Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Living Up to Your Name. . .

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, January 7, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
               What does it mean for you to have a last name?  It means you belong to a specific family.  Your name identifies who your parents are, who your father and mother are.  And in many ways, we try to live up to that name.  We don’t want to bring shame and dishonor to our parents.  We don’t want our behavior to reflect poorly on our family.  Instead we want to honor them with our words and actions.  This is exactly how it is with the name of the Lord.  We receive God’s name in Baptism, we’re declared His children; and with faith, we want to live up to that name. 
               In our Gospel reading today, we once again hear John the Baptist in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The people of Judea and Jerusalem went out to him, and they heard his preaching.  They repented.  They confessed their sins and were baptized.  Jesus also came to John, and He too was baptized.  And in His baptism, we see the words of John fulfilled.
               As John preached to the people, he always pointed away from himself.  He always pointed to the One who’d come after him.  He said, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:7-8).  At Jesus’ baptism, He was revealed to be the mightier one who came after John. 
               Immediately, after Jesus was baptized and step from water, the heavens were ripped open and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father was heard: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11).  God proclaimed Jesus’ identity.  He declared Jesus’ sonship.  Jesus is the only begotten Son of God; He is the promised Savior.  And in His baptism, He was marked for this saving work. 
               God the Father sent His Son, born of the Virgin on Christmas Day, to save His people, not from some earthly enemy, but from sin and death.  That’s why He was given the name Jesus.  That name means “The Lord is salvation.”  Christ Jesus took on our flesh at His birth so that He could take on our sin, so that He could stand in the place of sinners, our place, and receive the just punishment for our sin.  His baptism pointed to and marked Him for this work. 
The people who came out to see John were sinners: tax collectors, cheats, thieves, liars, abusers, adulterers, murderers; and they confessed their sin.  They were baptized in the Jordan for the forgiveness of sins, and Jesus, the perfect, sinless, Son of God was there too.  He stood side by side with these sinners and He stepped into the same river water that they did, taking their sin upon Himself, becoming sin for them, so that He could carry it to the cross and pay for it with His death. 
This is why God the Father declared His good pleasure in Christ, because He was fulfilling the plan of salvation that God had laid out before the foundations of the world.   Before He spoke everything into existence, the Father knew that we’d sin.  He knew that we’d turn from Him and walk in the counsel of wicked, that we’d listen to Satan.  And because of this, we justly deserve the punishment of death.  But God the Father wouldn’t let this be for you.
The Father created the world knowing what would happen, with the plan to sacrifice His Son for you, to save you from your sin.  That’s the depth of His love.  God gave up His Son and sacrificed Him on the cross in your place, so that He could have you, so that He could give you His name, so that He could declare you His child. 
               God gives you His name in the waters of Baptism.  The same God who spoke all of creation into existence calls you His child.  He makes you a new creation, joining you to Christ your Savior both in His death and His resurrection.  St. Paul says, “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” (Rom 6:3-4).  Your sinful self was crucified with your Lord.  Your sin was put to death so that you’d no longer be enslaved to it.  The guilt of your sin is forgiven and you receive everlasting life in Christ as a child of God.
               In the rite of Baptism the pastor made the sign of the cross both on your forehead and on your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ.  And as he poured water over your head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, God placed His name upon.  You are part of His family and heirs of everlasting life with Christ.   The Spirit who descended on Jesus in the form of the dove also descended upon you, and He created faith within you.  This faith wants to live as God’s child.  It wants to live up to the name that God has given to you.
               When the people came out to John to confess their sins their repentance wasn’t just lip service.  It was a turning from their sin and it was seen in action.  Having received John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the people were changed, they showed fruits of repentance.  They didn’t live the same sinful lives they did before, and neither should you.
               Having been baptized into Christ, walk in the newness of life.  Leave your sinful life behind.  Don’t lie and cheat.  Speak the truth, be fair to others.  Don’t be an abuser and adulterer.  Live chaste lives in thought, word, and deed; honoring your spouse and the bodies of those around you.  Don’t be a murder, both in word and action.  Speak well of others, help one another in physical needs.  Live holy lives according to God’s 10 Commandments.  Show forth the righteousness of your Savior that you receive in your baptism. 
Will you do this perfectly?  Absolutely not.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to live up to the name God has given you.  “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2)  God has graciously forgiven you and given you the gift of life in Christ.  You didn’t earn it with your works, but your works do show the life you have. 
In the waters of Baptism, you receive God’s name.  You’re joined to Christ Jesus your Savior.  Your old self was nailed to the cross with Him, and you’re new self was raised to life with Him.  In this new life, live according to the name you’ve been given.  Don’t go back to your old sinful life that leads to death.  Live faithfully to your calling as a child of God: repent of your sin and show forth fruit of repentance.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 


Unknown said...

From the sermon:
“When the people came out to John to confess their sins their repentance wasn’t just lip service. It was a turning from their sin and it was seen in action. Having received John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the people were changed, they showed fruits of repentance. They didn’t live the same sinful lives they did before, and neither should you.”
Where does the Old Testament require baptism, or say that through it sins are forgiven? Nowhere! Baptism at the time of our Lord was primarily a development from the time in exile, when ritual baths (mikva) were simply not available. Therefore the custom of total immersion in “living water” developed more fully from its Biblical roots (Tvilah). But none of these conveyed forgiveness by themselves. Only through sacrifice is sin forgiven, Hebrews 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” The people whom John baptized became ritually clean so that they could enter the Temple to present their sin offering without breaking the Law. That is what “for the forgiveness of sins” means.
As to the results of John’s baptism being “seen in action”, I would like to see supporting Scripture for that. Otherwise, it is just an effort to make the baptism of John equal to Christian Baptism.
The differences between the two are:
1. Christian Baptism conveys forgiveness of sins, because the sacrifice for sins has already been made by our Lord Himself. John’s did not. If John’s baptism conveyed forgiveness, our Lord would not have let Himself be baptized by John.

2. In Christian Baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us; not so as a result of John’s. The relationship between the Holy Spirit and the baptized member of the Kingdom of God is entirely different from that of the people of the Old Testament. Our Lord affirmed this, when, on the day before He brought the sacrifice for our sins, He said, John 14: 16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides WITH you, and HE WILL BE IN YOU.” That is what makes sanctification possible. The baptism of John did not convey that power. We do not walk “in the newness of life”, because Baptism has laid an obligation on us, but because we are “reborn” as God’s children who are able to walk “in newness of life.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

It seems nitpicky, George. Unless I am reading it wrong, the sermon does not attach the change to baptism but to repentance. The point is that their repentance was not mere words but actions (the most profound action being coming out to the Jordan to be baptized by John). The sermon is making the contrast -- IF John's call to repentance and to baptism resulted in a changed life, how much more so should our baptism manifest the fruits of repentance and the new life imparted to us there. I sometimes think you read with a view toward looking for something wrong rather than reading from the perspective of what is right. A member of Grace. . . who sat in the congregation last Sunday. . .

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous: I hope to see you next Sunday.
There is some history to this debate. Basically, it is a question of distinguishing between the Old and the New Covenants. Some Lutheran pastors think that John’s mission was part of the New Covenant. This is where my involvement in this debate began some time ago, but not on this blog.
To your points: “the sermon does not attach the change to baptism but to repentance.” Here is the portion of the sermon I quoted, “Having received John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the people were changed, they showed fruits of repentance.” My point is that John’s baptism was nothing more than a ceremonial washing.
On the other hand, I find no evidence in Scripture (I have just re-read everything dealing with John the Baptist) that the baptism of John resulted in a changed life for anyone. Therefore, the writer of the sermon makes two points that are not valid: that John’s baptism had a life changing effect, and that the people, who underwent his baptism, were actually changed. What is the value here to the Christian hearer? We are urged to take an example from something that is simply not true.
Maybe it is nitpicking, but my concern for many years has been the confusion of Old Testament truths with those of the New Testament, to the detriment of the Gospel. 2 Corinthians 3:7-11, “7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart