Sermon for January 08, 2017

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord

January 8, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Romans 6:1-11

Sermon Theme:  “So Why Is Baptism Such a Big Deal?”

(Sources: Luther’s Large Catechism; Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation; Emphasis Online Commentary; Footnotes, Life Application Study Bible; Footnotes, Concordia Self-Study Bible; Beverly Beyer, Online “Which Religions Practice Baptism, Which Do Not?”; Online Baptism Jokes; Online “What Does It Mean to Be in Christ?”; “Baptism into Jesus Christ and into His Death,” online logoapostolic. Org; Online “The Reformers Defense of Infant Baptism”)

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

Once, when an adult man asked to be baptized, the pastor wanted him to understand how important the Sacrament was, so he called the gentleman into his office and said solemnly, “Baptism is a serious step.  Are you prepared for it?”

“I think so,” the man replied, “my wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.”

“I don’t mean that,” the pastor responded.  “I mean, are you prepared spiritually?”

“Oh, sure,” came the reply, “I’ve got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey.”

Although most Christians regard Baptism as a Sacred act, and take it very seriously, there is a tendency to be light-hearted about it, in the same way we joke about weddings, — perhaps because its preponderance overwhelms us.  In teaching Junior Confirmation, we pastors always begin the unit on Baptism by stressing how important it is to us.  And most of the time, the kids respond with a question like, “So why is Baptism such a big deal?”  And that’s a good question, because it’s what our sermon text is all about.

The first clue that it’s a big deal is that Jesus Himself asked to be baptized, as we see in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew.  Today, on this First Sunday after the Epiphany, we celebrate the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord.

The word “epiphany,” in general, means any revealing of God to human beings.  Specifically, with a capital E, Epiphany refers to the special revealing of God in the form of the Christ Child to the first Gentiles, the Wise Men.  The Baptism of Jesus is an epiphany for us, in that the Holy Spirit appears as a dove, and a voice from Heaven declares, “This is my beloved Son.”  In other Gospel accounts, John the Baptist declares Jesus to be the Messiah.  So, in Jesus, we meet God face to face.

So, if Jesus is God in Flesh, what is He doing going to the Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist?  John himself asks that question, when he says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus’ answer is no clearer when He replies, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  What on earth does Jesus mean by those words?  How does His baptism fulfill righteousness?

To answer this question, we need to know that if a man wanted to go into the Temple courts where the sacrifices were made, he had to go through a ritual bath, called a “Mikvah.”  There were baths under the Temple, and the men intending to sacrifice would pay to be cleansed in these baths before they went upstairs to buy a sacrificial animal and then enter the Court of Men, where their animal would be taken and sacrificed as they watched.  A portion of the meat would go to the priests, and the rest would be given to the person for his family to share in a joyous feast.

You can see in this that John was undermining the power of the priests and the interpreters of the law of the Torah.  He was offering a free bathing away of sins, so that those who could not afford the Temple charges for those baths would also be ritually clean.  Along with the free washing away of sins, the people heard John preach a new, subversive approach to life – being born a Jew was not enough!  This was a “Wow!” experience!

John is turning their world upside down.  As a Jew, you’re counting on your birth as a Son of Abraham to get you through life?  You think there’s nothing after you die, which is what the Sadducees believed and taught?  Well, what if there IS life after death?  Where will you be then?

People were convicted by John’s preaching, and came forward to be baptized.  Even Roman soldiers came for their sins to be washed away.  Pharisees, and even some Sadducees, came for the same reason.  John called them a “brood of vipers,” and he drove them toward God so they could repent and change their lives.

Unlike us, as God, Jesus is sinless, so He has no sins to be washed away.  He says He comes to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness.  We can never become righteous by ourselves; it is only His righteousness imputed to us that saves us.  Jesus’ baptism expresses His faithfulness to accomplish God’s purposes and commission.  In other words, it is a sign that He accepts His ministry as God has called Him.  It is a way to announce to the world that His ministry is about to begin, — a ministry that ends in His sacrifice on the cross through which we are declared righteous by His death and resurrection.

And that fact leads us to our sermon text from Paul’s letter to the Romans, which in turn answers the question, ‘So why is Baptism such a big deal?’

In the text, Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”  OK, so baptism is a big deal, but Paul’s statement is about as clear as mud!  What on earth does Paul mean by “baptized INTO Christ Jesus?”  And what does he mean by “were baptized into His death?”

It sounds important, but what does it mean?  To be baptized into Christ not only means to be baptized into His BODY, which is the church, but it also means to be baptized into His character which is the embodiment of His teachings.  His character includes pure righteousness which can be ours only by means of His redeeming us.  To be “in Christ” means that God no longer sees our imperfections; He sees instead the righteousness of His own Son, says Ephesians 2:13.

When we were baptized into Christ, we were baptized into His death?  What does that mean?  The only way we can die to sin is through Christ, but we would not be able to die to sin if He had not died to redeem us from our sins.  Baptism is a means by which we enter into a vital faith-relationship with Christ.  It is a means of receiving God’s grace, and it depicts graphically what happens as a result of the Christian’s union with Christ.  When Christ died on the cross, we died to sin, because that was God’s way to restore us, and because He arose from the dead, we are guaranteed a resurrection also.

To most Christian denominations today, baptism is important.  In my research, I found that 23 Christian denominations consider baptism important, and this ranges from somewhat important to totally important.  I also found only four Christian denominations that considered baptism unimportant and did not baptize members.  Those four were: the Quakers (or Society of Friends), some sects of Baptists, the Salvation Army, Christian Scientists (nominally Christian), the Bahai faith (nominally Christian), and the Unitarians (not really Christian at all).  None of these consider Baptism, as a ritual or as a Sacrament, to be necessary.

God’s Word says otherwise:  The Gospel according to St. Mark, Chapter 16, verse 16, says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

God says to Paul through Ananias, in Acts 22:16, “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.”

Paul then says in his letter to Titus, Chapter 3, verses 5 – 8, “He saved  us  through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us, generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  This is a trustworthy saying.”

And, of course, the bottom line of why baptism is such a big deal is that Jesus COMMANDS it.  Yes, He commands that we baptize when He says in Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Martin Luther was one of the most fervent believers in the importance of baptism.  In his Large Catechism, he devoted even more pages to baptism than in his Small Catechism, with six pages on infant baptism alone.  What he says about infant baptism is longer than today’s sermon, so I would encourage you to read it on your own.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:5, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”  Luther taught that our one baptism lasted forever, so if we fall away from out baptism vows, we do not need to be re-baptized.  However, he encouraged us to remember our baptism by making the sign of the cross.  In the early days of Lutheranism, the baptismal font was placed at the entrance to the church, so that as you entered, you could dip your fingers into the baptismal water, make the sign of the cross and remember your baptism.  Remembering the vows you took at your baptism helps you to renew your relationship with the Lord.

Remembering your baptism reminds you that you are totally loved, completely forgiven, fully redeemed, and abundantly bathed in God’s amazing grace!  Amen.

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