Water, Spirit, Word – Baptism

Mark 1:4-11 / Baptism of Our Lord B / 08 January 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the Deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said….

Baptism. Right there in the first three verses of Genesis is Baptism. Water, Word, and Spirit. That’s what makes a baptism. So you might rightly say that light and life are the the result of the whole world being baptized. And you would be correct. And you would also immediately understand what Jesus meant when He said to Nicodemus that one must be born from above by water and Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. One must be born spiritually, “from above.” One must become a new creation by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, washed with water and the Word. Where water and Word and Spirit, there order, light, life, creation.

It’s easy to overlook that critical point in the first chapter of Genesis. We’re usually busy defending “6 days” of creation and we miss the fact that everything, the heavens and the earth, were created in that instant called “The Beginning.” But light and life came through water, Word, and Spirit. The Bible begins with Baptism.

Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, the day our Lord Jesus Christ stood before his cousin John in the Jordan River and submitted to John’s baptism. It’s a bit of a chronological leap. Two Sundays ago we celebrated Jesus’ birth; last Sunday His Name and circumcision. On Friday we rejoiced in the the visit of the Magi when He was just a toddler. If this were a movie, this would be the place where the writing appears at the bottom of the screen that says, “Thirty years later….” Jesus stands in the Jordan River, elbow to elbow with repentant sinners, to be baptized by John.

Initially John wanted nothing to do with it. This stood against everything that John had been preaching. John said that the Coming One was so great and mighty that he was not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals straps. He said, “I baptize you with water, but you haven’t seen anything yet. The Coming One is coming with another baptism, far greater than mine. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then comes the Coming One, Jesus, standing before John, and bowing His sinless head like a penitent seeking to be washed in this bath of forgiveness. Jesus stands there in the water next to tax collectors, prostitutes, rejects, and all manner of “sinners” as though He is one of them.

John is outraged initially. Mark doesn’t record the outrage, but Matthew does. John says, “No, Jesus. You’ve got it backward here. I need to be baptized by you, but you’re coming to me. That’s upside down, inside out, and totally backward. That’s not how a respectable messiah is supposed to behave. So get out of this water and back on dry land before anyone notices that you’re here, because when they do, they’re going to get all the wrong ideas. This is no way to start a religious revolution, you getting baptized.”

But Jesus answered John with a very telling sentence that explains exactly what was going on in this baptism: “Let it be so now, John. Let it be. Let go of any notions you might have of who I am or how I am supposed to work. It is fitting, proper, the right thing for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is how it goes down, John. I get baptized like a sinner. I become Sin for you, for all these people in the water with me, for the world. This is how “all righteousness” is fulfilled. And John consented.

The sinless Son of God is baptized as a sinner to fulfill all righteousness. In a world that lives in denial, among people who insist they have no sin, Jesus comes to be treated like a sinner. It’s been going that way all along – from His birth and circumcision, to His presentation in the temple when He was forty days old, to here in the water of the Jordan, Jesus is walking our walk, the way of the penitent, the way of a sinner in need of forgiveness. This is how He fulfills all righteousness. The Sinless One becomes our Sin so that in Him, baptized into His death, we might become the righteousness of God.

Before we go to our Baptism, let’s stay there in the Jordan with Jesus. There at that moment, a new creation dawns. Water, the Word Incarnate, the Spirit descending. The chaos of Sin is ordered by forgiveness. The Spirit hovers over the water, the Son who is the Word is immersed into the Deep of Death itself, the heavens are torn wide open, and the Father voices His approval. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The “beloved Son” is the beloved Servant of Isaiah, the one who suffers for the sins of the people. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen One, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.” “Behold my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted….He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” That Servant, God’s Son who came not to be served but to serve and lay down His life “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus’ baptism lays a cross upon Him. Jesus said, “ I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” His Baptism as a sinner among sinners takes Him to Calvary’s cross where He dies bearing the Sin of the world in His own body. For this He is anointed with the Spirit, visibly and tangibly, and approved by the Father who sent Him. This is His Father’s delight, that His Sinless Son should stand in solidarity with sinners in order to save them. When He dies, the curtain of the temple is ripped open in the same way that the heavens were at His Baptism. It is finished, accomplished, all righteousness is fulfilled.

Baptism brings the cross, and all that the cross will bring to bear upon Him. And so you, steeped in sin and condemned by God’s Law. There is no way for you to save yourself, nor is there any hope that you can improve beyond a bit of superficial rehab. Your righteousness cannot fulfill all righteousness. In order for you to enter the kingdom of heaven, your righteousness under the Law must exceed that of the scribes and the pharisees, and rest assured it does not. You must be perfect, complete and holy in every way, even as your Father in heaven in perfect. Not simply on the outside, but also on the inside. Not only in action, but also in word and thought.

You are born in Adam’s sin and held captive to it. You are born a prisoner of Death that turns your life and you in what is formless and void. Dust you are. Sin is our lord and master by birth, and no matter how “free” we may believe ourselves to be, the fact is that we are held captive to Sin and cannot free ourselves, even if we wanted to.

For this Christ came, was baptized, died and rose. He was baptized into your Sin so that you might be baptized into His righteousness. He was baptized to become the sinner in this world, so that you might be baptized a saint in His kingdom. “Or 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.”

By Baptism. Don’t overlook that. It’s always so easy to overlook the water. Baptism is the active agent here. Anyone who says that baptism is some symbolic religious ritual needs to run that by this verse. By Baptism we were joined to Jesus in His death. Buried with Him. Sin is drowned in forgiveness. And you through water and Word and Spirit are born anew, from above, a new creation in Christ Jesus, so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, you too might walk in newness of life. A new life. A new creation. A new you in Christ.

Paul goes on to say that our old self, the old adam, was crucified with Christ so that the body of Sin might be brought to nothing. We have been declared legally dead to Sin. Your Baptism is the death certificate of the old Adam. As far as God is concerned, you are legally dead to Sin but alive to Him in Christ. Now mind you, this is forensic, an act of God’s Word, a judgment laid on you. Your old adam is still very much alive, but now he is to be daily drowned and die. Mortified. Drowned in forgiveness. And a new man, the new you, who you really are in Christ, is to daily rise to live before God in the righteousness that Christ has given you.

God has declared it to be so by His Word. And when God says it, it is so, just as when God says, “Let there be light,” light there is. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

That’s what it means to live baptismally, to live as one of Christ’s baptized. You must reckon yourself, think of yourself daily and constantly as dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ. Yes, you do sin. That’s true. You are still old adam in the flesh. But as St. Paul reminds us, that’s not you doing it but Sin that dwells in you. Drown that damned thing in Baptism! When your sins bother you and oppress you and cause you to doubt, say with Luther, “Dennoch! Nevertheless, I am baptized.”

The water of creation’s Deep. The water of Jesus’ baptism. The water of your Baptism. It’s so easy to overlook, to diminish, to make some less of it than it actually is. But where water and Word and Spirit get together, watch out! Great things happen. The heavens are torn open, the Father approves, the Spirit descends, light and life are spoken, a new creation has come.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Behold the old has gone the new has come. And how do you know you are in it? And how do you know that you are in Christ? And how do you know that you have the Spirit and the Father’s approval? How do you know that heaven is opened to you?

You are baptized into Christ.

In the name of Jesus,