Monday, February 27, 2017

What happens in the part of the ritual we do not see?

CONNECTING THE DOTS


This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to Him."  Matthew 17:5

AS we mark the Feast of Transfiguration today let us not only remember the event itself, but let us also learn how to connect the dots because nothing in the Bible stands on its own.  Everything is connected and getting these connections right makes the difference between faith that is built on a rock that will sustain you in all of life's angry storms, and a faith built on sand that collapses when the rains and the winds and floods invade your life with relentless fury.

Yes, we must connect the dots because every Christian knows what the Bible says and any literate person can read the words; but what do they mean, and how are they connected to one another?  When you hear the Lord say to Nicodemus, "You must be born again," do you think Moody Radio and "the sinner's prayer?"  Or do you think baptism?  It makes a difference and it all depends on how you connect the dots.

There are four dots we must connect today; four events so closely related that we can hardly speak of one without spilling over into the other.  They are the Lord's baptism, transfiguration, crucifixion, and lastly our own baptism.  Those four go together so let us now connect them.

The Lord's baptism, which we marked last Sunday, is recorded in all four gospels and should therefore be understood as a key event of our salvation.  Not many other events of Jesus' life get such attention, but this one does, so let us note its magnitude.

The first thing we should know is that Jesus was not baptized for the same reasons we are.  He had no sin, and He is the Son of God from eternity, so He had no need of cleansing or of adoption.

We, on the other hand, do, so we are baptized for those very reasons: so that our sins might be left behind in the water, just like dirt from our bodies when we take a shower, and emerge fresh and unsoiled.  Not only are we cleansed but we are also born again.  Our first birth is as the child of the persons named on your birth certificate.  The second is as sons of God and so we are!   The words the Father spoke of Jesus at His baptism are the same ones He says to us at ours:  "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."

Though Jesus had no need of it, His baptism accomplishes several things.  By entering the Jordan River He sanctified all water and gave it the power to do more than ordinary water can.  Combined with His Word and Command, Christian baptism delivers us from death and the devil and gives eternal life to all who believe, even as the words and promises of God declare.  Make sure you understand all that was bestowed upon you that day, so that you can gain strength and confidence as you wage war against sin and sorrow every day.

He also did it to serve as an example so that every person should also submit to holy baptism in order to be made an heir and child of God, so that God would become his Father, Jesus his Lord and the Holy Spirit his Comforter to cleanse him and keep him from now to eternity.  Remember what the voice said at the Lord's baptism, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  

These are the same words we hear at his Transfiguration making these two events inseparable, but now with the additional command:  hear Him!  Hear Him when He says:  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.  Hear Him when He announces His suffering and death because when Jesus uses the word baptism it doesn't only mean the sacramental act, but He uses the same word in reference to His cross as well.  Jesus says in Luke 12:50, "I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!"

This is the baptism, our Lord's sacrificial suffering and death, that gives power to the baptism we receive.  That assures us pardon for our wrongs however egregious, long-standing, shameful or destructive.  His death promises not only exoneration, but also liberty from their stranglehold, and mercy, too, as we struggle and squirm under the disaster that always follows in their wake.

This brings us to the final of the four events that are always connected.  There is the Lord's baptism, transfiguration, bloody baptism on the cross, and last but not least the event of our own baptism.  This part gets tricky, though, because the baptism the church administers is more than it appears to the eye.  Outwardly it is a religious ritual, one commanded and taught in holy Scripture to be sure, and that is brimming with good and divine blessings.  That's the part people can see and capture as a Kodak moment, but what is not evident except to faith, is that the person being baptized (child or adult) is also being put to death!  At the font he is being crucified with Jesus, sealed in His tomb with Him and also best of all is raised from death with Him; raised from the death of sin to a new and better life, the only life worthy of the  name.

When you are baptized, you are also transfigured!  You are changed and altered from what St. Paul calls "children of wrath" and "sons of disobedience" into "children of the Light."  Though human eye cannot see it now, the day is coming when you too will shine like Jesus, shine like the sun, because at baptism you are dressed in His garments and arrayed in His righteousness, and as such, you have a permanent share in the glory displayed on the holy mountain that day.  This is our faith.  This is the Gospel of the Lord.  Amen.

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