Pastor Gary Wong, January 10, 2021
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. 6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He preached, “One more powerful than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals! 8 I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.”
When was the last time you thought about water? Most of us probably take a plentiful supply of clean H2O for granted. Whenever we want to brush our teeth, wash our clothes, or get a quick drink, we just turn on a faucet and instantly, we have all the water we want. Perhaps it’s only if we have too much or too little water that we start thinking about this precious element. For instance, if we were in a prolonged drought, or a flood contaminated our water supply, then we would remember that water is absolutely essential. Our lesson also speaks about the intimate connection between water and life. As we focus on Jesus’ baptism, we are reminded that the gospel is life-giving water that washes away our sins. It is living water that makes our faith grow and gives us eternal life. The gospel empowers us to live our baptisms. Therefore, let us draw God’s living water daily and deeply from the well of His salvation.
Even from ancient times, people have recognized the importance of water, That’s why most towns and cities are built near a plentiful supply of water. So, it really should be no surprise that in Jesus’ day, the people living in the Judean countryside were drawn to the Jordan River. In that dry and often hot climate, the Jordan River was a prime source of fresh water. St. Mark, however, tells us that there was another reason why many people were being drawn to the Judean wilderness. Why would anyone want to leave the comfortable confines of Jerusalem and travel to a barren, remote region? After all, this journey wasn’t a leisurely stroll in the park. While it was twenty miles downhill on the way out, it was a tough twenty miles uphill over some very rugged terrain on the way back.
So, what was the irresistible attraction that drew people to the Jordan? Throngs of people came out to see a man—specifically a prophet by the name of John. A question we might have is, what made John different from other prophets? Well, for one thing, his appearance. Unlike many religious leaders who wore robes of fine linen, John wore a camel’s hair coat and a leather belt around his waist. John’s diet also marked him as different. Rather than feasting on fancy food, John ate locusts and wild honey, food that God provided in the wilderness. While John’s food and fashion may have shown him to have been cut from cloth different than other prophets, what really set John apart was his message. John’s fiery proclamation of God’s law and the good news of a coming Messiah were unlike any other prophet of his day.
John the Baptist was indeed different. Even before he was born, John was unique. Many of you know that John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were well along in their years. Also, Elizabeth was barren. But the angel of the Lord told Zechariah that his wife would miraculously have a son, and that they were to name him John. The angel said that John would be a “joy and delight …and great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:14-15). Not only did the angel describe the kind of son John would be, he also revealed John’s mission: “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah …to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17).
That’s exactly what John did. John’s message rang out from the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The people heard and then responded to his message. What started as a trickle became a flood as a steady stream of people—young and old, men and women—came from all over Judea to confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River. Because of his powerful preaching, some people thought that John might be Elijah). Others thought that John might actually be the long-promised Messiah. John, however, freely testified, “I am not the Christ.” Rather, John identified himself this way: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’” (John 1:23). “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (Mk. 1:7-8).
John the Baptist was preparing the way for the coming Savior. St. Matthew tells us that when Jesus was thirty years old, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee to the banks of the Jordan to be baptized by John. Now, put yourself in John the Baptist’s sandals. You have been faithfully carrying out your mission of preaching the gospel and baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. You have also been preparing the people for the coming of the Lord. And now, Jesus—the long-awaited Messiah—is right before you, asking to be baptized. Now, we might have thought that John would have been eager and excited to do whatever Jesus asked him to do. That, however, was not John the Baptist’s response. Instead, he tried to deter Jesus. Recognizing that he was a sinner who did not deserve to be in the presence of our holy God, John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:14). Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). Indeed, Jesus had come to fulfill every prophecy foretold about the Messiah, including this one recorded by Jeremiah: “I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line …this is the name by which he will be called: the LORD Our Righteousness” (Jer. 33:15-16).
After hearing the words of his Lord, John consented to baptize Jesus. Now, please understand. Jesus did not need to be baptized to wash away his sins like you and I, because Jesus was and is the sinless Son of God. Rather, Jesus’ baptism was his commissioning into the public ministry. St. Mark tells us that as Jesus was coming up out of the water, heaven was opened, and the Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. The Holy Spirit was, in effect, anointing Jesus and equipping him with power to carry out his mission of redemption. Finally, Jesus heard the voice of his own Father from heaven giving his approval: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
Jesus’ entire life and ministry fulfilled all of the demands of our righteousness God. That, however, doesn’t mean that Jesus’ work of salvation would be easy. Yes, Jesus was and is the divine Son of God and he possesses almighty power. However, Jesus is also true man, with the same emotions and weaknesses common to every human being. Jesus felt pain, hunger, and thirst, joy and sadness. The temptations that the devil threw at Jesus were very real. Now, one could argue that Jesus could have used his almighty power to defend himself from Satan’s attacks. However, Jesus had set aside that power in his state of humiliation. In order to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus had to keep all of God’s law perfectly as a human being. So, Jesus faced every temptation armed only with God’s Word. Jesus successfully battled sin and Satan his entire life until he gained the final victory at Calvary where he triumphantly declared, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
Because God so loved the world, he sent his one and only Son to save us. Jesus came to rescue us from the darkness of sin and despair of hell. Spiritually speaking, we had been dying of thirst. We were like the Samaritan woman who had come to Jacob’s well looking for water to quench her thirst. After her encounter with Jesus, she went away blessed by a different kind of water that was infinitely better. Jesus told the woman, “Everyone who drinks [the] water [from this well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). God’s Word is living water. What’s more, God offers and gives everyone this water that wells up to eternal life in the sacrament of baptism.
What does baptism do for us? In his Small Catechism, Luther says, “Baptism works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” St. Peter tell us that in the flood, eight people were saved through water, and that “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also” (1 Peter 5:21). Now, it’s not the water itself that saves us; rather, it is water connected to God’s Word that gives baptism its power. Through the water of holy baptism, God washes away our sins, gives us faith through the Holy Spirit, makes us his dear children and heirs of eternal life. Now, that’s what I call living water!
How, then, should we respond to this miraculous gift? First, we thank the Lord for saving us through the washing of rebirth and renewal at our baptisms. Next, while we realize that God has created a new person in our hearts, we also remember that our Old Adam still lives in our sinful flesh. Our sinful natures want us to jump into an ocean of sinful deeds and desires where Satan hopes we will drown. However, we want to turn the tables on Satan and drown our Old Adam. How can we do that? We do it by daily contrition and repentance. We humbly confess that we have sinned against God and our fellow human beings in all we think, say, and do. We repent of our sins, trusting that God has forgiven us for Jesus’ sake. As we turn to God’s Word, the gospel motivates and empowers us to live God-pleasing lives. Following the Great Commission, we can lead others to the living water of God’s Word by “[making] disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything [God has] commanded [us]” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Friends, as we recall what baptism means for our lives, we thank and praise the Lord for washing away our sins and giving us new life in Christ. Motivated by what Jesus has done, let’s live our baptisms every day so that our new man will rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. The gospel is water that gives us eternal life. Therefore, let us draw God’s living water daily and deeply from the well of His salvation. Amen.