Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after Epiphany / Baptism of our Lord (January 10, 2015)

LUKE 3:15-17,21-22


In the name + of Jesus.

     At the beginning of every service, we invoke the name of our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is that name into which we were baptized.  It is in that name that our lives as Christians began.  At our baptisms, God washed us clean of our sins and adopted us into his family.  So, we now bear the family name—Christian.  It is by holy baptism that the Lord Jesus Christ has united us to himself.  If we are united to Jesus, then all that is his he gives to us—everlasting righteousness, victory over sin and Satan, deliverance from death and the grave, and a glorious resurrection to eternal life.  Baptism means unity with Jesus.
     In Luther's Small Catechism, we are instructed to make remembrance of our baptism every day.  The Catechism states, “In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father, Son +, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  Making the sign of the cross accentuates your connection to Jesus and his cross.  While you don't have to make the sign of the cross on yourself, you certainly should not despise it.  That sign was first made upon you when you were baptized and when you were marked with the Triune name.  Making the sign of the cross is a worthy reminder that you are baptized and, therefore, are united to Jesus and a recipient of all his gifts.  This daily remembrance of your baptism is a tremendous comfort.  It reminds you of whose you are, and it is a proper motivation to remember for whom you live as you are about to get on with the tasks of the day.  Baptism means unity with Jesus in every aspect of your life.
     Today, our Gospel has us remember not our baptism, but Jesus' baptism.  Perhaps we don't give as much attention to Jesus' baptism because it doesn't make sense to us that Jesus should be baptized.  Jesus is righteous.  One who is holy does not need cleansing.  Jesus not only kept the Law, he has also been entrusted with enforcing it and judging us according to it.  John the Baptist testified that Jesus was coming in fiery judgment: “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap 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 the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16-17)  The fact that the holy Messiah was about to break into their world should have struck fear into them so that they would repent.  That's why John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing—so that they would not fall under his judgment.
     John was not wrong to preach repentance and judgment.  The coming of Jesus indeed comes with judgment.  Whoever does not repent will be lost forever.  When Jesus comes again, he will judge the living and the dead.  Our creed confesses this correctly, and we do well to take it to heart.  We, too, fall under God's judgment.  Baptism does not excuse us from good works.  On the contrary, it sets us apart for good works.  We cannot live as though what we do does not matter because we are Christians.  In fact, the Bible declares: “It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And 'If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'” (1 Peter 4:17-18)
     When Jesus came to be baptized by John, he was anything but fiery or vengeful.  He even seemed to fly in the face of John's warnings.  He did not excoriate people for their sins; rather, he joined with them in being baptized.  When we were baptized, Jesus united us to him.  But when Jesus was baptized, he united himself to us.  Baptism means unity with Jesus.
     Dear Christians, you have been united with Jesus in your baptism.  This is how you escape the fiery judgment that is to come.  For, the waters of baptism douse the fires of hell and quench the burning wrath of God.  This is all because Jesus has united himself to you in his baptism.  By submitting himself to a sinner's baptism, Jesus put himself in the place of sinners.  Jesus united himself to all mankind.
     Baptism means unity with Jesus.  He has made himself one with us to take up our cause.  The man, Jesus Christ, has done the work which God commands every man to do—perfect obedience to the Law.  At Jesus' baptism, the Father in heaven declared that Jesus had done exactly that.  God cannot be pleased with anything that is short of his own holiness.  God is not pleased with anything that is evil, corrupt, or crooked.  Therefore, his verdict on Jesus is significant: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)  Though the first man did not obey God's commands, and no man has since, this man has.  Jesus of Nazareth had earned God's favor by his perfect obedience to him.
     That perfect obedience continued in Jesus all the way to the cross.  There, he selflessly laid down his life for sinners.  Jesus put himself under God's fiery judgment and was scorched in the heat of divine wrath.  He suffered for sinners because he had united himself to sinners and stood in our place.  The man, Jesus, bled and died for us.  But since Jesus is also God, his sufferings and death count for us all.  It is Jesus' blood which has satisfied God's anger and have lifted God's curse.
     What Jesus did at the cross is a historical event from almost 2,000 years ago.  But the way God delivers that payment to you now is through his word and sacraments.  You were united with Jesus in holy baptism.  In holy baptism you were cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Holy Baptism is, as St. Paul describes it, the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)  It is your new birth into the family of God.  It is how the Lord has given you new life, that is, regeneration, so that you are no longer dead in sin, enslaved to Satan, and bound to death and the grave.  Now you are free.  If Satan every accuses you of your sins, you can flee to your baptism for refuge.  If you ever fear death, you can flee to baptism for your refuge.  You can boast, “I am baptized.  I am united with Jesus.  Where he has victory, I have victory.  My sins have been paid for.  My death has been undone.  My place is with Jesus who lives and reigns in heaven.  Therefore, nothing can condemn me; for I am a child of God.”  And if you are in the family of God, then you also bear the family traits—you are holy and blameless in the sight of God.  You love what is good and right, and you abhor whatever perverts God's good gifts.  And since baptism unites you with Jesus, you also have received the same verdict as Jesus: “You are my beloved children; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22, paraphrased)  
     Baptism means unity with Jesus—who for us men and for our salvation Jesus Christ became man (Nicene Creed), and who for us men and for our salvation, this man was baptized.  He has taken up all our sin in his baptism so that he could bestow all his righteousness on us in our baptisms.
     And this is why the Catechism urges you to make daily remembrance of your own baptism.  It is where God has set you apart from the death and destruction that is coming upon the world.  It is where Jesus has delivered you from the curse and condemnation which sinners deserve.  It is where Jesus has set you apart for godly living, and it is how Jesus enables you to serve the Lord without fear.  Yes, you were set apart for godly living, but you are not trying to earn the Lord's favor through your godly lives.  Rather, you have the Lord's favor because you are now his children.  Baptism unites you with Jesus, so, when you were baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on you, and the Father is well pleased with you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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