Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fire and Water

Sermon on Mark 1:4-11
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 11, 2015 (The Baptism of our Lord)

In today’s Gospel, John says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  But where has the Holy Spirit promised to be found?  In the word.  Holy Baptism is not simple water only, but it is water comprehended in and connected with God’s Word.  It is water comprehended in and connected with the Holy Spirit.  Which means that “water baptism” and “Holy Spirit baptism” aren’t two different things, but two descriptions of one and the same thing.  Now, St. Luke in his parallel to today’s text, quotes John as saying that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Which means that to be baptized with water and God’s Word, water and the Holy Spirit, is also to be baptized in fire.

Fire is a useful thing, but it is dangerous if it is not properly contained.  Fire provides heat for our homes, it causes our cars and trucks to move down the road, it cooks food, and a thousand other useful things.  But it provides all these benefits by destroying its fuel.  And that’s why fire is dangerous.  If not properly controlled it will use all sorts of things as fuel which ought not be burned, including ourselves.  It may be useful, but it’s not tame.

But there are uses for fire that rely on the fact that fire is destructive.  This is how fire becomes purifying.  Metals are refined using extreme heat, because it is only in a molten state that impurities can be removed.  It is this use of fire that John is talking about when he describes the baptism of Christ as being a baptism in fire.  Our sins, our impurities, are removed from us in Holy Baptism.  When we come forth from the waters of Holy Baptism, that which is not pure in us, the Old sinful Adam, has been put to death and a new, pure man in Christ has been created to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Another way of saying this is to say that we who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death, so that even as Christ is risen from the dead we too should walk in newness of life.  We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death, so that even as Christ is risen from the dead so we also should walk in newness of life.  When you were baptized, you died, in other words.  It sounds pretty harsh to say it that way, but it’s the truth.  When you were baptized, you died, and then you were raised to a new life.  The continuous forgiveness you receive by faith every day, and the forgiveness you receive from my mouth every Sunday in Holy Absolution, are simply part of your Baptism, where the Old Adam is daily drowned so that the New Man can daily come forth and arise.  This is how the water of baptism functions as fire in your life.  It destroys the Old Adam so that the New Man in Christ can arise.

If all of this is true, though, and Baptism purifies us from our sinfulness, then we need to ask, why did Christ need to be Baptized?  After all, He was without sin in the first place.  He didn’t need to be purified of His sins, because He didn’t have any.  In fact, John asks Him this very question when He comes to be baptized.  St. Matthew records that part of the conversation.  The answer is that just as we were baptized into Christ’s righteousness, He was baptized into our sin.  When He was baptized, He was beginning His public ministry, He was taking on His role as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And He didn’t just make that sin vanish; He took it upon Himself and bore it to the cross.  It was at His Baptism that Christ became the one who takes away our sin, and it is for this reason that His Baptism in the Jordan River is important to us.  Christ was baptized into our sinfulness so that we can be baptized into His righteousness.  Which means He went through the fires of Hell so that we can be warmed and lightened by His face in heaven.

This season in the Church Year is known as the season of the Epiphany, after the festival of the Epiphany, also known as the coming of the wise men, which we celebrated last Sunday.  The word Epiphany means “shining out” or “shining forth.”  The idea is that the Gospel lessons during the Epiphany season show us how Jesus shines forth as God even though He is also man, and even though He is living as a humble and lowly servant of us all.  Here at Jesus’ Baptism, where He begins His public ministry as the Lamb of God who takes up and takes away the sins of the world, His divine nature shines forth through the testimony that the Father and the Holy Spirit bear of who He is.  He is the Son of God, in whom the Father is well-pleased.  He is the one to whom the Holy Spirit testifies.  He is God become man so that mankind might be restored to fellowship with God.  The Father declares that He is well-pleased with the Son, because the Son is sinless.  And because the Son is sinless, He can carry our sins to the cross and burn them up there.  The whole Trinity testifies to the salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Fire gives light.  The refiners’ fire which purges our sins away from us is what shines forth in the coming of Christ to the world.  But then He subjects Himself to that fire on the cross.  In  fact, He is our light, our source of warmth and light, because He becomes the fuel for the fire.  He bears our sin to the cross.  He becomes our sin.  And He burns it up in Himself.  Which is why even though the fire purifies us, and make no mistake that is painful because it means putting ourselves to death, it grants us warmth and light and ushers us into the eternal light that comes from God’s face.  Life comes from death.  The broken body and shed blood warm and enlighten us as we partake of them.  And yet they come from the cross, which is where Christ’s light comes from, precisely because He has taken the darkness into Himself and burned it up.  We have the light of heaven because we have the light that comes from the cross.  Amen.  

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

No comments:

Post a Comment