Mark 1:4-11 /Baptism of Our Lord B / 11 January 2015

Baptism is creative and creation is baptismal. That’s the connecting link in our readings this morning. Baptism is creative, a new creation, in which we are united with the death and life of Jesus, die to Sin and rise to life in Christ so that we can now consider ourselves dead to Sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. To be baptized is to be in Christ, and if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come.

Creation is baptismal, in the sense that light and life came by water and the Word. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, that is, everything. The earth was formless, orderless, empty, dark and lifeless. Darkness covered the face of the Deep, that is, Tehom, the primordial waters. And the Spirit, or Breath, of God hovered over the face of the waters. We have water, we have the Spirit. Only one thing is missing for there to be life. The Word. Water, Word, and Spirit mean life. And so God spoke. And through water and the Word by the Spirit came light and dry land and atmosphere and plants and animals and Man. And it’s all by water and the Word in the Spirit. Creation is baptismal.

Our problem is that we see only water and so we conclude that this is all there is. When we explore other planets looking for signs of life, what’s the first thing we look for? Water. Without water, there can be no life. But even with water alone, there can be no life. Life is not like an instant drink, just add water and shake. Life come from God and is given in His Word. And while water is necessary for life, there can be no life unless there is the Word and the Spirit as well. Where God has not spoken and where the Spirit doesn’t hover, there will be no life.

The same is true with Baptism. What we see and experience is water, and so we rationally conclude that’s all there is. It’s a bath. A ritual washing. A symbolic cleansing. Something you do to clean up your act, start over, begin a new life. But as Jesus’ Baptism reminds us, it is not water alone that does such great things. It takes water and the Word with the Spirit to do these creative things. It wasn’t water alone that cleansed Naaman the Syrian general of his leprosy, but water and the Word of promise that took him to the Jordan River. It was not water alone that brought freedom and independence to the Israelites in the wilderness, but water and the Word of promise together with the “wind of God,” the Spirit. That’s how Jesus could tell Rabbi Nicodemus that he must be born from above by water and Spirit or he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, and he chides Nicodemus for not knowing this as a teacher of Israel. It’s right there in the first two verses of the Bible.

The doctrine of creation is the first theological lesson of the Bible, the foundational doctrine which is the springboard of the Scriptures: Life and Life come by water, Word, and Spirit.

Jesus the Word Incarnate entered the water of John’s baptism and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. Again, water, Word and Spirit come together. And the voice of the Father confirms it: “This is my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This is the beloved Son of the Father who is in the water, upon whom the Spirit descends. He is the Christ, the Anointed One of God, come to save His people and the world from Sin and Death. He is the suffering Servant of God, in whom is God’s delight, who bears the sins of the many and by whose wounds we are healed from the sting of Death. Water alone cannot wash away Sin. Water alone cannot bring the Spirit down from heaven. Water alone cannot tear the heavens open and bring the voice of the Father. The Word must be in the water. Jesus, the Word Incarnate, stands there in the Jordan River as the Sinner for us all, submitting to John’s baptism of repentance, though He has nothing of which to repent. The Incarnate Word and water come together, and the heavens are opened, the Spirit comes down and lights upon Him, the Father speaks His approval. A new creation has come.

In the old creation, in the beginning, disorder was ordered by the Word. Sea and dry land. Waters above and below. Sun, moon, and stars in their place. By the Word, the darkness is overcome with light. The emptiness of the sea is filled with fish, of the sky with birds, of the land with animals. This is all by the Word. The six creative days of Genesis 1 are all Word days. God does nothing but speak, and each day begins with “And God said…” for without the Word there is nothing but disorder and darkness.

Sin brought disorder to God’s ordered world. The whole creation groans as a result. We groan too, as Sin’s disorder affects our world, our society, our environment, our biology, our minds, everything. Sin brought the darkness of Death where God spoke Light. Sin brought Death where God had spoken Life. We are conceived and born in Sin. The disorder and the darkness are the reality of our own lives too. Our sins add to the disorder as the darkness covers us like a shroud. The things we cling to in the hope that they will make us happy and healthy and wise turn out to be fading, temporary, decaying and dying. Everywhere we look, we see the chaos of Sin and the darkness of Death at work. And we wonder, who or what can possibly save us? Is there any hope for the world all?

The answer comes in the water by the Word with the Spirit, as it did in the beginning. Jesus came as the light and life of all. He is the Word through whom all things were made in the beginning. He is the Word who was with God and who was God. He is the Word that brought Light into the darkness, and filled the earth with Life. And now He stands in our human flesh in the water to do what no one else can do, to put Sin to Death in the flesh, to open heaven to earth, to bring a new creation.

Thou camest to our hall of death
O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the dark despair
That strangled our reluctant breath. (LSB #834)

He entered our disordered world quietly, when all the world was occupied with taxes and a census, when only a handful of shepherds took notice of Him on the day of His birth, when Bethlehem was fulll and only place for Him was a manger. He was visited by Magi who came and honored Him as a king even as Herod sought to kill Him and Israel largely ignored Him. He grew up on the obscurity of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, learning His surrogate father’s trade, working our work day with all its frustrations and uncertainties. For thirty years the world had no idea He was there.

And then came that fateful day on the banks of the Jordan, when Jesus stood before John and insisted, yes demanded, that He be baptized alongside the prostitutes and tax collectors and all the rejected sinners who had come to John to wash away their sins. Matthew tells us that John objected and would have prevented it. But Jesus insisted. “It is proper for us to do this in order to fulfill all righteousness.” This is how righteousness is fulfilled. This is how the Law of God is satisfied. This is how order is restored. The Son becomes the Sinner so that sinners might become sons of God.

Jesus’ Baptism and our Baptism are not the same. Jesus was baptized with John’s baptism. Jesus was baptized into our Sin and Death. His baptism propelled HIm to the wilderness and eventually to the cross. It was the beginning of His ministry, the revelation of who He is as the beloved Son of the Father. We are baptized into Him, His death and life. We are baptized in the Baptism He established when He authorized His disciples to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Our baptism, like Jesus’ baptism, leads to a death – in our case, the death of the old Adam, the sinner within us. We are crucified with Christ and buried with Him through Baptism. The darkness, the Sin, the Death are all drowned in Jesus’ death and buried in His tomb.

You are, for all intents and purposes, dead. Dead to Sin. Dead to Death. Dead to the Law. And being dead, you are free. There is nothing more free than the dead. The dead have nothing to lose. More than that, you are alive in Christ. You are alive to God. You are a new creation of God in Christ. Sin has been put to death in the flesh of Christ, and so you are dead to Sin as you are baptized into Christ. Death no longer had dominion over Christ because Christ conquered Death and rose from the dead. And Death no longer has dominion over you as you are in Christ through Baptism.

So don’t let the simple water fool you. There is much more here than meets the eye in Baptism. The Son stand with you, the Spirit descends upon you, the heavens are opened to you, the voice of the Father declares you to be His beloved, and you have light and life. You are God’s workmanship, created anew in Christ by water, Word, and Spirit.

That’s what happens when water, Word, and Spirit get together: Darkness gives way to light; Death gives way to Life. And you are a new creation in Christ.

In the Name of Jesus,
Amen.

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