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. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Today we have for our meditation one of these really significant events in Jesus’ life, which is recorded in all four gospel accounts. Jesus’ baptism. Where Jesus was baptized by John, where the Father spoke from the heaven and where the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in a visible form.
However, this is not something important only for Jesus. This is about something profoundly significant for us as well. This is about one of the greatest gifts of our heavenly Father.
Calling Baptism a gift actually obscures what our Baptism is about. It is not just one gift, it is a set of divine, spiritual blessings and privileges that are freely given to anyone who is humble enough to receive this gracious offer of our magnificent God.
And because baptism is such a great deal, the adversary has worked hard to confuse people about what it is about, what it does for us and how to receive it. For the most of time, and I would say that it applies to all of us, we just don’t realize what a great thing it is, we don’t appreciate it enough, we tend to neglect it.
Today I would like to do something different. I would like to share with you the story of Baptism. To talk about Baptism not so much as about the Church’s ritual, not so much as about a doctrine, but to share with you a story.
Perhaps, that may help us to see this precious gift in a new light and to grow once more in our appreciation of God’s abundant grace. The story of our baptism is by no means a new story. It is the same that we have heard so many times.
It begins in the very beginning. With the tragic revolution where our first parents were deceived to believe that we can fill the shoes of God the Creator, that we can be like Him. Sin, death and enmity has separated us from our loving Creator since.
If it was left to us, we wouldn’t care about crossing this abyss, nor could we, even if by some miracle we desired it. It was our God, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who already in the very beginning gave us that promise that has shone like a lighthouse through the ages ever since, reminding us that our God has committed to restore what our foolishness are rebellion had broken.
Since that fatal event, we all are born and grow up ignorant and even hostile to Him, to whom we own our very existence. It is Him, who since the very beginning searches for us, gently calls and invites us back into divine fellowship with Him.
He calls us speaking to us, sometimes through myriads of messengers that He sends out to the end of the earth, today we call them simply – Christians. Sometimes He speaks through the creation and circumstances in our lives, bringing us to often painful realization, that … no! we are not in control of our lives.
When He calls us, He calls us to repentance. What does this mean? It has been the same call since the beginning, and we hear it echoed both in the OT and in the NT. Repentance is a change of mind, a turning around, a change of our life-direction.
On our own, according to our fallen nature we are running from our God, we unconsciously believe that the farther we are from the Father’s house, the more freedom, the more fun we will have in our lives, because we will be in charge.
This is one of the greatest lies that the adversary has planted in our hearts. So, we run away from the Triune God as fast as we can, until His voice reaches us and stops us. If we listen to Him, our mind is changed and renewed.
The scales of sinful foolishness fall from our eyes and we begin to see ourselves for who we are, and our God – for who He is. We begin to realize that we have been fooled, that we have been kept in darkness, that we have been lied to, that we have been deceive about the very source of all the things that we so long for in our hearts.
God the Creator is the very source of everything good, of life and light, of joy and fun, of beauty and wisdom, of meaning and significance, of purpose and security, and so on. Whatever we as His beloved creatures may ever need or desire.
When our minds begin to change, we begin to change our direction. Repentance. This is what the prophets of the old, this is what John the Baptist, this is what Jesus Himself, this is what the apostles preached as the first word for us. “Repent!”
Listen to your God, open your ears, let the Holy Spirit renew your mind and change your life-directions. Stop running from the fulfilment of all your deepest longings, instead, run to Him, for He stands by ready to embrace you and to bless you.
When we do repent, when the Holy Spirit renews our minds, when we begin to see the truth, when we respond to God’s gentle call, wonderful surprise awaits us. As we begin to see ourselves for who we are, what we begin to see is not something to be proud about. We begin to see our sin, how much wrong we have done, often irreversibly, how foolish we have been.
It begins to dawn on us that our God should be rightly angry with us, and that we deserve nothing more than punishment. And that is where the wonderful surprise comes in. Contrary to what the adversary has told us, contrary to what the world generally thinks about the true God – He is not judgmental at all. We could say that while being the Ultimate Judge of all, He is the least judgmental of all.
When we repent and turn to Him, what sort of attitude do we receive? Not what we deserve! There is not shaming, there is no trying to make us feel guilty and forever in His debt, no demands for reparation, none of this.
Like the father from the famous parable about the prodigal son from Luke 15, as soon as we turn to Him, He runs towards us, He not only throughs His arms around you, He surrounds you, He indwell in you, He unites you with Himself.
“My dear child, you were lost, and now you are found. You were dead and now you are alive. While you were wandering oblivious of me, I was waiting for you and preparing a surprise for you. Come and let me show you!”
He has been waiting for you, planning how to cheer you up, how to surprise you with His gifts, and now He begins to pour them over you. What does He do? What are those gifts that He bestows upon His lost and then found children?
This is what happens. He makes us a new creation. He bestows to us a new identity. We are no longer only His favourite creatures; He makes us His children. He adopts us into His family. He becomes our Father and we His sons and daughters.
“You are mine!” He gives you a new life. On one level your new identity already means a new life, a life of a child of the Father. But He also gives you true life, eternal life, for the Spirit of life indwells in you, so that death of the physical body won’t be the end, it will only mean the transition into the Father’s nearer presence.
He gives you a new status. Glorious, divine, majestic status. You are one of His. You can all the most influential person your Father, and you are His child. He gives you knew family. His family is now yours. Everyone who belongs to Jesus’ family are now your brothers and sisters. You are united with them by His own Spirit.
He gives you a new future, it is not anymore about this age only. We don’t need to worry that this life flows by and we can manage so little, or weep about our limitations. We are heading to a new age, the age where we will be made like Jesus.
Where we will inhabit the world without sin and death, without anything that hinders our happiness here. Indescribably powerful and beautiful. He gives us a new heart. A heart of flesh, a living heart that desires what is good and perfect and holy. Which is in wonderful harmony with the desires of our Father in heaven.
He gives us His own Spirit; this is the bond that ties us with the Father and Jesus. This is the bond that ties all of us together. This is “the Spirit of the Lord … the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Is 11:2)
Our Triune God showers us with His grace, can we even remember and recount all these gifts?! How could we possibly understand and appreciate them all! And all of them are given to you … yes, in your Baptism.
What we read happening with Jesus in His Baptism, happens in yours as well. The heavens are open, the Spirit descends on you, and the voice of the Father cheerfully proclaims: “Now you are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased!”
Our lifetime is too short to get our mind around it, and it will take eternity in the presence of our God for His grace to fully sink in, but if we humbly remain in His presence, if we allow the Spirit to speak to us, if we keep listening to our God, then we are gradually overtaken by awe and wonder and by heartfelt gratitude.
Once we are exposed to the incredible and undeserved grace of our God, our lives are re-centred. We receive a new focus, different goals, different motivation for everything. Then it is not anymore about satisfying my needs, of making a big name of myself, of doing my own thing, or being a good and moral person in my own eyes.
Then it is about the response to what we have so undeservedly received. Then our entire life becomes about pleasing our God who has been and is so patient, so gracious and so generous with us. From then on, we live by gratitude, empowered and guided by God’s own Spirit. That is what Baptism should mean for us.
But the same Spirit also helps us to become aware of the ongoing battle that we are involved in as Christians. To live out this new identity, this new status, this new life is not that easy.
It inevitably involves struggle, spiritual battle, hard choices, self-discipline, failures, stumbling, mistakes, testing, and much more. You see, God gives us all these gifts, new ID and new heart, and even His Spirit, but…
… unfortunately, till the end of this life our old sinful self is well and good and very much ever-present in us. He is not giving up. He is not going away. He doesn’t want to change his direction; he doesn’t want to live for Jesus and for our neighbours.
He is still pretty much the old selfish self in its best. But now, he is also agitated and angry because this new person wants to take over what he believes belongs to him. So, he will put up as good a fight as he can. Expect it!
What can we do with someone so feisty? Luther’s explanation on Baptism in the Small Catechism is priceless. We don’t try to appease this old self, we don’t negotiate with him, we can’t change him either, the one thing left is – we need to kill him, or as Luther puts “you need to drown him daily”.
This is what lives of baptized people are like. We can’t escape this battle. And we can’t take God’s gifts for granted. They can be lost. We need to fight for them against our closest person, our old self, using all the weapons that God has given to us.
His Word, His Holy Sacrament, prayer and mutual support and encouragement in the community of God’s saints. We need one another for this. We need the body of Christ, the Church. This is where we live out our new ID, this is where we stand together and battle shoulder to shoulder, this is where we receive God’s gifts, learn to appreciate them and celebrate them. This is our family; this is our home.
This is where the story of Baptism leads us. This is where the story of our Baptism begins and continues during our time on earth – in the community of God’s beloved people. But it doesn’t end in this age, this story will continue in eternity.
Such is the glorious story of our Baptism. Today we had just a glimpse of it. May our gracious God forgive us when we don’t appreciate His gifts, may He be gracious when in our ignorance or arrogance we don’t understand and don’t want to understand them.
May He help us to live as His baptised people, to meditate on His wonderful works days and nights, so that we may be for Him as trees planted by streams of water so that our fruit for His glory abounds, now and forevermore.