Archive for January, 2008

In Order To Fulfill All Righteousness!

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

  Holy Baptism; Matt. 3:13-16; Luke 3:15-22; Epiphany 1A

First Sunday After Epiphany, January13, 2008
Vicar Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA

It’s been said that water is the foundation of life.  A simple element really; two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.  Life on this planet can not exist without it; we can’t exist without it.  We need to drink water for our survival, but we also need it for the everyday chores of life, things like cooking and cleaning.  When we wash ourselves, we never use just water, but we always add some sort of cleaning help with it; something like soap or shampoo.  In order for us to effectively clean our bodies we always have to add something to the water.

Today, let’s think back to the first time our hearts were cleansed by water; let’s consider our Baptism.  Baptism is a washing or purification where water is combined with the Word of God.  So like the process for cleaning our bodies, we must have something besides water.  When the Word of God is combined with water it becomes something much more than just an effective cleaning agent; it becomes a Holy Sacrament.

Today as we hear about our Lord’s baptism, we will also remember our own baptism.  It was at the font where our hearts first became cleansed from the stain and the curse of sin.  It was there at the font where the sting of eternal death was removed because our Lord took on death and hell for us.  He placed Himself under the Law and its curse for our sake.  He did so by submitting Himself to the baptism administered by John the Baptizer.  God called John to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, a gift which our Lord provided for us through His death and resurrection.

Jesus presented Himself for baptism by John at the beginning of His earthly ministry.  Now John must have been stumped over that.  He must have been wondering why Jesus was entering the water and coming out to him.  Was He testing him to ensure that he really knew who He was?  Why John even tried to stop Jesus from coming into the water, by saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me? (Mt. 3:14)  John recognized how strange this situation was that was unfolding before him.  The Holy One of Israel now stood before him, to receive that which He had no need to receive, because He was the one who knew no sin.  But Jesus answered him and said, “Permit it to be so (for) now, for this it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.  Then He allowed Him to be baptized.” (Mt. 3:15)

So our question this morning is: What did the Lord mean when he said that He must submit Himself to John’s baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness”?   In order to answer this we will follow Martin Luther’s teaching and pay attention to three things that are present within God’s means for saving sinners like us within the holy sacrament of baptism:  the sign, the significance of the sign, and faith.  All three of these are works that God does for us, to us, and within us.

The sign of our Baptism does not consist in our commitment to God, but rather it was through the water and the Word God, where God committed Himself to us.  At our Baptism when our old sinful nature was drowned in the name Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we were not left there to die but we were reborn, a new creature, righteous and holy in God’s sight.  So the sign of baptism must have the water and the word, and the putting to death and the bringing to life.  

But what is the significance of our Baptism?  To answer this, lets go back to our gospel reading.  When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River that day, He willingly and freely submitted himself to baptism; He was publicly proclaiming that He had placed himself under the Law and its curse for us.  He who knew no sin became sin, and as He came up from the water, and in a sense, he was already carrying our sin.  He entered the water clean, and looking ahead to His crucifixion, He came out of the water covered with the muddy water of the Jordon that represented our sins; the sins of the entire world were weighing down on Himself.  The prophet Isaiah explained long before Jesus’ birth that this had to be done.  He tells us that the Savior of the world would be a Suffering Servant who would pay for the sins of mankind: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53:4-5)  In accordance with Isaiah’s words, Jesus submission to Baptism signified the waiting for the promised Savior was over and that God’s promise to send a savior was now fulfilled.  For us, this means that because of our own Baptism we no longer need to look for a coming peace with God, but instead we are told that the Savior is here-the Savior has provided salvation for us now, and for eternity. 

The significance of our baptism is that there has been a miraculous dying of our old sinful nature and the birth of a new nature through the grace of God.  Just as Christ who knew no sin became sin for us and died for us and then rose from the dead, so now also our old sinful nature, that which was conceived and born in sin has been washed away; drowned in the baptismal waters, and a new person has been drawn out by God.  This is why St. Paul in his Letter to Titus calls baptism a “washing of rebirth and (a) renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  Through our baptism, we have been born again and made new.  Our Savior assures us of this reality when He says, “Unless you are born of water and the Spirit (of grace), you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  Just as we were drawn out of our mother’s womb as a sinful person and a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3), so at our baptism we have been drawn out and born spiritually.  But Baptism also signifies that the drowning of our sinful old self is an on going struggle in this life-daily we must put to death our old nature and embrace our new baptized nature until at last when our final day here comes we will be free of sin.  So daily, as we remain here, we must suffer the temptations and even sometimes the defeats of sin, yet all the while knowing God who began the work of salvation at our baptism will complete it. 

In the same way also, the lifting up out of the baptismal waters signifies a spiritual re-birth and the presence of God’s grace, goodness, and righteousness.  This grace begins within the waters of baptism and lasts until our death.  On that Last Day our lifting up out of the Baptismal waters will be completed and then we will finally rise completely out of the grasp of death, sins and evil, and be completely pure and holy in body and soul, and it is in this condition that we will live eternally with God.  But for now, we are still here in this sinful world.  We have been called to remain here and to be the salt and light of this world until the Lord calls us to his side.   

So what is our state in the here and now?  The answer to that question my friends is the truly good news of our Baptism-God has declared us sacramentally pure and guiltless because we have the sign of baptism through which God has declared all of our sins to be dead.  But what part do we play in all of this?  The only part we play is the responsibility of not rejecting God’s work within this Holy Sacrament.  So, even though sin remains in our flesh until death and works to corrupt us, as long as we do not desire it or wish to remain in it, but instead desire God’s presence in Word and Sacrament, sin can not condemn us.

Finally, we look at the last element present within our baptism, which fulfills all righteousness-faith! Faith is a gift, which God gives us at baptism.  It is a gift that allows us to believe and trust in all that God’s Word says is present within our own baptism.  Faith is the very thing which clings to all of God’s promises, and it is the very thing that provides undeniable comfort in times of illness, temptation and death.    For this reason, we must boldly thrust out our empty hand of faith and trust only in God’s promises and work, both of which became ours at the baptismal font.  It is there at the font, where both infants and adults stand before God as equals-sinners in need of a savior!  At some point in our lives, all of us must humbly admit the very same thing before God, and it is this: “I am a sinner and there is not a single thing that is pure within me.”  When we can say this truthfully, then we can also by faith exclaim, “But I have been baptized, and through my baptism God, who can’t lie, has committed himself to me in a promise: He will not count my sin against me, but will kill it and wipe it away for ever.”

But some may say that because they were baptized as a child they can not remember their baptism and therefore they do not feel comforted by it.  Doubt is perhaps the greatest weapon that the devil uses against a baptized child of God.  He speaks through our old sinful nature and questions God’s Word.  It was the same for our original parents in the garden: “Did God really say this or that?  Are you really certain you can believe and trust this or that?”  It is here that our faith becomes a mighty weapon that can be used to crush the head of the devil and silence our old sinful nature!  When this sinful voice begins to speak like this, we must turn to it and say:

“I know that I am baptized and that God, for the sake of His Son, has promised me His grace.  His promise will never lie, even if I loose hope He will remain faithful.  And so what if I can’t remember the touch of water on my body at my baptism; God has given me an abundant supply of water that I can touch every day by plunging my fingers in and out, and then remember every one of His promises found in His Word; in this way His promises can remain fresh and new within me.  And when I touch that water, I can make the sign of the cross upon my brow and heart and remember it as I live out my baptism daily.” 

In our baptism, we remember the sins that are every day washed away from our bodies and souls; those sins were there in that muddy Jordan River on the day Jesus entered and left it. Like the muddy water of the Jordan, or sins, in a sense covered our Savior; our sins that were wiped out at the baptismal font was the load that was placed upon the shoulders of our Savior.  He bore it gladly and willingly for you so that you might be free.  It all began publicly for us when Jesus was baptized, and it was all completed when He was crucified on the cross for you and rose from the dead.  That is why Jesus baptism was necessary, because it fulfilled all righteousness!