Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jesus is baptized for ME!

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, January 8, 2012.

    Have you ever had the feeling that something was not right?  John the Baptist had that feeling.  He had been standing in the waters of the Jordan and preaching repentance, accustomed to the sinners who came lamenting their sins and desiring to be right before God.  And then Jesus shows up – the same Jesus who caused John to jump in his mother's womb.  This Jesus was no stranger to him.  So when he knew something was not right, this was more than instinct.  This was faith.
    Jesus was no sinner in need of repentance.  Jesus did not come lamenting his own fall from grace.  Jesus came as the one and only righteous man.  John knew this.  He was, after all, the messenger who came before Jesus to prepare His way.  John proposed a switch to make it all right.  Jesus the righteous would baptize John the sinner.  Jesus insisted that this wrong must go forward – He must be baptized by John "in order to fulfill all righteousness."  So John baptized Jesus and immediately the heavens opened, a dove descended, and a voice proclaimed Jesus "My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  This voice was not for Jesus – it was for John and for every sinner who meets Jesus in the baptismal waters.  In baptism we encounter the wrong that makes us right, the holy One who should not be there comes to bear our sins for us.
    To save us Jesus becomes one of us.  There is something wrong there.  God becomes flesh and blood like us.  This is no mere appearance or costume. This is no appearance or image of something that is not there.  This is a real as a baby's cry, as blood that bleeds red and flesh that feels pain, suffering, and even death.  We come to baptism in shock that the innocent God made Himself dirty and guilty for us sinners.  The Most High God who dwells with us in the surprise of flesh and blood, the immortal God has made Himself mortal, all so that He might die and we might live!
    To save us, the Lawgiver makes Himself subject to the Law.  We learn from our culture that those who make the laws are above the law.  But not Jesus.  He makes Himself subject to the whole law; He suffers with us every limitation and burden of life lived as a mortal, under the demands of the Law.  But unlike us, He does not fail this Law.  He fulfills it perfectly.  Not as one to show off how good He is but as the Savior who gives us the fruit of His holy life and righteousness.
    He bears the full burden of our sin.  Jesus is not a model for us to follow, someone we could be and should be if we tried hard enough.  No, Jesus has come to carry our load of sin– even when that load means bearing the burden of the cross and death and then turns around to bestow upon us all that His obedience has earned.  Jesus is not there in baptism because He has to be but because He chooses to be for us.  He puts Himself in the wrong place (our place) in order that we might be made the righteous and holy children of God.  He entered baptism to bear our death that we might rise in baptism in His life.
    His righteousness, His holiness, is not some badge of His honor but the gift given to unworthy and undeserving sinners.  Like Cinderella who dresses up in borrowed clothing, He comes to cloth us in what is not ours but His.  The surprise of grace is that we wear this vesture of righteousness forever.  We fear no bewitching hour when it all disappears.  It is ours forever, the wedding garments that prepare us for the marriage supper of the Lamb.
    The sad truth is that we have it all wrong.  It happens every time we baptize an infant. We wince when the baptismal liturgy speaks of this child so marked with sin that he is under Satan's power and dead eternally.  Surely not, we think, they are so cute!  The words of baptism do not fit our image of the “innocent child.”  What makes baptism unusual is not that “innocent” babes need to be saved but that salvation is planted there, hidden in the water set apart by Jesus’ Word, and endowed with all the power of His grace.  Here in these waters, we find the Righteous One who dies for the guilty, the Innocent for the sinner, Him who is the life who becomes death for us.  We find the words of baptism at odds with our image of the sweet little innocent baby.  But the surprise of baptism is that Jesus is there – not for Himself but for us – enabling the great exchange of His grace for our guilt, His righteousness for our sin, and His life for our death.
    You know how those weight loss programs show a skinny person as their spokesman? We think “why would that person need to diet?”  If you look into baptism, you see that the only person who should not be there is Jesus.  We come out of need for the promise attached to baptism, Jesus comes to embrace our burden and take responsibility for our sins.  This is no Cinderella story in which the magic is momentary – this the power of grace that marks us for God and His kingdom for all eternity.  There is no greater power than that which Jesus brings to the baptismal font.
    What should be wrong, becomes right for us.  Jesus does not need what baptism offers but bestows the grace that enables sinners to live.  And this is no mere second chance to screw it all up again – the forgiveness and redemption hidden in baptism washes away our every sin and gives life to our death darkened lives.  John’s baptism is no more.  Jesus has fulfilled it and replaced it with the promise John could only dream about – forgiveness free and full, life stronger than death, restoration to the lost children of our heavenly Father!  And now the voice that once rang out through the heavens for Jesus, shouts to you and to me: You are my beloved sons and daughters, in whom I am well pleased!”

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