Do You Speak Baptism?
In my opinion, the only sci-fi show to get this right was Firefly. 500 years in the future what do you think will be the lingua franca? Probably the most spoken one today: Mandarin. Characters blend Mandarin into English even as Cajuns do French, and Texans do Spanish. No one really knows the language of the future, but I do know what matters for your future is if you speak Baptism. And you learn to speak it from the Baptism of our Lord. According to both the early church and Luther, the institution of Baptism took place as a result of the Lord letting Himself be baptized rather than the command to make disciples by baptizing (Sasse, Confessing the Sacraments, 22).
So the first word we learn in speaking Baptism is water. Not the manner of applying; dunking, dipping, sprinkling, and pouring are all fine. But do note the text saying Jesus "went up out of the water" doesn't prove Jesus was immersed and even if He was that you need to be. All the ancient pictorial depictions of Jesus' Baptism, as well as of other Baptisms, show other modes of applying the water, never immersion (Rogers, C., Baptism and Christian Archaeology, in Lenski, Matthew, 128). But we don't want to get hung up on how the water is applied but that it was applied to Jesus.
It's as we sing in the Epiphany hymn: "Within the Jordan's crystal flood/ In meekness stands the Lamb of God/ And, sinless, sanctifies the wave,/ Mankind from sin to cleanse and save." That hymn from circa 450 A.D. reflects the much older theology of Ignatius who died 108 A.D.. He said, "For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary by the dispensation of God as well as the seed of David' as of the Holy Spirit He was born, and was baptized that by Himself submitting He might purify the water" (Ephesians, 18:2). This is in line with what we confess in our Large Catechism. That the waters of Baptism should be honored and exalted because of the Word. This is shown in our text because as soon as Jesus comes up from the waters of His Baptism "divine glory and majesty were manifested everywhere" (III, 21).
Far-fetched, right? That because the waters of Jordan touched Jesus' flesh they consecrate, make holy, sanctify your Baptismal waters? Physically this concept is not beyond astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. "There are more molecules of water in an eight ounce cup of the stuff than there are cups of water in all the world's oceans. Every cup that passes through a single person and eventually rejoins the world's water supply holds enough molecules to mix 1,500 of them into every other cup of water in the world. No way around it: Some of the water that you just drank passed through the kidneys of Socrates, Genghis Khan, and Joan of Arc" (Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, 201-2).
Speak Baptism: say water.' Anchor your rebirth, your forgiveness, your renewal to the waters of Baptism because that's what Scripture does. Jesus could've commanded Baptism without being baptized Himself, but He didn't. He first passed through the Water in His flesh and blood to put all that His flesh and blood merits into the water. Say water' and also say hindrance' and permission.' The phrase that says John "tried to deter" Jesus from being baptized is the Greek Word de-a-ko-lu'-o. It's used only here and means thoroughly prevent'. The simpler ko-lu'-o is found in the passages where the disciples were hindering, preventing the little children from coming to Jesus (Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:14). And when the Ethiopian is brought to faith in the suffering Savior who redeemed Him and taught that Baptism is the means by which what Christ did comes to him he says to Philip: "Look! Water! What ko-lu'-o me from being baptized" (Acts 8:10). Then in Acts 10 Peter speaks of his baptizing his first non-Jews saying, "Surely no one can ko-lu'-o the water for these to be baptized" (10:47). It's the same with "permission." The famous KJV "suffer the little children to come unto to Me" is the Greek word a-fe'-a-me which also comes from our text. John would prevent holy Jesus from being baptized by sinful him and Jesus says, "a-fe'-a-me at this time."
Baptism baffles human reason. That's why John stumbled, why others stumble at baptizing babies, why we don't use ours. John couldn't get why holy Jesus needed it; others can't get how babies can benefit from it; and we don't get why it matters today. A country song has the Man on the Moon saying, "Son, I could tell you things that would kill you." Speak Baptism. It can tell you things that will kill you and make you alive; bury your old man with Christ and bring forth a New Man that is created in the image of Christ truly righteous and truly holy (Eph. 4:24). The blessings of Baptism are so beyond us that if we really consider them, we may well ask "Could this really be true?" Say there was a doctor who was so skilled that his patients never died or even if one did he would be restored to life. Wouldn't the world rain money on him? Here in the water of Baptism nothing hinders you and you are permitted to find at your very door "a priceless medicine which swallows up death and saves the lives of all men" (LC, III, 43).
All that we know about Baptism applying Water to give the Holy Spirit, nothing hindering us from having all the forgiveness Christ won on the cross in 3 handfuls of water, and permission to be certain of being saved based on our having been baptized - all this wording comes from our text. So, is the last word we say when speaking Baptism: Righteousness. Jesus says that by John baptizing Him "in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Do a simple word study of de-ki-o-su'-na in Matthew. It's used 7x's. The first time is here. The next 5 are in the Sermon on the Mount. You know these uses: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after de-ki-o-su'-na (5:6). Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of de-ki-o-su'-na (5:10). You can't go to heaven unless your de-ki-o-su'-na exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees (5:20). Beware of practicing your de-ki-o-su'-na before men because you'll lose God's reward (6:1) and finally, Jesus says seek first His kingdom and His de-ki-o-su'-na (6:33). The last use of righteousness in Matthew is Jesus saying that John came in way of de-ki-o-su'-na and the church leaders didn't believe but tax collectors and prostitutes did (21:32).
This is a lot to unpack, but the main point is that the righteousness before God that hopeless sinners like you crave for, the only righteousness that can stand before God on Judgment day and is persecuted in our day comes to you by way of John's Baptism of Jesus. In it all righteousness, not some, not most, not a lot but all' righteousness is fulfilled. There is no room for more; no need for more. All the righteousness you'll ever need to live and more importantly to die is found in the Waters of Baptism. The waters that apply the sins of the world for that's what John says Jesus carries away after His Baptism to Jesus wash all the righteousness off Him into the Water. And that makes Baptism what Paul calls it a washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. This is the Great Exchange as Luther termed it in 2 Cor. 5:21: "God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
All righteousness is right there in a river named Jordan on a Man named Jesus. And all creation reacts to the presence of God's righteousness at last being on earth on a man again. In Gen. 6, the Lord says that His Spirit will not always strive with man, and He gives it one last 120-year-shot through Noah's preaching. By God's grace 8, but only 8, out of a world of people believe the Gospel and take refuge in God's Ark. After a world of sinners is destroyed by the floodgates of heaven opening, Noah sends out a raven. It doesn't come back because hey there's lots of dead things to land on and eat. The dove does come back because dove don't land on dead things. Fast forward 4,000 years to our text. All righteousness causes the heavens to open and not flooding waters pour out but the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and amazingly He has a place to land: the Man Jesus. Then the Father declares He is pleased not only with the Man Jesus but in Him. "'Heaven opens itself, which hitherto was closed, and now becomes at Christ's Baptism a door and a window, so that one can see into it; and henceforth there is no difference any more between God and us'" (Luther, Buls, A, 19).
Think Luther is over the top there? Hear then a 18th century Lutheran: "The Son is Himself the object of the Father's good-pleasure, and all persons and all things in the Son" (Bengel's, 1, 92). Are you in the Son? Whom have you been baptized into? Not just the Father and the Holy Ghost, but the Son. In whose stead and by whose command have I sent your sins away from you? My Lord Jesus Christ. Who gave His Body unto death and shed His Blood on the cross for you? Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus. Who will come again in Bread that is His Body and Wine that is His Blood for your forgiveness, life, and salvation? Jesus. And who is your Groom? Whom have you been bodied and blooded to for life, forever? Jesus. So are you only like Shrek's bride? Remember he could choose her to be beautiful to him or to the world but not both. Is your Baptism only some spiritual reality between you and Jesus? Are you an orge in your eyes in the world? Sure Jesus sees me forgiven, reborn, but the world sees me as the living dead and I see myself that way too.
There is the truth of life under the cross and theology of the cross as opposed to glory. But Rom. 6:4 says, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." How did Jesus walk about after rising from the dead? He wasn't so ugly that those on the road to Emmaus couldn't recognize Him. Mary Magdalene didn't misstate Him for a gardener because He was orge-like. All Mk. 16:12 says is that He appeared in a different form. If you're going to speak Baptism, you have to say I walk about in a new life just as Jesus did after He rose. No sins to pay for; no Devil to fear, and with Death in the rearview mirror. In other words: Wo dejiule (I am saved.). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Baptism of our Lord (20200112); Matthew 3: 13-17