Walking in Newness of Life
First St Johns January 12, 2014
We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are baptized into the newness of life in Christ Jesus said …. AMEN!
I had to explain baptism to an 11 year old last week, the results were not positive, I have been humbled and now endeavor to make a much stronger case for your baptism. And what better time then the baptism of our Lord? In case you haven’t noticed, baptism in the Lutheran Church is a fundamental part of being a Christian, basic to all Christians, but we emphasize baptism and we encourage people to remember their baptism. You might have noticed that at some points of the liturgy it says, to the effect, “the sign of the cross is made in remembrance of your baptism”. The gesture seems to be commonly understood as something peculiar to the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther encouraged us at many points of the catechism to make the sign of the cross in remembrance of our baptism. I believe Roman Catholics make it as a sign of the crucifixion of Jesus, if you want to do it in that respect, there’s nothing wrong with that, but we are encouraged to remember our baptism, our new life in Christ.
Why are we baptized? We are born as sinners, we need assurance, we need God’s promise that we are forgiven, why wouldn’t we want that assurance as soon as possible. When we are baptized, we are fundamentally having a little exorcism, sounds kind of weird, but let’s face it, we are born into the world, we are born in sin. Simply to say, by being baptized in the promises of God, the promises from Genesis to Revelation, part of those promises are forgiveness of sin, we are born into that sinful condition, there’s no way around it, our parents are sinners, we are born sinners. We need to be cleansed of that sin, we need to drive out of us the things of evil, it’s not because of some decision we make, as in everything it is God who leads us to be baptized, to be cleansed of sin, God does the heavy lifting in this, why would we not want to be cleansed of that sin and evil? Dr Luther tells us: “The anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer that reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has. It never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not, struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. If God can communicate the Holy Ghost to grown persons, He can, a fortiori, communicate it to young children. Faith comes of the Word of God. Little children hear that Word when they receive baptism and therewith they receive also faith.” When he says a fortiori Dr Luther is saying through God’s strength, His Lordship over us, since we are His creation, that He forgives the sin of a baby as easily as an adult. We are not adding anything to our forgiveness by being baptized, we are simply following the leading of the Holy Spirit. I was baptized as an adult, but it wasn’t through any decision on my part, there is no question that God set up the circumstances for me to be baptized. In the same way, Christian parents are led to have their babies baptized. Now certainly there are circumstances, as there were in my case, but the point is that it’s about what God is leading us to do, not through our choice, but His guidance. Does that mean bang, it’s all over, straight to salvation? No… As people live their lives, there will be people who forget their baptism, forget their new life and follow the world, no question. But in baptism we are faithfully led to new life, spiritual life, Jesus tells us: ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”(John 3:3) We are reborn, we are adopted into God’s family through baptism, we can see, we are included in His Kingdom. We can certainly live our life in rejection of that, but it’s not because God didn’t give you the way, you made the choice to reject Him.
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, what I’ve said, certainly begs the question, why would Jesus be baptized. Jesus is sinless, Jesus is God, He’s certainly seen the Kingdom of Heaven, why would He be baptized? Commentators on this passage, explain it extensively, going back to the Old Testament and the promises of God to send His Son, Messiah. One reason being: “Jesus’ solidarity with those who had responded positively to John’s message: by participating in the ritual act of baptism, we may recall, they (he) communicated their (his) fundamental orientation around God’s purpose.”1 He is saying that Jesus wanted to show how much He intended to live the life that we live, if He commands that we should be baptized, then He is going to be faithful to that and be baptised Himself. But the commentary goes a little deeper. What’s different about Jesus’ baptism then mine, or any other baptism that you’ve ever seen? Since I was in my mid-twenties, I think I would remember Heaven opening up, a dove descending on me and God’s voice saying this is my beloved Son. To be sure, I did on that day become God’s Son, not just His creation, but through baptism being adopted as a son of God. Not a son like Jesus, Jesus is exactly the same as God the Father, He is God the Son. But God adopted me as His Son through baptism. We who are baptized become sons and daughters of God, and that is a great thing. Again not through any choice we made, but through the Father’s divine Lordship of bringing me to salvation. The commentary also goes on to say: “…the occasion of Jesus’ baptism is manifestly his anointing for divine service. This is the interpretation given by Jesus in [Luke] 4: 18-19 and repeated by Peter in Acts 10:37-38 …Thus, Jesus’ baptism as traditionally understood has been cast by [Luke] as Jesus’ anointing by the Spirit. This is a pivotal experience for Jesus that (1) sets in motion the sequence of events to follow and, by implication, sets the entire course of his mission… (2) is expounded as the event that determines his understanding of his divine mission and empowers him to perform accordingly … (3) anticipates the analogous empowering of Jesus’ followers in Acts.”2 Joel Green is referring to the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples to empower them, Peter going out and preaching to and converting 5,000. So through baptism we are empowered to go and perform the mission that God has planned for us in the world, the life that He wants us to live in order to be His disciples. In order for us to truly live in the Spirit, we have to be baptized, none of what we do will be meaningful in our life until we are brought into the Kingdom, until we have the Holy Spirit in us, part of us, filling us.
Paul goes into detail in our reading today. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul asks. Until that point of baptism, when we are cleansed of that sin that became part of ourselves, our nature, when we came into the world, we continue in sin, that it even abounds in us. Of course the answer is no. Paul goes on to drive the point home even farther when he says that we “who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.” Dr Luther likes to say that baptism drowns the old man in us, the old man who was dead in His sins. Through Jesus’ death we are forgiven, so when that old Jim dies in baptism, then I am reborn, as Jesus told Nicodemus. Paul goes on to make this even more explicit, “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.” In baptism we are raised to the newness of life, before we were dead, dead in our sins, dead in a fallen, evil world. Baptism is the Father giving us a rebirth, a new life, life the only way it can happen, in Jesus. Everything else is death, decay and destruction. Paul compares baptism to crucifixion, death, leaving behind the old sin-filled life and when we are cleansed of that sin in baptism, only then can we be worthily united to Jesus. Jesus was sinless, completely holy, completely sanctified. Only through baptism can we be completely holy, completely sanctified and completely justified, because we are completely united with Him. We have the promise of the resurrection because just as He was resurrected and we are united with Him, then we will be resurrected in new life. Baptism is all about new life, not anything we did, but what God did in order for us to be His children, for Him to be our Lord, to live this earthly life out according to His plan for us and then to be resurrected to eternal life in the New Jerusalem.
So make it a point to start the day by making the sign of the cross and to remember all that baptism gives you, to make the sign of the cross when you pray to remember your baptism, to make the sign of the cross during worship to remind you how privileged you are to have been called to worship every week in the House of the Lord. It is also to remind us of how our baptism protects us and we should remember it in those times when we sin, we are challenged to stray from Christ.
Think about your baptism this week. Consider these words from Peter and again Paul, we often take our baptism for granted, yet without our baptism we can never be united to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
To cement this all in your heart, we remember Peter’s words when he said: “1 Peter 3:21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Through baptism we are saved and we become Christ’s disciples in the world.
One of the most powerful lines from Scripture “Ephesians 4:5one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” Paul reminding us that in baptism we are all of one faith, together in the Body of Christ and we have one Lord, Jesus Christ. He who was baptized with us, died with us and is resurrected, all as the promise that He is the Lord of our life in this world and in our resurrection in the body into eternity.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.
1Joel Green The NIV Commentary on the Gospel of Luke pp 185, 186