In 1683, a Dutch scientist by the name of Antonio van Leeuwenhoek verified the existence of microscopic organisms that would come to be called bacteria. For the first time in history these disease causing critters were physically proven to exist. Before this there had only been guesses and speculation as to how and why people got sick. It was a proud day for mothers everywhere. They now had incontrovertible proof for what they had been saying all along: it is important to wash your hands before every meal!
Washing is not a new thing for any of us. Is there any one who can truly say that they have never heard: “wash your hands before every meal; wash behind your ears; say that again and I will wash your mouth out with soap.” I think you get the picture. If there is one thing that most every human knows, it is that washing has benefits. Even if that benefit is nothing more than pleasing your mom. Washing is a part of everyone’s normal daily activities. It is not a great mystery. At least it shouldn’t be.
For many people, however, the washing of regeneration, what we call baptism can seem pretty mysterious. The Christian Baptism has been misunderstood, neglected, and even abused since the earliest Christian churches were founded. Many people have chosen to view it as nothing more than an outward act, a symbol of something already committed to in the heart. Many choose just to ignore it, as if it were really nothing important. Still others, abuse it. Did you know that in the days of Luther, the Roman Catholic Church made a practice of Baptizing bells and other inanimate objects? It’s true. The bells even had sponsors, like children do today.
Well that all may be interesting, but just what does it have to do with anything? No one is being baptized today, so why all this talk of Baptism? Obviously, it is part of the Gospel lesson, and I had to talk about something. But more importantly, this is the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means revelation, and the season of epiphany is that time in which we as a church come to see God revealed in the Christ. We come to focus upon Jesus as the Saviour of the world, and the light and life of the world. His baptism plays an important role in revealing to us who he is. The main points of importance to be gained from Jesus’ Baptism, and from our own for that matter, can be summed up in ABC. These points will help us to better see the Christ revealed.
Let us begin with the letter A. This stands for announced and Anointed. Perhaps much of our Gospel reading for this morning seemed familiar. It should because much of it was used way back in Advent. We have already heard about John and his role as Jesus’ forerunner. John the Baptist proclaimed the coming Messiah, Jesus. Through Jesus’ Baptism and the events that happened therein, Jesus was announced to the world as the Messiah. Just listen to the words of God the Father Himself: “You are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” These words make the identity of this Jesus very clear. But In His baptism, Jesus is not only announced, He is also Anointed. In ancient Israel, people were anointed by having perfumes, oils, or water poured over their head to signify that they were set apart by God. In this act of baptism Jesus was set apart by God. He was set apart to be the Messiah, our Saviour.
Similarly, there is also an announcement to the world in our Baptisms. When that person, whether young or old, is brought before the congregation and Baptized, the whole world is told that this person is now different. This person has been set apart by God, and is now special in His eyes. This person is no longer just anybody, they are now a Christian.
That leads us to B for Baptism itself, and what happens in this mysterious act. B is for a bond forged in blood. The benefits of our Baptism are perhaps becoming clearer for us, As John the Baptist made clear, it is a matter of repentance and the forgiving of sins. But why did Jesus have to be Baptized? HE didn’t have any sins to be forgiven. He was already God, so why would he have to be set apart by God? The plain and simple fact of the matter is that HE Did Not. The benefit of Jesus’ Baptism was not for Jesus himself but rather for all of us. Eph. 5:26 says: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” Through his baptism Jesus identified himself with human sin and failure, though he himself was innocent. He bonded himself to us as a blood brother. Through the waters of his baptism he took upon himself the burden and responsibility of our sins and ultimately, paid their penalty. A penalty that called for His blood.
Again, when we are baptized the same thing happens to us but in reverse order. Through the waters of our Baptisms we as sinful human beings are identified with Jesus Christ our Saviour. Rom. 6:3, 5 reads: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? . . . If we have been united with him like this in his death, we certainly will also be united with him in his resurrection.” Through the waters of baptism we are bonded to the freedom that Christ himself won for us. Through the washing of baptism we are given the forgiveness of sins and hope of eternal life that Jesus earned through his suffering, death and resurrection. In short, baptism saves. Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” This is the true meaning of our baptism. This is what it is all about. Through baptism we are tied to the redemptive work of Christ and are saved.
In light of this we move on to the third major point regarding Baptism: point C. C stands for Commissioned or committed. When Jesus stepped into those waters of the Jordan he was in a very real sense committing himself once and for all to the work of the Messiah. Up until this time he had been leading a quiet life, living comfortably in Nazareth, working as a carpenter. From the moment of his baptism this all changed. He was no longer just Jesus the carpenter, he was Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus the Messiah. His life would become anything but peaceful. He was committing himself to the huge task of teaching and healing and calling others to repentance. He was committing himself to the work of bringing all people to salvation.
When we were baptized we too were commissioned. We were brought into the Christian life and were committed to living it. We can no longer live comfortably in seeming safety of sin and apathy. A quiet and unnoticed life is no longer an option. There is a job before us, one that we must remain committed to. As a Christian we must daily hear Jesus’ call to repentance. Baptism brings us life by drowning all of our sin and evil desires, this is a process that needs to be done again and again, each and every day. Jesus himself puts it this way in Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Every day through contrition and repentance our sinful nature is again overcome and we emerge a new person.
But this is only part of our task as a Christian. Jesus himself has commanded that we as his followers are to bring others to him through the same baptism we have enjoyed. Matt. 28:19 “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is a glorious task, but one that is not likely to happen in a single day. The life of a Christian is a life of commitment.
Today the ABC’s of baptism have been briefly outlined. Baptism involves announcing and Anointing, The bonding of the baptismal washing itself, and being commissioned to a life of commitment. Let me finish with a final point. This I will label D. You could say it stands for denouement since this is my concluding point, but more rightly so, it stands for declaration. Through baptism, God has set us apart to live a life for him. This is often not an easy task. Jesus himself knew that what lay ahead of him was not easy. He needed strength and encouragement. This he received in his Baptism. “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven You are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” With the declaration of these encouraging words he was able to go ahead with what needed to be done. Because of that washing with water and the Word we are now also declared sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. Gal 3:26-27 “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Through baptism we have all been permanently marked as God’s own children. It is a mark that will not lessen or diminish, It is not a mark that sin will scrub off. It is a mark that says God is forever committed to us. Let this strength and encouragement of your baptisms be the guiding force in your Christian lives of committed service to God.