Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Martin Luther said “there is on earth no greater comfort than baptism” and he proved this in his personal life and experience. Luther admitted that when he was in the distress of affliction and anxiety he comforted himself by repeating, “I am baptized! I am baptized!”
In so saying, “I’m baptized!” Luther affirmed, and rightly stated that he belonged to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By this we learn that who you are, and whose you are, are important components of baptism.
Perhaps you noticed that today’s Gospel includes the affirmation from John the Baptist that he is not the Messiah. “One who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals” (Luke 3:16).
That is a humble statement, but perhaps not the natural answer when asked who you are. It would have been so easy for John the Baptist to play on his own popularity. John’s life to that point was not the normal life.
Clothed in camel hair and eating locusts and honey, John had likely never been the popular one. But now people were coming out to see him and hear his message. Mark records that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5).
That message was powerful and life-changing. The crowd asked him what they should do in response to his words. John did not choose the easy response. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:7).
Hardly the stuff of how to win friends! No, John knew clearly who he was in relation to the Messiah. He knew that to be a follower of Christ, a person would first have to acknowledge who he or she was and make no pretense as to his or her own righteousness.
Jesus later said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). John already had that figured out. John knew who he was. John knew he was not the Messiah but that he did have a role to play in the ministry of the Messiah. Pointing people to Christ was the mission for which he was born.
When the followers of John the Baptist questioned Jesus as to whether he was “the one who is to come,” he told them to go back and report what they had seen and heard (Luke 7:19, 22).
Then, speaking of John, Jesus said, “What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:24-28).
John the Baptist set the stage for Jesus, and for all followers of Christ. We are all to point people to Jesus and to acknowledge who we are in relation to him. And who are we? For those of us who believe in Christ, we are sinners saved by grace.
It is hard to imagine how John the Baptist must have felt when Jesus came to him to be baptized. Take any person known to be the very best in their field – athlete or artist, stockbroker or teacher, actor or corporate leader – and now put yourself in front of them and hear them say, “I need your help.”
However you imagine this circumstance, it would not be as much of a shock as when Jesus, the Son of God, came before John to be baptized. Yet Luke treats this scene almost casually when he says, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized ...” (Luke 3:21).
Matthew captures more of the magnitude of the moment when he records, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (Matthew 3:13-14).
John knew who was standing before him to be baptized. And as he acted in obedience and baptized Jesus, Luke says, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).
As Jesus began the ministry that would ultimately lead him to the cross, it was a powerful affirmation for him to know he was doing the Father’s will.
In this wonderful act of the Holy Spirit descending upon him and the statement by the Father, we see God in all three parts of the Trinity in complete agreement as to who Jesus is and whose he is. “You are my Son ....” Surely Jesus recalled these words and actions regularly as he did the ministry for which he was born.
Jesus did not aimlessly come to the Jordan that day. From creation, Jesus knew he would one day stand at that very spot and be baptized. He came to this earth to bring glory to God. He went to the cross to bring glory to God. He rose on Easter morning to bring glory to God.
And what was true for Jesus is true for us. We are all created to honor and bring glory to God. The scriptures bear witness to this; “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power ...” (Revelation 4:11).
To bring honor and glory to God begins with acknowledging who we are – sinners saved by grace – and acknowledging whose we are.
For surely God says of all believers at their baptism, “This is my beloved son” or “This is my beloved daughter” and continues, “With you I am well pleased.”
It’s important to note that Jesus’ baptism occurred at the beginning of his ministry. This great affirmation prepared him for what was to come. Matthew, Mark and Luke all report that Jesus’ baptism was followed by forty days in the desert, where he was tempted by Satan. Though tempted strongly, Jesus stayed completely true and sinless.
From the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus was opposed by Satan’s evil, borne out in people who sought to thwart his ministry. Often, Jesus spent time alone with the Father in prayer, and regularly, he surely remembered his heavenly Father’s words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The next time the Holy Spirit descended was on the Day of Pentecost. Appearing not as a dove, but as tongues of fire, the Spirit enabled a group of fearful disciples to go out into Jerusalem and begin preaching. The church was born that day, and 3,000 people believed and were baptized.
It’s no coincidence that both Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of the church began with the descent of the Holy Spirit and with baptism. If you read through the book of Acts, you’ll see that the Holy Spirit continues to empower and enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things for God and the fledgling church.
So today, as we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, we are faced with several options. Option one is to just make a passing note that one day long ago, Jesus was baptized. We may have a few questions about it, but that’s about all. It’s an interesting bit of history.
Option two is to make note of the fact that this was a powerful affirmation for Jesus as he began the ministry that would lead him to the cross, and then to the empty tomb.
Option three is to add to the second option the truth that in our baptism, too, God affirms us as chosen children of God, in whom he is well pleased.
And if we choose option three, as I pray we all will do, everything changes. When we know who we are: sinners saved by grace, and we will know whose we are: children of God created to glorify God – and then life can never be the same.
Temptations will come, but we can remain true and strong: children of God, in whom he is well pleased. Worries and distress will come, but we can remain true and strong: children of God, in whom he is well pleased.
Doubts and voices other than the voice of God will call us away from him, but we can remain true and strong: children of God, in whom he is well pleased. Fears and problems may abound, but we can remain true and strong: children of God, in whom he is well pleased.
And with each victory, with each praise, and with each step forward in our faith, we will remain strong and true, for we are indeed children of God, in whom he is well pleased. Let us join with Martin Luther and remind ourselves, “I am baptized!” Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.