The Rev. Paul J Cain
Baptism, John, Jesus
Baptism of Our Lord, First Sunday after the Epiphany, 08 January 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
To many, Christianity is complicated. A person, a non-Christian, for example, may be frustrated by what they see as a disconnect, a gap between the professed beliefs and actual lives of Christians they know. Others may be frustrated by what some perceive as “minor” or “major” differences between Christian groups. Still others may be frustrated in an attempt to read the Bible. Beginning with Genesis, they may become frustrated with the names, genealogies, and ancient laws and may well give up reading long before they get to the New Testament and the life, ministry, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. More important than the confusion, is that many fail to hear of comfort in Christ. The Holy Gospel for today gives us an opportunity to address a few of the sometime confusing parts of Christianity: Baptism, John, and Jesus.
First, Baptism. 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
What is Holy Baptism? Who is it for? What does it do? How long does it last? We are given some answers here. In the Gospel according to St. Mark, a baptism is mentioned as early as verse four. John is the one doing the baptizing. More about him soon. His baptizing is done with water—no surprise there. Yet he is far from the cities and towns of the Holy Land. He is in the wilderness, a desert east of the Jordan River.
What are we told this baptism is like? It has two parts. It is a baptism of repentance. Repentance is the Bible’s word for sorrow and contrition for sin, and turning completely away from it. The Holy Spirit brings about repentance. It is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Let no one, let no “study notes” from a bad study Bible deceive you. When Mark says this is a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, do not doubt that the Lord has chosen to forgive sins through this baptism administered by John.
Is this baptism the same as Holy Baptism? No. This is confusing point #1. Let’s clear it up. Has Jesus given the command to “go and make disciples baptizing in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”? No, he hasn’t said that yet as of Mark Chapter One. Baptisms done with water in the Triune name according to Jesus’ institution begin only after His death, Resurrection, command to baptize in this new way, and His ascension into heaven. Does that make the difference more clear? God told John to baptize. John even baptized Jesus! More on that soon, too. And then, after Good Friday and Easter had been completed, Jesus gave us Christians a new baptism.
Today we celebrate “The Baptism of Our Lord.” That phrase can have two meanings. First, Jesus was baptized by John according to Mark chapter 1. Second, this reminds us that we receive the benefits of all that Jesus has done and who he is in the one Holy Baptism we received “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The baptism Jesus received and the baptism Jesus said to do are different, yet they are both “of repentance” and “for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s is a baptism that prepares the way for Christian baptism, just like John prepared the way for Christ.
Second, Who is John? The name “John” is common today, just as it was in Jesus’ day. We know about John, the brother of James, one of the twelve disciples. This John wrote the Gospel according to John. We’ll listen to a portion of that next Sunday. He also wrote three brief letters we call 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John, in addition to the book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament. Ancient historians tell us that this John was the only one of the Twelve disciples to die a natural death. All the others were martyred.
And then there is John Mark. John Mark was a student of St. Peter and recorded the Gospel according to Mark. There are so many Johns we call John Mark simply Mark.
And then there is John the Baptist. No, he’s not a Southern Baptist! The congregations and groups with the name “Baptist” are called that because of their unique baptismal practices. They came out of the Church of England about four hundred years ago. John the Baptist is called “the Baptist” because he carried out what the Lord gave Him to do.
Mark explains, using a prophecy from the Old Testament: 1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
John appeared. If all we had was this one Gospel account, we wouldn’t know about his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. If we didn’t have Matthew and Luke, we wouldn’t know the details behind the Christmas story. Mark is a briefer Gospel account. Some think it was the first one written. Others say it is a great re-telling of Holy Week with a short introduction. Our Holy Gospel readings for 2012 will largely come from the Gospel according to St. Mark.
John appeared. Not John the disciple and evangelist. Not John Mark, though he’s the author of this book of the Bible. The John who appears is John the Baptist, John the Baptizer. And the preaching and baptizing the Lord gave him to do was causing a stir.
5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
You can buy a camel’s hair sport coat or top coat at a department store, but it is nothing like the rough, probably smelly, untailored garment of John’s. His leather belt and diet of honey and locusts make him sound like an Old Testament prophet, say Elijah. And that’s precisely the point. He is the “one like Elijah” who was to come before the Messiah, the Christ. John isn’t pointing to himself. He isn’t preaching about Himself. He is preparing the way for the Lord Jesus. “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The mightier one is coming. John points away from himself to the one who will baptize with water AND the Holy Spirit.
Third, Jesus. 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Who is Jesus? Is He God? Is He merely a man? Is He just a good moral teacher? Was He a liar? Was He a lunatic? Or was and is He the Lord God Himself?
Jesus, born in Bethlehem, evacuated to Egypt, and raised in Nazareth comes to John. He comes for a specific purpose. And in some ways, it makes no sense. If Jesus is God and He, as a man, never sinned, why would he submit to a baptism of repentance? Do you understand the question? If you have sins, and we all do, we have sins to repent of. Jesus had committed no sin, not even as a teenager! Therefore, he had no need to repent, no need to receive a baptism of repentance. He had no sins in need of the forgiveness of sins.
But at the same time, heaven opens, the Holy Spirit descends upon on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus being baptized was pleasing to the Triune God. It was the right thing for John to do. But Why?
Jesus is God with us. And to be truly “with us,” He was born as a true man. That’s Christmas. And He had to wait to grow up in order to begin His ministry. Thirty was the typical age. But first He was born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under the law. He was circumcised on the eighth day and presented at the Temple on the fortieth day, both according to the Old Testament law. By the time He was two, wise men had sought Him as the one and only King of the Jews. By age twelve He was acknowledged to be favored by God and submissive to His mother, Mary, and earthly guardian, Joseph.
Why did He submit to baptism? To be truly with us. To fulfill the law and redeem those under the law as well as the whole human race, under the condemnation of the Law, summarized in God’s Ten Commandments.
To better understand the meaning and consequences of this day let’s talk about Jesus in connection to two words: substitute and solidarity.
By submitting to everything humans had been given to do, by suffering with those of His day, He demonstrated solidarity with them and with us. This man is God with us and He was actually with us. He is not unfamiliar with the trials and pains of life.
And Jesus is the substitute. Where God’s ancient people (and all people) failed, Jesus is faithful. We are well-familiar with Jesus dying in our place, dying for our sins upon the cross. His work as substitute began far before Good Friday. This baptism by John in the Jordan is but another example of Jesus acting as our substitute. He has no sins but submits Himself to a baptism of repentance, a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, to fully and completely do all that the law of God requires.
And here we see the benefits for you. Jesus is fully your substitute. He succeeds where you have failed, where you have sinned. His Holy Spirit leads you to repentance and faith, turning from sin and idols to the one true God and His straight paths of life in this world and in heaven. You are forgiven. You are restored to God. And as John pointed to Christ, we point others to Christ. And to baptism. In Holy Baptism, Jesus delivers the benefits He won on the cross for you. He gives His gifts also in His Word, in His word of Forgiveness, and in His Holy Supper. These are God’s good gifts for you, here and now. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.