1 Epiphany Proper A1
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13:13-17 Sermon
January 12, 2014

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 128 "Brightest & Best Of The Sons Of The Morning"
TLH 134 "Songs Of Thankfulness & Praise"
WOV 652 "Arise!  Your Light Has Come!"
TLH 127 "As With Gladness Men Of Old" 


TEXT (vs. 16-17):  “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;  and behold, a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'”

            Recently I was having an informal conversation with a friend of mine about Baptism.  Since I wrote my dissertation on Baptism, this is a topic that seems to come up frequently.  This past Advent, I presented one part of a three part series with Pastors Bruick and Ratcliffe on the Means of Grace: the gifts that keep on giving.  My topic was Baptism.

            My friend and I were discussing this Advent series, and how important it is to keep focused upon God's Word and what it says.  God's Word is indeed what gives Baptism its power, and not the human involvement.  The Holy Spirit is at work in Baptism, just as Scripture says.             

            It was then when he shared a personal story with me.  His daughter was roughly 18 months old at the time, when she witnessed a Baptism at a worship service.  She stood up and very carefully watched everything that was happening.  She saw the infant, who was only a few weeks old, being held over the Baptismal font, and saw the water being applied to the baby's head.  She heard the words, "I Baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  She was taking all of this in.

            When the service was over, she asked her father, "I was Baptized too, wasn't I?"  Her father told her that she was Baptized when she was only a few weeks old, just like the baby she saw being Baptized.

            My friend admitted that he and his wife hadn't discussed her Baptism a whole lot, thinking that it was a bit much for such a young child to comprehend.  In fact, they had only just started teaching her "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" as a bedtime prayer.

            However, my friend was kind of curious about what she thought about Baptism.  So he decided to ask her a rather probing question, not really expecting much of an answer.  He asked her, "What does your Baptism mean to you?"

            She paused and thought a moment.  Then she said, "I think Jesus reached down and gave me a big hug and a kiss."

            My friend was astounded, and so was his wife.  Nobody had coached her or put any ideas into her head.  She came up with this all on her own.  She had her own terms of reference.  She knew that getting a hug and a kiss was a good thing.  It was something she had come to know, not through words, but through actions.  She knew what a hug and a kiss meant from her parents, her grandparents, and her relatives.  And through her Baptism, she also knew what a hug and a kiss meant from Jesus. 

            Of course this isn't some profound theological statement, unless you consider the source.  This came from an 18 month old little girl, who was just learning how to talk.  And I think that this is one very good example of how the Holy Spirit works faith in the heart of even the youngest child.  God promises he will give the gift of the Holy Spirit through the waters of Baptism connected with his Word, and indeed he does exactly what he has promised.

            This little girl having faith does not surprise me; in fact, about the only thing that does surprise me is how well she was able to articulate it.  I think that is amazing.

            The reason I'm not surprised about the little girl having faith comes from both Scripture and personal experience.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give the account of Jesus and the children.  The disciples were trying to keep the children away, but Jesus says in Mark's account, chapter 10, verses 13-14:   “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” The wording is virtually identical in all three accounts.

            So not only do children have faith, but Jesus uses it as an example for others.  Worldly wisdom and human logic cannot match the child-like faith that trusts completely in God and his promises.

            Personally speaking, I know what my Baptism means to me.  I was born onDecember 14, 1954, and was Baptized onFebruary 13, 1955, just two days shy of me being two months old.  I don't generally suggest that people wait this long for a Baptism, but I really didn't have any say in the matter.  

            My German grandfather, my "Opa," is the one who Baptized me, and it just took a couple of months to get everything prepared.  One interesting thing about my Baptism, is that my grandfather Baptized me using the wrong name.  I was Baptized "David" instead of "Daniel." 

            What made this especially interesting, is that I was named after my father, and my Opa named him.  So what was going on in his brain is a mystery.  He didn't believe it himself until my dad played back the tape recording of the service, and he actually heard it.  So when we get to heaven and if you hear God calling me "David," you'll know why.

            The point I'm making with this, is that the power of my Baptism wasn't vested in my German Opa, or in my parents, or in me.  It was God the Holy Spirit working through Baptism, through water and the Word.

            What my Baptism means to me, is that God gave me the gift of the Holy Spirit when I was Baptized.  And because of this, the Holy Spirit worked the miracle of faith in my heart.  Through faith, I was able to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and this happened when I was two months old, not even old enough to give a personal testimony of my faith through spoken words. 

            I can honestly say that there was never a time in my life when I did not know Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour.  Oh certainly there have been those times in my life when I have wandered off the path, but not for very long.  The gift of faith I received at my Baptism is something for which I am most thankful.  God has claimed me as his own, and Satan cannot snatch me out of his hand.

            This morning, our main focus is upon the most important Baptism of all, and that is the Baptism of our Saviour Jesus Christ.  This story is one where an immediate transition is made from Baptism being an outward sign of repentance in the Old Testament ceremonial system to a Means of Grace in the New Testament.  Let's look at what was happening here.

            John the Baptist was Baptizing people in theJordan River according to the Old Testament system.  People who were converting to Judaism went through this ritual as a sign of repentance.  This was the accepted practice amongst the Jews, so it was a common activity.

            We read in the Bible where there were a whole lot of people who sought out John in order to be Baptized.  Jesus had just come on the scene, John was preaching and attracting a crowd, and people were more than just a little interested.  In order to become followers, people were converting to Judaism.

            Now along comes Jesus to where John was Baptizing.  Jesus wants John to Baptize him, and John finds this very perplexing indeed. 

            First of all, Jesus was already a Jew and was well schooled in the faith.  Why would he want to be Baptized like a new convert?

            And second, Jesus was the sinless Son of God.  Jesus didn't need to repent of anything; what purpose would a Baptism of repentance serve?  John, on the other hand, knew his sinful state only too well.  In verse 14 of our text John asks,  “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 

            Now Jesus gives an explanation in verse 15.  He says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”   Something incredible was about to happen.  Jesus was going to fulfill and bring to an end the necessity of the Old Testament Baptism of repentance.

            We must always remember what Jesus came to this earth to do.  He came to be our substitute, to take our place.  It's like Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21:  "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

            Even though Jesus did not need to repent for his own sake, he needed to repent for our sake.  Jesus took on the role of the worst sinner we could imagine to pay the price for the sin of the world.  The Apostle Paul explains this very well in Philippians chapter 2 verses 5-8:  "Have this mind amongst yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

            When John consented to Baptize Jesus, he couldn't have anticipated what was about to happen.  The Holy Spirit appears and comes upon Jesus.  God the Father speaks from the heavens.  Jesus has fulfilled the purpose of the Old Testament Baptism, and now it is forever changed.  Now Baptism has become a Means of Grace, a way by which the Holy Spirit comes to a person, a way that faith is worked in the heart of a person.  And when this happens, all Christ did to redeem a sinner becomes personal.

            When we are Baptized, we are intimately connected with Jesus in every way.  In Romans chapter 6 verses 3-4 Paul reminds us:  "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

            We share in his death and burial, because that was the punishment for sin we deserve, but Christ took for us in our place.  We share in his resurrection, which means that death and hell and the grave can no longer hold us.  We share in his life, which means that we will live with him in heaven for an eternity.  Christ's righteousness becomes ours through faith alone, and that is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

            Down through the ages, Baptism has really taken a beating.  People have basically removed God from the picture, making Baptism something man does for God instead of something God does for man.  People have become more concerned about the method of Baptism and how much water is used, instead of what Baptism means and what God does through it.  And when we examine the various teachings people have had to contrive just to support bad theology, it can be mind-boggling.

            That day at theJordan River, Jesus changed Baptism from an Old Testament ordinance or rite, into a New Testament Means of Grace.  Baptism carries both a command and promise of God.  We are plainly told that we will receive the Holy Spirit when we are Baptized.  God is the active one here; our role is but a passive one.

            Baptism clearly is something God does for us.  In Ephesians chapter 4 verses 4-6 Paul writes:  "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."   And Paul continues in chapter 5 verses 25-27:  "...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."

            The Apostle Paul certainly knew the meaning and blessings of Baptism, there's no question about that.  We can appreciate what Scripture has to say about Baptism, and take what God says literally.

            But I don't think that there can be any personal testimony as powerful as what that 18 month old little girl said.  When her dad asked her what her Baptism meant to her, she replied:  "I think Jesus reached down and gave me a big hug and a kiss."