10 January 2009

The Baptism of Our Lord

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a return to the beginning of creation: a renewal, a restoration, and a fulfillment of creation.

The Baptism of our Lord bespeaks and begins a New Creation through the forgiveness of sins.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth: for the sake of His divine love, that of the Father for the Son in the Holy Spirit. His gracious work of creation was, and is, the giving of His own Life and Light. He does it by the way and means of His Word and Spirit, and not by coincidence or accident does He begin with water. It culminates in His creation of man, male and female, in His own Image and Likeness: already an icon of Christ and His Bride, the Church.

Then there is the Fall into sin and all its deadly consequences. Man's rejection and disobedience of God's Word drives the Holy Spirit out of man's heart and life, breaks and shatters the Image of God in man, and causes destruction, death and dark despair throughout God's good creation, making a desert wilderness out of the formerly lush garden.

Yet, the one true God remains, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with His Life, His Light, and His Love.

Thus, He does not destroy His good creation, not even to the extent that He did with the Flood (which aimed at salvation and signified the saving waters of Holy Baptism). He does not exterminate man and start over. Instead, He becomes Man (in the Person of the Son). He enters and becomes a part of His own creation. And in His own Body of flesh and blood, He makes all things new. He brings light out of darkness. He brings life out of death. He restores the Image and Likeness of God in Man. He brings about a New Creation in Himself.

Once again He begins with water, and the Word and Spirit of God.

The Baptism of our Lord Jesus is straightforward, short and simple, but no less significant, fundamental, profound and permanent. For He takes the place of all the people in His Baptism; so that all who believe and are baptized, all who come confessing their sins, are forgiven and saved.

He submits Himself to St. John's preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Not for His own benefit, nor for any sins of His own, but for you and for all people, for your salvation, for the sake of His divine and holy love.

Here is the great exchange: His holiness, righteousness, innocence and blessedness, for your sin and death and damnation. His life and light and salvation, for you, at His expense. His Sonship, His Spirit, His home in heaven with His Father: all for you, by His death, in His Resurrection.

His Baptism anticipates and already participates in His Cross and Passion and His Resurrection from the dead. He is crucified, dead and buried in the water. He emerges and arises in righteousness and purity. All of this in your place, for your benefit.

Everything that was yours has become His in His Baptism; so that everything of His has become yours in your Baptism. You rise with Him and live with Him, a beloved and well-pleasing son of God by grace, anointed by His Holy Spirit.

Here heaven has been opened to you — and the Father's heart is opened to you; His arms and His home are opened to you — never to be closed again. Because Christ has died and risen from the dead, once-for-all.

For you!

Now you are a New Creation in Christ, by His water, Word and Spirit. You bear the Name of God, and with His Name, His Image and Likeness. You are free: to live, as God lives; to love, as God loves; to reflect and radiate His Light, as He enlightens you.

What, then? What shall you do with yourself and your life? How shall you live? How shall you exercise your freedom?

Will you live to sin? To serve yourself? To go your own way? To abandon the God who loves you and saves you and gives you life, in order to become, again, a god unto yourself, though not a ruler but a slave of sin and death?

No! You have been crucified with Christ, in order to live in and with Him. You have died to sin — let it remain dead to you. All that so appeals to the world (and to your old Adam), all that appears to be a source of life and freedom, is really the false allure of slavery and death. It is the idolatry that does not give, but takes.

But, no, your life is in Christ, in His Cross (paradoxically) and in His Resurrection (though hidden for now in weakness). Your life is found in repentance, unto faith in His forgiveness; none of which is your own work or achievement, but His, by His Word and Spirit.

Come, then, confessing your sins, and submit to His preaching of repentance, for the forgiveness of all your sins. Return daily to the significance of your Baptism; not by being re-baptized, or baptized again, but by contrition and repentance, by confession and absolution, by dying to sin, rising to righteousness.

Rely upon the Word and Spirit of Christ. Avail yourself of His means of grace (which are His works, His gifts). Live in the freedom and the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.

As you have died and risen with Him (in your Baptism) — never to die again, but to live forever — do not be afraid to love and serve, to forgive, to sacrifice yourself and even to die for your neighbor.

Give generously, serve faithfully, love freely, live gladly, and, at last, die in peace. Even though you die, yet shall you live. For Christ has died, and Christ is risen, and you are His.

You are baptized, as He is baptized, and all that belongs to Him is yours most surely. Your sins are all forgiven. God is your Father, and you are His beloved and well-pleasing child.

In Jesus' Name, and for His sake. Amen.

1 comment:

TruthQuestioner said...

Amen. Thanks so much for posting this, Pastor. I needed this today.