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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

I Am Baptized

The Baptism of Our Lord

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:15-17,21-22

John the Baptist was in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and all the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were going out to be baptized by him. John was the biggest news to hit Palestine in a long time. His actions stirred up the whole country. And the heart of what he did was to baptize.

It’s hard for us to understand what a shock this was to the people. Jews were very clear that “Gentile dogs” were unclean, and whenever a Gentile wanted to become a part of Judaism, he had to go through an elaborate ritual, with a ceremonial bath to wash away his pagan impurities. But here was John, treating the chosen people as if they were pagans! He told them not to rely on being Abraham’s offspring. God was perfectly capable of raising up children to Abraham from the stones! There was only one way into the Kingdom of God, and that way was called repentance.

And then one day, along came Jesus, to be baptized in the River Jordan by John. At first it seems strange that Jesus should have anything to do with a baptism which was plainly said to be for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus came to be baptized by John, and the only hesitation was on John’s part, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; it’s proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:14,15)

You see, if Jesus was going to take the place of sinful men and women on the cross, He needed to fully identify with them. So here we see Jesus, who has no sin, identifying Himself with sinful men and women in the waters of baptism. It was a picture of what He had come to do, and of what He would do on that terrible cross a few years later. That’s the way Jesus saw His baptism. Luke tells us that He said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” (Luke 12:49,50)

His cross was to be His baptism! That’s where He bore the sins of the world – the sins He symbolically identified with when He was baptized by John in the Jordan River.

In Jesus’ baptism, He identified Himself with sinners in order to bring about the forgiveness of sins to which John’s baptism pointed.

Jesus’ baptism meant an anointing by the Holy Spirit. “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw Heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.” And baptism is the sacrament in which the presence of the Holy Spirit is offered to us.

Jesus’ baptism was His assurance of sonship. “You are my Son, whom I love,” came a voice from Heaven. He didn’t become the Son of God at His baptism; He was the Son of God already. But now He received an assurance of it. He is the authentic Son of God; we are adopted sons and daughters because of Him. God is His Father; we can call Him “Father” too only because Jesus allows us to.

And a third aspect of the baptism of Jesus is that of servanthood. The Messianic Son was also the Suffering Servant. The quotation, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,” is a composite quote. The first half comes from Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son.” But the second half of that quotation comes from Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” That’s from the first of the four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah, pointing to the hardship and sacrifice and death of the Servant of the Lord, culminating in the famous chapter, Isaiah 53. So in this quotation, the Son, which is the highest ideal in Judaism, is united with the servant, the lowest role, which nobody wanted. And they’re brought together at Jesus’ baptism. The Son had to walk the path of the servant. And so must we who follow Him.

You hear a lot of “the theology of glory” these days, especially on television. We want blessings now, riches now, healings now, and spiritual gifts now. You don’t hear a lot about the call to suffer and serve. But sonship can’t be divorced from suffering and servanthood – what Martin Luther called, “the theology of the cross.” They’re part of one baptism.

So the baptism of Jesus, while being unique, has much to teach us about Christian Baptism. It’s the pledge of the Holy Spirit. It’s the mark of sonship. It’s the call to the path of the Servant. The New Testament doesn’t spend a lot of time theorizing about baptism. It makes it plain that the early Christians obeyed the Lord and went about doing it.

But in the course of the New Testament there are many mentions of baptism which show that our baptism is very significant for us today.

1) Baptism speaks of new birth. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5) In baptism, a totally new life begins, which will grow and develop like a baby turning into an adult.

2) Baptism speaks of washing. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." (I Co”. 6:11) The sin that separates us from God is washed away in this sacrament. And baptism is more than washing; it’s the sacrament of justification.

3) Baptism is putting on a suit of new clothes. That’s what Galatians 3:27 means when it says, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” It’s as if we take off our old, filthy, tattered clothes, take a bath, and then put on a new, beautiful set of clothes. Jesus is that new suit – and in baptism we “put on Christ.”

4) Baptism is the way of escape from the flood of destruction. So Peter writes in his first epistle, “God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 3:20,21)

5) And I believe the most profound of all meanings of baptism is that it unites us with Jesus in His death and resurrection. Talk about amazing grace! Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 5:3,4)

Dead and buried with Christ in baptism – and raised with him to live a new life. That doesn’t only speak of the past, does it? That also speaks of the present – of now!

And then Paul goes on to say, “If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.” (Romans 6:5) So we see that our baptism in Christ Jesus even speaks of our future!

Martin Luther said we should renew our baptism daily, drowning our old nature in repentance, and letting our new nature live for Christ each day.

If I said to you, “I was married,” it would imply that at some time in the past I was married – but no longer am. But if I said to you, “I am married,” it would still imply that at some time in the past I was married – but that I still am!

So also, if I say, “I was baptized,” it would imply that at some time in the past I was baptized – but no longer am. It would just be an historical event. Since baptism speaks to our past, our present, and our future, you can say with me, “I am baptized!”


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