Sermon for January 10, 2016

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, January 10, 2016

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Texts:  Romans 6:1-11 and Luke 3:15-22

Sermon Theme:  “Baptized into His What?”

(Sources:  Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 1, Series C; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Online Baptism Jokes,; Believer’s Bible Commentary; Footnotes, Concordia Self-Study Bible.)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

On this Festival Day of our Lord’s Baptism, the Gospel text from Luke gives a brief account of Jesus’ Baptism, and the Epistle from Romans explains to us what Baptism is all about.  The doctrinal issues regarding Baptism have been a major separating point among various denominations.  Thus many jokes about Baptism center on these differences, like the exchange of words between a Baptist minister and a Lutheran Pastor; here’s their conversation:

Lutheran Pastor:  So, let me get this straight – you believe a person isn’t baptized unless he has been fully immersed in water – is that correct?

Baptist Minister:  Correct.  We believe in full immersion – not pouring or sprinkling.

Lutheran:  So if you walked a person into a stream up to his ankles, that wouldn’t consist in an actual baptism?

Baptist:  No sir.  No Baptism.

Lutheran:  What if you got him up past his knees?

Baptist:  Still not good enough.

Lutheran:  What about if he waded in to his waist?  Would you pronounce him baptized?

Baptist:  No, no, no, — what about immersion do you not understand?

Lutheran:  Please forgive me, I am slow sometimes – I really do want to understand you, and I thank you for your patience.  Just a couple more questions and I’ll move onto other edifying topics.  What if he were immersed up to his chest?

Baptist:  No.

Lutheran:  What if he walked all the way in, held his breath, and was up to his eyeballs in water?

Baptist:  No, he has to be immersed.

Lutheran:  I think I understand now – you and I agree after all!

Baptist:  What?  What do you mean?  Did I convince you that immersion is the only way for baptism to be properly administered?

Lutheran:  On the contrary – you gave me great evidence against it!

Baptist:  I did!?!?

Lutheran:  You sure did.  You convinced me that getting your feet wet doesn’t make one baptized.  You convinced me that getting wet up to your knees or waist doesn’t make one baptized.  You convinced me that that being up to your chest or neck in water doesn’t make one baptized.  You even convinced me that being up to your eyeballs in water doesn’t cut it.

Baptist:  So?!?

Lutheran:  So what that tells me is that both of us deem water being administered to the head as sufficient to consider one baptized.

While that is a humorous response to an age-old doctrinal issue, it is an attempt to get to the true essence and significance of baptism.  The fact that Jesus  allowed Himself to be baptized underscores the importance of the Sacrament, as well as the statement made by Jesus in the last chapter of Mark:  “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Obvious of course is the fact that Jesus was and is sinless and did not need either baptism or forgiveness.  So why was He baptized?

The greatest theologians in the world have struggled with that question and have come up with no greater answer than what a group of uneducated peasants came up with in Solentiname, Nicaragua.  Philip and Sally Scharper record their responses:

Mariita:  “To give us an example.  He didn’t need baptism, but we did and He did it so we would.”

Old Tomas:  “Out of humility.  He was with His people, with His group, and He wasn’t going to say, ‘I don’t need this, I don’t have any sin.’  Not Jesus, He goes along with the others.”

Ernesto:  “Accepting His call.  At other times, Jesus spoke of His death as a baptism, or ‘bath.’  He means that His true baptism would be that of His death, His blood bath, and this is what He accepted when He accepted His calling as the Messiah.”

Wow!  We would be hard pressed to come up with greater answers than that, wouldn’t we?

That last answer given by Ernesto calls for us to examine those passages in Paul’s letter to the Romans which are very bothersome to many people.  When they read verse 2 and 3, they want to go, “Baptized into His what?”  I’m talking about verse 3 wherein Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”

“Baptized into His death?”  As if that is not enough, Paul goes on to say, “We were buried, therefore with Him by baptism into death.”  What on earth does this mean?

It means that when Jesus died to sin, He died as our representative, as our substitute, — for us, in our place.  As our substitute, He died AS us.  Being totally sinless, Jesus had no reason to die for Himself, but, instead for us.  Therefore, when He died, we died.  Jesus died to the whole question of sin, settling it once and for all.  All those who are in Christ are seen by God as having died to sin.  This does not mean that the believer is sinless.

It means that he is identified with Christ in His death, and in all that His death means.

So Paul raises the big question:  “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  How is it then that all these baptized folks can be such big sinners?  Why, I know two men who were baptized, and they are the two biggest sinners in Austin County!  Weren’t their sins washed away?

Reminds me of the three year old who saw her first infant baptism in her church, — of course with no remembrance of her own baptism as a baby.  As she watched the pastor pour three shells full of water on the baby’s head, she nudged her daddy and asked, “Why is Pastor brainwashing that baby?”

I don’t know how the father responded to her question.  Maybe he said it was “soul-washing” rather than “brain-washing,” I don’t know.

The problem is we live in a fallen world, overflowing with sinners, and the devil is prowling around like a lion, ready to mislead and to devour us.  We live in a post-Christian era, when worldliness tries to overpower Godliness.  In spite of the warning in our gospel text that the chaff will be assigned “to burn with unquenchable fire,” the world actually reverses the labels placed upon wrong-doing.

What used to be called chastity is now called neurotic inhibition.  What used to be called Christian discipline is now called unhealthy repression.  What used to be called depravity is now called creative self-expression.  What used to be called disgusting is now called adult.  What used to be called ethical anarchy is now called theology of liberation.  What used to be called moral irresponsibility is now called being freed up.  What used to be called living in sin is now called a meaningful relationship.

What  used to be called modesty is now called a hang-up.  What used to be called perversion is now called alternate lifestyle.  What used to be called self-indulgence is now called self-fulfillment.

We would think that the opposite of “pro-life” would be “pro-death,” but it is “pro-choice.”  Immoral movies are for “mature” audiences, not vile-minded ones.  The print versions of these are sold in “adult” bookstores, presumably an establishment that takes its place alongside such other adult privileges as driving an automobile and voting.

This is verbal alchemy on the part of worldly people, and its purpose is to reduce sin from a felony to a misdemeanor, and the final goal is to get it off the books completely.  One cannot help but suspect that the devil is behind all of this.

Those of us who are Christians, who believe that through baptism we have died to sin, that by being baptized into Christ Jesus we are baptized into His death, wonder how anyone who died to sin can still live in it.

Like the rest of sinful mankind, we Christians are tempted by the world, the flesh and the devil; and because the world says it’s OK, we forget our baptismal vows and slip gradually away from our oneness with Christ, until we too find ourselves reversing the labels placed on wrong-doing, saying in essence, “Knock it off, God, we’re making our own rules!”

But what does God say about all this?  Through the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 5:2, God says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness and put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.”  God is saying, “Enough already!  I’m tired of your disobedience!  You will be cast into the unquenchable fire!”

These words would make us tremble in desperation and wallow in hopelessness and fear if it were not for the promise offered in Romans 5:20:  “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

That promise is to those who have been hoodwinked by the devil and have reversed the labels on wrong-doing, as well as it is to us, who want to be true to our baptism; and it’s never too late until our last breath, to repent and be forgiven. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

To be sure, Jesus identified with our sinful humanity in His baptism.  He belongs with us.  God identifies Jesus as His beloved Son.  Jesus belongs to God.  Through our baptism, we were baptized into His death, thus, we belong to God and to one another.

May our church, in the New Year ahead, under the leadership of our newly installed officers, and with its pastors, vow to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all  understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.