a sermon for Desert Mission Anglican Church on January 8, 2017 | The First Sunday After Epiphany
Passage: Ps 29; Matt. 3:13-17
When I was kid, one time I was swimming with a bunch of friends, and I got pushed under the water…I had my eyes closed, so I’m not sure how deep I went, but I know I didn’t have time to take a big breath, so I was running out air. As I scrambled through the water to the surface of the pool, I knew I was about to break through, but then I hit something. It was one of those floating mats you lay on to get tan and relax. It was blocking me from coming to the surface and breathing. I can’t remember if I opened my eyes at that point or not, but I remember one the few moments I have had in my life of real, true panic.
It didn’t take me long to figure out how to get out from under it, but there were a couple seconds that I was really worried. I knew that if I didn’t make it the surface, I would die.
The fact is that human beings are not designed to live under water. We are designed for respiration, to breathe air. You can’t extract oxygen from the water. To stay in the water without coming up for air is to die. You will drown, and this is in fact part of the picture of Christian baptism. Baptism has to do with death and sin.
Thank God it also has do to do with life. And not just any life, not just survival, but a life of forever thriving, a new life.
This is why St. Paul says in Colossians that we have:
“…been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12, ESV)
Yes, baptism is kind of a big deal, because baptism is the normal means by which we are brought into the family of God and receive new life in Christ.
Let’s do a little theology, the Anglican way!
Anglicans do theology first by going the Scriptures, then by listening to the early church, and then comparing that with the particular tradition that we have received from the English Reformers. When all those things line up, there’s a good chance we’re on the right track!
We just read from Paul that it’s in baptism that “you were…raised with [Jesus] through faith”
In Peter’s sermon in Acts chapter 2, he says,
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39 ESV)
Later in his first Epistle Peter elaborates on this:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV)
Jesus himself said
“unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5 ESV)
One very early Christian commentator said,
“before a man bears the name of the Son of God he is dead; but when he receives the seal he lays aside his deadness, and obtains life. The seal, then, is the water: they descend into the water dead, and they arise alive. And to them, accordingly, was this seal preached, and they made use of it that they might enter into the kingdom of God.” (Shepherd of Hermas)
Irenaeus, a second century church father, said,
“we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes..” (Fragment, 34, A.D. 190)
Turtullian wrote in the third century in his work titled On Baptism:
“Happy is the sacrament of our water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free, [and admitted] into eternal life! … But we, little fishes, after the example of…Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in [that] water.”
The English Reformers wrote volumes of material, much of it having to do with baptism, but here’s what we have from distilled from them in Article 27 from the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion:
Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.
So you see, from the very beginning, the Apostolic witness about baptism has remained consistent. Baptism isn’t simply a rite of passage, or an optional extra public statement that we get to make to let the world know that we’re Christians now. Neither is it some sort of sign that’s primarily about our commitment, or the promises we make. And thank God for that because if there’s one thing we learn from the year ritual New Year’s Resolutions, you and I will break a lot of the promises we make to ourselves, to others, and to God. No, this isn’t about our promises. It’s about the promise that God has made to us. It’s not about your faithfulness, but his faithfulness. Not about your love, but his love. Not about your living the life you were always living on our own, apart from God (which will always only lead to destruction and—ultimately—death) but it is about the new life God has freely given in the power of the Holy Spirit, all because of Jesus!
So, if Baptism is the normal way that God brings us into family, washes away our sins and applies to us his promise of new life, why was Jesus baptized? Wasn’t he already in God’s family…I mean he’s the Son of God! One part of the answer is that John’s baptism wasn’t exactly the same as Christian baptism; it was only to demonstrate repentance of sin, with no specific promises or meaning attached. That’s part of it, but wasn’t he without sin? Yes he was. This is why John the Baptist balks at Jesus’ request. He says, “I need to be baptized by you, not the other way around!” But Jesus insists they go ahead, to “fulfill all righteousness.” This means to do everything that John was requiring of his disciples. The repentance here had to with a public and total submission to God.
So although Jesus didn’t need to repent of sin, he first submits to John’s baptism as a sign of consecrating himself wholly to God in a way no other person could. He was the righteousness John’s disciples were pursuing. Second, he submits to baptism to identify fully with the human situation, to exemplify humility, and perhaps to forshadow that although he would never sin, he would take on our sin, plunging himself into the icy waters of death for us.
“For our sake,” Paul writes to the Corinthians, “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
I love how one commentary I read this week puts it:
Jesus receives our baptism and death so that we can receive his resurrection and life. He shares our reality so that we can share his. It may be hard and painful to let go of the approximation of reality that we thought was the world, but as we step down into the waters, we hear the voice of Truth, calling us beloved and pleasing.
Do you realize what this means?
Every baptism is a proclamation of the Good News of God’s promise of new life to all that believe.
Far from being a work that we do for God, it is actually a work God does for us. Baptism is constant reminder that we are saved not by works, but by faith in the powerful working of God.
This means that when you are tempted to despair over your sin, when you are discouraged because you are still sometimes tempted by the darkness, when you are painfully aware that you aren’t measuring up…you can remember your baptism. Martin Luther, the great Reformer that restored to the Church the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, would in moments of despair write “I am baptized” over and over.
When you remember your baptism, you remember God has promised to be with you, and to give you life forever with him. It was never because you earned it. It’s just because God loves you. Because you’re his son. You’re his daughter.
And here’s the thing: that life that you will experience perfectly one day actually really began with your baptism. Which means you have the Holy Spirit living inside you know, guiding you, comforting you, praying for you when you don’t have the words…making you more like Jesus.
Praise God that he always keeps his promises!
When I was very young (maybe 7 or 8 years old) we took a beach trip as a family to a spot that had quite a strong undertow. I remember playing in the surf and one particularly large wave knocked me over, and pulled me back toward the water. I remember sliding backwards, getting sucked under, and not being able to lift my head out of water before another wave crashed on top of me and began pull me deeper in.
Then I remember a hand reaching down, and pulling me out of the water, and setting me on my feet. It was my dad, coming to my rescue.
This is exactly what our Heavenly Father does for us in baptism.
We are all drowning in our sin, but in baptism he raises us out of the water and into a new, fuller, better life, all because of the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This week, write down in your journal, your Bible, whatever, “I AM BAPTIZED, ” just like Martin Luther. This is 100% better than any other positive affirmations you have on your mirror right now, like “I am a beautiful, powerful person making things happen,” or whatever.
Every time you see that statement, “I AM BAPTIZED”, you will be reminded not what you have done, but what God has done, is doing, and will do. When you see “I AM BAPTIZED” don’t believe in yourself, believe in GOD! And you will be given new life.
Listen, If you haven’t been baptized, but this sounds interesting, if you haven’t been baptized but you want to follow Jesus into true, meaningful, full, rich, abundant and eternal new life, then repent, turn to Jesus as lord, and be baptized. Your Father is calling to you and he is saying, “come home.”
Receive and live in God’s promise of new life! AMEN.