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“John appeared 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.”
John was the ‘Billy Graham’ of his day. Great crowds came to hear him preach. John invited everyone to come forward and pray the ‘sinners prayer’ as they were baptized in the Jordan River.
When we baptize someone today, we use the ‘Rite for Holy Baptism’ on page 268 of the hymnal. There’s a formula, made up of Admonition, Scripture readings, certain customs, a renouncing of the devil, a confession of faith in the Triune God and then, finally, the baptism – “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Unfortunately, no one knows the what “Rite for Holy Baptism” that John the Baptist used. What did John or his disciples say as they baptized “all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem” one by one in the water? We don’t know.
What we can be sure of however is what John did NOT say. He did not say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He couldn’t say that because the Triune God had not given His name to this sacred act – at least, not yet.
John’s baptism was not the meeting of man and God. Not because man hadn’t shown up and entered the water. But because God had not shown up and entered the water – at least, not yet. John’s baptism was a “Rite of Purification” that got you ready to meet God.
But then it happened. “In those days Jesus came from the Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9).
It’s not that Jesus needed baptism. It’s that baptism needed Jesus before it could become the place where man meets God and God meets man.
Even John didn’t get this at first. Matthew includes that awkward little detail that Mark politely leaves out. “John would have prevented him…” (Mat.3:14). John thought that Jesus was there to pray the ‘sinners prayer’ and be baptized for the forgiveness of His sins, which made no sense. And in that, John was right. Jesus doesn’t need to be purified in order to meet God. He is God. He has no sins to be forgiven.
When Jesus entered into the water, He brought the whole triune Godhead into the water with Him. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are present because it’s never One apart from the Other – except for that terrible day called Good Friday. Now, Holy Baptism is the place where man meets God and God meets man, because Jesus is in the water.
This is where Holy Baptism gets its power to do what it promises to do. Baptism would never have the power to actually purify sinners by the forgiveness of sins unless the One who ‘takes away the sin of the world’ is in the water.
But now that Jesus has entered into Baptism, Holy Baptism is both the “Rite of Purification” and the Meeting Place with God all in one.
As Luther puts it, “apart from the Word in the water, the water is just plain water and no baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth of the Holy Spirit.”(SC- Baptism III)
So, it’s not that baptism sanctifies Jesus, but Jesus that sanctifies Baptism. Jesus had to be baptized. Otherwise, baptism is purely symbolic, “just plain water,” nothing actually happens.
This is just the way God works. He doesn’t fix things from up in heaven or download patches to repair the damage our sin has done. He comes down and becomes one of us and draws near to us. He enters right into the sinful cesspool of our lives.
And that is what makes Holy Baptism such A DANGEROUS THING – or as we are more accustomed to saying – a ‘sacrament.’ Whenever we mortal humans get too close to the holy God, it’s always a dangerous thing for us. When Jesus was baptized, the power of God entered into the water with the people of God.
It was like putting a live, high-voltage cable into the water where everyone was bathing. INSTANT DEATH. Apart from the cable in the water, it’s just plain water and no one gets hurt. But when the cable goes into the water – it becomes a deadly water.
“Do you not know that ALL OF YOU who have been baptized into Christ have been BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH?”
When Jesus was baptized, He brought His death on the cross into the water with Him. His death is the only death that really matters
• because it is only by His death that the sin of the world is atoned for
• and you are purified
• and God and man are reconciled
• and the gates of paradise once locked tight are thrown open
• and the dinner bell is ringing, ringing, ringing, for the wedding banquet is ready – COME – ‘take and eat – take and drink.’
When Jesus was baptized, He brought His death on the cross into the water. And when you were baptized you were united to Him and to His death so that His death became your death.
• You died while you were still alive.
• and there is never a more important death to die than you died in your baptism.
• You don’t need to pray the ‘sinner’s prayer,’ because Jesus has already prayed it for you from the cross.
We were therefore buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, for the purpose that, with the result that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom.6:3-4)
When Jesus was baptized, He brought His resurrection from the dead into the water with Him. When Jesus walked out of His tomb on the 3rd day DEATH and SATAN lost their hold on Him. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
When you were baptized, you were united to Jesus and to His victory over DEATH and SATAN. You were raised from the dead before you were buried. And neither DEATH nor SATAN have any hold on you any more.
Holy Baptism is a great ‘mystery.’ For not only does the cable in the water bring instant death to all who are in the water – but it also makes the dead alive again.
But only because Jesus is in the water. Apart from Jesus in the water – it’s just plain water and no baptism.
When Jesus was baptized, He brought His ‘newness of life’ into the water with Him. His death and His resurrection mark the beginning of a new day, and a new heaven and a new earth, and a new covenant – “They will be My people and I will be their God.” (Jeremiah 31:33). “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)
And when we were baptized, we you were united to Jesus so that “we too may walk in newness of life.”
• We you have a ‘new song’ to sing, and a ‘new story’ to tell and a ‘new destiny’ to live for.
• And the cup of the ‘new covenant’ is filled with His ‘new wine,’ ready for us to drink.
• “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.” (2 Cor. 5:17-18)
Baptism is a sacrament only because Jesus is in the water. And because Jesus is in the water, baptism is a ‘sacrament.’ It’s the real thing. Baptism is no more a symbol of the real thing than Jesus is a symbol of the Son of God.
In the beginning, while the Spirit of God was hovering over “the face of the waters,” God spoke His Word – “let there be light.” And because the Word always does what it says, “there was light. And He separated the light from the darkness”
When the time had fully come, the same Spirit of God was hovering over the “face of the waters” of the Jordan River, and God once again spoke His Word, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The water that is poured over Jesus’ head flows into every baptismal font in every place and every time wherever water is poured out in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
• His baptism is your baptism.
• His death is your death.
• His life is your life.
What is hidden in Christ is hidden in you. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit was hovering over the ‘face of the waters’ of the font, and the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon you and the Father proclaimed, ‘you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.’
Your baptism into Christ is your true identity before God.
• When the Father sees you He sees His beloved Son.
• You are all that He is before God.
• So there is no one to accuse you before God. Not another person and not your own conscience. “With you I am well pleased.”
So, you are never to think of yourself as someone who WAS baptized.
• You ARE baptized.
• You ARE dead to sin.
• You ARE forgiven and purified.
• You ARE free of Satan’s hold on you.
• You ARE alive in Christ.
• You ARE walking in newness of life.
Because Jesus got into the water with you.