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Alas And Did My Savior Bleed

January 7, 2023 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

JESUS BAPTISMChrist Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
January 8, 2022
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Baptism of our Lord
Alas And Did My Savior Bleed

And when Jesus was baptized he immediately came out of the water and Behold! the heavens were opened to him; and he saw God's Spirit descend like a dove settling upon him. And Behold! a voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." (Mt. 3:16 - 17)

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Last week’s gospel which praised the Lord’s circumcision, and today’s which magnifies his baptism, go together. The Lord’s circumcision is the END OF THE OLD COVENANT and his baptism the BEGINNING OF THE NEW. But both of these feasts that we celebrate today with joy, are obnoxious to human pride.

Now as often as Christians devote themselves to charitable works our religion is tolerated, and we even feel good about ourselves. But when it comes to the shedding of our blood, which is what circumcision and baptism are both about, then the defiance begins.

Our pride does not want to hear about sin, anymore than an ailing person wants to hear a cancer diagnosis. Both are highly disturbing! Our Old Adam discounts sin, and so many churches have written sin out of their agenda rather than suffer loss for the sake of the gospel. But St. John writes: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The biblical teachings of Sin and Salvation rub our pride the wrong way, and for two reasons. First we do not think that there is any problem. And secondly if there is we will fix it ourselves! And so when Scripture says in Hebrews 9:22 that “There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood,” our Old Adam loses it! This divine proclamation, “There is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood,” scares us out of our wits; and we can think of a hundred reasons why it must not, and can not be so.

We said earlier that even some segments of the church have softened their tone. Case in point. The famous Protestant hymn composed by Isaac Watts, “Alas And Did My Savior Bleed.” A hymn dearly loved by golden-agers who have sung it many times. But it is highly doubtful that you would hear it in any church today. But if you did it would not have the same impact because the words have been softened.

The original version says this:

1 Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

The revised version says this:

1 Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for sinners such as I?

No! Pride will not allow us to reduce ourselves to the level of a “worm,” even though our Lord says of himself in the 22nd Psalm, “I am a worm and no man!”

And if we cannot accept the peril of our sins, then how could we ever accept that sin can only be redeemed by blood! Which means death! Either the death of the sinner, or the death of One who would courageously put himself forth to die in our place! THAT is what our Lord Jesus Christ did. He bled and died for us; in our place; as our substitute. He gave his Life and His righteousness to us! In the words of the Apostle, “For while we were still sinners Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom. 5:8)

That, O Sinner, is the gospel. That is the sum and substance of the Christian Faith – that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was raised again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. And there is nothing better than that!

And this gospel is the engine that drives the church to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick – because of the mercy God first displayed to us. Because God gave His One and Only Son to be the propitiation for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world. This is the message that makes us rejoice and that wipes ever trace of fear from our weak knees and trembling hands. And thus Scripture says too many times to count – fear not!

Now finally this brings us to our theme of: circumcision and baptism, which are a matched pair.

Last week we celebrated the feast of the Lord’s circumcision which was the sign of the old covenant, the Promise of the Messiah to redeem Israel from all his iniquity.

1800 years before Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, God commanded that every male child was to be circumcised when he was 8 days old.

Circumcision is the cutting away of the foreskin from the male reproductive organ, and in the process the baby sheds blood. Jesus was not exempt. When he was 8 days old he was presented for circumcision; and by it we learn 2 vital aspects about our Savior and our Salvation.

First we learn that Jesus was a true, factual and fully human being in body as well as soul. He was a man possessing all of a man’s anatomy. He was not a phantom or a hologram or a spirit or an idea, but a genuine man come to earth to absorb the sins of all men, and to pay for them by his blood.

His blood not ours!

Secondly in his circumcision our Lord shed blood for us. Remember: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9:22) And so Isaac Watts teaches us to sing, “Alas and did my Savior bleed, and did my sovereign die.” But Jesus’ death is our life.

His trouble our peace.

His poverty our riches.

His imputed guilt, our imputed righteousness.

One more note on circumcision: Jesus’ was the last valid circumcision ever to take place. Yes, Jews continued the practice and still do today, but it no longer avails before God.

Before the coming of Jesus circumcision was like a credit card waiting to be paid in full by God’s Savior because human blood can never wash away sins. There are too many, and no blood is potent enough or comprehensive enough, except the blood that trickled at his circumcision, and gushed forth at his baptism.

Now as the Lord’s circumcision was the LAST valid one his baptism was the FIRST of all Christian baptisms ever to follow; and it is his baptism that makes yours valid. But the Lord’s baptism we hear of today in the Jordan River was just the first part of a two part saga.

Later Jesus will say in Luke 12:50 “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” The baptism he refers to here is his bloody baptism on the cross that “takes away the sin of the world,” as we sing at every Eucharist.

And so these two “bloody feasts” go together – the Lord’s baptism and his circumcision!

This being the case then let us, too, be bold enough to consider a change of our own to the old hymn. The word, “Alas” which means “sadly,” “unfortunately,” or “regrettably.”

What Watts had in mind is the fact that our sins led the Lord of Glory to die an ignominious death. But there is nothing “regrettable” about it because Jesus did so willingly. In the prophet Isaiah he says, “Here am I, send me, send me.”

And in Hebrews 12:2 we read, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2).

And so let us never regret the cross which is the wisdom of God, but let us rejoice in the Lord always. Amen.