Baptism of our Lord (Epiphany 1)
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 3:13-17 Sermon
January 13, 2008
SBH 57 "Bright And Glorious Is The Sky"
-- "When Christ Our Lord To Jordan Came" (now playing, text below)
-- "Now Honor The Lord"
-- "To Jordan's River Came Our Lord"
THE “ONE DROP” PRINCIPLE
TEXT: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
I would imagine that some of you might be familiar with something called the “one drop principle.” Quite simply put, this is the principle which says that if someone has even one drop of Negro blood in their ancestry, that makes them a Negro.
Now I should state from the outset that by my use of the word “Negro,” I am in no way trying to be racist. I know that in today’s society, referring to a person as a Negro is not supposed to be politically correct, even though “negro” is nothing more than the Spanish word for “black.” I know that the preferred term for people with black ancestry in the United States today is “African-American.” And so with all due apologies for the use of the more inappropriate term, I do so with the intent to be more historical rather than politically correct.
As near as I can tell, this type of rule was in place in the early to mid 1800’s; however it was brought more to the forefront in the early 1900’s when different states began to ratify this “one drop rule” in various forms. Some states used fractions like 1/16th or 1/32nd in their wording, Nebraska being one of those states. By 1925, virtually all states in the union had defined this principle on their law books.
The original intent was a tool of segregation. People who were mulatto, which means a person of mixed European and African ancestry, were classified as either Caucasian (or white) or Negro (or black), depending upon their appearance. This “one drop rule” classified everyone of this type of mixed ancestry as being a Negro, irrespective of how much or little ancestral blood there was or what their appearance was.
In an almost Nazi type of mentality, Negros were considered an inferior race of people by the Caucasian race. They feared that intermarriage between the races contaminated those of a pure Caucasian background, and so such a contaminated person was branded a Negro.
Years ago, it was reported that a woman was denied a United States passport because a midwife had put down the father’s race as Negro on her birth certificate. It took her several years of hard work, even going to the Supreme Court, before she could get a passport.
Since the 1960’s, the “one drop principle” has taken on a far different role. With the introduction of affirmative action, it has been used as an advantage in the work force. And today, many African-American organizations such as the NAACP have promoted it, so those of mixed ancestry can learn about and appreciate their African-American heritage. Being a mulatto in today’s society doesn’t carry the negative baggage as it did even a couple generations ago.
I was reminded of this principle just this week, when it was brought up with regard to Barack Obama and his mixed ancestry. Several years ago, it was mentioned with regard to Tiger Woods. And just a couple days ago during one of my late night insomnia periods, I happened to catch a bit of the movie Showboat, which is a 1951 production of the stage musical starring Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner. In that production, the “one drop principle” is a key part of the plot.
The “one drop principle;” the principle by which someone is wholly and entirely identified with a particular race of people regardless of how small that drop of ancestral blood is, or how diluted it may have become in the gene pool.
Do you realize that as Christians, we also operate under this “one drop principle?” Does that comment surprise you at all?
Before we go any further, let me tell you what it isn’t. It doesn’t have anything to do with nationality, or race, or skin color, or any sort of breeding. In fact, in our Epistle lesson this morning, Luke records the following statement in Acts chapter 10 verses 34-35: “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’”
You see, the “one drop principle” has nothing to do with human blood. The “one drop principle” is a drop of water, and what God does through that water in Baptism. Through that “one drop,” we become one of God’s own children, and are thus identified with Christ Jesus and what he has done for us. Hold on to that thought, because we’ll be dealing with that in a bit.
First, I’m going to take you into our Gospel lesson for this morning. Matthew records what has to be one of the most impressive and awesome sights that we could ever imagine. John had been baptizing people in the Jordan River. Things had been going along pretty much normally; that is, until Jesus arrives.
After Jesus is baptized, we get a real glimpse of what happens during baptism, and what it means for us. After Jesus had received the water, heaven literally opened up. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. And then the Father in heaven spoke with clear and unmistakable words: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Through the waters of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit came to Jesus. Sometime later when Jesus was having a conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus explains the connection with baptism, the Holy Spirit, and being born from above by the Holy Spirit. Listen to their dialogue from John chapter 3 verses 3-8: “Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’”
I find it so incredible when people look at baptism as something done out of obedience, and nothing more. Certainly we baptize people because of our Lord’s command in the last few verses of Matthew’s gospel, which instruct us to make disciples of all nations, by baptizing and by teaching.
But there’s far more to it than just an empty command of obedience. There’s a promise there too. The promise is that through the water of baptism, the Holy Spirit is also conferred upon the person. The Holy Spirit creates the faith in someone as small as a new-born infant, so they may accept Jesus as their Saviour too. We don’t know the exact way God does it, but we believe that he does do it nevertheless, because he promises he will. Remember what I quoted Jesus saying to Nicodemus a few moments ago: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Even though we don’t physically see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove lighting on a newly baptized person’s head, yet we know he is there just the same. The picture we see at Jesus’ baptism makes this all the more real for us.
Then there’s the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Through the faith God the Holy Spirit gives to a child at baptism, he or she is welcomed as a member of God’s family of faith. We may not experience a thundering voice from above when someone is baptized today, but we do hear God’s voice in his Word which promises that “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” This voice speaks to all who believe and are baptized; we know that through faith in Jesus Christ the believer shall inherit heaven for eternity.
Before Jesus is baptized however, John asks a legitimate question of Jesus. Our Gospel lesson says, “But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’”
John was fully aware of his sinfulness; and because of that, he felt that he was unworthy to baptize Jesus. If we would have been there on that day, would we have felt the same way? Would we have felt unworthy because of our sinfulness?
I think that my personal reaction would have been much the same as John’s, and I would imagine that yours would have been too. It seems that when we are in the presence of holiness, our awareness of sin becomes that much more acute.
The devil would have us run the other way. The devil tries to trick us into thinking that our sins are too great for Jesus to deal with, too much to be forgiven, too outlandish to be understood. The devil tries to trick us into thinking that our baptism has no meaning for us today.
The faith in Jesus we received at our baptism is the very same faith we keep alive today. What started at the baptismal font back so many years ago, and continued with us through childhood and into adulthood is the same faith that will be with us when we take our final breath. God wanted us then, he wants us now, and he will be ready to welcome us when it’s our time to enter heaven.
The faith that saves us is so simple. It’s the faith that the Holy Spirit gives to us, which is faith in Jesus our Saviour. It’s a faith that believes in what Jesus has done for us, which is now ours.
Remember awhile back I asked you to hold on to the thought that we are identified with Christ Jesus and what he has done for us. Let’s look now at Romans chapter 6 verses 3-5 where Paul records: “Or don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Those are beautiful words to remember. Luther used to say that whenever the devil tried to lead him to despair, he would say, “But I am baptized!” He knew that regardless of what the devil tried to do to him, he was baptized into Christ Jesus, and therefore he belonged to him.
As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, we have a great picture of the “one-drop principle.” Even though there are different methods of baptism using varying amounts of water, all that really matters is one drop; the rest is superfluous.
Through as little as one drop of water connected with God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will work. The washing of regeneration will take place. A person will be born from above. And even a little child will be brought to faith in Jesus their Saviour.
The “one-drop principle” has been in place for many years in this country, where the presence of even one drop of African-American blood in a person legally makes them a member of that race. Where many were cursed by this in the past, others in later years have seen it as a blessing.
As Christians, we abide by this “one-drop principle” too. Through that one drop of water and God’s Word, we become part of God’s family and are identified by him. When we are baptized into Christ Jesus, our entire being belongs to him and to no other. One drop of water indeed has the power to change us completely, when it is used according to God’s command.
May we continue to live our lives as redeemed children of God, as part of his family for all eternity.
HYMN: WHEN CHRIST OUR LORD TO JORDAN CAME
1. When Christ our Lord to Jordan came,
His Father's will obeying,
John baptized him beneath the waves,
His mission thus portraying.
This was his holy sign
To cleanse us from transgression,
And by his holy death
He frees us from oppression.
2. Hear then and mark the message well,
God's own clear declaration,
What we must learn baptism is
To keep from aberration.
With water we baptize -
This is God's will and pleasure -
Connected with his word
And Spirit without measure.
3. To us this truth with ample proof
Through words and signs is given.
From Jordan's banks we clearly hear
The Father's voice from heaven:
This is my own dear Son,
With whom I am delighted;
Listen and follow him,
All you by him invited.
4. Now God's own Son himself is here
In youthful manhood standing;
We see the Holy Spirit too,
In form of dove descending.
Here Father, Spirit, Son,
Makes promises compelling:
In those who are baptized
Our God will make his dwelling.
5. The Lord to his disciples says:
Go out, teach every nation
That lost in sin, they must repent,
To flee from condemnation;
Believe and be baptized -
You shall be saved forever;
The kingdom now is yours -
Newborn and dying never.
6. If lacking faith, we still reject
This grace so freely given,
We stay in sin, condemned to death,
And to despair are driven.
Good works will count for naught;
Whatever holy things we do,
Sin dwells in everyone;
Ourselves we cannot rescue.
7. Our mortal eyes can only see
Mere water as we pour it,
But faith in spirit sees the power
Of Jesus' blood and merit.
Here flows the crimson flood,
Dyed with the blood of Jesus;
This washes Adam's heirs
From all our sin and frees us.
--Martin Luther, adapted by David Schutz