Based On: Mark 1:4-11
(In the Gospel we heard about Jesus being baptized by John. For today, we will end up talking more about our baptism than Christ’s baptism, but the two are certainly related.)
Imagine being the subject of one of Christ’s miracles. What would it be like to be blind Bartimaeus when Jesus called for you and gave you your sight? Or what would it be like to be the paralyzed man who needed his friends to carry him wherever he went? What would go through your mind after Jesus tells you to “pick up your mat and walk” and you suddenly find yourself walking out the door carrying the mat that has carried you for so many years? Perhaps it would be just plain cool to be Lazarus as you wake up to find yourself in your own tomb dressed for burial and you hear the voice of Jesus calling you from death back to life. (Actually, you and I will have that very cool experience one day.)
You don’t have to imagine what it is like to be the subject of a miracle because at your baptism you experienced a miracle! Baptism is a miracle God performed on you.
First, we have to ask the question – why talk about this miracle called baptism? What is wrong with us that we need this miracle of God in order to restore us? The answer is simple – sin. God created us to be perfect, but because of sin we are far from perfect. To convince ourselves of the problem let’s look at the first commandment – “You shall have no other gods.” That means nothing should be more important in your life than the one true God. Take a moment to think about all of the decisions you have made this past week – even the little ones about what to do next or what to say to someone. . . . In how many of those decisions, little or big, was God a factor? Was the question “what will please God?” in some way, consciously or subconsciously, guiding your decision? If not, then some other person or thing was more important in your decision – you put yourself first, or something you wanted, or perhaps in some sinful way someone else was the motive for your decision. You have disobeyed the first commandment. Now multiply that by all the other weeks in your life and ask yourself, “What should the holy and almighty God do with me on judgment day?” If you are honest with yourself you will come to the conclusion that we are in big trouble. It would take a miracle to fix this problem.
When you see the enormity of the problem you are ready to cherish the miracle of baptism. Think of it as a precious, multi-faceted jewel. You can look at it from many different angles and it sparkles in many different ways, but it is always the same baptism.
The very essence of baptism is that God is giving to you everything that Christ earned for you on the cross. It is the Gospel promise made tangible with water and words spoken over you. It is forgiveness for all your sins – even those decisions we were talking about earlier. The Gospel writer Mark says that John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” That forgiveness is also a part of our baptism.
As we choose a particular angle at which to admire this jewel called baptism, we recognize that as God extends the Gospel promise in baptism he also creates faith in that promise. As God creates faith then our sins are no longer a barrier between us and God and we enter into a special relationship with God. We are his children. As the apostle John says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
If we are now born again through baptism into the family of God as children of God then what were we before baptism? Children of the devil? Absolutely. What if the pastor spoke these words as part of the order of baptism? “I command you, you unclean spirit, by the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit that you come out of and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ.” What does that sound like to you? If it sounded like we were casting out a demon, you are right. It is an exorcism. This is not a foreign concept to the church. Martin Luther and pastors of his day would have said words very similar to these at baptisms. Even as far back as the third century AD there is mention of an exorcism being a regular part of the baptismal rite.
It may seem odd to us, but doesn’t it make sense? At baptism when you leave Satan’s household and become part of God’s family, God also removes Satan from the throne in your heart, and he himself begins ruling there. So, at a baptism an exorcism is taking place – Satan is commanded to leave.
Let’s turn this precious jewel and see it sparkle from another angle. Another way to look at the blessings of baptism is to look at this robe. The designs in this robe are not just for decoration. If you look closely you will see symbols around the sleeve and at the bottom of the robe. One of these symbols is the chi-rho. It is the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ, placed one on top of the other. The other is the alpha and omega – something Jesus calls himself in the book of Revelation. So when I wear this robe it is a picture of wrapping myself in Christ, of clothing myself with Christ. This is what happens in baptism. Of course the apostle Paul used the illustration first. He said, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
This is a wonderful thing, because now when God looks at you he does not see your sin. He sees the sinless Son of God and he welcomes you into his family.
Baptism is precious because it does all of these things. It is a miracle greater than giving sight to the blind, making a paralytic walk, and even greater than temporarily raising Lazarus back to life. Baptism has made us right with God and part of his family. It has cast Satan out of our hearts and it has made us radiant and holy in God’s sight by clothing us in Christ.
It is God’s work in us and not something we do for God. Because it is God’s work we can be sure it is effective. There is comfort in our baptism when we sin and we need assurance that God still loves us. There is comfort in our baptism when we wonder if faith still lives in us. There is comfort when we are near death and we can be assured by our baptism that heaven is ours.
Now what about Christ? He didn’t need those things. So why was he baptized? It is a paradox. It doesn’t seem to make sense. As one 3rd century believer said, “Oh things strange beyond compare! How should the boundless River that makes glad the city of God have been dipped in a little water! The limitless Spring that bears life to all men, and has no end, was covered by poor and temporary waters! He who is present everywhere, and absent nowhere—who is incomprehensible to angels and invisible to men—comes to the baptism according to His own good pleasure.”
Why then was Christ baptized? In this way he began his public ministry. As the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and the Father said “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” God was identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Just as everything else Jesus did was for our benefit so also is his baptism for our benefit. By his baptism at the beginning of his public ministry he communicates to us the value of baptism, and by his death at the end of his public ministry he gives baptism the ability to do all that the Bible claims that it does.
Baptism is one of the things, along with the Lord’s Supper and the simple Gospel message, that God has promised to use to give forgiveness and to rescue souls from their own sin. It is truly a miracle of God. May we hold on to our baptism as a precious, multi-faceted jewel. May we treasure it, and look to it for comfort.