Sermon: “Baptism Is Not Just Plain Water”

LSB Series B

The Baptism of our Lord; January 10, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:4-11

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

(At the font while pouring water)

In the name of the Father (pour), and of the + Son (pour), and of the Holy Spirit (pour). Amen.

What is Baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.

Which is that Word of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Where were you baptized? 

Our son Christopher was baptized at Ridgeview Hospital before being airlifted to Children’s Hospital. Will was baptized here at this font. Nora was baptized at this font, but out at the Outdoor Service by the Community Center. Lydia was also baptized right here at this font. Emily was baptized in Howard, South Dakota, and I was baptized in Flushing, Michigan.

In our house, we have the tradition of celebrating baptism the same way we celebrate birthdays. On your baptismal birthday, you get to select all three meals for the day. Then at devotions after supper, we light their baptismal candle and then everyone lines up to give them the baptismal blessing.

Baptism, you see, is a very big deal. It is a day to celebrate when the Lord took you from sure and certain condemnation, to sure and certain salvation. It is the greatest day of your life. It is a day to be celebrated, just like we do every time we make the sign of the cross as we begin worship in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

(Walk to the pulpit.)

As we see in our Gospel reading, Jesus wasn’t baptized at a font in a worship service. He was baptized while surrounded by a crowd at the River Jordan.

As you know from the story of Naaman in the Old Testament, the River Jordan was in no way a pretty river. The prophet Elisha had told Naaman to go wash in the Jordan River and he would be clean of his leprosy. But Naaman wanted nothing to do with that river. It was a dirty river. He wanted a cleaner river to be healed in. Though he eventually did go and was healed as the prophet of God had said.

What Naaman failed to realize is that it is not the quality of the water that matters. It is what is in the water that matters. 

When Christopher was baptized at Ridgeview Hospital, I was handed a bottle that said “holy water”. Had I not been in a state of trauma about to watch my child get airlifted to Children’s, I may have had to laugh a bit. I say that because the water in that bottle was nothing more than ordinary tap water, no matter what the label on the container. It was just plain water.

Now I checked and you can buy water from the Jordan River on Amazon for about twenty bucks. But it doesn’t matter. Even ‘that’ is just plain water.

Aquafina, Dasani, Evian…all of them are still just plain water. What matters is not the kind of the water or from where it came…what matters is what is in the water.

In our Gospel lesson we see that Jesus Himself joins a group of sinners on the bank of the River Jordan. But instead of just standing on the sideline and watching what took place, He joined in by stepping into the water Himself.

As our baptismal rite says in the opening prayer: “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”

What sins do we come here with today needing to confess? What sinful behaviors do we need help in changing? Are we seeing the separation that is being caused by our sins? What sins do we need washed away? 

Brothers and sisters in Christ: Rejoice in your baptism. For there, your sins and mine were washed away. But not because of what kind of water it was, but rather who was in the Water. The power in Baptism is the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us. The power for forgiveness and salvation in the water is in the Word…the same word we heard about in the Psalm today.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Psalm 29:3-4).

The same voice that cast out demons and healed the lame and diseased is in those waters. The same voice that called Lazarus out from the tomb is in those waters. The same voice that called out from the cross “It is finished!” is in those waters. 

And that voice belongs to Jesus. The reason that the water is not plain water is because Jesus is in the water. He has willingly and voluntarily stepped into the water with His very life. When He did that at the Jordan He identified Himself with us. He took on sin, He became our sin, He assumed our death.

Scripture says: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2nd Corinthians 5:21). 

Though He was perfect in every way, He had to take our sins upon Himself and into Himself to save us. And so Jesus was baptized…baptized as a sinner, doomed to die our death.

Yes, Jesus was baptized to die. He didn’t have to. But He chose to. By stepping into those waters, He set in motion His journey to the cross. From that point on, His public ministry began. But it was a constant journey toward Jerusalem, a constant journey to the cross, a constant journey to His death, your death and mine.

We who have been baptized have been joined to Jesus in His death. Just listen to what our Epistle said: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5).

So as you can see, there is a lot more going on in this small font of water before us than simply a few drops of water being poured over an infant, child, or adult’s head. 

Heaven is literally being torn open for that person being baptized. It says in our Gospel reading that “when Jesus came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being ‘torn open’ and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10-11).

You want to know the other place that verb “torn open” is located. It happens when Jesus dies on the cross. And the curtain of the temple was torn open. Torn apart. Ripped in two. And now access to the Father had been granted.

As I heard in one sermon recently, heaven is now only doors and windows. Heaven is now open for you, for all those who have been baptized. 

That is the beauty of our baptismal liturgy when it quotes St. Peter in saying, “Baptism now saves you.” 

Heaven is literally torn open for you. The Spirit has descended upon you. Faith in Christ is now yours.

(Move to the font)

That’s one of the many things I love about this church. Look up here in the chancel and what do you see over the baptismal font? A dove, hovering over the waters just like He did at creation. 

Here at baptism, Jesus has joined you in the waters of your baptism, He has named and claimed you as His own. You now belong to Him. You are now a child of the heavenly Father.

Sin, death, and hell have no hold on you. Jesus holds you in the palm of His righteous right hand, the same hands that were pierced for you on Calvary, and He will never let you go.

Baptism is not just plain water. It is the Word of God in and with the water. And it is in His mighty power, that you are saved. 

Let us pray. (Use the hymnal on the altar.) Gracious Lord, we give thanks that in Holy Baptism we receive forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Bless us continually by Your Word and Spirit that we may faithfully keep the covenant into which we have been called, boldly confess Jesus as Savior, and finally share with all Your saints the joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.