Baptism of our Lord
Then a voice came from heaven,
"You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
St. Luke in today’s Gospel Lesson, “Jesus increased in wisdom and
stature and in favor with God and men.”
While the eternal Son of the Father had enjoyed His Father’s
favor from eternity, he now grew in that favor as a boy growing up.
When He was an infant, when He was a boy, when He reached
manhood, and when He suffered crucifixion, he did so with His Father’s
full and wholehearted approval.
Can you imagine
anything worse than not having the approval of those you love?
We thrive on approval and acceptance.
We need the respect or favor of those we love.
It is difficult, if not impossible, truly to love someone who is
not pleased with you and never approves of you or what you do.
A little child
needs the approval of his or her mother.
It is amazing what handicaps a child can overcome when his mother
loves him and is happy with him. A
child who does not receive approval and praise withers inside.
Something dies. The
need for approval comes long before a child can even discern the
difference between right and wrong.
In fact, the
standard of right and wrong in the mind of a three-year-old is quite
simple. When you approve of
me and of what I do, you are good. When
you disapprove of me and of what I do, you are bad.
For the little child, he is the standard of what is right and
what is wrong. We know that
there is probably no cuter age than the age of three.
But don't let that fool you.
A three-year-old habitually places himself on the same level as
God. If you approve of what
I do, you are good. If you
disapprove of what I do, you are bad.
It is simple, uncomplicated, and thoroughly idolatrous.
grow older, they generally learn that there are standards of right and
wrong that apply to them from the outside.
They learn that they are not their own gods, but are rather under
the authority of others: Mom, Dad, babysitter, teacher, and so forth.
Christian children are taught the standards of God's law as
summarized in the 10 Commandments. They
learn to apply those standards to themselves and so learn
Christian learns to see himself according to God’s standards of
behavior. He learns why he
receives approval for doing one thing and disapproval for doing another.
Children learn to evaluate themselves independently from the
evaluation of others at about age 12.
This was how old Jesus was when he spent so many hours in the
temple asking and answering questions.
He was talking to the teachers about the work of the promised
Savior. They were discussing
how the Messiah would bring God’s favor to His people.
At a similar age, most twelve-year-olds learn just why they
haven’t won or deserved the favor of God or men.
Still, even when we learn that we haven’t deserved God’s
approval, this doesn’t make us any less in need of it.
It is in the
midst of this struggle – I want the approval of those I love, yet I
must admit that I haven't earned it – that God speaks to our hearts
this morning in the Gospel that tells us of the Baptism of Jesus.
There in the
than the praise of any human parent.
That's better than the approval of your close friends.
That's better than the adoration of the crowd, it's even better
than the love and support of a husband or wife.
God says to you, I am happy with you, I approve of you, I am well
pleased with you. These
words give you everything you need to live a life that you know is
worthwhile, a life which pleases God.
How can you
hear the words of God's approval? You
know, or at least you ought to know, that you haven't done as Jesus did,
you haven't earned God's approval by how you have lived.
If you think you can earn God's approval and gain his response:
"I am well pleased with you" by doing what needs to be done to
win it, then you are thinking the wrong way.
Those people who were baptized by John did not go to the
Well, then, is
this what gains us God's approval? When
we confess that we have done wrong, that we have not loved God above all
things, that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, when we
confess this, admit it, say we are sorry and are sincerely repentant, is
this what changes God's disapproval into approval?
No, it is not.
When the child
disobeys after you have clearly told him what to do, and then, when
confronted with his disobedience, he says, “I'm sorry,” we are
surely glad that he is sorry, but we need to teach him that being sorry
doesn't make things alright. What
is done is still done, and he can be as sorry as can be, but that really
cannot undo the sin. Imagine,
if you will, that someone invented a repentometer which could gauge how
sorry people were for the bad things they did.
Let's say a man went into a bar, got half drunk, started an
argument with another guy and when the guy took a swing at him, he
pulled out a gun and shot him dead.
After sobering up, he was really and truly sorry for having
killed the man. The
repentometer gauged the deepest contrition on the scale.
Would you be willing to go to that man's widow and say to her,
Well, we know your husband was killed, and the man who did it intended
to do it, but he's really quite sorry, so we're going to let him go?
Being sorry for
our sin doesn’t take it away. It
doesn't pay for guilt. Yes,
God commands us to repent, to mourn our sins, to be genuinely sorry for
our offences against God. But
that doesn't take away sin.
Look back to
Jesus took our sins and placed into the water His obedience and His
righteousness. He joined to
the waters of Holy Baptism his holy life that pleased his Father in
heaven. When we are
baptized, we leave in those waters our sin, our guilt, and the old lives
headed toward death. We
receive from those waters Christ’s righteousness and His obedience.
His life of pleasing his Father in heaven is given to us so that
it is our life. Our baptism
joins us to Christ. Our
baptism is where Christ meets us and we meet Christ, not just on the day
we are baptized, but every day of our lives.
In our baptism we receive that intimate communion with Jesus, so
that all He is and has is ours, all of the righteousness, all of the
obedience, all of the innocence, it is ours.
In our baptism, our God says to us, each of us individually and
by name, “I am well pleased with you, I approve of you.”
There are many
who are baptized and who toss aside that blessed exchange.
Instead of taking refuge and finding comfort in Christ's
obedience and death for them, they despise their baptism and seek to go
it alone, either not caring for God's approval or seeking to earn it,
and thus despising Christ and his grace.
Many fall from the grace of their baptism, never to return.
They prefer a life of being their own gods and like the
three-year-old who is no longer so cute they live to serve themselves.
They don’t repent of their sins.
They don’t come before God with humble hearts seeking his
mercy. Many others try to
earn what only God’s grace can give and thus they deny Christ and
their own baptism into union with Him.
But the abuse
of a gift doesn’t make the gift any less valuable.
Nobody’s unfaithfulness can make God a liar.
Baptism is what baptism is. Jesus
is who Jesus is. We who lay
claim to the Jesus to whom our baptism joins us hear a verdict from God
that cannot be silenced. “This
is my beloved son or daughter in whom I am well pleased.”
Our baptism gives us a real life to live.
It is a life lived under God's approval.
Christ has brought it to us.
We know that everything we do in faith receives the good pleasure
of our gracious God. This is
why we live to please him. It
is because He is well pleased with us.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus