The Baptism of Our Lord
January 9-10, 2021
“What Defines You?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Ever so slightly we are back into a routine. The days around Christmas and New Year’s are not routine. But by the second week in January many students are back in school. Folks that had some time off from work are back at work. I noticed that even some of the things here at Ascension are back on schedule.
That is also true on the events in a church year. Epiphany is January 6 – every year – and the Sunday after the Epiphany is always “The Baptism of our Lord.” The Gospel from Mark says, “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:9-11)
When is the last time you had a good discussion with someone about Baptism? Why do we do this thing? Is this simply our tradition, our ritual? Or is there something deeper to this? If you have a child the next thing you do is set up a date for a Baptism. But why? What does Baptism do? Is this just something that we do but we don’t know why we do it?
Today, I want you to think of all the great questions that you have about Baptism. I’ve titled the sermon, “What defines you?” I believe that Baptism, this great work from God, defines who you are and how you are.
Who are you? I guess you could give quite a few responses to that. What you do. Where you came from. What are your interests? Who is your family? Height. Weight. Eye color. But there is more to you than that. Your Baptism tells you who you are because it tells you whose you are. You are baptized. You belong to God. He adopted you. He made you His own.
In John 3 Nicodemus, a person of great position and great wealth, came to Jesus. He already had quite an identity. “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night…” But that identity wasn’t enough. He needed more. Jesus told him he needed a greater identity, a definition that had some substance to it. “I tell you the truth”, Jesus said to him, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” A verse or two later Jesus goes on, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:3, 5-7)
You see, God gave you an identity when you were baptized. You were born again. You were born from above. Paul gives this word about our definition, of who we are, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) You don’t have to find the right words to say about yourself – let God be the one to define you. He envelops you in His strong arms.
Who are you? You are baptized. Paul, again, as he speaks to Titus, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) How God defines us should be the place where we stand.
Baptism defines who you are. I’m His. I’m washed. I’m righteous. I’m saved. When you have that good discussion of what Baptism is, stand strong in every superlative about Baptism. You can speak that way because God speaks that way.
But not only does Baptism define who you are, Baptism defines how you are. When Jesus was baptized the word for “The heavens were torn open” when the Spirit came down as a dove, is actually quite a violent term. Baptism, God’s act of grace, is also God’s action of power. All of you who are baptized are called to be different than before you were baptized. God is the one who comes to disrupt, disturb and change life through Baptism.
Listen to our text, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace might increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too many live a new life.” (Romans 6:1-4)
I met a man this week who spent over 25 years of his life as a firefighter. But he was able to retire at an early age and that actually caused a problem in his life. What was he going to do? He said, “It was not a good thing that I was around the house all day long. What was I going to do? Watch Jerry Springer all day?” So he went back to work. His marriage has survived. And he doesn’t have to watch Jerry Springer – ever.
Baptism defines how you are – what type of person you become. In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism the teaching about the significance of Baptism says, “It signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil lusts, should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence.”
Paul continues the thought of “how you are” in Romans 6, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Romans 6:11-13)
What defines you? Your Baptism, that day when God said, “I have called you by name, you are mine” gave you your identity. No one can take away your Baptism. It defines who you are and how you are. It gives you your identity and it motivates you for a Spirit filled and Spirit directed life.
What defines us as Ascension Lutheran Church? Same thing – Baptism. Do you have any idea what the most expensive part of our building is? Well, right now I guess it would be the West Wing. The Renovation that is happening is a $900,000.00 project. WOW!! That is about what I make in a year. I understand that our Pipe Organ is insured for $1,000,000.00. But those are not the most expensive parts of our building. What is? I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with what I’m preaching about today. The most expensive part of our building is the Baptismal Font. Now, I bet that font didn’t cost more than a few thousand dollars to make. But it has cost this church millions of dollars over the last 65 years. Once we baptize we are obligated to teach, preach, worship, encourage and counsel. You don’t just baptize and tell the newly saved, “You’re on your own from here.” We are called to baptize and teach. We are called to baptize and care. The reason that churches have pastors and musicians and educators and staff is all because of Baptism. It defines who we are and it tells us how we are.
You might have a ton of other questions about Baptism. Send them to me – I’d like to know what you think. I want you to know that you, in your Baptism, have been given the most regal and honored identity. Always know who you are – you are a baptized child of God, and always know how you are – living not for yourself but for the one who died for you and rose again. You are saved by Jesus. You now live for Jesus. He is the one who defines you. Amen!!