1 Epiphany Proper C                       
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 3:15-22 Sermon                                                
January 13, 2013

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 343 "How Lovely Shines The Morning Star"
TLH 298 "Baptized Into Thy Name Most Holy"
TLH 37 "Lord, 'Tis Not That I Didst Choose Thee"
WOV 651 "Shine, Jesus Shine"
TLH 119 "Great God, We Sing, Thy Mighty Hand"


TEXT (vs. 21-22):  “21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “’You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’” 

            Spontaneous Baptisms.  Has anybody heard of this term before?  I hadn’t heard it used until earlier this week when I read an article describing what it was.  It seems that this mega church in North Carolina had done 2,158 Baptisms over two weekends.  That’s quite an impressive number, so I decided to dig a bit deeper into the whole matter and discover for myself what was happening.

            So I decided to “Google” the phrase “spontaneous baptism” on the Internet to see what I could find.  I watched a short video of the whole thing, and then I read through a nine page manual on how to do this kind of event.  Allow me to share what I found out.

            It started with a preacher giving a strong motivational sermon, the intent of which was to build an emotional fervor amongst the listeners.  He got cheers and responses from the crowd that was gathered.  Then he wanted everybody to give their hearts to Jesus.  And those who did were then strongly encouraged to be baptized to show God that they were now obedient followers of him. 

            Then the people were led out into the parking lot, where I think two baptisteries were set up.  These are square fiberglass tanks with steps going down the inside, which resemble a hot tub or a small swimming pool.  Inside the baptisteries were volunteers who helped the people get into the water.  And then each person was laid back and immersed in the water, with a washcloth held over their nose and mouth.  Then after just a few seconds, they were helped up, and they exited the tank with the help of more volunteers.  And each person had on a blue T-shirt that said, “I have decided” stenciled in big white letters across the front.  They were then handed a towel, and escorted to a changing area.

            And to top it all off, there was a photographer stationed there as well, taking everybody’s picture as they were baptized, something like the photographer taking everybody’s picture on the log ride at Busch Gardens or Worlds of Fun.  And I suppose these photographs were on sale in the gift shop, so people could have some sort of souvenir of their experience.

            So what do you think of this whole thing so far?  Is this something that gives the proper emphasis upon conversion and Baptism?  Or does this sound more like a gimmick done for show?

            One gentleman who was critical of the whole thing described it like a trip to Wal-Mart.  He said that it reminded him of the candy bars that are on the aisles at the check-out lines.  They put them there so people will “impulse buy” things they otherwise wouldn’t have purchased.  He felt that this method of Baptism was nothing more than an impulse reaction created by pure emotion, and that the meaning had gotten lost somewhere along the way.

            As I look at what happened here, I agree that something got lost in the whole process.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I whole-heartedly rejoice when a sinner comes to faith.  And I certainly believe in people being Baptized and the importance of it.

            I would like for us to take a brief look at one of Jesus’ parables recorded in Luke chapter 15, verses 8-10.  It’s called the parable of the lost coin.  Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”   

            I certainly rejoice right along with the angels when this happens.  We’re here to bring the good news of the Gospel to a world lost in sin.  And when someone comes to faith, then heaven has a new resident.  Somebody is born again, and is now saved from eternal perdition.

            But I want you to think about that parable of the lost coin for just a few moments.  I want you to think about the metaphor Jesus is using.  An unrepentant sinner is described as a lost coin.  And God is illustrated by the poor woman who literally tears apart her house looking for it.

            Where people tend to go awry, is when they say that they found Jesus and accepted him based upon a personal decision they made themselves.  That would be like that lost coin getting up off the floor and searching out the woman who lost it.  The only thing that coin could find is the floor.

            As lost sinners, that’s the way we are too.  We don’t find Jesus, he finds us.  We don’t create the faith in our hearts to accept him either.  That’s something that the Holy Spirit does.  But as it goes with sinful human beings, people really like taking credit for what God does. 

            When I see the spontaneous Baptisms that were described, the emphasis was completely wrong.  You see, God is the one responsible for giving people the gift of faith.  And in everything I read, God the Holy Spirit didn’t get even so much as a mention in the whole process.  The emphasis was focused on humans, what they decided to do in their hearts, and what they did in their Baptism to show God their form of outward obedience.  There was no deeper meaning to it other than this.  God’s role was almost passive.

            As we look at our Gospel text for today, God puts things into perspective for us.  The spontaneous Baptisms I described are very human oriented.  But what Luke records for us today shows us that it’s what God is doing that’s important.  Baptism and conversion need to be God-oriented.  We need to understand what God does through Baptism, and that’s the part that tends to get lost.

             In our Gospel lesson this morning, Luke 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 answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is 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 instructs 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, which is what I saw in that spontaneous Baptism description.  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 where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”        

            Even though we don’t physically see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovering around 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, ““You are my beloved Son, with you 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 are 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.  If we look at Matthew’s account of this, we read: “But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized 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.  For many of us, 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.  In Baptism, it’s what God is doing that is important.  That’s where our focus needs to be.  We can’t see Baptism as a work of man, done to show outward obedience.  It’s God’s acting through Baptism that gives it the proper meaning and emphasis.

            When it comes to conversion, this is something that is purely an action of God in our lives.  I can’t think of a better way to illustrate this than in the words of one of our hymns.  It’s hymn number 37 in your hymnals, and I’d like for us to sing this together as a closing for this morning’s sermon:   

1. Lord, 'tis not that I did choose Thee;
That, I know, could never be;
For this heart would still refuse Thee
Had Thy grace not chosen me.
Thou hast from the sin that stained me
Washed and cleansed and set me free
And unto this end ordained me,
That I ever live to Thee.
2. 'Twas Thy grace in Christ that called me,
Taught my darkened heart and mind;
Else the world had yet enthralled me,
To Thy heavenly glories blind.
Now my heart owns none above Thee;
For Thy grace alone I thirst,
Knowing well that, if I love Thee,
Thou, O Lord, didst love me first.
3. Praise the God of all creation;
Praise the Father's boundless love.
Praise the Lamb, our Expiation,
Priest and King enthroned above.
Praise the Spirit of salvation,
Him by whom our spirits live.
Undivided adoration
To the great Jehovah give.