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Sermon for January 11, 2015, The Baptism of Our Lord

Mark 1:4-11 (The Baptism of Our Lord—Series B)

“Taking on Humanity’s Role”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 11, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 1:

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

 

             I don’t know if I should publicly admit this, but since I’m among family, I will.  Have any of you, like me, seen the Bruce Campbell movie, “Army of Darkness”?  I owe Greg, my college roommate, the thanks for introducing me to it.  Bruce Campbell plays the lead character Ash, a discount store employee.  He is time-warped to a medieval castle beset by monstrous forces. Initially mistaken for an enemy, he is soon revealed as the prophesied savior who can quest for the Necronomicon, a book which can dispel the evil.  Unfortunately, he screws up the magic words while collecting the book, and releases an army of skeletons.  What follows is a thrilling, yet tongue-in-cheek battle between Ash’s 20th Century tactics and the minions of darkness.  Ash tries to recruit the peasants to help fight against this army of darkness.  He shouts as his rallying cry, “Who’s with me?” 

          “Who’s with me?” has been a rallying cry through the years.  The commander is ready to lead a gallant charge against the enemy, “C’mon boys, who’s with me?”  Students rally to protest the awful meatloaf served in the cafeteria, “Who’s with me?”  And a full-blow boycott of the meatloaf ensues.  But when God asks, “Who’s with me?” there is silence.  The silence is then followed by, “Not I!”  Are you familiar with the story of the little red hen?  The little red hen asked for help to plant her grain, to harvest her grain, to grind her grain, and to bake her bread.  But when she asked, “Who’s with me,” all the other farm animals replied, “Not I!” 

          That’s how we humans are with God because of the inherited sin with which we were born.  When God asks us sinners, “Who’s with me,” we all answer, “Not I!”  In our sinfulness, we prefer to do things “my way,” and not God’s way.  God says, “Do not commit adultery,” and we say, “Bring on the lust and the physical pleasures.”  God says, “Do not murder,” and we say “I hate that person.  I’m going to do everything I can to make their life miserable.”  God says, “Do not bear false witness,” and we say, “I enjoy gossiping and I’m going to do it.”  In our sins, we stand against God.  Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”  You and I and all humanity are by nature in such a state of rebellion against God that we lack the power and the ability to change that in any way. 

          That’s pretty bad.  Even if we wanted to, which in our sinfulness we do not, we are unable to even answer God’s call, “Who’s with me?”  Spiritually blind, spiritually dead, and enemies of God.  Talk about a “dividing wall of hostility.” (Eph. 2:14) This is it!  Separated from God without any true fear, love, or trust in Him, and without the desire or the ability to take a stand with Him—that’s what it means when you and I confess, “I am a poor, miserable sinner.”  God asks, “Who is with me?” and we take our stand against Him in our sinfulness, unable by our own power or ability to do anything else. 

          And so God acted on behalf of sinful humanity.  HE acted to enable you and me to do what we could not do on our own—stand with God on His side.  Because in our sinful rebellion and weakness humanity could not stand with God, HE chose to stand with us!  When God the Father asked, “Who’s with me?” His one-of-a-kind Son responded, “I am!” 

          Jesus Christ then stepped into our humanity.  “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God” was incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit and was made human.  He was born of the Virgin Mary.  God the Son, Jesus, became flesh and dwelt among sinners.  The sinless One lived with, ate with, fellowshipped with, and hung out with the very humanity that rebelled against Him and the Father and the Spirit, the one true God. 

          In our Gospel reading from St. Mark we see this so wondrously.  Jesus, without sin, Jesus, the God-Man, comes to the Jordan River and was baptized.  He received John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, of which He had no need.  Why on earth would Jesus do that?  In receiving the baptism of John, heeding the call for repentance and forgiveness, Jesus identified Himself with the children of Israel—He became one of them—in their standing before God.  Jesus identified with their sinful condition.  By undergoing John’s baptism, Jesus Himself “confesses,” as it were, their sinful condition in which He is now participating.  Thus by assuming the role of the children of Israel before God as sinners, Christ also assumes the role of all humanity before God as one sinful and unclean.  This is why St. Paul could write of Jesus, “God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21 NET)  To put it another way, “[Jesus] associates himself with sinners and ranges himself in the ranks of the guilty, not to find salvation for himself, not on account of his own guilt in his flight from the approaching wrath, but because he is at one with the Church and the bearer of divine mercy.” (A. Schlatter) 

          Martin Luther described this wondrous mystery like this: “Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation.  The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation.  Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his.  If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers?

Here we have a most pleasing vision not only of communion but of a blessed struggle and victory and salvation and redemption.  Christ is God and man in one person.  He has neither sinned nor died, and is not condemned, and he cannot sin, die, or be condemned; his righteousness, life, and salvation are unconquerable, eternal, omnipotent.  By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride’s.  As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if they were his own and as if he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all. … Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means?  Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace?  Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness.  Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him.  And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his.”[1]

     You, sisters and brothers in Christ, are the Lord Jesus’ bride.  You are His Church.  For you He became fully human so that He might stand in your place, suffer and die for your sins, so that you might receive from Him full forgiveness and everlasting life.  Jesus assumed the role of humanity so that He, by His perfect life, death, and resurrection, might save humanity.  And truly, this is what Christ Jesus has done. 

     Our Lord distributes the forgiveness and the salvation which He won for us in the Gospel and in His Sacraments.  As we read about Jesus’ baptism this morning, it’s also important for us to speak about our baptism.  Baptism is a means of identification for us, as it was for Jesus.  As Jesus identified Himself with people in their sinfulness in His baptism, in our baptism you and I are identified with Jesus in all that He has brought for our benefit.  As Paul tells us in Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” 

     Just as Jesus received the Holy Spirit in His Baptism, so we, by being baptized into Christ, receive the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus was declared to be the Son of God, so you and I receive sonship in relation to God by being baptized into Christ, and therefore, united with Him.  We are no longer enemies of God—we are heirs of all that belongs to God our heavenly Father—life forever, life in abundance. 

     As those who are baptized into Christ, our answer to God’s call, “Who’s with me?” has changed!  Because Christ took humanity’s role before God and identified Himself with the sinners He came to save, we have forgiveness and salvation.  We have everlasting life.  No longer are we God’s enemies.  No longer do we stand apart from our heavenly Father.  No longer do we lack the ability to stand with Him!  By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us through God’s saving act of baptism, He has brought us to Himself as children and heirs of life forever with Him.  Baptized into Christ, who’s with God?  His Church!  Who’s with God?  We are!  By the power of the Spirit, as our God asks, “Who’s with me?” answer boldly with faith and trust in Christ alone, “I am.”  Amen. 

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 351–352.


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