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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
Baptism? What do we Teach?

Baptism of Jesus A, B, C     Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:4-11, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Today’s sermon focuses on the Baptism of Jesus.

Baptismal services are very important to the Church of Jesus Christ and baptismal services are also very important to me personally. Baptisms are awesome moments. But there are some baptisms that I remember with even more clarity and fondness. I would like to tell the stories of four baptisms.

I remember “doing” my first baptism in August of 1968 immediately after my ordination into the ministry. After the ordination, I baptized our daughter, Anne Marie. What a potent and positive memory. It was ordination day there in Jackson, Minnesota, in the old church called Our Savior’s Lutheran. It was in the old sanctuary, before the congregation destroyed it to make room for a new sanctuary. My ordinator was Dr. Morris Wee, my mentor and teacher. Right after the ordination service, my family, who numbered more than one hundred, like at a family reunion, gathered in the sanctuary and I performed my first pastoral function. To baptize our new daughter. Wow. What an event. As I look back at the pictures of it, we all looked so young.

The second baptism was on Easter Sunday morning in 1977. It was 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 Carolynn, her parents, down at the hospital for a quiet, 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 the story of this family. Today, when I see Julie around, with her cardiac defects still limiting her physical activity, I remember that special baptismal moment when she was declared to be a child of God.

The third story: I remember the baptism of so many of our Asian refugees on that March morning of 1981. What an incredible service with some 75 people being baptized on two Sundays. We had resettled some 25 to 30 refugee families, and in the spring of 1981, many of them prepared for baptism. When they were baptized and a baptismal candle was lit for each person being baptized, it was like we had a forest fire up here. Awesome.

The fourth baptism was of Steve Levy. 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 our 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. Steve had a black beard and that helped in his playing of Joseph. He looked Jewish.  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. Steve was ready and wanting to be baptized himself. Not just the baby, but Steve as well. What a surprise. What a shocker. His wife, Karen, 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 e.g. this year when I baptized my grandson at Christmas.

For some people, baptism is “just joining the Jesus club.”  Everyone knows what it means to join a club such as Brownies or Boy Scouts, the Chamber or Kiwanis, the Elks or Elephants. 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 be in a car accident, get killed 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. Grandma Prudence insisted that we do so on Monday morning, so they would have a “hell insurance card” before the car trip to Montana to guarantee the baby was baptized.

For others, infant baptism is so unimportant that they refuse to baptize infants. Such interdenominational churches and Baptist churches want to wait until a child is older to be baptized. They want to let the child grow up until they are old enough to “make a decision for themselves.”

I am also aware that members of our congregation grow up, get married, have children, and are part of a good congregation but they refuses to baptize infants. So the young family returns home to Grace to have their baby baptized.

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 adopt a child 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. Adoption is the parent’s action; our little girl when she was adopted did nothing to be adopted but we parents did everything. Adoption was our action, and so it is with God in your baptism. Our daughter made no decision but we the parents made enormous decisions for her. 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. A cow does not ask to be branded; a cow is branded by the owner. It is the action of the owner what is important and not the decision of a cow.

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. When a baby poops or urinates the diaper, the baby does not decide to be bathed and clean; the parents do. Babies don’t wash themselves when they are dirty. Parents do. The action and decision is with the parents. Similarly, God washes our hearts and forgives us. We don’t wash ourselves in baptism but God washes us and makes us clean. We normally talk about daily washing, a daily baptism, a 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. Son, Spirit, and Servant.

First, Son. In his baptism, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God, the only Son of God. “This is my beloved Son.” The Bible teaches that Jesus was the only begotten Son. Jesus is the only genesis, the only genetic Son of God. All other people are adopted children of God. All other religious leaders such as Buddha, Confucius, and Mohammed are adopted children of God. We are adopted children of God. Only Jesus is the only genetic Son of God. God only says to Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

But in our baptism, you and I become the adopted sons and daughters of God. We too are declared to be children of God. Our relationship with God is transformed in baptism. Through our baptism, there is a new familiarity, closeness and intimacy with God. Let me explain by means of an analogy. Let us use an illustration about our current President, President Bush. Let us pretend that you are a young lieutenant, part of the military, part of a presidential honor guard. Every day President Bush walks into his office, and you snap to attention, click your heals and salute the President. The President nods. Every day, this same procedure occurs. The President walks in; you snap to attention, click your heals and salute. The relationship is stiff, formal, technical, with eyes never looking President Bush in the eye but eyes always straight ahead, frozen like a stiff wooden soldier. But…in this story…one day, President Bush stops in front of you, the young lieutenant, and says to you. “Please follow me into my office.” You do so and the door is closed. The President orders you to be seated and then looks you in the eye and says, “I want you to become one of my children.  I want you to become part of our family. I want you to come to our family outings, our family picnics, the family birthday parties, the family Christmases. I want you to become part of our family.”  What a moment. What a miracle. And in that moment, the relationship between the President and the young lieutenant is totally transformed. The relationship is no longer formal, stiff, distant and legal but is now close and loving.

That is precisely what happens to us in our baptism. It is God who takes the initiative. The relationship is totally transformed. Baptism is the fantastic invitation from God to know us intimately and closely, so closely that we are called son or daughter, that we become family. In my own personal relationships, when I call someone my son or daughter, it communicates that we are closely connected, as closely as can be. And so it is in our baptism. We are closely connected to God, so close that we are now called a child, a son, a daughter, in whom God delights. We are family with God.

“You are my beloved child in whom my soul delights.” I have always appreciated those lines that emphasize that God delights in us . 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 in the old days about 5:30. I opened the door and heard the voice of our sixteen-month old child. Our child had just come out of the bathtub and as I walked into the house, he or she 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.” We know what it is to delight in a child. … But we don’t delight in a child just when they are babies or young but when they become older, we still delight in them. I delight when my adult children come to visit; I delight in my adult children coming to visit me in the hospital; I will delight in my children coming to visit me if I am old and senile and living in an old folks home. I always delight in my children even when they become adults.

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 our baby children 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 matter what our age may be, this is God’s fundamental attitude towards us is this: delight. God delights in us, as a parent delights in a child.

Secondly, 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. These people were all filled with the 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 unusual 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, to face the challenges.

In our baptism, the same Spirit lives in our hearts and in the hearts of our community. We too are filled with the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit found in the creation, the same spirit found in the prophets, the same Spirit found in King David, the same Spirit who filled Jesus is the same Spirit who fills us.

And then, several things begin to happen to us. This same Holy Spirit gives you and me power and gentleness to meet our daily challenges.  To face the challenges within your marriage that you are going through right now. …To face the challenges with your kids who may be driving you insane right now. ... To face the challenges with your mother’s aging, your father’s aging, with their death. …To face the challenges with your aging and with your death. … To face the challenges 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 spiritual gentleness, and that is power indeed.

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; as 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 he 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, the “thespian” in him choked with emotion. He was on the edge of tears and 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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