Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sermon: Baptism of our Lord - 2011

12 January 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 3:13-17 (Isa 42:1-7, 1 Cor 1:26-31)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

John the Baptist does not baptize everyone.

“Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees” says St. Matthew, just a few verses before our Gospel for today, came to John to be baptized. He refused them baptism and even called them a “brood of vipers” because they did not “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” They needed to repent, but acted like they didn’t.

And John sent them away.

John the Baptist initially wanted to likewise turn Jesus away – but for a different reason: “I need to be baptized by you,” John protests, “and do You come to me?” For Jesus did not need to repent, but acted like He did.

And John tried to send Him away.

But our Lord Jesus is not so easily put off. He, who is the Word Made Flesh, commands John: “Let it be so.” The one who has come seeking baptism now commands baptism, the preacher of good news is visited by Good News preaching. The same One who said: “Let there be…” in the beginning, now begins His ministry with a “Let it be so.” And what’s more, this “let it be so” is repeated in the Lord’s prayer – where it means simply “forgive,” as in “forgive us our trespasses.”

For Jesus has not come to John to be forgiven, but to forgive. Jesus does not come among sinful men to repent of sin, but to bring sinful men to repentance. Jesus does not come to John to hear him proclaim the Good News of the kingdom, but rather to be the Good News of the kingdom to the proclaimer.

This is how things work in our Lord’s kingdom. His ways are not our ways. And His ways are not merely perplexing, but shocking; not merely unexpected, but jubilant; not merely mysterious, but magnanimous!

The one Man in all the world who needs no repentance comes to be baptized in a baptism of repentance, “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And three years later, this one Man will truly fulfill all righteousness in a baptism of blood, on the cross. And on the third day, this one Man will rise from the grave, will drown the devil in a New and Greater baptism given to new preachers, who will go out into all the world preaching repentance and offering a baptism to men far and wide, men who need repentance.

And that baptism truly fulfills all righteousness.

For what happens to Jesus happens to us, dear friends: “When Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him.” The Holy Spirit descends upon Him even as the Father pronounces Him “beloved.”

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we are “poor miserable sinners” in need of forgiveness. And like Jesus, we have been drawn to the waters of Holy Baptism by the will of the Father and by the life-giving ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In our baptism, we are given the gift of life – the life of Christ. We are given the gift of a ransom – the ransom of the cross. We are given the gift of forgiveness – of the fulfillment of all righteousness by the One who not only takes flesh with us, is baptized among us, but who dies for us.

What makes our baptism so glorious in the light of our Lord’s baptism is illuminated by St. Paul: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”

The Pharisees and Sadducees went away dry, and Jesus went away wet. Sinners who counted themselves righteous because of pride were humbled, while the Righteous One who allowed Himself to be numbered among sinners in His humiliation is exalted. And we, dear friends, share in the exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ, for “because of Him,” proclaims the apostle, “you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

“For consider your calling,” says St. Paul. “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness,” prophesies Isaiah. Even though we are not righteous of ourselves, the Lord has fulfilled all righteousness in baptism. “I will take you by the hand and keep you,” says the Lord, even as we are taken by hand to the waters of Holy Baptism.

And hear anew the gracious promise of help to those in need: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench.” For though we may become tired or lose heart, He, who is our righteousness, “will not grow faint or be discouraged.”

And even though John refused baptism to the Pharisees and Sadducees in their sins, and even though John nearly refused baptism to our Lord in His righteousness, we, dear brothers and sisters, have been mercifully granted baptism from our sinfulness into the Lord’s righteousness. We have gone up “from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened” to us.

We have been forgiven, we have been born again, we have been given “righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” for we have been baptized…

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

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