“The Baptism with Our Lord” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11)

The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 10, 2021

“The Baptism with Our Lord” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11)

Today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. On Wednesday we celebrated the Epiphany of Our Lord. That makes today the First Sunday after the Epiphany. And that means that today, as we do every year on this Sunday, we hear an account of Jesus being baptized, whether from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. This year it’s the account from Mark.

And Mark says, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” And you say, “OK, so Jesus got baptized. Why is that important? What does this have to do with me?” And I say, “A whole lot. As we will now see.” The Gospel reading from Mark and the Epistle reading from Romans will make the connection for us, the connection between the Baptism of Our Lord and our own baptism, under the theme, “The Baptism with Our Lord.”

But first, the Baptism of Our Lord. Christ’s baptism. And we ask: What’s so special about Jesus being baptized? Well, the most obvious thing is, he didn’t need to be. Jesus did not need to be baptized. Because John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and what did Jesus need to repent of? Nothing. What sins did he need forgiveness for? None. The people being baptized were confessing their sins. What sins did Jesus have to confess? None. That’s what seems strange about Jesus coming to be baptized. He wasn’t a sinner.

But how about you? Are you a sinner? Do you have sins to confess? Do you have sins to repent of? Yes, you do, and so do I. You and I need to make a trip to the wilderness, to hear John preaching repentance. For you and I daily sin much, in thought, word, and deed, in what we do wrong and in what we fail to do right. Read the Ten Commandments, and you will see how those commandments pierce through our self-defense rationalizations. Realize how seriously God takes the breaking of his commandments and how penetrating his eye is. You will soon discover that you have plenty of sins to confess. You will begin to see how deeply rooted sin is in you.

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

So then, why is he getting baptized? It doesn’t make sense. But really it does, when you understand why the Son of God came in the flesh in the first place. Because he came to rescue sinners. And to do that, he needed to identify 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 where sinners deserve to go: to death, death under God’s judgment. That sinless Jesus here is identifying 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.” The Greek verb means “to split apart.” When Jesus was baptized, he saw the heavens “being split apart,” “being torn open.” There’s almost a violent feel to it. This is right away at the start of Mark’s gospel. And at the end of this gospel. you will find this same “split apart” verb used again, where at Jesus’ death the curtain of the temple is “torn in two.” Already here at the start, at Jesus’ baptism, we are given a hint of what’s to come.

The heavens are being torn open. It’s like there was an earthquake in the sky. What’s going on here? By God’s Son undertaking his saving mission of identifying with sinners and going to the cross for them, there is a deep cosmic shift going on. At Christ’s baptism, there is an intersection of heaven and earth going on. Heaven is opening up, so that the Father and the Spirit can add their blessing to what the Son is doing.

Which is what they do. First, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and comes to Jesus. This is showing that God’s blessing, favor, and choice are empowering this man, the Christ, the anointed one. Jesus is being anointed with power to do the work of his public ministry, which he is about to begin. Wisdom, healing, blessing–these 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 take on this mission to redeem the world. Now, as the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, begins that journey to the cross, the Father speaks his approval and his love.

So, what does all of this have to do with you? Everything. The triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all are united on this great plan to redeem sinful humanity–yes, to save even 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 sin and death, the result is complete forgiveness for you and final victory over death. This is what Jesus won for you by making that journey from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

And now Jesus shares his victory with you when you are joined to him in your baptism. In Holy Baptism, you are connected to Christ, united to him. You have been joined to Jesus. He shares with you all the blessings he won for you by his cross and resurrection. And so the baptism of our Lord leads to the baptism with our Lord. We are baptized with Christ.

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 profound implications for both our daily life and our eternal life.

For our daily life, it means a daily dying and rising with Christ. 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 a distortion of God’s grace, and Paul is arguing against that here. Just because God is gracious and he forgives sins–that should not be taken as an excuse to go on sinning. No, Christ died for those sins, so how can we go on living in them? We have been joined to Jesus, buried with him in baptism, and our 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 once more 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. You, baptized believer in Christ, you have eternal life. You have eternal life already 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.

The baptism of our Lord leads to the baptism with our Lord. Christ puts all the benefits of his baptism into ours. He takes all our sins upon himself and gives us all his righteousness in their place. Christ, who was anointed with the Spirit, baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, to give us newness of life now and eternal life forever. The heavenly Father, who called Jesus his beloved Son, takes us as his own beloved sons and daughters.

The great church father St. Ambrose wrote: “Our Lord was baptized, not to be cleansed himself, but to cleanse the waters, so that those waters, cleansed by the flesh of Christ which knew no sin, might have the power of baptism.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the power of baptism: that our Lord got into the water with us sinners, washing away our sins and putting his righteousness and his life into our baptism. The Baptism of Our Lord leads to our baptism with our Lord, and that means life for you and me.

Published in: on January 9, 2021 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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