“Christ’s Baptism and Ours” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11)

The Baptism of Our Lord
January 8, 2012

“Christ’s Baptism and Ours” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11)

Today the church celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord. On the First Sunday after the Epiphany, every year, we hear an account from one of the gospels of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John. “OK, so Jesus got baptized,” you say. “Big deal. Why should I care? What does this have to do with me?” A whole lot. As we shall see. Our reading from Mark and our reading from Romans will make the connection, as we consider the theme: “Christ’s Baptism and Ours.”

First, Christ’s baptism. What’s going on here? What makes it noteworthy that Jesus was baptized? Well, the first thing is, he didn’t need to be. For John was preaching a baptism of repentance out there in the wilderness, and what did Jesus need to repent of? Nothing. The people being baptized were coming out to John confessing their sins. What sins did Jesus have to confess? None. That is what is so odd–at first glance, at least–about Jesus being baptized. He wasn’t a sinner.

How about you? Are you a sinner? Do you have sins to confess? Do you need to hear the preaching of repentance? Oh, very much so, myself included. You and I need to make that trip to the Jordan, for you and I daily sin much, in our thoughts, words, and deeds, in what we do and in what we leave undone. Just read through the Ten Commandments, and realize how thoroughgoing those commandments reach, how serious God is about them, and how penetrating an eye he has, and you will soon have plenty of sins to confess. You will begin to see how deeply rooted is the sin in you.

But with Jesus this was not the case. He is the sole exception, in the whole history of humanity. The only one without sin. Pure and holy is this one coming to the Jordan to be baptized. For he is, in fact, the sinless Son of God, keeping God’s law as it ought to be kept. The only one who can say that.

But then why is he getting baptized? It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make sense. But it does, when you understand why the Son of God came in the flesh in the first place: namely, to rescue sinners, and to do that by identifying with us. Jesus gets in the water with us, going where sinners belong, for the ministry that he is about to begin will take him to the place where sinners deserve to go: to a cross, dying, under God’s judgment. Jesus’ self-identification with us sinners is the first thing we can say about his baptism.

Next it says, “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening.” The heavens were opened. And really, it’s a little stronger than that. The text actually says, “he saw the heavens being torn open.” It’s the Greek verb “schizo,” which means “to split.” When Jesus was baptized, he saw the heavens “being split apart,” “being torn open.” There’s almost a violent feel to it. It’s like an earthquake in the sky.

What’s going on here? By Jesus, God’s Son, undertaking this saving mission of identifying with sinners and going to the cross for them, there is a profound cosmic shift going on. This is the intersection of heaven and earth. Heaven is opening up, so that the Father and the Spirit can add their blessing to what the Son is doing here.

Which is what they do. First, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, descends in the form of a dove and rests upon Jesus. This is showing that God’s blessing, power, and choice are resting upon this man, the Christ, the anointed one. Jesus, according to his human nature, is being anointed with power to do the work of his public ministry, which he is about to begin. Wisdom, healing, and blessing will mark Jesus’ ministry, as he inaugurates the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

The Spirit descends, and a voice comes from heaven. It is the voice of the Father, giving divine approval, assurance, and encouragement to his Son as he undertakes his mission: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father was well pleased with the Son from before the foundation of the world, knowing that the Son would willingly embark on this mission to redeem humanity. Now as the divine, incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, begins that journey to the cross, the Father speaks his approval and his love.

What does all this have to do with you? Everything. The triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all united on this great plan and undertaking to redeem sinful humanity–yes, to save you. That will only happen through Jesus identifying with us sinners and taking our place and bearing our sins into death.

At his baptism, Jesus sets out on this course that will take him to the cross. And since he has completed that journey and defeated death and the devil in the process, the outcome is complete forgiveness for you and victory over death. This is what Christ won for you by making that long journey from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

And now he shares that victory with you when you are joined to him in your baptism. In Holy Baptism, you get connected to Christ, united to him. You have been joined to Jesus. He shares with you all the good things he won for you by his cross and resurrection. That’s where Paul goes with this in his teaching on baptism in Romans 6.

Paul says that in our baptism we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. This has implications for both our daily life and our eternal life.

For our daily life, it means a daily dying and rising. Dying to sin, and rising to newness of life. The forgiveness of sins is not meant to be used as a license to sin. That is the distortion of God’s grace that Paul is battling against here. Just because God is gracious and forgives our sins should not be taken as an excuse to go on sinning. No, Christ died for those sins–how can we go on living in them? We have been joined to Jesus, joined in our baptism, and that old sinful self needs to be put under the water and drowned every single day. We come up out of that baptismal water each new day to live as the new people we are in Christ. We have been joined to Jesus, connected to Christ, and that will show up in the way we live. That’s what baptismal living is all about.

Connected to Christ in baptism, this means everything to us for eternal life, too. Our sinful self has been put under the water with Jesus and drowned. Our sins have been washed away. We are forgiven. Peace with God is made. No obstacle, no barrier, exists between us and God. The heavens have been torn open, and the way is clear. Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Baptized believer in Christ, you have eternal life. You have eternal life now, and that means death will not have the last word. You have been joined to Jesus in baptism, and therefore you will share in his resurrection from the dead.

“Christ’s Baptism and Ours.” Christ puts all the benefits of his baptism into ours. He takes our sins upon himself and gives us his righteousness in their place. Christ baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, to give us life, newness of life now and eternal life forever. The heavenly Father takes us as his own beloved sons and daughters. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal–and a pretty big deal–for us.

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Published in: on January 8, 2012 at 12:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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