Behold the Power of Water
I'm sure you've seen the pictures. Villages washed away. Islands scoured. Buildings flattened. Trees leveled. Behold the power of water. The Japanese word tsunami which comes from their words for harbor and wave is now etched on our minds. Behold the power of water. But a tsunami is only one demonstration. Water can slice granite. Water is said to be eroding Louisiana so fast that by 2050 I-10 will be the coastline. Water in a metal pipe exposed to freezing temperature will split it like a ripe tomato. Behold the power of water.
Behold the power of water in our text. Jesus comes to John to be baptized. "Baptize" literally means to apply water by dipping, pouring, or sprinkling. And look what Jesus says will be accomplished by John baptizing Him. All righteousness will be fulfilled. Behold the power of water.
How can this be that John baptizing Jesus fulfills all not some, not most, not 99.9% but all righteousness? Who only did John baptize? Matthew 3:6 tells us: those confessing their sins. John knows that Jesus is greater than he is. He knows that he is not fit to untie Jesus' sandal. So what business does he have baptizing Jesus? Yet, Jesus says doing so fulfills all righteousness. It does so because Jesus is baptized while confessing your sins, my sins, our sins. He stands in the Jordan saying, "I have not loved God with my whole heart nor my neighbor as myself. I have been greedy, lustful, prideful and worse. I have sinned really and repeatedly."
Behold the power of Baptismal water: right after John baptizes Jesus he shouts, "Behold the Lamb of God that carries away the sins of the world." There go your sins. The waters of Baptism attached them firmly to the back of Jesus. He goes forth suffering their shame, their pain, their guilt, their judgement. He goes forth to live the perfect life you don't and can't live all the while carrying your perfectly wretched sinfulness and sins. Jesus trudges all the way to the cross with this heavy load and has it nailed to it by allowing His own body to be transfixed there.
Behold the power of Baptismal water; it gives Jesus all your sins and gives you all Jesus' holiness. Jesus' Baptism joined Him to your sins. Your Baptism joins you to Jesus' death and life. You're joined to Jesus' death so closely that when He goes into the tomb you go with Him. You're Old Adam is joined to Christ, the Second Adam, so that when He died it died. And when Jesus rose from the dead, you arose with Him as a new creature, made like Jesus truly righteous and holy. Behold the power of Baptismal water; it makes you righteous in the sight of Father because now when He looks at you all He can see is Jesus.
Behold the power of Baptismal water; it brings to sinners the Father's pleasure, the Son's righteousness, and the Spirit's power. As the Father speaks a word of acceptance to His newly baptized Son, so you hear that Word in your Baptism. As the Son fulfills all righteousness by being Baptized, you get all that righteousness in yours. As the Spirit descended on Jesus in His Baptism, so the Spirit descends on you in yours. Behold the power of Baptismal water! As we say in our Small Catechism: "Baptism is not just plain water, but is the water included in God's command and combined with God's word." And as we confess in our Large Catechism, "[Baptism] is nothing else than a divine water."
Baptism is a divine water. It has the incredible power to make sinners righteous, to rescue them from hell, to give them eternal life. Yet you have thought more about this tsunami than you ever have about your Baptism. You remember what earthly power is in a tsunami though you've forgotten what heavenly power is in your Baptism. And while you speak freely of the awful wonders of a tsunami, you are hesitant to speak of the truly awesome wonders of Baptism. And this my friend, exposes you as a Protestant in general rather than a Lutheran in particular.
Of course, we clergy are to blame here. Although our catechism since 1529 has had a section "How the Head of the Family Should Teach His Household to Pray Morning and Evening," what pastor ever taught you to do that? And although our catechism clearly directs that each morning and evening "make the sign of the cross" saying the words of your Baptism, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen," what pastor ever told you to make the sign of the cross saying those words? The 1943 edition of our catechism even had the symbol for making the sign of the cross in the text itself, yet we taught it to no one.
Is making the sign of the cross proof you're Lutheran? No, you're free to make or not to make it. What is proof of being Lutheran is remembering your Baptism morning and night. Your Baptism: the forgiveness, the rescue from death and the devil, the certainty of eternal salvation it gives, that's what is to get you up in the morning joyfully and to put you to bed at night peacefully. Yet we get up and go to bed thinking more often of tsunamis, rain chances, or flash floods than we do Baptism!
Our entire standing before God is grounded on our Baptism. That's why we Lutherans have made a point of beginning and ending our days by taking a dip as it were in those waters. Behold the power of Baptismal water, though I'm sure to sin this day, I can nevertheless face it with joy because I stand in the river of grace that flows from the wounds of Christ and reaches me in Baptism. Though I have sinned in the day, I can nevertheless go to sleep in peace, certain that tidal wave of God's grace generated by Jesus fulfilling all righteousness reaches me and washes my sins away in Baptism.
It is Lutheran to daily behold the power of Baptismal waters in your life, and this remembering goes all the way to death. Some churches use funeral palls. This piece of fabric is placed over the coffin before it enters the Church not as a sign of mourning but of Baptism. As the pall is placed over the coffin the pastor says, "In Holy Baptism this person was clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness that covered all of his/her sin." Then at the grave the pastor speaks a benediction concluding with, "May God the Holy Ghost, who by Baptism has sanctified this body to be His temple, - keep these remains unto the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Amen."
Behold the power of Baptismal water! Yet we think a tsunami more powerful and longer lasting than Baptism. Even though the waves of Christ stepping into the Jordan to be baptized have been going out for almost 2000 years washing sinners, we live as if Baptism is a mere outward washing.
We don't live beholding the power of Baptismal waters. If we did, then we would live like the Spirit had descended on us in Baptism. Instead we give place to sin; we give into it's temptations; we defile ourselves with sins of thought, word, and deed and think it no big deal. We think what defiles our temples is cholesterol, carbs, fat, tobacco, or alcohol. But these all come from outside the body, and as Jesus tells us what defiles the body is what comes from within not from without. Lust, pride, hatred, greed, gossip, misbelief, unbelief, despair. These are the real things that defile our temples, and these are the things the Spirit in Baptism wars against. He never accepts a peace treaty with these. Having the Spirit in our Baptism, we can't either.
You've beheld the power of the tsunami. You've marveled how it tossed huge objects about effortlessly. But don't think the waters of a tsunami are more powerful than the waters of Baptism. That's what you're doing when you live as if heaven might not be really yours. But if all righteousness has been fulfilled by Christ's baptism and given to you in yours, what more needs to be done for you to go to heaven? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
"But, but, you're not a perfect child, parent, husband, wife, person, or church member." Ah, so that's all that's lacking for you to go to heaven. Just this thing here or there? Get real; Isaiah says even our righteousness is dirty rags. Get out of your head that you just need to improve here or there before you can go to heaven. No right thing you do will be right enough. No good thing you do will be good enough. Only what Jesus does is good and right enough for you to go to heaven, and He did it all. And in your Baptism, He gives it all to you. Behold the power of Baptismal water. See all righteousness as being fulfilled and given to you, so heaven must be yours.
You've beheld the power of a tsunami. You've seen how it has drawn together a divided world, but that's nothing compared to what Baptism does. Baptism makes God well pleased with us poor, miserable sinners. What the Father says from heaven in our text is, "This is My Son...in Him [not with Him] I am well pleased." God the Father from all eternity has always been well pleased with His Son. What He declares from heaven at the Baptism of Jesus is that He is well pleased in Him.
Maybe some of you have never known a day in your life when your dad was well pleased with you. I mean when there was nothing but laughter, acceptance and happiness between you. Every thing you did pleased him. Every word you spoke was music to his ears. Maybe you've never known a day like that with an earthly father; that's too bad, but that's the kind of day you have everyday with your heavenly Father because of the power of Baptismal water. While there may be those around you who enjoy finding fault with you, while even your own conscience may incessantly join in, know that in Jesus, in your Baptism, your heavenly Father is nothing but smiles.
You've beheld the power of water in a tsunami. Now behold the power of water used in the name of, by the command of, and with the promise of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Baptism of our Lord (1-9-05); Matthew 3:13-17