January 8, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
The Lord has a thing about water. Throughout the Scriptures, numerous events have divine action connected with water: the Great Deluge, the Red Sea Crossing, the parting of the Jordan River, the washing away of Naaman’s leprosy, Jonah and the Great Fish, and so on. The Psalmist notes this when he speaks of the Lord’s glory: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters…. The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” That was certainly true in the Old Testament events. It was even so at the first of those events, the beginning of creation, as you heard this morning from the Creation Narrative: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form 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, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
Those words tell us that at the beginning of the earth’s existence, the Lord was present over the waters. His glory thundered over them, causing the cosmos to come into existence. Each time the Lord’s voice rang out, something happened. Light appeared. Waters were separated. Dry land and vegetation arose. Sun, moon, and stars were put into place. Birds filled the air and fish filled the seas. Animals began to roam. This is what the God of glory brought about through His voice that sounded over the waters. His will was made known and enacted. What the Lord desired, He made so. And as the Creation Narrative tells us: all was very good.
But what the Lord did in days of old would be brought to a new level in these last days, with the presence of Jesus. That is what you began to hear of with Mark’s account of His Baptism. You heard the lead up to that event: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.” John marks the end of the Old Testament era. He is present with a purpose, as you heard in part today and heard more clearly in the Advent Season. John’s purpose was to prepare the people for the Christ’s arrival, to herald the presence of the promised Deliverer: “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John’s purpose was fulfilled with the appearance of Jesus. He is the One that John foretold. He is the Lord who took human nature and became part of the creation, in order to reverse the chaos and disorder that the sin of Adam and his descendants had caused. He is the Redeemer who takes the creation that had lost its goodness and restores it to being very good. So when the Lord was present to initiate that regeneration and renewal of the fallen creation, He once again is present over the waters. This is seen at the Baptism of Jesus.
The Gospel Writer tells us of the happenings that took place at Jesus’ baptism. In Mark’s typical fashion, there is the summary statement: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” But he reports the odd things that occurred: “And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a Voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” The uniqueness of this event is seen in these details. As Jesus stands in the Jordan, an epiphany takes place: revelation about His identity is made. A theophany is happening in the Judean wilderness: an appearance of the Lord occurs. Those unique happenings point you and all hearers back to what the Lord did in ancient days, the time of the Creation.
Just like in the Creation Narrative, the Spirit of God is present above the waters: “the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.” Just like in the Creation Narrative, the voice of the Lord thunders: “A voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son….” Just like in the Creation Narrative, a divine declaration of goodness is made: “…with You I am well pleased.” Why does this take place? To reveal Jesus’ identity, to tell about who He is and what He will do. In these events, you see Jesus as the source of new life, new creation, new order. He is present with a purpose: the task of redeeming and renewing the cosmos, especially sinful humanity. He is in the world to put an end to the rebellion of sin, to reverse the ill effects that the creation’s revolution against the Creator has wrought, to bring life into the domain of death.
So when Jesus begins to take up this task, He is shown as the Christ by the events at His baptism. His baptism shows His unique identity. It is a strange thing to happen. The Greater One receives baptism from a lesser person. The holy Lord is numbered among sinners. The One through whom the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds is baptized by water. The Redeemer undergoes a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All of this is part of Jesus’ humiliation, the way that He falls under the Law in order to redeem you who are under the Law’s curse. And as this mystery of the incarnation unfolds with the Baptism of Jesus, the theophany occurs: the Lord appears over the waters. The heavenly events happen at Jesus’ baptism so that you will recognize Him not just as a Man, but as the Christ, the Promised Deliverer, the One who tears open the heavens for you, the Incarnate Lord.
The redemption and renewal that Jesus brings is made to be yours. It happens as the Lord is once again present above the waters, acting for His creation. The Apostle Paul tells you of this, as you heard in today’s Epistle Reading: “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, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”
The God of glory and the voice of the Lord are present above baptismal waters, even those of your own baptism. Through that act of being washed with water that is not just plain water, but water joined with the Lord’s word, you are brought into union with Him. You are connected with Jesus’ death and resurrection. You are made to participate in the act through which Jesus brought redemption and renewal to the cosmos. You share in the new life that Jesus brings. That’s what the apostle wants you to know.
The rebellion of sin and creation’s revolution against the Creator had brought turmoil and chaos to you. But Jesus has come to bring you back to the good will of the Lord and the perfect order that He desires His creation to share. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the foundational acts for that good will and order to be made yours. And this is what has effect in you, as you are joined to His death and resurrection through Holy Baptism: “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” That is what the powerful voice of the Lord that is present in the baptismal waters causes for you. It is His desire to give it to you, as His Word declares. And what the Lord speaks comes to pass. His Word created life, and now it is yours: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we also will live with Him.”
You are restored. You are renewed. You are alive. That is what baptism has brought to you. Through baptism, what Jesus accomplished by His death and resurrection is now your possession. Since you have died and risen with Jesus, the Father does not see you as worthy of condemnation. Instead, He sees you through the prism of His Son, saying: “...with you I am well pleased.” Since you have been baptized, you are no longer without form and void. Instead, the Spirit of God hovers over you, dwells within you, brings life to you. Since you have died to sin and are alive to God in Christ Jesus, you are no longer eternally banished from Paradise. Instead, the heavens are torn open so that you may enter into life everlasting.
Even now, “the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” In your day, “the voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.” It was so at the earth’s beginning. It was so at the River Jordan when Jesus stepped into it. And it is so in the baptismal fonts of Christ’s Church, where He baptizes you and all His disciples with His Holy Spirit.
You have heard that powerful voice of the Lord, what it declares about Himself and what He causes for you: that you are a new creation established by His dying and rising. Trust in what He has done for you. Live in the Spirit-given life that is made to be yours. And you shall have the eternal inheritance that belongs to His beloved children, those with whom He is now well pleased.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.