Epiphany 2



Sermon Two: The Baptism of Jesus Christ Luke 3.15-17, 21-22


I’m sure most of you will have heard of Martin Luther, the famous German Christian leader and writer of the Reformation era – one of the great saints of that period of history. As tradition has it, whenever Martin Luther felt his spiritual energy flagging, his doubt growing, or his fear and anxiety beginning to take over, he would shout out, “I am baptized!” In that proclamation he would find renewed strength to face his current challenge. ‘Praise God! I am baptized!’ I wonder why he did that. Well maybe we’ll find out this morning.


We continue today with our Epiphany theme: ‘Revealing Jesus Christ to the world.’ As I said last week, the word ‘epiphany’ means ‘manifestation’ or ‘revealing’. Last week we saw how a star shining in the night sky revealed Jesus to the world and how maybe we too can shine like stars in a dark world. In the gospel reading for this morning we heard the story of the Baptism of Jesus Christ the moment when he was revealed to the world at the start of three years of ministry. It was a crucial moment for him and the world. We hear those famous words of revelation: ‘This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.’ Today we consider how our baptism enables us to reveal Jesus Christ to the world today.


Of course, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. After all he was God’s Son. If you read the gospel accounts carefully you’ll see that John the Baptist was sceptical to say the least. ‘I can’t baptize you’ he said, ‘you should be baptizing me!’ But Jesus had no doubts. Because this, once again, is about ‘incarnation’. Jesus identifies with us in every way, even though he had no need to. But then he had no real need to come to earth and get mixed up in the problems and all the mess of humanity. But fortunately for us he chose to do so. And in many ways it was fitting for him to be baptized, because baptism is all about initiation and this was the initiation into his earthly ministry.


I don’t want, today, to get into a complex theological debate about the methods of baptism. For today’s purposes, whether you were baptized by total immersion in a baptistery or a river or the sea or whether you were baptized by having water poured over your head at a font isn’t that important. Neither is it that important today whether you were baptized as an adult or as a baby, because it’s the meaning behind baptism that’s important.


Having said that, the word ‘baptism’ means (in the original Greek) to immerse. In the contemporary Greek of those days if a ship sank it was ‘baptized’ or if a piece of cloth was to be dyed it was completely immersed or baptized in the dye. That’s why some people are baptized by total immersion under water. But it’s not so much the water that’s important as the concept of ‘immersion’. Baptism is what we call a ‘sacrament’. It’s an outward sign of an inward grace. It’s what’s happening internally that’s important not how much water is being used or in what way. So, what are we immersed into when we are baptized? Water maybe but also something or someone else.


Listen to these words from St Paul: ‘Do you not 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 may live a new life.’ (Romans 6.3-4) The scriptures make it clear that we are baptized into Christ. We are immersed into Jesus.


Baptism is a sign that we are now linked to Jesus Christ in a relationship that is permanent, personal and life giving. We are living in him and he is living in us. That’s why Martin Luther used to shout out ‘I am baptized’ because he understood that his baptism symbolized his immersion into Jesus Christ. ‘Hallelujah, I am immersed in Jesus!’ Maybe that’s easier to get our heads around. Listen to those words from Romans 6 as they appear in ‘The Message’.


If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize that we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!

That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.’


When we were baptized or immersed into Jesus Christ we were immersed into his death and all the negatives died with him. Baptism symbolizes the fact that all the negatives of our life have no power over us any more. We are all familiar with them. The sin that clings so closely, the temptations we face, the selfishness we have a tendency to display, the anxieties about the future and the fears of failure, the feelings of inadequacy and all the rest of it – the list seems endless. Our baptism signifies that they have all been left behind. When we truly understand that our lives can be radically changed.


And what’s more, our baptism means that when we were immersed into Christ we were immersed into his resurrection and the promise of new life and we can now experience all the positives that a relationship with Jesus Christ brings. Faith and trust and confidence. Joy and peace. Gifts, skills and abilities that can be used in his kingdom. That’s why it’s quite in order to shout out ‘Praise God! I’m baptized!’ ‘I’m immersed in Jesus Christ!’


So if we want to sum it up we can look at baptism this way. Baptism means that we are claimed by someone special. We are immersed into Jesus. We are adopted into his family. We become God’s children and Jesus becomes our brother and friend. We become citizens of his kingdom. We now belong not to ourselves but to God. We are heirs to all he has. We gain the benefits of his death and his resurrection.


And just as important, baptism means that we are called to something special. This is an initiation into a new community. We all have a significant and important role in his kingdom. We live out the benefits we have received. We have gifts to discover and use. No-one is excluded from this. Our baptism means that all of us are called to serve God in our own particular way. We all have a reason for being here.


Claimed by someone special, called to something special. That’s why we should not forget our baptism.


Now of course we need to be realistic. Baptism doesn’t mean that all our problems disappear. Some may well do so. Others will stay with us but with Christ we find new strength to deal with them and live with them. So if we understand and appreciate the power and significance of our baptism then we can live lives that are different and distinctive and will reveal the Jesus Christ of our baptism to others.


We can remember and renew our baptism daily if we want to. Every time we come into contact with water why not remind ourselves of our baptism and our being immersed into Jesus? Shower. Bath. Washing up. Caught in the rain. The water is not important in itself but it can remind us of the truth behind it. Hallelujah! I am baptized! And there is always an opportunity, should we wish to take advantage of it, to renew our baptism vows.


On this festival of the Baptism of Christ, let’s all say together today – Praise God, I am baptized. And let’s live out the truth our baptism symbolizes and reveal Jesus to the world.