Baptism? What do we teach?
Baptism of Jesus
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
focuses on the Baptism of Jesus.
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
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
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
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
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
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:
When you were
baptized, you were declared to be a child of God in whom God
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
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.