Born and Reborn
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 1:4–1:11
The Baptism of Our Lord
January 7, 2018
“Born and Reborn”
Happy New Year to you! We are certainly experiencing some pretty severe cold weather in this New Year, and we learned a new word, too: “bomb cyclone.” If we really didn’t know about this before, we sure do now! On this first Sunday in this New Year, you may have heard about the woman from California who gave birth to twins last week. “Joaquin Jr. Ontiveros now has a lifetime of ‘I'm a year older’ jokes for his [twin] sister after being born at 11:58 p.m. on New Year's Eve, followed by the birth of Aitana de Jesus Ontiveros at 12:16 a.m. on New Year's Day at Delano Regional Medical Center in Delano, California. The original due date for mom, Maria Esperanza Flores Rios, was January 27, so she was happy they both were born healthy after being four weeks premature… Aitana was also the first baby born at the hospital in 2018 and per the hospital tradition the family was gifted $3000 in baby supplies that will now be used for two” (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/these-twins-were-born-in-two-different-years-%E2%80%94-heres-how/ar-BBHN2Mi?li=AAk6ORB&ocid=spartanntp). As a father of twins, I’ve been trying to figure out if this is a good thing or a not-good thing to have your twin children born in two different years. Hmm… Only two weeks ago, we celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and now today we are celebrating his Baptism by John in the Jordan River, as well as our own Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Today’s Scripture lessons point us to the truth that as important as it is to be born, it is even more important to be reborn. This is about birth and Baptism. That is what’s before us today on this Baptism of Our Lord Sunday under the theme “Born and Reborn.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, hearing, and living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The New Year always brings people who do what’s called the Polar Bear Plunge. You know, crazy folks who put on their swim suits and literally go jump in the lake or ocean or river in the dead of winter. I was thinking about this with Jesus’ Baptism. Was Jesus one of these polar bear people? Although Scripture doesn’t tell us what time of year this happened there at the Jordan River, I’m guessing it was a bit warmer than what we’ve been experiencing here lately. In your worship bulletin this morning is an image of a painting entitled The Baptism of the Christ #2, by a contemporary artist named Daniel Bonnell. I only became aware of him and his work very recently (http://www.bonnellart.com/home.html), and emailed him just this last week and asked for his permission to share this image with you. He replied promptly and graciously agreed to do so, free of charge, and even provided a high resolution image of his painting, which is what you see. First, a bit about the artist: “Daniel Bonnell is known throughout the United States, England and Israel as one of the few noted sacred painters of the 21st Century. His work is used by the most renowned theologian writers of our days as examples of contemporary icons in their writings and book covers… Daniel Bonnell does not consider himself a Christian artist but simply an individual who follows the teachings of Christ and expresses the teachings [and] writings [of Scripture] through his art… (http://www.bonnellart.com/about-the-artist.html). Mr. Bonnell writes this about what he does: “My painting reflects on the ultimate human need to fulfill an intrinsic longing that extends from birth to death. Simply put, it is a need to be held… I choose to paint not just on canvas but on grocery bag paper. In my process this surface is surrogate for human skin that reflects life… The concept of using something that was once a utilitarian container also speaks to the theme of being held” (http://www.bonnellart.com/artist-statement.html). Now, a bit about the image itself: “The raised arms of the figure of Christ in the water mirror the wings of the dove overhead, while at the same time prefiguring the crucifixion. It is a painting that manages to convey beauty, struggle, surrender, grace, and hope all at the same time – an apt representation of our own lives in baptismal calling and promise” (Sundays and Seasons, Year B 2018: Guide to Worship Planning. Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2017, p. 73).
As our liturgy this morning points out, Jesus was not baptized as we are – for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the sinless Son of God who came to the Jordan River to fulfill all righteousness; to live that life of perfect obedience to all of God’s commands that we could never do. Jesus was baptized in the same general location where the children of Israel passed through the waters of the Jordan before entering the Promised Land (Joshua 3:1-17). When Israel of old passed through the Jordan’s waters, Israel of old did not live up to what God desired for his chosen people. They broke the covenant God made with them at Mt. Sinai. They followed other gods and turned their back on the Lord God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. They became prideful, stubborn, and resistant to God’s mission for them. They rejected God’s messengers, the prophets, and wanted to go it alone. Sound familiar? As the old comic strip character, Pogo, put it: “We have met the enemy and he is us” (http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2011/04/we-have-met-enemy-and-he-is-us.html). If Israel of old – if we – are to be reborn, it has to come about through a new Israel, through the One who is “David’s Son, yet David’s Lord” (Matthew 22:41-43). Jesus is that the new Israel; he walked into the same Jordan River as the old Israel. His Baptism by John marked him as God’s chosen instrument to bring about the mission of God, which is the redemption and restoration of all things in Christ. That same Spirit of God that hovered over the pre-creation waters of chaos (Genesis 1:1-5) now hovers over the Son of God as he comes up out of the waters of the Jorden as the Father speaks: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). With Jesus, the Word-made-flesh, there is a new creation; a re-creation; a re-birth of hope for you and me. What began there at the Jordan would be completed at Golgotha as the sinless Son of God dies for you and me upon the cross. In his death, you and I are re-born to eternal life.
I have with me here a box containing a bottle of water from the River Jordan. On the box is written: “For Baptizing and Blessings only.” This is a pious sentiment, but the waters of the River Jordan are no holier than the waters of the Potomac River. Water is water. To be sure, the River Jordan does indeed figure heavily into the story of salvation as recorded in Scripture, and it was where Jesus himself was baptized. But it is not the water itself that is the point, but the Word of God that is at work in that water. This is what Luther writes about concerning Baptism: “How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit…” (Luther’s Small Catechism, “The Sacrament of Holy Baptism”). Today, we reaffirm our own Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection as Paul records in the Epistle lesson (Romans 6:1-11). This means that everything Jesus has done now belongs to us by faith. His life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will – it’s ours by faith! His innocent suffering and death upon the cross as payment for all of our sins – it’s ours by faith! His glorious resurrection when he rose in triumph over sin, death, and hell itself – it’s ours by faith! All of this comes to us through the cleansing waters of holy Baptism, whether that was last year or eighty years ago. What God does in Baptism is a one-time event in life that is good for all of life. Can we take this gift for granted? Absolutely. Can we abuse this gift? Yup. Can we walk away from this gift? Sure. But God’s gift of Baptism remains just that: a gift. This gift still accomplishes what God intended it to do; namely, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. And having received this gift through the cleansing waters of holy Baptism, Jesus now calls us to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Our journey of faith begins in Baptism, and that journey may take us down many pathways in life. But let us never forget our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters, children of promise and hope. This is so important that it is the first of our weekly Scripture passages. In the year ahead, we will lift up a verse or two from one of the appointed lessons in worship each week. That verse will be highlighted in the worship bulletin as it is today. We ask that you hold this verse close to your heart in the week ahead: read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. Commit it to memory if you can, and be blessed through it. I invite you now to read these two verses with me: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Thanks be to God! Amen.