Jan 12, 2014

The Baptism of our Lord

A child is excited to participate in a school play. He has worked hard practicing his part, and at times he has ‘inconvenienced’ his mom and dad by asking them to pretend they are participating too. He wears his costume around the house every chance he gets and he lives out the character in his actions and words.

The day eventually arrives for that young boy. Mom and dad hustle through their responsibilities knowing they need to get to the school on time to watch their determined son. They arrive early, get good seats, and talk to their neighbors about how much practice their son has invested.

In their own nervousness, they glow with pride as he makes his way to the front of the stage. All of his hard work is about to pay off. The young boy on the other hand is nearly blinded by the bright lights and the sight of the crowd has turned his stomach upside down. His heart is racing and his mind is in a whirl. He’s supposed to be saying something, but his mind is blank. He looks shocked for a moment, as he desperately searches for the words. And then a tear forms in his eye, as he can’t stop the cracking dam of embarrassment and disappointment before they come gushing out of the little boy in waves.

The parents melt in compassion for their little man. If they could take his place on the stage, they would. They would do ANYTHING to remove this burden from his shoulders. He comes running down from the stage and meets his father, who kneels down to give his boy a hug and to let him know everything is going to be ok. The father isn’t embarrassed by the situation; rather he’s supportive. And he’s just as proud of his child as he would be if everything had gone perfectly. The father has claimed the boy through his love whether he succeeds or fails.

In Matthew’s text we read about the baptism of Jesus. He has come from Galilee and stands in the crowd waiting his turn to be baptized. This wasn’t a baptismal event like we might find at Zion with the crowd sitting down and two couples with a baby standing in front by a water font. No, there was a large crowd of people standing at the bank of the river, each waiting their turn to walk in several feet and get dunked by the Baptist. The purpose of baptism by John was a ritual of forgiveness, to be cleansed from sins.

So there is Jesus standing in the crowd, waiting his turn, unrecognized by the people around him. Then it is his turn and God reveals to John who this man is. John resists the baptism stating that “he should be baptized by Jesus”, not the other way around. But Jesus offers a confusing response that theologians struggle with even today. Verse 15 reads, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

Why would Jesus need baptism? He didn’t have any sins to be washed away. But what if…what if his dunking into the water exposed him to the human sins that had already been ‘washed into the water’? What if his wading into the murky water that was stained with the sins of those that had been dunked by John, related to Jesus taking on the sins of the world?

Or maybe it is the introduction to baptism by the Holy Spirit as Matthew mentioned just a couple verses before today’s text. Verse 11 reads, “I [John] baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After Jesus get’s dunked and is coming up out of the water, ‘suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” This was followed by a voice from heaven, the voice of God, who spoke a sentence that most of us have probably heard many times. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus has grown from a baby into a man, a journey that we know almost nothing about. He has been preparing for his ministry, and now the time has come. God has claimed him in his baptism.

Martin Luther reminds us in his Large Catechism what baptism is about. He references Matthew 28:19 which states, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And also Mark 16:16, “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” Baptism therefore, is a command by Jesus (sacrament) which is an act of God. It is done in the name of God, not the church or the pastor.

Baptism is God’s claim on us and we are to respond with belief. As Luther describes, Baptism is like a ship that we have boarded to go out to sea. If we choose to jump off of the vessel, that doesn’t mean that the boat has disappeared from the water. It is still there for us to swim back to.

We are like the boy on the stage. There are times that we will recite our lines smoothly and beautifully. In those times, our Father God is smiling proudly. But there will also be times when we suffer stage fright, and we might even jump off the boat. In that case, Jesus is there in our baptism with arms wide open; available to assure us that everything will be ok and telling us how much he loves us. Amen