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More Than A Story - Part 2

January 12, 2020 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Verse: Matthew 3:13–3:17

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
January 12, 2020
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

The Baptism of Our Lord
More Than A Story – Part 2

At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan, to John, to be baptized by him but John tried to prevent him saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and you are coming to me?" But Jesus said to him, "Let it be for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Upon being baptized he immediately came up from the water and behold the heavens opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest upon him. Then, Behold! A voice coming from heaven declared, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased." Matthew 3:13-17

We noted that last week’s gospel, when Jesus went to the temple at age 12 for the Passover, was more than a story or simple historical account, but an essential part of a much larger picture instead.

At age 12 the boy Jesus went to Jerusalem where he figuratively died, and was raised again on the third day. A movement he would repeat 21 years later, at the age of 33, where he truly would die on the cross, and be raised from the dead: for us men and for our salvation.

Now at age 30 our Lord goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John; and as wonderful an account as this is, it is not the end of the story. Baptism never is the end of the story, but only the beginning.

Instead his baptism in the Jordan was the precursor of another baptism the Lord would undergo. His bloody baptism on the cross. We learn this in St. Mark when the Lord asks the disciples, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized … (Mark 10:38-39)

And again in St. Luke when the Lord says, “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50)

“Baptism” in these verses is a reference to the Cross where the Lord would be baptized by immersion in his own blood. But it was not a case of senseless violence, the kind our safety forces deal with each day and that takes up vivid residence in their minds. Not this death!

This bloody baptism was planned before the foundation of the world to redeem the entirety of God’s creation; all things visible and invisible. To save us from sin and bring us into a world of peace where there will be no more violence, where “lions will lie down with lambs” and no longer devour them.

This is the baptism that now saves us. (1 Peter 3:18) The blood that purifies us from every sin. (1 Jn 1:9) This is, moreover, the blood of Christ that the baptized partake of in Holy Communion that inoculates us against death, and makes us immortal, just as Jesus promises in St. John:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:53-56)

Yes, what we have here is more than a story, but what a story it is.

We learn in today’s gospel that Jesus is the Anointed One of God. In the Old Testament kings and priests were anointed with oil, which was the “sacramental element” of the Holy Spirit. We first learn this in Genesis when Noah sends the dove from the ark, out over the waters, and he comes back with an olive branch to show that the waters were receding, that God’s cleansing was complete, and that a new era of peace on earth was about to commence.

In today’s gospel we find the dove again, hovering over Jesus in the water with the voice of the Father “shaking the wilderness” (Ps. 29) pronouncing to the whole world: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” This is the Priest of priests and King of kings; this is the One who will sacrifice himself for the sins of the world, and lead God’s people to victory over all their enemies.

And Oh how we long for that victory to be fulfilled, when sin and sorrow will be forgotten and sighing will flee away.

But still the story is not exhausted – like John the Baptist each of us must say: “I need to be baptized by you,” and thank God that we are. For in baptism we died with Christ. That is what St. Paul says in today’s epistle. Not only died with him, but were also entombed with him so that we might rest in peace, and be raised to the newness of life, again, with him.

In baptism the heavens opened to us, the Spirit of God descended upon us, and the voice of the Father once again declared to each of us: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”

But we should also remember what happens to us sacramentally in baptism will happen again, in real time. We will “imitate the passion of our God” as St. Ignatius of Antioch said on his way to martyrdom. But no Christian ever dies alone, but dies with Christ instead. He is our final “attending physician” who removes the sting of death from us, lays us in the womb of his own tomb, and then on the last day raises us up immortal!

This is why St. Paul can say with such confidence: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Phil. 1:21)

But what about now? What about life between our first baptism and our final baptism? Again St. Paul comes to the rescue as he details the baptismal life in today’s epistle.

First he asks a much-needed question, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound?” Shall we continue living like pagans so we can give God all the more opportunity to be gracious.

He then answers his own rhetorical question using the strongest form of negation that exists in the Greek language “me genoito” which means: may it NEVER happen. Or in older biblical language: God forbid!

Christ did not redeem us for sin but for righteousness. So that we might live a new life. So that our thoughts, words, movements, affections, plans, decisions, desires and inclinations would be renewed by the Spirit, and well-pleasing to our God!

Oh how we need this!

Need it and have it! For he who gives the Spirit “without measure,” (Jn 3:34) has poured his love into our hearts by the same Spirit. (Romans 5:5)

And so lift up your hearts, lift them up to the Lord! Amen.