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

WE ARE BAPTIZED

The Baptism of Our Lord


And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just 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 a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:4-11



Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. What’s the significance of Jesus’ baptism to us today? For that matter, what’s the significance of our own – or our children’s – baptism today? One thing for sure: over the centuries there’s been a change in the significance that most people put on baptism.


People who regularly hear the Word of God, and regularly celebrate the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, may have a problem understanding baptism. I think it’s because baptism only happens once. And for most of us it happened a long time ago. When we weren’t even conscious of it. So it seems like it belongs to the past, and not to the present.


We need to be reminded of what St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “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 6:3-5) 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 speaks also of the present!


And then St. 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.” So now 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!


And yet I don’t think most of us think a whole lot about our baptism and its significance. The Christian who is baptized clings to the Word of forgiveness. But he finds that Word, set in a revelation to which the whole Bible witnesses, and a host of pictures, symbols, signs, events, and realities come to mind. The Christian faith doesn’t claim that its ceremonies are unique as far as their natural side is concerned. Christianity’s uniqueness lies in its witness to what God, the Father of Jesus Christ, can make of such ceremonial acts!


In Judaism, water had a number of sacred uses, and there was a growing practice of ceremonial washings in Judaism at the time of Christ. The discovered Dead Sea Scrolls and the excavated monasteries of some ancient Essene sects, tell us that by the time John the Baptist began his work along the lower banks of the Jordan River, his reason for using water could have been easily understood by the people – though it would have also been apparent that his use of it was new to the crowds gathered. He preached that people should be wrenched from their past. They should empty their hands and their ears and their hearts. They should be willing to be turned around completely in repentance. This was something new – the Kingdom of God was at hand!


And the “new” began one day when Jesus came to the banks of the Jordan. He, too, stepped into the water. John had been preaching that his own baptism was for the forgiving of sins after repentance. But here, he was given to see, was the righteous One of God, who had no sin, no need for repentance, no possibility of being forgiven. To baptize Him on the usual terms would have been at best meaningless, and at worst – blasphemy!


Yet Jesus said that this baptism must occur. It was “to fulfill all righteousness,” He said. In that act, Jesus identified Himself with the plan of God’s righteousness. He was Himself the Suffering Servant of whom Isaiah had spoken. He was the Anointed of God. From now on He could speak of His purposes as a “baptism” of suffering. To fulfill all righteousness, Jesus identified Himself with His people; He participated in the commonness of their life. Jesus was baptized.


Jesus’ life was kind of a summary, a miniature of God’s plan for His people. So it is that in Christ the births, the deliverances, and the cleansings by water throughout the whole Bible are called to mind. Water existed as the chief form of the primeval chaos and confusion. It was called out of nothingness into something, by the Word of God. It was called out of disorder into order. The Spirit of God brooded and hovered over the depths.


When man sinned, and the world was covered with water, God delivered His own in the midst of the flood. When He led His people from bondage in Egypt, they were brought through the Red Sea in a passage from death to life. When Job questioned God, he was put in his place as to his relationship to the mysterious depths and power of the waters. The Psalmist mused over the great depths of water. John the Baptist and Jesus made the trip to the Jordan. Before He was crucified, Jesus first washed the disciples’ feet with water. He who is the Water of Life, the living water, experienced a gushing of blood and water from His side in death. Just as the whole language of Calvary presupposes the Old Testament sacrifice of a lamb with blood, so the whole language of baptism presupposes a Biblical interest in water.


So the Christian says: Baptism is my departure out of chaos into the order of the forgiven life. It is my visitation by the Spirit which broods over this water of life. It is my deliverance from the destroying floods, my passage through the Red Seas of sin and enmity. I am humbled by it as was Job; inspired by it as was the Psalmist. Baptism is my trip to the Jordan. In this water “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live,” sharing His living water.


These events, activities, pictures, signs, symbols all deal with water and with the Word of the One who restores me to life. They are my Waters of Siloam, and my Pool of Bethesda – my entrance to the new life of the Kingdom. I have been baptized.


This new life in God’s Kingdom is a gift in baptism. It’s recovered each Easter in faith in Jesus’ resurrection – each Sunday as the sun of our new creation bursts in upon the old – each time we return to the faith which was baptism’s gift – and recovered always in the joy of forgiveness.


This kind of newness moves bodily out into the world; it enters into the real world, not just some spiritual, abstract world. How we act, then, becomes decisively important – if Jesus’ name is to be known and honored.


Faith becomes active in love; love means complete devotion to God; and then, as St. Augustine would say, we are free to “do as we please” – in His service!


May the Lord help us to daily renew our baptism.


Amen

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