A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Baptism of Our Lord – January 9, 2005
Texts: Psalm 29:3; Matthew 3:17
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was nine in the morning, and already the chill of the night retreated from the sun’s warming light. Within an hour or so, the full heat of day would break, and the crowds surrounding the Baptist would be grateful for the coolness of the Jordan, offsetting some of the fire of the sun, if not of the Baptist’s preaching. It was, very simply, another day in John the Baptist’s camp – another day of washing, another day of proclaiming, another day of watching for Messiah to come.
When he did come that day, it was only the first of many surprises.
“Baptize me,” Jesus said to the man in the river.
“It’s not right,” John began to protest. “You’re clean – cleaner than I! You wash me, Lord. You wash me!”
“Baptize me,” Jesus said once more. “It’s alright. Let it be this way. Baptize me, John.”
Washed away in the surprise of the moment, John stepped deeper into the river, holding out his hand for Jesus to follow. Not only had his watching for Messiah turned into beholding him with his own eyes, but here he was washing God’s holy Chosen One with his own hands!
But of all the startling, astounding surprises that morning, could any have made a more powerful impression than the Voice? Down into the river Jesus was plunged, and as John’s hands lifted him back out into the sun, now the heavens opened. The Voice of God was upon the waters. In tones that echoed through the valley and through John’s mind, the voice called out: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
No doubt John was surprised. But I like to think that Jesus was trembling at that moment, too. I like to believe that his heart was racing, his eyes widening at the words spoken over the water. Those words weren’t just about him – they were for him. In those few words, Jesus would find the strength he needed to complete his mission. I am sure that Jesus cherished them in his heart, just as his mother had cherished the angel words that brought him to her so many years before. “God’s beloved Son. I am God’s own Son, and he loves me. He loves me. Whatever may come, I know that nothing can change that.”
Though that day at the river, the start of Jesus’ public ministry, was filled with joy and wonder, by its end Jesus’ life would be filled with sadness and hurt. He would live to see the crowds turn against him. He would live to hear his friends deny him, to see his followers abandon him. The day would come – was not so far away – when Jesus would have to set his face toward Jerusalem and march there for no other reason than to meet his doom on a gore-smeared instrument of torture and death. How could Jesus face what was coming? Where could he find strength to see this through to the very end? Only in those words God’s voice spoke over the water. When all other hopes had failed him, our Lord cast all of his hope on God’s love for him, the love of a Father for his Son, a love that never ends – a love that is more powerful than death. In nothing but that hope could God’s Son find the strength to bear the death of the world in his own dying body. In nothing but that hope could your salvation and mine be won.
I have spent many hours this week at Gene Nelson’s bedside. I’ve talked with him; I’ve held his hand; I’ve prayed with him. Most of all, I’ve marveled at him. Gene is in hospice care; Gene is dying. Every day, when I tell him I’ll see him tomorrow, we both know that it might not be so. Death is nearer to Gene each hour that passes, and yet his heart is calm. In a way I can hardly imagine, Gene is at peace in the presence of his own death.
How can this be? It is because Gene has also heard the Voice of God on the waters. Years ago, when he was too little to do much more than cry about it, the water of baptism washed over his head, and God spoke the same words to Gene Nelson as he did that day at the Jordan to Jesus: “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved son. I am your Father, you are my son. And I love you.”
Gene was baptized into those words. When the Spirit cried out above the waters that day, Gene died and rose all at once – Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection became Gene’s own in one great moment, in those words of love and adoption. What hope does a man like Gene have in the face of death? How can he find peace in the midst of fear and grief? Where does the strength that each day I see in him come from? Only in those words God’s voice spoke over the water. And the love those words promise Gene will see him through everything – not even death will keep him from that love.
What’s true for Gene Nelson is true for you. You’ve heard those words on the water, too. In your baptism, you too have been named child of God…you too have been marked with his love. Your life is tied up in Jesus’ own life, and your death is also tied up in his death. When the day comes, you will find just as Gene is, that your hope is also tied up in the very same hope that Jesus had – that God’s love would see him through death into new life.
Listen today. Do you still hear it? Do its echoes ring in your spirit even now? You have heard the Voice of God, roaring and whispering over the waters of your baptism, and in it is all the hope and joy and truth you will ever need. You are God’s own child. He loves you.
And nothing – not even death – will separate you from that love. Amen.