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The Baptism of Our Lord (Octave of the Epiphany) – Matthew 3:13-17

by pastorjuhl ~ January 16th, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            A former pastor of this congregation stopped by this past summer on his way from Wisconsin back to Florida. I think I just gave away whom it was by telling you where he is now. I saw him peek his head around the corner of the church building from the parsonage. I asked him if he wanted to see the inside of the building. He said yes.

Upon seeing our baptismal font in the narthex, he told me that when he arrived here in 1974 (again, I just gave away who it was) the font was kept in a closet…maybe the one right behind me. He brought the font out of the closet and put it in a conspicuous place. Through the years, the font has moved to an even more conspicuous place: smack dab in the middle of the narthex. Needless to say, this former pastor was tickled to death that the font was in the narthex. After all, you can’t enter the Church unless you are baptized. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in and one of the last things you see when you walk out.

God’s Word, plain water, and faith in the promise of Baptism does such great things. You learned this in confirmation instruction when you learned the answer to the question How can water do such great things? You also learned four verses from Titus chapter three, some of which you heard Christmas Day in the Epistle. [God] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.

When you see Paul adding those last five words to anything in his epistles, it should perk your ears either to pay close attention to what was just said, or what will be said. He is teaching you something. Listen carefully to these words, for they are spirit and they are life.

It’s a shame that our font was once stored in a closet, only to be brought out when it was needed then stashed again until another baptism. There isn’t a lot of space in our building, so you might see why it was necessary to put the font in the closet. Nevertheless, there should be ample room for the font. The font is where children young and young at heart are washed clean of sin and united with Jesus Christ.

Someone unfamiliar with what God’s Word says about Baptism might think it odd to bring someone to the font, pray God’s blessing over the child, pour water over them three time, and bless their new life in Christ. Why all the fuss over pouring water over someone’s head? John the Baptist had a similar attitude. John wonders why Jesus needs to be baptized. Why not switch places? Let the sinless Son of God baptize the sinful son of Elizabeth and Zechariah? You might think the same thing as John. Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized. Jesus should tell John to stop this foolishness, step aside, and let people come to repentance and faith in another way.

Putting the font front and center when you enter the church building makes a statement of faith to the world. This lavish washing instituted by Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins is a BIG DEAL. If Baptism wasn’t a big deal, then neither Matthew nor Luke would have never put our Lord’s baptism in their Gospels. John the Evangelist would never have put any comment about John the Baptist saying he learned Jesus is the Son of God when he baptized Him in the Jordan. Paul and Peter would never have written one word about Baptism in the epistles. The Christian Church would have taught and performed another way to wash away sins and unite people into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells John the Baptist; Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Here you see what Jesus was sent by the Father in heaven to do: fulfill all righteousness. If Jesus refuses to be baptized, then Jesus cannot be the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. His presence according to the flesh means nothing. Jesus, the sinless eternal Son of God, unites His flesh with sinners so He may bear your sin to death upon a cross, into the tomb, and burst forth from the tomb as the first-born from the dead. This is what is means to fulfill all righteousness.

As the Ark of the Covenant, the sign of God’s presence among His people, stands in the midst of the Jordan, parting the water in order that the Israelites may enter the Promised Land, so Jesus Christ, God’s Son, stands in the midst of the Jordan, preparing the way into the Promised Land for both Jew and Gentile who believe in Him as the conqueror over sin, death, and Satan. As you sang in today’s Chief Hymn: “This heavenly washing now shall be/A cleansing from transgression/And by His blood and agony/Release from death’s oppression./A new life now awaits us.

You were killed and brought back to life when you were baptized. God is well pleased with you because of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. By virtue of your baptism, everything Jesus says and does, He says and does for you. Saint Paul says in Romans chapter six: If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul also writes in today’s Epistle: God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. There’s nothing special about water. There’s nothing special about words. When there is faith in the promise of what Baptism gives put with water and the Word of God, there is something special going on at the font. The font is where you received your passport to everlasting glory. Every special event in your life pales in comparison to the day you were baptized. You can’t take awards and honor into everlasting life. Your baptism, on the other hand, opens the door to eternity, for you are united with Christ’s death and resurrection. You belong to Him. You live. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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