Sermon for Sunday, January 13th, 2019, the First Sunday after the Epiphany

 

The Lessons: Psalm 29; Isaiah 43:1-7; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-22

The Text: Luke 3:16, 21 & 22

The Topic: What does the Baptism of Jesus Christ teach us today?

INTRODUCTION

After the death of Gustavus the Great, King of Sweden, in 1632, the chief statesmen of the country met to decide the future government. Some proposed a republic. Others suggested the vacant throne be offered to the King of Poland. In the midst of the deliberations the Chancellor suddenly rose. “Let there be no talk of a republic or of a Polish king,” he said, for the Great Gustavus has left an heir, a daughter six years of age.” This was not generally known, and the statement was received with surprise.

“How do we know that this is not a trick of yours?” one inquired. “We have never seen this child; we were not aware that Gustavus had one.”

“Wait a minute,” replied the Chancellor, “and I will show you.” Leaving the room, he returned with a little girl whom he placed upon the throne where only the rulers of Sweden might sit. The man who had expressed his disbelief pressed forward and gazed intently upon her face. Then, turning to the assembly, he said, “Comrades, I see in this child the features of the Great Gustavus. Look at her nose, her eyes and her chin; she is indeed the daughter of our king.” This was enough. Young as she was, they acclaimed her, “Christina, Queen of Sweden.”

As an heir of God and joint heir of Jesus Christ, you bear the image of our Lord…the family likeness. [1]

We have this family likeness by spiritual rebirth through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Every Sunday when Holy Communion is celebrated, we recite the Nicene Creed, an ancient fourth century creed including this statement, “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.” What we acknowledge, we have experienced, as we have all been baptized, whether early on in our years, or later. This statement also implies the truth that one should never be re-baptized, since there is only one Baptism for the remission, or forgiveness, of sins. It also conveys the truth that we are baptized as a sign of both our repentance from sin and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all our sins. Baptism proclaims to the Church and to the world that we have crossed over from the death of a sinful way of life that merits the wrath of God to eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ, by exercising faith in whom, we have received the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God the Father and adoption as God’s dear children.

BAPTIZED IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

Today’s Gospel/Second Lesson presents St. John the Baptist’s prophecy of one mightier than himself, who will baptize in the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). Soon after, in the same passage, Jesus Christ is baptized, and while he is praying, the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove, and God the Father tells him, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22c, KJV). This is an epiphany, or revelation, of who Jesus Christ is – God’s Beloved Son, in whom He delights. It is this Baptism of Jesus which reveals Jesus Christ as God’s Son and shows that the Holy Spirit is always in Him and with Him.

THE PURPOSE OF BAPTISM

From that time on, with Jesus’ Baptism, Baptism is no longer just for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, but includes becoming spiritually united with the Lord Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit. From then on, the Lord Jesus Christ baptizes every new Christian in the Holy Spirit and with fire. This does not mean that we speak of two baptisms, one in water and a second in the Holy Spirit, but that the Christian Sacrament of Holy Baptism (as it was later known in the history of the Church) includes as its outward sign baptism in water, but as its inward grace, immersion in the Holy Spirit. The fire of which St. John the Baptism spoke in saying that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, is the purifying and sanctifying grace and power of the Holy Spirit at work continually in the lives of all the faithful.

WHAT THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST TEACHES US TODAY

Let us look carefully at what the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us today.

One important lesson we learn from it, is Jesus’ obedience to John the Baptist’s call to the people to be baptized as a sign of repentance leading to the forgiveness of their sins (Luke 3:3). Though he was sinless, he submitted to God and obeyed the call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In doing so, he obeyed God’s call “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15c, KJV). How much more do all people who come to Christ today need to be baptized, if not baptized early in their childhood! For all who have been baptized, whether as infants or adults, how important it is to identify with the Lord Jesus Christ in this way!

Secondly, the Lord Jesus’ hearing of the voice of God the Father assuring him he is God’s Beloved Son with whom He is well-pleased, teaches us that in this Sacrament of Holy Baptism, God adopts us in Christ as His beloved children on whom His favor rests.

Thirdly, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Lord Jesus after he comes up out of the water shows us God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to all who are baptized, so that the Holy Spirit becomes their eternal Counsellor.

CONCLUSION

Finally, if you haven’t experienced the depth of grace and meaning which God intended to give you in Baptism, what is missing? When the practice of infant Baptism arose in the third century A.D., Baptism needed to be supplemented by a rite in which the baptized person was old enough to take the baptismal vows for himself, renouncing sin and professing faith in the Blessed Trinity, promising to follow Jesus Christ as Lord. This later rite was known as the Sacrament of Confirmation, and was administered by the Bishop, who was believed to have the authority, as a representative of the Apostles, to lay hands on and anoint a Christian so as to empower him with the Holy Spirit. Neither Holy Baptism nor Holy Confirmation was ever intended to be a Sacrament for leaving the Church, or staying away from it. One detail we should not miss in the account of Christ’s own Baptism is the participle “praying” (Luke 3:21). If we are not praying, not living a life of prayer, how can we know God the Father as the Lord Jesus Christ knows Him, and how can we experience the Holy Spirit as our Counsellor, our Helper? God intends every Christian to have the fullness of the grace He has provided through our Baptism into spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ.

If in any way, any one feels he is missing out on the experience of the Holy Spirit as eternal Counsellor, or of the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, or of God as Father, he must come to God in prayer and praise, giving himself to God, as suggested by the words of this prayer by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944:

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

– William Temple: The Prayer Manual, no. 255



[1] From Our Daily Bread. Quoted on p. 105, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

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