Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.
Baptism is not a gift the believer offers God, or a work he does to show everyone he already believes, nor is baptism merely, as the saying goes, “an outward sign of an inward grace.”Grammatically, Baptism is always passive. Jonah was baptized a few moments ago.
He didn’t do it. It was done to him.
A man does not baptize himself.
Baptism is not something you do.
It’s something God does to you—through means.
It was impossible for my son to push the ball of snow I rolled to make a snowman last week. Nevertheless, when “we” got it into place, he said, “I did it!”
His feet followed mine, his hands touched the snow, but it was, for him, an impossible task.
Jonah—you moved your feet, and they took you to the font. But God gave you your feet.
You mind read and studied and memorized—but God gave you your mind.
Your parents brought you to church—but God gave you your parents.
You didn’t help God Baptize you.
You didn’t participate with Jesus in the redemption of the world.
God did it all.
God redeemed the world in Christ.
He saves the world through means—Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, the Word proclaimed.
For pretty much everyone who isn’t Lutheran, it’s a source of unending consternation that we say Baptism saves—that we say Baptism forgives sins—that we say it’s not what you feel or about having a “personal relationship” with Jesus, whatever that is.
We’re not concerned, first, with what we do or think or feel.
But we are concerned with what God has done and thought and felt.
Did you know—this is why we call our services the Divine Service.
Generally, American Evangelical Christians refer to their church services as times for worship, but the etymology of “worship” is primarily verbal.
You’ll hear pastors, from time to time, ask each other, “How many do you worship?” They mean to say, “How many people attend your church?”
But that’s the connotation “worship” has.
“Worship,” essentially, is something you do.
But before God would you rather emphasize what you do or what God has done?
Another way to look at it is to ask what it takes to have a successful service.
I’ve done this. Ask people what a successful church or a successful “worship service” looks like.
The answers will be: Lots of people. Good music. “You could feel the spirit” or even “I felt great the whole time.”
I’ve asked that question to hundreds of people, but no one has ever said that a successful service would be one that’s faithful to God.
There may not be a lot of people. There may not be good music. You might not “feel the spirit” (it might just be gas). You might even leave sad.
That doesn’t mean the church lacks success, that is, faithfulness—it might mean you need to repent.
Lutherans call their service the Divine Service—in German, Gottestdienst—because here, just as Jesus came to seek and save the lost, so God comes to us.
Success is based upon whether or not God’s Word is proclaimed and taught faithfully—and nothing else.
Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered…I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 16).
God comes to us.
Before you can “take it to the Lord in prayer,” God must first raise you out of the death of unbelief and into the everlasting life of faith in Jesus.
I know that I’ll fail him.
Jonah—Baptism doesn’t rely on you. When you fail, you don’t need to be re-Baptized.
Your Baptism doesn’t fail with you.
When you fail, remember your Baptism—remember that God is faithful. That this is the love of God—that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (cf. Romans 5:8).
The Lord died for us.
Ultimately, that’s the most important confession we can make—this night or any.
The Lord died for us.
Every time you read “the Lord” in your Bible, and the word Lord is in all caps, that’s a translation of the name of God: Yahweh.
In the Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel, it’s the Lord, all caps, who seeks, brings back, binds up, and strengthens.
And in the Gospel lesson from St. John, it’s the Lord, all caps, who lays down His life for the sheep.
The Lord, Yahweh, means “I am.”
So when Jesus says, “I am…”, and He does it throughout the entire Gospel of St. John, He identifies Himself as God.
In John chapter eight, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
Eternally present tense is the eternal Son of God, the Lord, Jesus.
In John chapter eighteen, when Judas betrays and Jesus is arrested, Jesus answers them, saying, “I am he.” St. John records that when Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground (cf. John 18:1-6) because at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth (cf. Phil. 2:10).
Jesus is the great I am.
That’s who comes to us, who seeks, brings back, binds up, and strengthens. Yahweh. I am. Jesus. That’s who.
And this is what He does:
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).
I’ve said it before, and it’s one of my favorite things to say, that unless it can be said that God died for us, we’re lost. And while it’s true that God in His own nature cannot die, it’s called God’s dying, God’s martyrdom, God’s blood, and God’s death when the man dies who is one substance or one person with God (cf. LW 41:103-4).
That’s who Jesus is and what He does, and all of it for us. But we can say even more.
Prepositions are fantastic things and helpful.
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
The English translation is [for].
But the Greek word [ὑπέρ] means so much more than what the English word [for] means.
In sixth grade, I was taught to understand prepositions in terms of a squirrel and its relationship to a tree.
The squirrel can go to the tree, from the tree, with the tree, for the tree. Those are prepositions.
But if the squirrel goes for the tree, what it really means is that the squirrel goes on behalf of the tree.
When you go [for] someone, they should go, but, instead, you do.
And so when we read that Jesus, the Lord, lays down his life [for] the sheep, what that means is, Jesus lays down His life on behalf of the sheep.
Here’s the difference that makes.
Here are the ways John uses that one preposition:
In chapter six verse fifty-one, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that will give [on behalf of] the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
Chapter ten we’re familiar with. Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life [on behalf of] the sheep.
Chapter eleven, when many of the Jews, the Pharisees, and Caiaphas were plotting to kill Jesus, Caiaphas says, “‘It is better for you that one man should die [on behalf of] the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die [on behalf of] the nation” (John 11:50-51).
Chapter thirteen, when Jesus is about to go to crucifixion and death on our behalf, Peter says, “‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life [on your behalf].’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life [on my behalf]? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times’” (John 13: 37-38).
Chapter fifteen, Jesus says: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone should lay down his life [on behalf of] his friends” (John 15:13).
What the Lord does for you—you can’t do for Him.
He doesn’t need what you can do. And apart from Him, you can do no good thing.
If you’ve ever considered giving your heart to Jesus, have you ever wondered what God would want or do with such a rotten thing?
What could Peter have done on behalf of Jesus?
But what did Jesus do on behalf of Peter and the disciples and us and all the world?
He laid down His life for us.
Our death was owed—but for us, on our behalf, He died, that we would live.
One man does die for the nation and the world. One man does die for the people.
There’s no greater love than that of God for us: that Jesus would call us sinners His friend and die that we would live.
He gives us His flesh to eat, that living bread, that whosoever eats of His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life and the Lord, Jesus, will raise him up on the last day (cf. John 6:54-56).
That’s who Jesus is.
What He has done.
And who He did it for.
God loves you.
God, in Christ, is victorious.
And He freely gives that victory to all who believe.
It’s the Service of God, the Divine Service, where He comes to us: He seeks, brings back, binds up, and strengthens us—that we would live with Him forever.
Jonah—God is faithful to His promises.
Faithful to you and to us all.
Remember, for the rest of your life, what God has done for you—this day, and on the first Good Friday, and every day.
And you—and all believers in Christ—on the Last Day will be raised.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Misericordias Domini (Easter 3), 2018
The Baptism of Jonah David Bearden
John 10:11-16 (17-18)
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt