When St. Paul tells
us in todayís Epistle Lesson that we should be transformed by the
renewing of our minds heís telling us to consider what actually
happens in baptism. We see
water and we hear words spoken. It
may be in a church with a baby in the pastorís arms over a little font
like this one. It may be in a river with an adult immersed entirely under
the water. Or it may be in
a deep font with an infant immersed under the water.
The amount of water and the age of the one being baptized are not
important. What is
important is what happens. For
when we know what happens in baptism, then we can understand how God
renews our minds and enables us to worship him.
Worship comes from the old English.
Literally, it means ascribing worth to God.
Todayís Epistle Lesson talks of worship as our ďreasonable
service.Ē The word
ďserviceĒ here is where we get the word liturgy.
But the apostle isnít talking about what we do in church.
Heís talking about what we do outside of church. True
worship takes place where we live.
Where you live is where you present your body as a living
sacrifice to God. You do so
by serving your neighbor. Get
to the job on time. Speak
respectfully to those in authority over you.
Donít cheat on your taxes, but pay what you owe.
Speak kindly to your children and donít insult them.
Treat your wife like a lady, and donít speak harshly or rudely
to her. Treat your husband
with respect and donít criticize him for his weaknesses.
Keep yourself sexually pure.
If you are not married, keep your hands where they belong and
avoid situations where you might be led into sin.
If you are married, remember that God gave you your husband or
wife, and no one else should be like a husband or wife to you Ė only
the one to whom God has joined you for the rest of your life.
This is what St. Paul calls the ďgood and acceptable and perfect will
of GodĒ for your life. The
reason folks think that these simple standards of conduct are
unimportant is because they have an exaggerated sense of their own
importance. So St. Paul
continues to urge us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought
to think. People who live
as if the feelings, needs, and wants of others arenít important are
living in service to themselves. But
if you want to serve God, if your living is to be a Divine Liturgy for
God, then see to it that you live for your neighbor.
And your neighbor is not just the fellow next door, heís your
wife or husband, your son, your father, your boss, your employee, and
the fellow at work that you wish would just go away and not come back.
God doesnít need your service. Your
neighbor does. God wants
you to worship him by serving people.
God loves all people. We
know he loves us each individually because we know that he loves
everyone. If he didnít
love everyone, we couldnít know that he loves each one of us.
And so it was for everyone that God sent his Son to be born, to
live obediently, to suffer, and to die, and then to rise from the dead.
The whole world is covered by the blood shed on Calvaryís
cross. There isnít a
sinner you have learned to hate that God doesnít love.
There isnít a sin that has hurt you that didnít hurt Jesus as
he paid for it on the cross. Who
is it that has done you wrong? Jesus
bore that sin. And this is
why we must bear one anotherís burdens and cover one anotherís sins.
If God does not look upon our sins, we shouldnít either.
This is what love is all about.
Only one man ever lived who needed no forgiveness.
Thatís Jesus. This
is why John was shocked by Jesusí request that John should baptize
him. John preached a
baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus was not a sinner and did not need to repent.
He didnít need to be baptized.
Baptism couldnít give him anything.
But he could give baptism everything.
You see, no sins have ever been forgiven except for Jesusí
sake. How can water take
away sins? Water canít
take away sins. Repentance
canít take away sins. Being
sorry for what youíve done wrong doesnít make it right.
You break the vase and you cry.
So what happens to the broken vase?
It stays broken, thatís what happens.
Being sorry for doing wrong doesnít turn what is wrong into
what is right.
So of what value could baptism be?
I suppose it could be a sign or public testimony of the
sinnerís sincere intent to stop sinning.
It could be a promise to live a pure life.
But my promise may be broken.
My testimony may be silenced.
My intent may falter. If
this is all baptism is, baptism is nothing more than symbolic of my own
power. But thatís the
problem. My own power
isnít good enough to keep me from falling.
This is why Jesus had to give baptism what he gave it.
Without Jesus standing in the Jordan, baptism would have been
nothing more than our own human promise to God.
But listen to how Jesus explained himself to John.
He said, ďThus it is fitting for us to fulfill all
righteousness.Ē This is a
powerful statement! Jesus
didnít say, ďThis is something right to do.Ē
He said, ďThus it is fitting for us to fulfill all
righteousness.Ē Think of
it: All righteousness! There
is nothing good that needs doing, no righteous deed, no act of
submission to the good and acceptable and perfect will of God that is
not fulfilled. Jesus came
to fulfill all righteousness. And
thatís just what he did.
He fulfilled all righteousness by doing everything right.
But he didnít do it for his own benefit. Jesus is the eternal Son of God and has always been
righteous. He didnít need
to assume human nature and become a man in order to become righteous.
But he did need to become a man and live a life of holy obedience
to God in order to fulfill all righteousness.
It was for us. It
was in our place. It was as
our substitute. This is why
he was baptized. The
sinless Son of God doesnít need to be baptized.
It is we who need to be baptized.
But if baptism were merely a symbolic washing that would show to
God and the world our sincere intent to follow God, there would have
been no need for Jesus to be baptized.
We didnít need Jesusí example.
We needed his righteousness.
And this is what baptism gives us.
Baptism joins us to Jesus. As
St. Paul says, ďAs many of you as have been baptized into Christ have
put on Christ.Ē (Galatians 3:27)
The water of the Jordan in which Jesus stood is the water of our
own baptism. What Jesus put
into baptism is what we take out of it. And what Jesus took out of baptism is what we put into it.
When Jesus was baptized, he put into it his own righteousness.
We receive this same righteousness in our baptism.
And when Jesus was baptized, he took out of it our sin.
This is how baptism washes away our sin.
St. John puts it this way in his first Epistle, chapter 5, verse six:
ďThis is He who came by water and blood Ė Jesus Christ; not only by
water, but by water and blood.Ē He
came by water. He was baptized. There
it was that the Father called him his beloved Son. There it was that the Holy Spirit descended upon him.
The Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was
there revealed. The Father
spoke from the open sky. The
Holy Spirit appeared as a dove. The
Son stood in the Jordan River. His
innocence was publicly revealed to the world.
His Fatherís approval was upon him.
He was there as our representative.
He was there as our champion.
He was there to do for God and for neighbor everything you and I
failed to do for God and for neighbor.
He was there to offer himself in service to God, as one whose
mind would be perfectly conformed to the will of God.
Not only by water, but by water and blood.
It was there that he was ordained as the Lamb to be slaughtered.
It was necessary for us that the Son of Man suffer and die.
We are invited to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God
because he offered his body as the bloody sacrifice for God.
Our lives of giving ourselves in service to God and to one
another are pleasing to God and receive Godís loving approval.
Why? Because Godís
beloved Son in whom he was well pleased offered himself to the penal
justice of God and bore in his body and soul the pains of eternal hell
for all sinners.
How is it that baptism can give you and me the righteousness we need?
Because Jesus put that righteousness into the water, thatís
how! How is it that baptism
can wash away our sins? Because
Jesus purchased forgiveness of all our sins by his sacrifice on Calvary
and Jesus put into baptism the same forgiveness he won.
When he said to John that he had to fulfill all righteousness, he
wasnít just talking about getting wet with the water of the Jordan.
He was talking about sweating blood in Gethsemene.
He was talking about the mocking, the whipping, the lies and the
cruelty. He was talking about bearing the sin of the world.
Baptism joins us to Jesus. So
it is that baptism puts Godís name upon us.
I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit. There is no other God but the Triune God.
All other gods are idols. Only
Jesus can bring us into fellowship with the Father.
Only the Holy Spirit can open our hearts to receive Jesus.
And this he must do for us, not just on the day we are baptized,
but on every single day of our lives.
Iíve heard folks argue that since there is only one God this must mean
that all those who worship someone they call ďGodĒ must be
worshipping the same God. Jews, Muslims, and others who believe that there is one God
must all be believing in the same God.
This argument completely misunderstands faith.
Faith isnít saying there is one God.
Faith is trusting in Jesus.
Faith is being joined to Jesus.
It is putting on Jesus. Faith
and baptism go together. By
baptism we are called to faith because baptism gives to us all of the
treasures that faith receives. We
receive Godís name. We
receive Christís righteousness. We
receive the Holy Spirit. The
events of Jesusí baptism, crucifixion, and resurrection are brought
into our life and become ours.
Right after Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness to be
tempted by the devil. He
continued to fulfill all righteousness.
It began in the Jordan River.
It continued as he defeated the devil in the wilderness and on
the cross. It was finished
on the cross when he said it was finished.
And it bears fruit in our lives today.
At the altar we receive into our bodies the body and the blood of
Christ. His righteousness
is thereby sealed unto us. The
promise of our baptism is renewed.
We are justified by Jesusí blood.
This is a wonderful meal. This
is more precious than any treasure we have on earth. It is a foretaste of heaven.
This is body and blood of our Savior Jesus who, in fulfilling all
righteousness for us, received the approval of heaven.
Having confessed our sins, we come to receive the body and blood
by which they are forgiven. God
continues to transform us and renew us.
Baptism sent Jesus to the cross.
It sends us to the altar where we receive the righteousness we
need to live lives acceptable to God.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus
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