Category Archives: Baptism

The Baptism of Our Lord – Matthew 3:13-17

“Who do you think you are?” It’s a rhetorical question. We ask it all the time. If you have children, you’ll ask it more than you care to ask it. If you’ve been wronged in some way, you might ask it to someone’s face. It’s a question usually asked in exasperation. When we ask a child who they think they are, the occasion is when they say or do something that is the last straw. Same for the person who has wronged you. We know who they are. They know who they are? Yet it seems that the other person has lost their identity along the way. Who we thought they were is no longer the case.

Let’s ask the question in the non-rhetorical sense. Who do you think you are? You have a name. When a woman marries a man, the woman usually changes her name to the man’s last name. Some people may not like the name their parents gave them. They go through a legal process to change their name. Even if the name is changed, the person remains the same. It’s not as if they have gone through a change that has made them a completely different person.

Yet because of your baptism you are a completely different person. Once you were in darkness. Now you are a child of the Light from above. Once you were dead. Now you are alive. Once your identity was outside of Christ. Now you are in Christ, and Christ is in you. No one notices the change in identity because you remain the same ol’ you on the outside. Before God, however, you are a different person because you have been incorporated into the Vine of righteousness. You can actually answer the question, “Who do you think you are?” with the answer, “God’s own child, that’s who.”

Who did Jesus think He was when He came to John the Baptist and asked to be baptized? John is right to ask, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? The shoe needs to be on the other foot. John is the sinner. Jesus is the sinless Lamb of God. Jesus should take up baptizing in John’s place with John being the first one in line.

Perhaps you, like John, question our Lord’s request for baptism. It’s nonsense. Submitting to something unnecessary embarrasses both Jesus and John. The scene seems to be made worse when Jesus answers John’s statement with His permission: Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. All righteousness is fulfilled in Christ. He doesn’t need to be baptized. Why doesn’t Jesus choose another way to fulfill righteousness?

It’s as if we don’t want to see our Lord as both divine and human. We’d rather He keep His distance and not come near us sinners. A wave of the hand, maybe a little stage smoke and mirrors, that would be a better way to get the job done. It could look Hollywood enough to sway even the most hard-boiled agnostic.

Jesus doesn’t change form when He is baptized. He’s still the same ol’ Jesus we know and love. There’s no change in Him, for He is holy and perfect. His baptism inaugurates His ministry among us. He was always one of us according to the flesh, yet without sin. Here and now is where our Lord begins His march to declare the world righteous in His innocent suffering and death. All that is ours becomes His as John pours water over His head in the Jordan River. The Father attests that Jesus is His only-begotten Son in the voice from heaven. The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove. The Christ comes to bring peace between God and man. He alone is able to do it not for His own sake, but for ours.

In your baptism Christ is put on you, and you are put into Christ. That’s a unique way of putting it, but it’s true. Outside of Jesus you are a dead branch. Yet when He picks you up and grafts you into the Vine of righteousness, you live. You are a rusty can. You aren’t worth much. But to our Savior, you are precious. He takes His trash stick, pokes it right into you, and puts you into His bag. He doesn’t take you to the recycling center for scrap. He keeps you close to Him by applying His Word of life in your ears and feeding you with this Word under bread and wine. All His righteousness is yours, too; every last drop of it.

That blessed day when you were buried in the watery grave of baptism, you arose from the font a new creation. Baptism is a picture of death and resurrection. Now because you are baptized into Christ, you have no fear of death. You have died to sin because Christ has died to sin for your sake. As a new creation, you are reborn in the image of God, zealous to love both God and your neighbor with open hands and hearts. The Spirit descends in the Word of Christ heard in preaching and the sacraments, keeping you close to Jesus in the forgiveness of sins. The Father declares you to be worthy of eternal life because of Jesus.

Who do you think you are? In baptism you are good enough for God because of Jesus’ work upon you. You are put into His blood and His righteousness. His royal robe put on you covers every blemish of sin. You live in the Vine of righteousness, flourishing where He plants you, and given to do the good things He gives you to do in your many callings. Whatever your name, wherever you’re from, whomever you look like, you are a child of paradise because of what was done to you that blessed day when God’s name was poured over you with water and God’s Word. All righteousness is fulfilled in you because Christ fulfilled all righteousness for you. What the prophet Isaiah says about the Christ is also said about you: Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.

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When Every Earthly Prop Gives Way

It will therefore be no small gain to a penitent to remember above all his baptism, and, confidently calling to mind the divine promise which he has forsaken, acknowledge that promise before his Lord, rejoicing that he is still within the fortress of salvation because he has been baptized, and abhorring his wicked ingratitude in falling away from its faith and truth. His heart will find wonderful comfort and will be encouraged to hope for mercy when he considers that the promise which God made to him, which cannot possibly lie, is still unbroken and unchanged, and indeed, cannot be changed by sins, as Paul says (2 Timothy 2:13): “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” This truth of God, I say, will sustain him, so that if all else should fail, this truth, if he believes in it, will not fail him. In it the penitent has a shield against all assaults of the scornful enemy, an answer to the sins that disturb his conscience, an antidote for the dread of death and judgment, and a comfort in every temptation—namely, this one truth—when he says: “God is faithful in his promises [Hebrews 10:23; 11:11], and I received his sign in baptism. If God is for me, who is against me?” [Romans 8:31].

– Martin Luther, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church”, LW 36:59

Baptismal Identity and Sin

Go here first and read this article. Then come back to here.

I see why a person could misunderstand this article. You might think the article gives the ring of “Once baptized, always saved.” No matter what you do or how you live, don’t worry. You’re saved.

Now go back and read the article again. Consider this paragraph:

For those who are gay or struggle with some gender issue. You are baptized! God has not abandoned you. You are not less in His sight because of your struggles against sin. He has beaten sin for you. All of the guilt, doubt and despair you may feel has been answered for on Calvary. The struggle you face to live a “sexually pure and decent life” is the Spirit’s work in you. Your failings to do so are covered by Jesus’ blood and left buried in His tomb. Your victory over these very real and very bitter struggles is the baptism which the sign of the cross remembers, the absolution your pastor speaks, and the Body and Blood of Jesus He gives you.

The key word in the paragraph is struggle. There is not one Christian who does not struggle with any sin. Not one. I have my struggles. You have yours. When you struggle with sin, the Law is at work in you. The Holy Spirit is using God’s Word to show you your sin. The Holy Spirit is using the Law to show how you don’t measure up to the exacting demand God expects of His people. Sometimes the Spirit uses the Mirror. Sometimes He uses the Guide. He’s in control of what use of the Law He uses.

Yet you are baptized. This is your identity, no matter what sin is your struggle. You are forgiven. That’s a state of being. The Law preaches repentance. That’s the struggle the author mentions. Then:

Homosexuality, promiscuity, divorce, adultery, fornication—anything that is against marriage or denies marriage—denies the truth of Jesus and His church. But it is precisely in the truth of what Christ has done for His church that all sins are forgiven. 
All of them. Without exception. None greater or less than another. All of them are covered by Christ’s blood. And every struggle, and every failing, and every transgression, is covered by the promise of your baptism. This is why the whole Christian life, whatever you struggle with, is nothing other than a life in the Divine Service, hearing over and over the promise that Christ does not abandon us in our sins but forgives and gives us life.

The church does not accept the world’s view that “anything goes.” But neither does it seek to judge certain sins more than others. Rather, the church lives by Christ’s gifts. By His forgiveness. By His Word, water, body and blood. There is nothing else by which the Spirit works in us to rescue us from the world’s way of thinking and the darkness of sin.

Sinful human beings want to see progress and results. How do I know you are really repentant? How do I know whether or not the Law and Gospel you preach, Pastor, is truly working in your flock’s life? I need to see it to believe it. You won’t see it. You will, instead, let the Holy Spirit work in the Word. Let Him do what He is given to do, when and where He wills.

If there’s any sin that demands repentance on our part, it’s the sin of controlling the Holy Spirit. I confess I try to control Him all the time. Every day. Nevertheless, I am baptized. I am forgiven. I struggle with this sin and pray the Spirit to call to mind my Baptism. In that lavish washing of sin I am forgiven and free. Do I have a license to do as I please? No. The Law will do its work again, showing me my sin. I will repent. I am forgiven. It’s who I am in Christ.

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.

St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

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