Dirty Water Luke 3:15-22, The Baptism of Our Lord, January 13, 2019
As amazing as last week was when we traveled with the Wise Men to see the Christ Child, or the weeks before when we celebrated His incarnation as a Babe born in a Bethlehem manger. This morning our Scripture takes us to the banks of the Jordan River. There, we see a man dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, whose diet consist of locusts and wild honey. He is there proclaiming a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us something about John baptizing Jesus. And although the Gospel of John does not specifically tell of the baptism itself, it does tell how John the Baptist testified about the Holy Spirit descending like a dove on Jesus. So, directly or indirectly all four Gospels and the book of Acts, tell us about John baptizing Jesus.
John the Baptist, himself, tells us why this is so important: Someone else is coming. He says “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (16-17). To describe his preaching in Lutheran terms, John is preaching a message of Law and Gospel, telling people of their sin, and also telling that the Savior they’ve been waiting for is coming.
But John isn’t just preaching. He’s also baptizing. The Greek word literally means “wash”. It is also well worth noting that in many different places in Scripture, sin is described as a spot, or stain, or dirt, something that needs to be washed in order to be made clean.
There was a Baptist congregation that was trying to install a new, full immersion, baptistery in the sanctuary as part of an extensive remodeling project. But the county building inspector wouldn’t okay its’ installation. “I can’t,” he said, “unless it has a separate septic tank.” The trusties couldn’t understand why a septic tank would be needed for the baptistery. The building inspector saw their puzzled faced, so he tried to explain, “It’s to avoid pollution in the ground.” One of the church trustees finally said with a grin, “I guess it would pollute, with all those sins washed away!”
That’s really what it’s all about. Baptism is the washing away of sins.
In the water of the Jordan River, there must have been all sorts of people who heard John and believe that the Savior was coming. They were to prepare their hearts and minds for His arrival. They knew that they needed to repent, and turn away from their old sinful ways, and have faith in the Savior, who would make them clean.
So you could say that, as those people were being baptized, or washed, in the Jordan River, the sin that they were turning away from, was being washed off into the Jordan. That makes for some pretty filthy, dirty, disgusting water, there in that river.
And in the midst of that crowd, stands the one person who does not need any washing, because He is the Word made Flesh, the Son of God. John recognizes Him right away, pointing to Jesus and saying to the crowds gathered there: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Remember, this One, who is without sin has no need to repent of anything, or be washed of anything. Even John knew that!
Now remember, this water is full of the sins of all of those sinners. And there Jesus is, about to step into that dirty water, the spotless, sinless, Son of God. And what happens? He goes right into that water and John baptizes, or washes Him with that polluted, foul, filthy water. It is as if those sins that were washed off everyone else, are now washed onto Him.
Now, do not think for a moment that this is some huge mistake by John, or by Jesus. After Jesus is baptized, after the water containing the sin of all of those sinners had been washed onto Him, the heavens open up, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and God the Father says “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (22)
Why is the Father pleased? Because this is just one stop on His Son’s way to the cross, where all the sins of the entire world will be placed onto His shoulders, where He will suffer and die for the sins of the world, where our salvation is won, where our sinful nature goes to die. And when He gives up His life, and His body is placed in the tomb, at the end of the day, our sins also die with Him, and are placed into that tomb.
But Jesus doesn’t stay in that tomb. He rises again. As He arises on Easter, He defeats the ultimate power of sin’s curse. Death is defeated. The wages of sin are destroyed. The devil’s hold is no longer. And just as Jesus rises again to new life, all of those who die to sin are also raised up with Him.
Paul says it this way, “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.” (3-4)
In his sermon at Pentecost: “Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
Mark tells us Jesus also says “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) In other words, Jesus commands His church to baptize. So that those who follow Him can receive the blessings He won for them at the cross and empty tomb, so that their sins can be washed off of them and placed onto Him. So that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may claim each of them as His own.
And so it is with us yet today. We baptize. We do so not because we trust that simply pouring water over someone’s head three times is an automatic “Get out of hell free card” or that once we are baptized, we never have to do anything else, or we’ve finished the Jesus thing.
We do this because there are great promises that our Lord Jesus Christ has attached to that water.
Baptism gets its power by the Word of God. It is through that Word we hear the message of the Law. We hear of our sin. We hear and recognize that we daily sin against God in thought, word, and deed. Just moments ago we confessed together that truth in our liturgy when we said “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
Then, we have the good news of the Gospel, the news that Jesus Christ is indeed the sacrificial spotless Lamb of God, who took on our human flesh, and lived the perfect sinless life. And that you and I would not take the burden of our sin upon ourselves, but rather He would suffer and die for it, and rise again to defeat its power over us, and give us new eternal life with Him.
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.” (5)
For the Christian, baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, baptism isn’t really a one-time thing. It’s a lifelong thing. It’s a daily thing as we hear, read, and study God’s Word, as we put to death our sinful life by confessing and repenting of our sin, and rise to new life every time we hear the good news “your sin is forgiven,” not because of anything you have done, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for you.
Yet we need to remember, not all who are baptized will be saved in the end. Remember what was said in Mark’s Gospel “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
I heard it explained this way from someone who obviously doesn’t live in South Mississippi, but does makes a good point. Imagine you received the gift of a warm winter coat. That coat is going to keep you warm in the worst conditions that winter can bring. You didn’t do anything to receive that coat, it was simply a gift to you, given to you by someone else, who went to the store and bought it for you.
Now that you have it, there are two things you can do with it. You can wear it, believing that it will keep you warm on winter days. Or you can simply say “oh, thank you” and stuff it in a closet and forget about it. If you do that, and you go outside without it, you’re going to get cold. The coat is still yours, the promise of staying warm is still there, but by leaving that coat in the closet, you won’t receive the benefits that coat has to offer you.
It’s the same with Baptism. If we view it, and treat it, as if it’s something we do once, and then don’t go to church, never hear the Word of God and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, it’s not that those promises attached to God’s Word are not valid, they still are. The problem there is, you’ve left the coat in the closet and gone out in a blizzard, so to speak. You can’t receive the benefits of your baptism if you don’t exercise your faith.
One of the greatest joys I have is to baptize someone. But it’s not because there’s something special about me that makes that baptism valid. Holy Baptism is not an end; it’s a beginning, the beginning of a life of daily drowning our old sinful self, and rising anew in Jesus Christ.
I pray your baptism gives you comfort in the fact that you have been washed and claimed as God’s forgiven, redeemed child, and that the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation won for you by Jesus Christ at Calvary’s cross are yours.
And may you live a life, where daily through the Word of God, your faith in Christ is strengthened, your sinful nature is drowned and washed away, and you are raised to a new life with Christ, knowing that there is coming a day, when you will be raised to eternal life with Him forever. Amen.