Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this message at Resurrection January 11, 2015, the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. The text is Acts 19:2, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
I am thankful for our Church Year Calendar that designates today as “The Baptism of Our Lord.” Today we have the opportunity to remember Jesus’ Baptism and reflect on the meaning of our own baptisms.
The second lesson today from the Book of Acts of the Apostles is crucial for our thinking about baptism. The Apostle Paul is in Ephesus and encounters a group of Christians who have received John’s baptism, but do not know about the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul told them, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” Luke tells us what happened. “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them…”
A crucial difference between the baptism of John and our own baptisms is the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.
Some years ago I led a tour to the Holy Lands. On the day we went to the Jordan River and the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism, our bus had two groups aboard, our Lutheran group and a Baptist group. I’ll never forget what happened when the bus stopped by the River and all the folks got off the bus. The Lutherans went to the river and put their hands in and enjoyed touching the water of the Jordan. The Baptists without hesitation waded right into the water, most up to their knees and thighs. The amount of water is certainly a big deal in the eyes of many Christians.
I have no doubt that Jesus waded into the Jordan River and was dunked or fully immersed. That was the baptism that John practiced, “for the repentance of sins”. But something happened on the occasion of Jesus’ baptism that had never happened before. Mark tells today in the gospel reading: And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Mark tells of Jesus’ baptism in the very first chapter of his gospel. What Mark does not include in his gospel account is the birth story of Jesus. How come? Much of the Christian world, especially the Orthodox Churches, emphasize that Jesus’ baptism is really his call from God, his ordination, the beginning of his earthly ministry.
So, what our own baptisms? Were you immersed or sprinkled? Were you an age where you could speak for yourself or where you an infant or toddler? Is your baptism better than the baptism of the person sitting next to you?
I like the explanation we get in our Celebrate insert that says: Our re-creation in baptism is an image of the Genesis creation, where the Spirit (the wind or ruach) moved over the waters. Both Mark’s gospel and the story in Acts make clear that it is the Spirit’s movement that distinguishes Jesus’ baptism from John’s.
Jesus himself did not do baptisms. Did you ever wonder why he didn’t do baptisms? Certainly after he ascended to heaven and the Day of Pentecost occurred, the apostles and other leaders did lots of baptisms. Here is how I have come to understand what happens in our baptisms today: we are baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. While Jesus was still on earth, folks had everything they needed because he was here. His death and resurrection had not yet occurred. He promised that when he departed, he would send the Holy Spirit.
So our baptism is a fulfillment of Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit and it is the way God determined to unite us with Jesus in his mission for eternity.
Why don’t Lutheran Christians insist that folks be of an age that they can confess their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Why do we baptize infants? It’s because we believe that all the credit goes to God and we cannot claim any merit. It is all God’s work. Just as we cannot claim any credit for the work of creation, but instead enjoy, honor and use it for God’s glory.
Today I have an invitation for you. When you come forward for Holy Communion, I invite you to dip your hand into the water in the baptismal shell, and make the sign of the cross on your forehead in remembrance of your baptism. When you receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, remember that you need to be baptized only once, but you can renew the meaning of your baptism every time your receive Holy Communion. For in this sacrament, as in Baptism, we unite ourselves with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.