Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sermon: Baptism of our Lord

13 January 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 3:13-17 (Josh 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17, 1 Cor 1:26-31)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The baptism of our Lord is a study in the unexpected mercy of God.

The most surprised of all was John the Baptist. He knew the Lord called him to preach. He knew the Lord called him to baptize. He knew the Lord called him to call others to repent of their sins for the sake of the near and imminent kingdom of God. He knew the Lord called him to be the forerunner of the Greater One.

But he did not know that he would be baptizing his cousin who was also God. He did not know that he would hear the voice of God the Father, saying: “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well-pleased.” He did not know that he would “fulfill all righteousness” by obeying the Word of God the Son. He did not know that he would see a rare physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

So surprised was John that he first sought to refuse God’s request to baptize him.

But, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we worship a God who never fails to surprise, to amaze, to astound, and to confound!

Baptism continues to baffle people by its simplicity and its mystery. “How can water do such great things?” Blessed Martin Luther asks in the Small Catechism, reiterating the question in everyone’s mind. “Not just water,” we confess with the good Reformer, “Certainly not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.”

The Lord in His wisdom invites us into His kingdom using the most common and even despised and taken-for-granted substance on the planet, combined with His Word and command, administered in His Holy Trinitarian Name, sealing the baptized with a promise – all in order to “fulfill all righteousness” for us. For our Lord Jesus, the crucified One, has indeed fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf, calling us to live out that fulfilled righteousness in a new life as a new creature.

It was not the Lord who needed to be baptized, for He had no sins to wash away. It was not the Lord who needed to be circumcised, for He, the Redeemer, is not one who needed to shed blood to seal the covenant as one of the redeemed. It was not the Lord who needed the sacrifice of the blood of the innocent Lamb, the blood of the new testament, “for the forgiveness of sins.”

No indeed, the righteousness He fulfilled by John’s baptism is His righteousness applied to us “poor miserable sinners.” We are the ones in need of baptism, we who are likewise unworthy to untie His shoes, and yet He allows Himself to be bound to a cross for us “unholy and forlorn.”

The Lord’s submission to baptism, cross, and grave is utterly surprising and a joyful manifestation of the Lord’s divine mercy and compassion for His broken creation.

And look at what He saves! We baptized Christians are looked upon as unwise and ignoble according to the unbelieving world. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.” We Christians are lampooned and ridiculed, slandered, and often shut out of society – and yet we are still loved by God and shown mercy through our most humble and yet most powerful baptism.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Might does not make right, and today’s strong man is tomorrow on his own death bed. No matter how much the world rants and raves against the Church, and no matter how much the Church deserves it with her sins and foolishness, the Lord continues to abide by her in her weakness, unworthiness, and folly. Not even the gates of hell shall prevail against her.

“The Lord chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.” And He affects this great surprising and ever-merciful reversal “so that no man might boast in the presence of God.”

We have been rescued, dear friends, because we needed rescuing. The strong have no need of One stronger. The perfect have no need of a Savior. And this is how it is that we ordinary sinners become saints, thanks to a little water, a pastor, some words, and the Name of the Holy Trinity.

The fact that our Lord uses Holy Baptism to save us takes away all pretence we might have to boast. You were not baptized because you deserve to be – in fact it is the opposite. You were not baptized because you can recite the catechism and pontificate about Christian doctrine – for what common demon can’t do that much? You were not even saved because you have such strong and stellar faith – for faith itself is a gift given to us in spite of our unworthiness!

And so we have been rescued, surprised to find that God was not ready to swoop down on us in rage, but ever-eager to pardon us, take us under His wings, and show us love.

This is all wrapped up in the mystery of the Lord’s explanation to John: “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Let us follow the baptismal invitation from John the Baptist to “repent” and “believe” – to take comfort in the unchanging reality that we have been “dipped in the brink” and marked by the sign of the holy cross as one of the Lord’s beloved and redeemed. Let us give up all pretension and arrogance, as though we can take credit for any of the mercies shown to us by our Savior in whom the Lord is “well pleased.” Let us live out the baptismal and cruciform Christian life in redeemed joy, in sanctified service, and in the assurance of eternal life.

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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