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What is baptism? – St. Matthew 3.13-17

What is baptism? – St. Matthew 3.13-17

(Lenten Midweek Vespers Sermon Series on Holy Baptism, Small Catechism)

The Rev. Gary Schultz, Kantor

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John [the Baptist] would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Water was involved from the very beginning of God’s creation. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters [Gen 1.1-2].

On the second day, God separated the waters: “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse.  And it was so.  And God called the expanse Heaven [Gen 1.6-8].

On the third day, God created the earth and seas: “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”  And it was so.  God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.  And God saw that it was good [Gen 1.9-10].

Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water.  Between 60-70% of the human body is water.  God works with water.

As God made water a big element of His creation, so it is central to His re-creation.

But what is baptism? Baptism is not just plain water; it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.

The Apostle and Evangelist Saint John connects God’s work of salvation in His Son Jesus to creation as is evident in St. John chapter 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it [Jn 1.1-5].

In the beginning, God created water.  In the beginning was the Word.  God works with water and His Word.  Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.

Baptism is how God re-creates:  how He distributes His saving work from the death of Jesus on the cross and His Resurrection from the tomb to you!

Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.

John is surprised at Jesus’ request.  It is as though John said: “I am the sinner and You are the sinless One.  What need to You have of baptism?  You are the source of forgiveness.” (Peter Bender, Lutheran Catechesis).

To fulfill all righteousness.  Here we see a great exchange.  In His Baptism, Jesus unites Himself with sinful man.  He takes our sin into His flesh.  He takes responsibility for the sin.  A great exchange takes place.  His righteousness is placed on you.

Jesus is baptized so that in His Baptism, the sin of the world is placed on Him, so that in your baptism, His righteousness is placed on you.  As the Christmas hymn sings:

He undertakes great exchange,

Puts on our human frame,

And in return gives us His realm,

His glory and His Name. (LSB 389)

His saving name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is given to you in baptism.

What is baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.

What is baptism?  It is how Our Lord distributes His work of salvation to you.  Because of His gift of baptism, you are saved.

What is baptism? It is a new life in Christ, called out of the multitude of unbelievers and into His family.

It is a new perspective.  Baptism calls us to order our time and priorities around hearing God’s Word.

Baptism is about moving on: Moving past the wisdom, fears, and superstition of the world.  Baptism is to see things from the perspective of a redeemed child of God; to face the challenges and chances of life as a guaranteed heir of heaven; a child of the heavenly Father, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.

Baptism gives us a brother in His Son Jesus.

Baptism makes us brothers and sister together in His Body, the Church.  Baptism calls us to a life of love and service to our brothers and sisters in the Church, and to share this Good News with our family, friends, coworkers, and community.  Baptism calls us into the world to share Christ’s work of salvation.

We are called to remember our baptism – daily: in good times and bad.

This summer on July 12, I will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of my baptism.  Remembering my baptism always has a bit of an unfortunate memory for me.  The church I was baptized in – Messiah in Fort Wayne – a rather unremarkable 1970s architecture building was torn down in the 1990s to make way for an even more unremarkable parking lot for a prototype Walgreen’s in suburban sprawl Fort Wayne at the corner of Stellhorn and Maplecrest roads.  But this doesn’t diminish baptism at all.

The placing of the font in Church architecture has varied from time to time and place to place over the years.  Some churches have an elaborate room or part of the Nave called a baptistry to house the font.  Some churches place the font in the front, perhaps in the center or another prominent location.

Some of you this evening were perhaps even baptized in the font here at Immanuel in the entry from the Narthex into the Nave.  A relative of mine, not fully appreciating the symbolism of this location, remarked that it was kinda “in the way.”  Indeed, it is.  In the way.  You can’t get in without confronting the font.  This is on purpose.  We enter the Nave as we entered the Church—through Baptism.  And we leave with the comfort of baptism, remembering Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross given to you.

No matter where you were baptized: here; somewhere else you can visit; or if it was torn down over twenty-five years ago; the font serves as a physical reminder of that saving act that placed you into Our Lord’s family.

Every morning and evening, and before meals, Dr. Luther directs us in the catechism to make the sign of the cross and speak the words in which you received His name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to remember your baptism.  Similarly, we begin and end the Divine Service with the sign of the cross and His Triune Name.

The sign of the cross is another physical reminder that Our Lord has called you, placed His name on you; in order to fulfill all righteousness.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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