baptism of His blood, is yours; His resurrection, the beginning of the deathless life, is yours.  Because His baptism ended in resurrection, so will yours.  To you, a baptized, believing child of God, He gives all the blessings of the Holy Spirit: faith, forgiveness, salvation, peace, joy, and boldness; by His Spirit, He holds on to you because you cannot keep your own head above the water.  To you, who have been given eyes to see, He identifies His Beloved Son: here, in the Word and the Body and the Blood.  He is here as an objective fact to sustain your baptismal life, especially when your physical life is doing its best to blind and deafen you.  No matter at what stage of life you are, your Lord will never break a bruised reed or quench a faintly burning wick (Isaiah 42:3).   There is no flood of despair, no fire that burns in this life, that can separate you from the God who has created and redeemed you.  He has called you by name and given you a new Name: His own, which He shares with the Father and the Spirit.  You wear His Name!  In the face of every temptation, every doubt, every frustration, cling to the promise; shout it in the face of the devil: I am baptized into Christ!  And then, when these heavens are finally opened and Jesus comes to remake His creation—when we will finally see it all as it is—He will gather His sons and daughters—you, son, and you, daughter—from every corner of the earth, everyone who is called by His Name.  And what the Father said to the Son in the Jordan, what He said to each of us at our baptism into His Son, we will hear Him say face to face: You are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you; “You are My Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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).  Amen.

                      — Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/8/10

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