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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Baptism? What do we teach?

Baptism of Jesus     Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Today’s sermon focuses on the Baptism of Jesus.

Baptismal services are very important to me. Baptisms are awesome moments that reach deep into all of us who are part of that baptismal service. But there are some baptisms that I remember with more clarity and fondness.

I remember Christmas Eve of 1974 when James McPherson was baptized. He had been born two weeks earlier, the son of Sue and Bernie McPherson.  They celebrated his birth only momentarily because there were complications with the birth and baby. We were all afraid. I remember going over to the hospital and looking through the window into the incubator where little Jamie was sleeping.  We prayed and tried to act brave. Slowly and miraculously, Jamie healed and two weeks later he was brought to be baptized here at church on Christmas Eve. I remember that Christmas Eve service with great fondness, with Sue and Bernie promenading with their child up the center aisle, a candle lighting his face. It was a very emotional event for all of us.  Now, when I see little Jamie running around the church, I remember his baptismal night. When he grows up into manhood, I will tell him about his birth and his baptism.

I clearly remember the baptism of Julie Spies.  Julie, as many of you know, was born with cardiac defects and was not to be brought home from the hospital. So I joined Gary and Carolyn, her parents, down at the hospital for a quiet and private baptismal service. To everyone’s surprise, Julie rallied and she finally came home. The Spies family wanted a more celebrative service for this grand event and so on Easter morning, of all grand mornings, with all the congregation present, Julie was baptized in front of everyone. There was not a dry eye in the place because we all knew and felt their story.  Today, when I see Julie around, with her cardiac defects still limiting her physical activity, I remember those special moments from so long ago when she was declared a child of God.

I also clearly remember Steve Levy’s baptism. Steve is married to Karen. Karen grew up in this church and Steve grew up in the Jewish faith. Like many people, Karen was desirous of her husband becoming a Christian. She prayed about it; thought about it; talked about it with Steve. Steve did attend my membership classes some years past. Time passed and it came to Christmas Eve. We needed a child to be baptized that Christmas Eve, and Steve and Karen’s new baby was our answer. Immediately after the baptism, the mother and father play the role of Mary and Joseph in the Christmas montage with their baby being the baby Jesus. The parents quickly gown up, with Mary in blue and Joseph in brown. Steve had a black beard and that helped in his playing of Joseph. I personally talked to Steve the night before about Joseph and “other matters.” We came to the baptism that night and baptized the baby, but then Steve stepped forward to be baptized. What a surprise. What a shocker. His wife did not know this miracle was going to happen. She had thought and prayed about it her whole adult life. We were overwhelmed when Steve stepped forward to be baptized. Yes, his baptism on that Christmas Eve was one of the most memorable events for many of us.

Personally, I have had a hard time baptizing infants because I need to stuff my emotions down inside and not show them. I don’t quite understand where these feelings come from. Maybe it is because my wife and I struggled with infertility for so many years, but for some reason, my emotions run deep at all baptismal services, but especially for infants. As I approach the baptismal font, I keep saying to myself, “Cool it. Cool it. Cool it,” trying to calm my emotions.

For some people, baptism is “just joining the Jesus club.”  Everyone knows what it means to join a club such as Brownies, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, the Elks, the Elephants, and others.  We have all joined clubs and every club has its rules and regulations. Baptism is joining the ‘Jesus club” and we now have to follow the “Jesus rules” as suggested by this particular congregation.

For others, baptism is like “hell insurance.” I’ll never forget Grandma Prudence insisting that her grand daughter was baptized because the family was going on a trip. Grandma didn’t want to have that baby in an accident and go to hell. Baptism is like hell insurance. I remember that day, we made a mistake and didn’t have the baptismal certificate completed, and Grandma Prudence insisted that we do so on Monday morning, so they would have a “hell insurance card” to guarantee the baby was baptized.

For others, they want to wait until they are older to be baptized. They want to let the child grow up until they are old enough to “make a decision for themselves.”

Still others refuse to baptize infants. A neighboring pastor friend of mine, Jim Ray, refuses to baptize infants. It upsets me that he refuses to baptize infants just as it upsets him that I do baptize infants. So we get together for a friendly lunch on Tuesdays with the other pastors and we share our mutual disdain for each other’s interpretation of infant baptism. But God’s love between us is stronger than our differences of Biblical interpretation.

Today, on this “Baptism of Jesus” Sunday, I would like to talk about baptism. But I don’t want to talk about baptism as I normally would talk about it. That is, normally we say that baptism is like adoption in the book of Galatians. Many of us are adoptive parents and we celebrate when we are adopted into a family. We don’t wait until an infant becomes of age and then ask them whether or not they want to be part of a family. No. If we receive the child as a baby, we adopt them as a baby.  And so it is with God. God wants us to be baptized or adopted as a baby.  Just as we don’t wait until the child is the “age of decision” to be adopted, nor does the Bible encourage us to wait until the child is older to be baptized. We baptize children for good Biblical reasons. Please remember that we baptize many adults each year, and this is good and as it should be. We baptize people of any age, as we think the Bible suggests. We could talk about “baptism is like adoption” today, but we won’t.

Nor will be talk about baptism as branding. Normally, we talk about an owner of sheep or cattle. The owner brands his herd, putting his mark of ownership on each sheep and each cow. Each sheep and each cow are branded one at a time, with a brand of ownership being like a seal on their body.  Baptism is like branding, where the mark of Christ is put on our forehead and we know that we belong to God.

Nor are we going to talk about baptism is like washing. Normally, we talk about our sins soiling our inner person. We know that clothing needs to be washed to become clean and we know that we need to be washed of our sins in order to be clean. We normally talk about daily washing, a daily baptism, a daily cleansing needed by all of us.

But today I am not going to talk about any of these. Rather, today I am going to focus on Jesus’ baptism as a means of understanding our own baptism.

The story of Jesus’ baptism is this. Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. John felt unworthy to baptize Jesus, but Jesus insisted. Jesus was immersed into the Jordan River. As he came up out of the river, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. He is my chosen one, in whom my soul delights. Listen to him.”  Immediately, the Spirit of God that had come onto Jesus at his baptism, then led Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Like many of my sermons, this sermon will have three points. Today, all three points begin with the letter, S. Spirit, Son, and Servant.

First, when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God came down upon him. This Spirit was the very presence of God. This was the same Spirit that was present in creation, when God created the world. In the book of Genesis, it says,  “The Spirit of God was hovering above the waters.” The Spirit was brooding above the waters, ready to create life in those waters. Then, that same creative Spirit that was present in the creation story came on the prophets. The prophets were filled with God’s Spirit and they spoke with boldness and authority. Then, that same Spirit came on King David and King David knew that God’s Spirit was in him to help him to rule wisely.  Then, that same Spirit came on Jesus at his baptism, this powerful Spirit of God.

As a consequence of having the Spirit of God inside of him, Jesus had unusual power. By the power and Spirit of God in him, he turned water into wine, controlled the wind and waves of the sea, cured the lepers, healed the deaf and blind. This same Spirit gave Jesus a spirit of gentleness. I love that passage from Isaiah 42 that says, “A burning candle he will not snuff out. A bent reed he will not break.” When Jesus came to earth and was filled with the Holy Spirit, there was a spirit of gentleness to him in all relationships. Jesus would not snuff out any person who was like a burning candle or snap a person who was like a bent reed or twig. Jesus had the spirit of gentleness upon him because the Spirit of God was within him.

As a consequence of having the Spirit of God in him, Jesus had this unusual power to fight the demons, to fight the evil power and forces around him. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was sent by God out into the wilderness to be tempted and tested by the devil. Jesus stood up to the test. Throughout his whole ministry, Jesus confronted and tamed the demons around him. He demonstrated that God’s power was stronger than evil and thereby taught us an important lesson in our battles with evil.

In our baptism, the same Spirit that came down on Jesus, that same Spirit that was brooding over the waters at creation, that same Spirit that filled the prophets, that same Spirit that anointed the kings to rule wisely, that same Spirit has come down onto your life and mine.  In your baptism, the Spirit of God came down into you and you became a member of the community of the Spirit. In this community of the Spirit, you are to grow spiritually, just as James, Julie and Steve grow spiritually from their baptismal days.  We are the community of the Spirit and we pray constantly, “Open up the heavens and send your Spirit upon us, upon me.”

When the Spirit lives in the community, several things begin to happen. The Spirit and the spirited community give you strength and power to cope with life and more than cope, to be victorious in life. This Spirit and spiritual community give you strength to cope…with the divorce that you are going through right now. …with the kids who may be driving you insane right now. ... with your mother’s aging, your father’s aging, with their death. …with your aging and with your death. … with all the injustices in the world that surround us, with the demonic in this world that has corrupted our food supply and water supply.   When the Spirit is inside of you and the people around you, there is power, spiritual power, and that is power indeed. No wonder the demons trembled at the sound of his voice. The evil spirits knows that they are not as strong as the Spirit of God. When the Spirit is inside of you, you are prepared to fight the evil in life all around you and in you.

Secondly, in his baptism, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God. The voice out of heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, in whom my soul delights.”

I have always appreciated those lines. I was thinking about these lines from the baptismal service, on the drive home from work, thinking about this sermon. I came home from work about 5:30. I opened the door and heard the voice of Nathan, our sixteen-month old child. He had just come out of the bathtub and as I walked into the house, he came running down the hall at me, his little body dripping wet. He threw his arms around me and gave me a love. I kept saying the lines from Isaiah in my heart, “This is my beloved son in whom my soul delights.” I take such delight in this child.  … As Jesus was baptized, I can see God up in heaven, looking down at Jesus, his child, and saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom my soul delights.” God absolutely delighted in his Son, Jesus of Nazareth. 

And so it is when you and I are baptized. God looks down at you and me and says, “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter in whom my soul delights.” I think of my feelings towards Nathan and I think of God’s feelings for his own child. That is the same way that God feels about you and me, whether we are eight days old, eight months, eight years, eighteen years, twenty-eight years, thirty-eight, forty-eight, fifty-eight, eighty-eight. No matte what our age may be, this is God’s fundamental attitude towards us is this: delight.

When you were baptized, you were declared to be a child of God in whom God delights.

There is a third factor that happens in baptism. The voice of God identified Jesus as being the Suffering Servant.  The quotation, “this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” is a quotation from Isaiah 42.  Isaiah 42 is a chapter about the Suffering Servant. Jesus is identified as being the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

In Isaiah, the Suffering Servant is the one who carries the sins of the whole world on his back. In the New Testament, the Suffering Servant carries the whole world of sin on the cross. When Christ carried the cross to Golgotha, he carried the sins of the whole world. This comes from Isaiah. The Suffering Servant is like a pack mule, is like a packhorse. The mule or the packhorse carries the load; that is their purpose and that was the purpose of Christ. The purpose of Christ was to carry the load of sin of the whole world on his back.

You and I were baptized in order to get rid of our sins. That was not true of Jesus. Jesus had no sins. According to the Bible, Jesus was baptized not to get rid of his sins, but in order to carry our sins on the cross.  That is very important to understand. So it is with our baptism: when we are baptized, it is guaranteed that Christ will carry all of our sins on the cross. I don’t have to carry my past sins with me, my failures, my imperfections,  nor my guilt. All the sins that I have done wrong and all the things that I haven’t done right are placed on his back, on his cross. Jesus is the one who carries the weight of sin. That’s what it means that Jesus is the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 42 who carries the sins of the whole world. His baptism tells us that story, and thereby the story of who carries our sins.

I love the story about a pastor who was at a downtown city mission on skid row. In order for these transients and homeless people to sleep at this mission, they had to endure a worship service and a sermon. It was part of the bargain in order to get food and shelter. The preacher that night felt he was a gifted orator and had memorized Kipling’s poem, ‘If” for a high school thespian contest. The pastor recited the poem with great gusto. “If you men can keep your heads when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, and make allowances for their doubting too. If you men can wait and not be tired of waiting, or being lied about, not deal in lies. Or being hated and not give way to hating, yet don’t look too good nor talk too wise. If you men can dream and not make dreams your master. If you can think but not make thoughts your aim. If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and meet those two imposters just the same. If you men can fulfill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds left of distant run, yours is the earth and everything in it. And what is more, you will be a man, my son.” As the pastor recited this poem for high school, the “thespian” in him became choked with emotion, was on the edge of tears, and was filled with deep feelings. There was a long silent pause. During that pause and silence, a voice from the back of the room piped up, “What if you can’t?”

The question persists, “What if you can’t?” What if you can’t master your dreams? What if you can’t meet triumph and disaster just the same? What if you lose your head when everybody else around you is keeping theirs? What if you can’t trust yourself? What if you can’t wait? What if you are tired of waiting? What if you are a lousy parent? What if you are a failure in marriage? What then?  … Then you hear the words that you have been baptized, and that all of your burdens and imperfections and disappointments have been loaded onto the back of Christ, that pack mule, that pack horse, that servant who carries the cross on our behalf. In your baptism, you hear the words that Jesus Christ is the suffering servant who carries the sins of the whole world.

Baptism? For some people, baptism is not that important. Baptism is just sprinkling of water on a baby’s head. Baptism is like hell insurance and protects you from the fiery wrath of God. Baptism is joining the Jesus Club with all its rules and regulations.  … What happened in Jesus’ baptism? The Spirit of God came upon Jesus. He was declared to be the Son of God in whom God delighted. He was anointed to be the Suffering Servant who carried the whole sins of the world. Amen.

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