Bible Passage: Mark 1:4-11
Pastor: Pastor Schlicht
Sermon Date: January 14, 2018
Once upon a time, a man was walking near a river when he came upon a preacher conducting a baptismal ceremony in the water. When he got nearer, the preacher asked him, “Are you ready to find Jesus?” “Sure” replied the man and so the preacher dunked him in the river. He pulled him up and asked, “Brother, have you found Jesus?” The man said, “No, I haven’t.” The preacher, shocked at the answer, decided to dunk him underwater a second time and then asked, “Have you found Jesus now?” But again the man said, “No, I have not found Jesus.” By this time the preacher was getting a little frustrated, so he dunked the man in the water a third time, but this time he held him down for good measure. Finally, the preacher pulled him up and said, “Brother, please tell us you found Jesus!” The man wiped the water from his eyes and said, “No… Are you sure this is where he fell in?” That’s a foolish joke, but I think it actually illustrates quite clearly how the sacrament of baptism is often misunderstood. Baptism isn’t where we go searching to find Jesus; it isn’t like joining a club or performing some merely symbolic ceremony. Baptism is something God does for our benefit and that’s what makes it so important.
I’ve been privileged to administer almost a dozen baptisms in my life. And before each of them, I say a prayer for the child and their family, but I also ask God to open the eyes of every witness of the baptism to see the true miracle which is taking place; the great benefits this Sacrament is providing. I take time outside of the service to do this because there is so much that goes on during a baptism and it happens quite quickly. You see the cute baby, the proud parents and family huddled around the font, the pastor, the sign of cross being made, the water, the blessing. There’s a lot to see with our physical eyes that we can easily overlook what only the eyes of faith can see. Even in a Lutheran church that holds a biblical view of the sacraments, we sometimes miss the benefits of baptism.
It’s kind of like a friend who told me about how his Grandma got a new smartphone. All she wanted was to be able to make a phone call and take some pictures. So he showed her how to do that and said he could show her more, but that’s all she wanted. Well, a few months later she calls him up on her new phone and says excitedly, “Did you know that this phone can tell me what the weather is like?!” She had no idea of the potential benefits she held in her hands. And in a certain way, the same is true of Baptism. Many people, many well-meaning Christians even, have hardly even scratched the surface of understanding the true and lasting spiritual benefits the Sacrament of Baptism provides.
But today, as we examine the events of our Savior’s baptism I think it will be almost impossible not to gain a deeper appreciation for our own baptisms and the real benefits which we receive. Listen to Mark’s account, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus came up out of the water, 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 Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.” It was quite a show, but before we get into the significance of those miraculous signs, the very fact that Jesus was baptized, in and of itself, speaks volumes.
Remember John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance”. Jesus did not need to repent; he had no sins to confess. We are born with a sinful nature and desperately need to be washed. As we confess before each baptism, “We are each born with a deep need for baptism.” But Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he did not have sin. Why would a sinless man undergo a baptism of repentance? Even saying it is an oxymoron. John realized this. When Jesus comes to him to be baptized John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me [to be baptized]?” (Mat 3:14). John knew Jesus didn’t need to repent! Why is he here?
Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mat 3:15). That’s why Jesus came to the Jordan River—to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus knew his life was the fulfillment of all righteousness. And the fact that he participated in a baptism of repentance even though he had no sins to repent of shows that the righteousness he wanted to fulfill was the righteousness required not of himself, but of every sinful human. You see Jesus provided righteousness for us not just in his death but in his life. All the righteousness that would be required of humans before the judgment seat of God Jesus accomplished for us. And he even stood in for us by participating in a sinner’s baptism.
This is why we are baptized into the name of Christ. We are baptized into the name of the Triune God who credits us Jesus’ righteousness! Here in church we often see babies brought to be baptized in little white dresses. That’s more than just tradition. Those little white dresses represent the robe of Christ’s righteousness that we are wrapped in when we are baptized, the same robes that we will wear someday in heaven. Through baptism our sins are forgiven and we are credited with our Savior’s perfect life righteousness! This is the first, real, amazing benefit we receive in the sacrament of baptism. But wait! There’s more!
The other benefits of baptism are seen in the events that took place after Jesus was baptized. Mark writes, “Jesus saw the heavens torn open and the Spirit descended on him like a dove.” In Luke’s account, the Spirit is said to have “descended in bodily form as a dove.” Matthew’s account he describes the Spirit as “coming upon Jesus” (Mat. 3:16). This same phrase is used in Ezekiel 2:2 and Acts 19:6 to describe a special gift of the Spirit’s power. And Mark even affirms this in the following verses when he says that Jesus was “sent by the Spirit” (Mark 1:12) into the wilderness. This descending then wasn’t just for a moment to symbolically mark him; the Holy Spirit stayed with him. This is a benefit he would use right away as he went into the wilderness to be tempted personally by the devil. And the Holy Spirit would be a gift that would continue to strengthen him as he lived his life of perfection.
Like Jesus, we also receive, at our baptisms, a special descending of the Holy Spirit. He comes to us in baptism and begins to work in our hearts. And again, like Jesus, it isn’t a momentary thing just to mark us as members of the church, but the Spirit stays with us; we are given real strength to fight temptation and live holy lives. I can’t quantify this gift for you, but there’s a reason you are in church this morning. The Holy Spirit which came at your baptism still lives and works in your heart to give you godly desires and a strong faith. He always works through the Word and will continue to live in you.
The third and final benefit we receive in baptism is heard in the voice which came from heaven and addressed Jesus personally. The Father said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.” Once again, God the Father didn’t say this just to mark Jesus as he started his ministry. Note that while he does call Jesus his Son, God didn’t say anything specifically about his Messianic purpose. The words here aren’t those of a general commanding his soldier to go on a mission, but those of a proud father reassuring his dear child. “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.” Just think of how this would have benefitted Jesus throughout the next three years of his life! Sure people at first started following in great crowds, but when Jesus told them he was the bread of life many turned away. We hear that his own relatives in Nazareth didn’t even believe he was the Son of God. As Jesus watched those people turn their backs on him, he could tell himself, “I am God’s Son, he told me so at my baptism, even if they don’t see it.” And when Jesus hung on the cross and people hurled insults at him saying, “Come down from the cross if you really are the Son of God.” (Mat 27) Jesus could think back to this day at the Jordan River and tell himself, “I am God’s Son, he told me so at my baptism.”
It is because of him that we also hear the voice of the Father declare at our baptisms, “You are my son; you are my daughter whom I love. I am well-pleased with you.” This is the benefit of assurance. How many times do you need this reminder? When days are tough, when people discredit you or deny you, when things are so bad that you wonder if God is really on your side. You can remind yourself saying “I am God’s son or I am God’s daughter. He told me so at my baptism!” When your conscience is guilty and the devil accuses you of being a sinner whom God could never love, say to him, “I am God’s own child, whom he loves, with whom he is well-pleased. I was baptized into Christ.”
If you get to witness someone’s baptism into Christ, see what really happens. Despite their inability to reason or understand, a soul is freely forgiven, wrapped up in the righteousness Christ accomplished. My friends, heaven still opens up, the Spirit comes down and the Father calls another child his beloved. Look through the eyes of faith, and you will see that the Word, through the washing with water, will be applying the benefits of baptism.