Why is Baptism so Important?
This sermon was presented at Trinity and St. Jacob’s on January 8, 2016, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, by Pastor Jim Kniseley. The sermon text is the gospel reading, Matthew 3:13-17.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we remember the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. It was a signal event in his ministry. Today you and I have the opportunity to remember our own baptism. As I see it, Jesus’ Baptism is a wonderful model for how we understand what has taken place when we were baptized.
How many of you here were baptized by immersion? How many of you were baptized by sprinkling? How many of you remember your baptism? How many of you were baptized as infants? Anyone here baptized more than once? Who was baptized in a church other than Lutheran? Finally, how many of you were baptized in a Lutheran church?
I hope through this sermon today to talk about our beliefs and practices in this congregation and our denomination concerning baptism. Perhaps by the end of this sermon you’ll be better prepared to talk with your friends and family about this understanding.
Some years ago I led a tour to the Holy Lands. One the day we went to the Jordan River and the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism, our bus had two groups aboard; our Lutheran group and a Baptist group. I’ll never forget what happened when the bus stopped by the River and all the folks got off the bus. The Lutherans went to the river and put their hands in and enjoyed touching the water of the Jordan. The Baptists without hesitation waded right into the water, most up to their knees and thighs. And so I vividly understood: the amount of water is certainly a big deal in the eyes of many Christians.
Our bulletin cover does a beautiful job of recapping the story of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew. We’re told that Jesus stepped into the water and was baptized by John the Baptist. See the living water teaming with fish. Jesus looks up into the sky and sees a dove come down; we’re told it is the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus hears a voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus’ baptism affirms his humanness. He who is without sin chose to identify himself with us sinners. In his baptism, it is revealed that he is the Son of God; and he receives the power of the Holy Spirit.
How did the ministry of Jesus begin? It begins with his baptism in the Jordan River by John. You and I begin our Christian lives with our own baptism. For many of us that began when we were infants, before we ever knew what was going on.
You know that in this area of Virginia we are in the minority in this way of thinking about baptism. Many of our Christian neighbors practice believers baptism, meaning you have to be of an age to understand and make the decision yourself to be baptized. Some of our neighbors even say that being baptized once isn’t enough, that you have to be born again and be baptized by the Holy Spirit. So, let’s talk about some of that and reaffirm what Lutheran Christians believe and practice. If Jesus’ baptism is a model for us, we can conclude several things: Our baptism was our second birth, when we were born again into the family of God. A sudden, dramatic change in our lives is not the only way to become a Christian. Those of us who came to faith step by step present an authentic alternative to “born again Christians.
There is a documentary film produced a few years ago (In God’s Name) that many of our Lutheran congregations have shown in adult classes. It features world religious leaders and they get to tell some of their personal stories of faith. The Archbishop of Canterbury was asked to remember the dramatic moment when he came to Christ. He simply states that for him his faith was a gradual unfolding. He was raised in the Church and can’t remember a time when he did not simply trust the Lord.
Conversely, the president of the Southern Baptists, is very clear in remembering the time church when he came forward to surrender his life to Jesus. Some of you here have had that same kind of experience. Listen to me well when I say: both ways are great. Neither is superior to the other. God works in us the way God wants to work…
In the Small Catechism Martin Luther urges us to renew our baptism vows every day. I love the sticker on the mirror over the sink in the men’s bathroom downstairs at Trinity. It says, “When you wash your face, remember your baptism”. What that means to me is that every time I wash my face, whether it is in the sink or the shower, I can boldly declare, “I am a baptized child of God!”
Let’s be even more clear about our understanding of baptism. How does a Lutheran Christian answer the question, “Are you born again?” We answer, “Yes, hundreds of times. Each day I am renewed by God’s grace and love.” We believe that in baptism, God gives us the power to become what God says we are: children of God. With that power we can withstand all that life will throw at us. That means every day. For the rest of our lives.
Have you ever been confronted by a born-again Christian with the question, “When were you saved?” I sure have. What they want to know is what date and time and place. Such as August 15 at 8 am when I felt a warm presence while sitting at my kitchen table having a leisurely breakfast.
Here is how I now respond to that question of when I was saved. I was saved about 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon in the year 33 AD on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. That was when Jesus died for my sins and I was saved.
That, dear friends, is the true meaning of our baptism.