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Baptism of Our Lord Sermon — Mark 1:4-11 (LSB Epiphany 1B)

January 11, 2009

January 11, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

When [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

Many millennia had passed since any man heard those words from the mouth of God the Father. Not since the time when “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” had such a declaration been made about any man. The Lord God had once said: “Let us make man in our own image and likeness.” And it was so that “He formed the man from the ground.” That man had the Spirit of life breathed into him and was called very good. And with him the Lord God was well pleased.

But the pleasure of God was short-lived. For that man who was called very good disobeyed the Lord God. Though made in the Lord God’s image and likeness, Adam forsook it to try to be God. Not content with being a creature with God’s image, Adam attempted to take the place of the Creator. And in his sin of rebellion, he received the curse of God instead of divine blessing: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you. . . . By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

Man was cursed. Man was the object of divine wrath. Man was not very good, and with him the Lord God was not well pleased. That is, until the Lord God Himself took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. For in that act, in the Incarnation, there is Man in the exact image and likeness of God, for Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, both fully human and fully divine. And when this Man treads into the waters of the River Jordan, great things occur.

The Evangelist Mark writes, as you heard: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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.” These are the actions of those who suffer the curse of God and seek out His mercy where it can be found. They come to rid themselves of their sin and guilt, to have it float away, as it were, down the Jordan to the Dead Sea.

But the Evangelist also writes: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Jesus is baptized, though He is not an object of the divine curse. He suffers no taint of sin, no flaw exists in Him. He is the perfect likeness and image of God, diminished in no way. So when Jesus steps into the Jordan, He goes not to loose Himself of sin, not to receive forgiveness. Rather, He enters the water to take up all the sins of humanity, to bear them as the sacrificial Lamb of God, and to provide salvation to all who are under the curse that Adam inflicted upon mankind.

The Baptism of Our Lord is an act that is done in substitution for all humanity. It is just as if the clock had been reset back to the first days of creation. Where Adam faltered, Jesus would act perfectly. To bear witness to this, the events at Jesus’ baptism take place: “When He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.’” Once again, just as at the Creation, the Spirit hovers over the face of the waters. Once again, Man is formed out of the dust, this time out of the frail human nature of the Virgin Mary. And once again, the Lord God looks upon Man and says that he is very good.

This is the significance of Jesus’ baptism. He is identified as the One who will reverse the sins of Adam and its effects on his descendants. He is witnessed to by God the Father, given the divine stamp of approval and endorsement of His work. Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit, made the Christ, placed before the world as the eternal heir of both David’s earthly throne and the realm of heaven itself. The sin of Adam had once barred the gates of Paradise to all mankind, but as Jesus begins His public ministry to take Adam’s and all humanity’s place, the heavens are opened to Him and to all who receive His salvific work. The events that accompany Jesus’ baptism declare it to be so.

When Jesus enters the water, all the prophecies about the Promised Christ are on their way to fulfillment. Even John the Baptizer said: “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” That Mightier One is Jesus, He who receives the Lord God’s endorsement and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He is the One all the prophets had foretold and in whom salvation is found. For what the Lord God had promised takes place through the actions of Christ.

This same Jesus suffers and dies, carrying the world’s sin, so that the world is redeemed. This same Son of God and Son of Man in whom the Father is well pleased absorbs all the guilt which mankind incurred, soaking it up like a sponge, and pins it to Calvary’s cross. And this same Anointed One who is given the Holy Spirit distributes It to others, so that they themselves may become holy. Everything that Jesus does and undergoes, even His baptism, is for the benefit of others, including you.

And so it is that Jesus fulfills what John the Baptizer says. After His death and resurrection, He institutes Holy Baptism as the way sinful human beings are adopted by the Lord God, forgiven of their sins, and made heirs of salvation. By Christ’s command, the Spirit hovers over the water of the font. For in that act of connecting Christ’s Word to water, the Holy Spirit is given to all who are baptized. This is how John’s statement comes true: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The result of your baptism and belief in the Mighty One who stood in Jordan’s stream is forgiveness of sins and new life. So Jesus Himself says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” And this is why the Apostle Paul writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

The Apostle speaks about a union, a connection with Christ in Holy Baptism. You are mystically united with Jesus. So when He steps into the Jordan, you are there. When He is anointed with the Holy Spirit, you are, too. When God the Father declares, “with You I am well pleased,” He is talking about you. Your sins have been absorbed by Christ. Your sinful selves have been crucified and buried with Christ. You have been raised again by the glory of the Father, just as Christ was. And you are truly called sons of God, beloved ones, given a status like Christ. All these are the full effects of your baptisms which find their foundation in the baptism that Jesus underwent for the forgiveness of your sins.

Because you have been united with Christ in Holy Baptism, He invites you to pray to God, calling Him your Father. Since you have been united with Christ in Holy Baptism, He directs you to drown your sinful selves and the love of sin, so that you may live instead in the newness of life and righteousness. As you have been united with Christ in Holy Baptism, He also invites you to be united with Him in the Sacrament of the Altar. And finally, the union you have with Christ through Holy Baptism will cause the Holy Spirit to raise you and all Christians on the Last Day and the angels to usher you through the newly-opened doors of heaven.

So it is, because Jesus stepped into the Jordan River as a substitute, taking the place of Adam and you and all humanity. There is a new day that awaits the redeemed creation, even you. For you shall receive the results of Christ’s life and work, even His baptism, as the Eternal Father will irrevocably say to you: “You are My beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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